The sun was waning on another hot, arid day in Santa Mariela, Rubato. The streets in this part of town were quieting down, while others, in slightly flashier areas, were just beginning to pick up with business. Zachary Leos and his adopted daughter Fabricia Dionne, "Fabi" to her friends, were taking a peaceful stroll along an old camel path off the main highways and roads, as it had become their habit to do in the past months. This particular old path ran alongside a riverbed that had once been the lifeblood for natives in this land, well before the gypsies had settled here, but at some point it time, it had dried up and the natives had moved north. Now all that flourished here were dry, crisp weeds and hardy, short grasses.
"Daddy," Fabi spoke up, breaking the companionable silence that had fallen over them after one of Zach's stories had finished and she'd asked her myriad of usual questions about it. "How come we don't have nice lakes and stuff like they got in Blancwood? Everything's so pretty there..."
Her dad looked up at the sky and then back to to the young girl. "Well, your Tia Cadenza and Monroe would give two completely conflicting answers, involving spirits or ecology... but I'm going to say it is because at one time, a great event happened. I've heard that when a lot of damage is caused in awful events, it leaves the landscape scarred."
The redheaded man looked around for a moment and scratched his chin in thought, before summarizing in plainer terms, "So perhaps something really bad happened here a long time ago and the earth was never able to really
"Oh..." Fabi murmured, beginning to wonder what could be so big and so bad that even the earth could be hurt for so long.
Her dad sighed and went on, "I sure miss water though. I've missed the sound of flowing rivers and creeks and the falling of snow in winter. The desert can be such a downer." At this he sat down by the riverbed and sifted through the sand with a hand.
"Do... do you think it could ever come back, Daddy?" Fabi asked, plunking down beside him. Her mommy might have gotten upset at her for getting her skirt all sandy, but her head was often too far off in daydreams to remember that.
Maybe... maybe I could do something...? I sure wish I could... Daddy would be so happy...
Zach simply shrugged. "I'm not sure. I don't know enough about that kind of thing. I know my magic can't help here... although i wish I could. Still, every time I do, someone gets mad at me," the man said with a sigh.
"Who Daddy...?" the girl's hazel eyes shone curiously.
The young man laughed. "I'm not telling!" he told her, patting her on the head. "After all, mommy and Tia might get mad at me if I do!" he added, smiling as he began tickling his daughter. "But the daddy monster is attacking!"
"Eeeeee, Daddy stop!" the girl squealed, scrambling up to flee and fend him off. She loved this game.
Zach stood up and smiled. "I'm coming to get you!" he told her, lurching over and advancing towards her in his best Frankenstein impression. This always won him at least a few giggles. It didn't fail this time either. "The daddy monster is on the prowl for his daughter!" he said, fake running at her with added exaggerated grunts.
"He's never gonna get meeee!" she cried, running so hard that her pigtails flew back and never touched her shoulders.
Her dad laughed as he slowly staggered on towards her, smiling even as he kept up his lurch. He looked as if he was having as much fun as his daughter, if not more. It was times like these that he acted the most fatherly, her mommy Arietta had once said.
They played until after sundown, when Zach suggested they get back home before it got too dark and her mother worried. Fabi moaned in disappointment and begged and complained, but by the time they were back to their big family house, she was so tuckered out that she nearly slept through dinner. Her dad carried her up to her bedroom, all decorated with fairies and stars and lavender and sparkles, and settled her in her bed for sleep.
"N..." the girl yawned, "night, Daddy... love you..."
Her dad leaned in and kissed her good night. "I love you too!" he told her, turning her lights off and making sure she was tucked in. Then he tiptoed away to leave her to rest after their long day.
Daddy does so much for me... Fabi thought once the room went silent, save for the soft humming of the AC, and a few cicadas outside. She snuggled her stuffed frog and got comfortable, her eyelids already feeling heavy, I wish I could do somethin' special for him... like... like bring the river back... Oh I wish it so much...
The magically-gifted young child then drifted off then to a pleasant slumber full of dreams of mermaids and pirate ships and great adventures under the water.
A week past without anything out of the normal. It wasn't until a week later when Zachary and Fabi were nearing the riverbed they had spent time talking about the week before. The half-Undine sat quietly for a moment as he listened. There was a sound... a very, very familiar sound. The sound of rushing water, in fact.
Caught in the moment, the red-haired boy rushed over to the riverbed and stopped. Rushing water made his eyes widened as he took in what he witnessed. "This... this shouldn't be possible," he said as he knelt down next to the river and placed his hand into the water. His right eye turned teal for a moment before he withdrew his finger. "It is... it is!" he said, tears forming in his eyes.
"Oh Daddy, Daddy, look!" Fabi cried out, dashing toward the water, "It happened, it happened! It came true!" She danced about before kneeling down to splash a bit of the water, "Oh, oh do you think we could go swimming!?"
Zachary looked at her and smiled. He nodded. "I'm pretty sure we can swim in the river," he told her as he continued to sit near it. "Although... it is kind of strange... I know in the past, when I've seen miracles like this, it either involved Fairy folk, or other miracle beings... being kinda like one, I should sense their magic... but I don't... that, and I've never met one in this world," he said, muttering to himself before he looked back to her.
"Anyway, we should go for a swim, and let's bring mommy for next time so she can enjoy this too! It is a truly wondrous event!" Zachary said as he hugged Fabi, excitement and happiness overtaking him.
"Um, Daddy... actually... I don't know how to swim!" she giggled, "I just wanna learn!"
Zachary nodded. "Of course!" He rubbed the back of his head nervously and looked around for a moment. "In truth, I don't know how to swim either," the man said with a smile as he looked at her.
However, the faint sound of footsteps drew Zachary's attention. Who could have been coming to this place?
"It's her, I'm sure of it," Mage Bernard said over the communication spell to his companions, as they watched the dark-haired girl skip about her father by the newly flowing river. Such power in such a small form, he thought. It seemed impossible, but he supposed maybe many years ago his boss had been just the same when he was a child.
"But she's so young," Mage Alain replied, furrowing his well-groomed brows, "could a little girl like her really restore a river like this? The Rio Primavera's been dried up since... God, since who knows how long."
"Who cares?" Mage Benoit cut in, as impatiently as ever, "let's just grab them and go! I'm sick of waiting around here on Denebola's orders. Man's full of--"
"Easy!" Bernard cautioned, "I only wanted to make sure the magical signature of the spell matched the girl's aura for sure! But now I have recognized too that her father is that ice mage that's been creating snow here. Two birds with one stone! Let’s be quick about it."
Fabi was just bending down to start untying her shoes when the men made their move. Her dad seemed to hear their footfalls, but he was too late—before he could so much as think of an ice attack, they were upon him, their cloaking spell thrown off, their lips murmuring words of power as they bound both father and daughter in a web of buzzing energy. One wielded fire, one lightning, one wind, creating a triply strong enchantment over their catch. Fabi cried and yelled and struggled, but their skill won from far longer experience won out against both her and Zach’s attempts to escape. Benoit was already casting a spell for them to translocate back to Maximilia when Alain began having doubts.
“This doesn’t seem right…” he said, glancing back at their captives. By now the web of magic had fatigued them and knocked them nigh-unconscious, and they looked quite sorry lying there. “I know the girl’s magic must be extremely valuable to do… well, to do this, but she’s so innocent…”
“We’re only going to test her, of course… see if she can be of use to us in the future,” Bernard assured him, “quit your worrying. You always go soft.”
“Shut up, both of you!” Benoit snapped, “I need your help to make this spell work! One can’t do translocation alone! Now allez, venez!”
Alain continued to complain but they snatched him by the arm and he knew with both against him he could never win this argument. Such was life when one served as a designated assistant to Grand Mage Denebola. You were stuck with him until you were promoted (which Denebola rarely did for his assistants) or the position of Grand Mage went to someone else—and usually that position was for life.
The last thing Fabi saw was a blurry vision of the three men’s faces—one thoughtful, one sad, and one annoyed—before everything went white and they were part of the wind.
The current headquarters for the International Council of Mages was in Grandia, Maximilia, and were quite luxurious on the whole. Fine marble floors, golden and cream draperies, expensive, handcrafted furniture—but not the laboratories. Fabi awoke to find herself lying on an examination table, with cold, funny things she had once seen on doctor TV shows attached to her head, chest, and arms. She wriggled around and found she still had the shorts on she always wore under her school skirts, and her underpants and t-shirt, but nothing else of hers. There was a steady beeping from one of the strange machines beside her, and she began to wonder if it was counting her heartbeat like at the doctor’s too.
But mostly, she thought these things to keep her mind from being terrified, and from asking the question she feared the answer to most—where’s Daddy? She had lost a father before, and a mother and sister too, but that was long before she could remember. She had been left to an orphanage and they had raised her until they’d lost the money to keep the kids and she’d been turned out at age six to fend for herself. Most of the time, the kids had just slept there, maybe had one meal if they were lucky, and were on their own a lot anyway, as soon as they could walk on their own.
All she had recalled was this vague, empty, painful feeling in her chest then, like she was missing a piece inside, like one of her dollies when its plastic arm had broken and she had looked inside to see it was hollow. She had cried then, but she couldn’t understand why. Now when the pang of separation returned to her, and she understood it a little better, tears began to fill her eyes once more.
“D-daddy…” she whimpered, feeling too weak to cry. Through the one-way glass, she could not see that two Council-hired scientists were observing her, on orders of the Grand Mage. All she could see were cold, sterile floors and tiled walls, strange machines, and an odd, greenish light.
“She’s woken up,” one of the researchers said to the other, “call his Mageship in now please.”
OoC: For anyone reading, Maximilia is their world's equivalent of France. And I am going to Mun Hell for this. x3 And this brief fic might be a helpful read to know about the Council and Denebola a little bit.
Zachary laid quietly. He'd woken up a few moments ago and was now just staring at the ceiling and walls. They were bland, he was chained to a bed, and he couldn't tap into his magic. "Oh, these guys are so impaled when I get free," Zachary murmured to himself. "I also swear that the moment I find Fabi, I'm gonna hide her while I pincushion these bastards. So much murder..." Zachary stated angrily.
Taking a deep breath, the magic warrior looked back at the ceiling and began to think. Since he had learned of his lineage, he had an... interesting idea. Perhaps he'd evolve his former reality into a new landscape. He'd, instead of moving people into his plane, summon his plane into reality. It would be difficult, straining and very hard to maintain, but if he could, he could use that kind of power to exact necessary revenge on these people. On the off-hand, he'd likely summon Ice to try and kill him again, but after he had his revenge, he'd deal with the icy hag again.
It was not until early the next morning that a call came from the home where the Leos-Madrigal family lived. Residing there with them was also Arietta Madrigal's two older sisters and usually her father, but none of that was particularly important right then.
It was her youngest sister she was calling.
"Oh Cadenza, Cadenza, t-they're gone!" Arietta wailed into the phone once she heard someone pick up, her face tear-stained and reddened at 5 am. "I... I thought maybe they were just running late last night before I fell asleep, but I woke up a few minutes ago with un mal presentimiento and found they're gone!"
Her sister grumbled something incoherent and not entirely polite and then when it clicked that Ari hadn't understood her, she grumbled it louder.
"H-huh?" Ari replied, "Oh... oh gods, I did it again, huh? I... I woke you up before dawn... but it's a serious emergency, irma!"
There was another grumble and then a rustling of sheets as the younger woman struggled and sat up, rubbing her groggy eyes. She grabbed a sip of water from a bottle on the nightstand, gave herself a moment to clear her muddled head, and then said, "Who's gone, Ari?"
It was clear that she wasn't going to be much more talkative than that until she got her morning café.
"Fabi and Zach!" Ari all but screamed, at that stage of panic when you're tired of explaining and frustrated that everyone around you just wants to keep asking questions when you need solutions.
There was a long silence on the other end, and Cadenza might have spit out more water. When she spoke again, it was still fairly terse, but in a tone that suggested she was taking this far more seriously. She also sounded as if she might be nursing a headache, "How do you know they're not at the Dome? Maybe somewhere where time flows slower?"
"I... I suppose that's possible, but... b-but something just feels wrong! Zach always tries to call if he leaves for some other world like that!"
"Alright, alright, calma irma... look, I'll... I'll get myself together here and then take a Dome door down to see ya. Expect me in fifteen minutes in your foyer with all my scrying ingredients. You have some of their personal things, so you'll help. Wake up Lu and Gretta and see if they won't help too. I think they just might if they know Fabi's missing."
"H-how do you manage to stay so calm...?" Ari asked, but she sounded a bit more comforted now that she knew they would be taking steps towards doing something.
Cadenza sighed and shrugged her shoulders, even though she knew her sister couldn't see it, "We're no use to Fabi if we don't stay calm... try to remember that. Some stress is good, but not enough to cripple you into inaction. I just need a little caffeine and I'll be right over."
"Si... si, gracias, Cadenza..." the older woman whimpered a little, "I don't know what I'll do if they're hurt..."
"Try not to think about that now... I'll be there soon."
The Grand Mage finally showed up in the morning, after a leisurely bath and five-course breakfast. The lab team had slept there all night, waiting.
"So this is our little wonderchild..." Jean-Pierre Denebola thought aloud, standing in the observation bay and peering through the one-way glass at the tan little girl on the examination table, "l'enfant prodige, capable of refilling a river that has been dry since before her grandmother was even a twinkle in her great grandparents' eyes. Remarkable, no? Think of what such a child could do, with the proper teaching... in the proper hands."
He smiled around at his employees, who were more or less contractually obligated to smile back. They did, with exactly the kind of forced grins you might expect. Denebola did not mind.
"I think we shall begin with the blood tests. Perhaps some other persons of interest may turn up in our search, oui? She may have some Dreamer lineage... I know it is rare. Neither of my parents possessed a shred of useful talent. Shame. So much one could do for the world with those talents..."
Mostly he spoke to himself, but that was no problem, as he liked to hear himself speak. He paced towards the door in his cream trousers and gold-embroided dress shirt, and looked toward the scientist at the nearest computer.
"Come, I have no patience for needles. You shall extract the blood. I just wish to be on hand to meet our little friend."
The woman nodded once, her expression hidden behind her surgical mask, and rose to follow him after gathering the necessary materials. Behind her glasses, her eyes betrayed no signs of her opinion of the Grand Mage. Better safe than sorry. He was the current head of the International Council of Mages, after all, and National Mage of the country they were currently in to boot. Piss him off far enough and she expected she might be turned into a houseplant.
Fabi turned with fright at the strange whirring sounds of the doors into the lab where she was being kept. Unable to see through the glass to the observation bay beyond, the sudden appearance of these two, one in white scrubs, one in white-and-cream clothing, was like that of two ghosts that had stolen through walls into the room. She fought back a shriek upon seeing the lady with the needles and the mask and tried to think good thoughts. Somehow all her thoughts felt hazy and feeble in this room, though, and they didn't have the same cheering effect they usually did on her.
She did not know that was because this entire building complex was warded off from foreign magic. Denebola was perhaps the only one at full power here, in the heart of his territory in Maximilia. It would take far more time and skill to unravel these wards than the young girl had then.
"Ma fifille, it is so good to see you are awake..." the blond man in white greeted her. Something seemed so wrong about his smile.
Daddy, help me... she thought as she squirmed, but it was no use.
He was supposed to be on security detail, and if anyone had caught him, that's what he would have told them he was doing.
Truth was, Mage Alain Michel did not feet right about this latest job, and if his boss was to make a tool or slave out of a little girl, he pledged to himself that it would not be because he had sat idly by and let it proceed. It had been bad enough that he did not manage to stop Bernard and Benoit from capturing her. They hadn't cared for his concerns. Alain couldn't hope to stand up to Denebola now, especially not here, in his stronghold, but at the very least, he decided, he could provide some aid to the father that had been captured too.
"Monsieur," he whispered in a harsh, urgent tone, outside the one-way reinforced glass of the father's holding cell. Strong spells were on the all the surfaces of the cell, and just nearing it, Alain could feel it thrumming with formidable power. "Your daughter is alive, but she is in a bad place..."
OoC: For anyone wondering what a "Dreamer" is in this world, here's this list in progress.
"Great..." the man may or may not have heard the red-haired man respond. "I swear to some deity somewhere... which I currently lack any thought of what I should worship as of now," the mage said with a sigh, "I'm going to turn as many people here into impalement spikes as possible," Zachary said significantly more audibly. "As soon as I figure out how the hell I'm going to break out and use my magic again, my dearest daughter has given me a great idea. I don't want her to see it, as I don't wish to give her nightmares, but so much death will follow me in this case. And I know exactly what it will look at."
"Anyway, buddy, if you can manage to get me out of here, you'll get to live. I know that sounds horrible, but I need to teach the people here a lesson about abduction," the man said with a bright smile. "And make sure that you pricks never... EVER... try this again. After all, you can't be smart alecks if you're all deceased."
“Ow… a… a-aren’t you done…?” Fabi asked, after what felt like the twentieth needle. She was maybe not that far off. At least a dozen tiny vials of her blood lay collected on a rack nearby. Each bit would be used to test for different attributes. The biggest would be used to simply test DNA. In the right light, with the right kind of sight, the blood in the vials might have been seen faintly but continually glowing. But the sterile, greenish glow of the overhead lamps was not such a light. And Denebola wasn't paying much attention to them yet.
The scientist watched with carefully indifferent eyes as tears streamed down the girl’s cheeks. Some days, she loved her work. Other days, she hated what she had to do. There was no question where this day landed. Only the threat of Denebola right beside her kept her running those damn tests.
“Aren’t there any results yet? This grows tiresome,” the Grand Mage complained, taking up rest on the only chair in the room, a sturdy metal thing, and settling his chin on his hand with his elbow by one of the computers. This was the tedious part of his plans, and he longed to take action again. Already his mind was filled with the wonderful things he could create around his home with such power like the girl’s. His own strengths mostly lied in the manipulation of flora and spellwriting—but with her boundless imagination limits would no longer hold any meaning for him. He could change the world to his liking, his vision. There was but one person he could think of sharing it with, if he could find her again… perhaps use the girl to cure her. They had not spoken in years.
He was deep in thought, musing upon this, when the scientist woman spoke up.
“We have traced her family records, your Mageship. She hails from rather interesting bloodlines.”
“…Oui?” Denebola answered lazily, still half in daydream. “Do go on.”
“I think you will want to come see this for yourself… the records have been tampered with a bit, but the computer managed to go far back enough to things that couldn’t be changed. At least not without time for a hacker to do a lot more work.”
“What does it say?” Arietta asked again, shaking her youngest sister’s arm. No one could blame her for being impatient.
“Easy, you’ll disrupt it…” Cadenza answered, dangling one of Fabi’s hairclips on a chain as she and her sisters sat in a circle around a map of their world. A strand of the girl’s black hair and Zach’s red hair had been wound around the little item, a painted metal clip with a small bluebird ornament on it, as a personal connection to both the missing people. If the spell couldn’t find them in this world, the gypsy knew, she was going to have to take this search to the Dome, and that could take much longer than they maybe had.
The blue clip wavered on the chain as if with a life of its own, circling, spinning, then pointing like a bloodhound that has got a scent at a spot on the map. The women stopped chanting their spell and all bent down to see. It had taken the better part of a half hour, but with all four of them, and such a fresh link to their loved ones (the clip being one Fabi had worn just the other day), they finally had results.
For the first time, Arietta swore Cadenza turned a bit pale upon seeing where the spell pointed.
“Maximilia…? Why on earth would they be there, irma…?” Ari asked.
“This is a really bad sign, Ari… really bad,” the younger woman pressed her lips together in a grim, firm line, “have you spoken to Carla lately? Do you remember what she does?”
At this Ari tilted her head and scratched near her wavy ponytail, her green eyes looking as if she was reaching far back into the attic of her brain for the answer, “Erm… midwifery? Is that a word? Midwifing?”
Cadenza gave a half-nod and shrugged a shoulder, turning her palms up in concession, “Yeah well, that’s one thing. But I mean her other job.”
“Rubatoian Royal Mage,” Algretta chimed in, and the way her cold eyes met Cadenza’s told the younger woman that she already understood it all.
“Wait, que? Que significa, irma?” Ari turned puzzled to their eldest sister, feeling like everyone was in on a secret she just couldn’t see.
“Fabricia and your novio are being kept by others like her…” Luminari spoke up now, in her soft, almost monotonous voice. Her eyes stayed on the table, thoughtful, even as she spoke, “because they must believe they have misused magic somehow. Carla may never apprehend them, but others…”
Now Cadenza gave a full nod, and felt her teeth grit together briefly before she took a deep breath, let it swell in her chest, soothe her, and let it out slowly. Her hands only tensed for a moment. “That’s right… if we’re understanding this right, somebody like that has taken them… you guys know Fabi can do anything if she wishes for it, even if she doesn’t consciously mean to put power into it, si? I’d heard rumors about the Rio Primavera lately, but I haven’t had time to check them out… now that this has happened, that miracle smacks of something that could only be our well-meaning little troublemaker.”
“But then… who took them exactly? And why in Maximilia…? Why so far, all the way in Airopa?” Ari persisted.
“Because I know the pendejo who took them, Ari… he has to have his fingers in every pie—” for a brief moment, she shuddered mentally at the unintentional innuendo in that saying, but hid it well enough that at least Ari couldn’t pick up on it before she went on, “—and if he heard of someone with such a huge, untapped magical gift like Fabi, there is no way he would pass up on the opportunity to seize her and her power for himself… Zach probably just got dragged along for the ride… maybe even used as a bargaining chip against her, ya know? ‘Do what we say and your pai won’t get hurt’ kind of thing…”
She found she was making herself angrier and angrier with each word she said, like stoking a roaring fire. More fuel for the flames that were already making her insides want to combust. The youngest gypsy recognized the feelings for what they were and reined them in, resolving to save that fire, save that indignation, and save that rage for when she needed it to power her most. Denebola. He’d fry before the dark even got to him.
“I… I want to go with you to confront this person then, Cadenza. If he took my Fabi and Zach, I want to make him pay…” Ari said in the firmest voice any of them could remember hearing from her in years.
“No, Ari, you have to stay here, stay safe…” Cadenza protested, “you haven’t gone up against this man before. You’d have no idea what you’re facing, just how sick he can be…”
“Do you think I’m not strong enough? That none of us are? I’m not going to send you off alone like Viv used to! I want to do something!”
Algretta and Luminari watched as their two youngest sisters argued back and forth. Algretta, frankly, hated to get involved in any of her sisters’ disputes, and overall had a distaste for the irrational things people threw at one another in these fights. Luminari, as she had been for years, seemed generally stoic towards it all. The other three had been surprised that she had even taken to Fabi as much as she had since the girl came to their house. It appeared to be the only reason she had helped.
Algretta just rolled her eyes and leaned back with crossed arms as it went on.
“No, it’s not because I think I’m stronger than you…” Cadenza answered, a bit calmer than the other sisters were expecting. Given the same opportunities, the same energy drawn from other worlds, we’d probably be much closer in strength than we are. At least Lu would be, that’s what Sonya always said. She has a gift…
Arietta couldn’t help but snap, “Then what?”
“Viv chose me for those things because of… of temperament. I wasn’t good at all the special things each of you could do… Gretta with science and tech… Lu with healing… you with money and tending to Sonya and all those other things.—”
“—That’s not true!” Ari cut in.
“It is… just let me finish. You are…too kind-hearted. Too forgiving. I’ve only met this man once, but from that experience, and things Carla has told me, I know he could probably twist those traits against you. Use your goodness to his advantage. I… I’m not like you. I haven’t been for years. If he begs for mercy, with me it’s going to fall on deaf ears. Just like it should.”
For a moment Ari could find nothing to say, and when her lips parted, all that came out was, “B…but…”
“About time this was settled,” Algretta cut in then. “I see that you are already wearing your mythril armor, Cadenza. Good. Don’t be stupid. Ensure that you have your greatest protections with you before you leave. If this man is as clever and strong as you make him sound, you will need it.”
“Yeah… especially because it’s gonna be on his home turf… and no doubt he’s got reinforcements there. But this ain’t my first trip into the lion’s den, Gretta. And Ari, I will come back with Fabi and Zach. Even if I have to walk over some dead bodies to do it.”
She did not mention then that the Grand Mage’s corpse could be among them. Her sisters were already worried enough, she thought--especially Ari—to be able to swallow the full implications of that fact. If a mage from Rubato murdered the Grand Mage, even in self-defense, it might be excuse enough for war between their poor country and the Grand Mage’s homeland, not to mention any that supported him.
Getting her niece and potential future brother-in-law home was already enough pressure.
So wordlessly, she rose and belted on her daggers and slung on her gunblade, checked her gaunlets and boots, and then nodded to each of her sisters. Ari hugged her crushingly and Cadenza found herself thankful already for the armor under her own clothes. She gave a light squeeze back, shot a quick, “Ciao” to them, and then was gone through a Dome door as swiftly as she had arrived.
The hairclip on the chain still guided her, pointing ever forwards towards her destination.
Quite a violent man this one was, Alain thought uncomfortably, but he supposed he had good reason to be. But getting him free? That was a taller order than perhaps the young prisoner realized right now.
“The wards on this cell are some of the greatest in the whole complex…” he told Zach, “and that might mean in the whole country, non, the world world! I can try to undo my boss’ spells, but it will take a great amount of time… in the meantime, however, I could bring you more information on your child’s situation?”
Zach looked around. "WEll, on the positive side, I guess that news can only make me more angry, but for now, you'd best hope your boss has already said all of his prayers, because I'm not the worst person coming for him. I can't tell how long it's been... but I've got a gut feeling. I have... I know at least one person is coming. I have two friends who believe in doing things to make sure they don't happen again... and you've pissed at least one of them off. Now it all comes down to which one notices first, and I'm almost certain it's the stronger of the two."
Zach struggled against his bonds and bit his lip. "Believe me... two of the most dangerous people in this world might be coming to get you guys. One of them will DEFINITELY be here... the other one will come if he has time," Zachary said with a laugh. He doubted Monroe would jump into this event without any thought, but the Techno-Quincy was a person who would save Fabi because he was obliged to. She was the only immediate family that Alex had left. 'denza would be there even sooner, Zachary was certain, with intents on saving both of them without any kind of hesitation.
"But for now, do what you want. When I'm free... I will have revenge," Zachary said, smiling at the one of the one-sided mirrors.
The gleeful little cry that escaped Denebola's lips as he studied the screen made even the scientist's impassive mask break down enough for an uneasy quiver. The grin that followed across what should have been an attractive face was no less unsettling. She could swear his green eyes were dancing.
Fabi was so frightened she was beyond crying again. She had to resist conjuring up horrible images of the man in her mind, for fear they would scare her even worse. It was the things a man who made that sound, at that time, with that smile might do... sometimes the imagination makes worse things than even reality can provide. She did not have the graphic, disturbing quality a adult's experienced mind could produce, but the dark phantoms and big fangs and other childlike terrors were enough for her nightmares of him. The girl tried to struggle on the examination table, but she was feeling too weak and they had her strapped in closer than ever for the tests.
"Lucille, do you understand who we have in our midst, ma mie?" he cried out once again to the scientist, but his widened eyes were fixed more on the computer than anywhere else. He had grasped the monitor in both hands as if a cherished old friend had just brought him wonderful news, and his white teeth shone pale in the odd green light. "This child is even more valuable than I could have imagined! Think of the money Cernilia might pay for a Dionne daughter!"
"I'm... afraid I'm not familiar with the na--"
"How can you not be!? This is the old family that can steal someone's appearance, their powers, anything--and that's only one side of cette fille's heritage! The Cernilians had wanted to experiment on her father for years, and here we have his little one, our little doe, all packaged for us! Then there is the Madrigal blood of her maman!"
"That family I have heard of, oui..."
"Yes, but do you know which is this girl's mother? The mafia queen herself! Normally I would not risk keeping such a vicious woman's child hostage. But with both parents dead... we have quite a gem, here, Lucille. Quite a gem... and I can't deny I am just giddy when I think of what we could do... and who may come for her. We might add to our treasure here yet."
His eyes gleamed, and the scientist Lucille contained another shudder, sparing a glance for the computer monitor. There she could see a name Denebola had highlighted, and was staring at intently: Cadenza Madrigal.
Among other associations, she instantly recalled her as the woman Mage Livingston had found Denebola mistreating only about a month ago. And with that woman's niece here, things just got infinitely more complicated, she thought.
Cadenza hadn't carried this much in the way of gear in ages. Many things were weapons or extra defensive measures, but the majority of her haul was spellcasting ingredients. She thanked Gaia for the ability to secret these things away in the shadows, and Carla for the advice on preparing for Denebola's wards. Feel like an Herbs R Us right about now...
The gypsy had encountered the Grand Mage's defenses before, at the International Council of Mages' current HQ in Maximilia. There she had been held in Denebola's own private office, where a steel torture chair was amongst the otherwise lavish decor. The entire place had been warded, but perhaps nothing so much as that room. It sapped the strength out of you, the focus, the energy, until even the simplest of magical workings felt like a strain. Denebola hadn't been so hampered. It made sense that in his domain, he wanted to stand as the most powerful. She hadn't been able to do much without some help then, but she did get a start on studying his wards once she had been freed from the torture chair.
Carla was too old to know Denebola well, but as a master of warding her own home, and one of the primary instructors many of the current generation of Mages had, she knew nearly all the tricks. It'd taken Cadenza numerous visits to various little shops and stalls and worlds to put together some of the exotic ingredients and precise focus items the old woman had recommended. Maximilia had lost a lot of its rich heritage when the Gypsy Purge forced countless gypsies out of the land and many other countries in Airopa, but what they had lost, the Rubatoians had gained in a wealth of magical knowledge. On her way now, Cadenza felt confident that she was armed with techniques to dismantle and create defenses that not even Grand Mage Denebola could know.
Then once his defenses were down, well, that was the simple part. Maybe not easy, given that he was still a skilled and slimy bastard, but simple. There are practically infinite ways to kill someone, but they all end in the same result.
She arrived on the sleepy lunchtime streets of Grandia, Maximilia, a little south of the Mage HQ. It was well past two and people were already settled down at cafes and restaurants, not planning to budge for at least another hour from their wine bottles and pâté. The gypsy passed through the blocks on her way quickly, ignoring those who tried to call out to her in Maximilian. She knew a few words, but it wasn't the time to socialize over some brie. With all the gear she had on, the woman knew she must have stood out like a blazing red sore thumb, but somehow, even with the sword under her mage cloak, people seemed to believe she was just making a fashion statement or wearing some sort of costume. Or maybe they were just too relaxed with their lunches to raise much alarm. Who knew with Maximilians.
The HQ was soon in her sights.
Cadenza had only seen the building once from outside before, when she had left with Gaia, but she felt she'd never forget it. Towering spires and elaborate fleur-de-lis ornamentation in gold and white gave the whole place a decidedly art deco feel, making it stand out from the row of smaller, older buildings that sat near its grounds. Flags waved in the breeze, in the colors of blue, red, and white, in unmistakable horizontal bands. Perfectly trimmed hedges and white rose bushes lined the walk. They were undoubtedly a product of Denebola's particular powers. As soon as she stepped onto the front lawn, she could feel his oppressive magic, vital and somehow feeling greenish, if that were even possible, washing over her like a palpable field of energy. She thought back to the swampy color of his eyes when he'd grown angry at her in their meeting before and found her hand balling into a fist again.
I feel selfish as hell saying this, but Denebola, when you finally croak, it's not going to be just for Fabi. Godsdamn it, it's going to be for me too and everything you made me feel in that ♣♣♣♣ing chair. No one gets under my skin like that and lives for long. No one. Prepare to have your bloody castle come crashing down.
And with that resolution held in mind, the gypsy melded into the shadows, and began to go to work on the building's wards. For the time being, she kept her energy masked--if the Grand Mage got wind of her presence too soon, things could turn ugly very fast.
Alain had left, possibly to gather information, possibly to spread it. There was no way for Zach to know for sure just then. The man seemed to genuinely want to help, but then again, Denebola's assistants were afraid of their boss. Would compassion or fear win out that day?
Zachary noticed he was alone again and sighed. "Man, I'd sure hate to be that guy when I get free and get to go insane. At that point, if he did sell me out, he's so going to regret it," Zachary stated with a smile as he thought back on HOW he was going to deal with these people. "I, myself, would normally be enough, but I"m not sure how strong these mages are... however... having my own miniature army might be nice too. Oh, I know what I can do..." Zachary said as smiled and began to think intently on his next move. "Okay, now I just need to wait for saving!" the mage said with a smile.
Denebola had left at some point. Fabi wasn't exactly sure when, because after all the blood tests she had gotten terribly sleepy. Something felt different about the building, but she couldn't tell what, especially not now. The scientist lady mostly focused on running the blood vials through little experiments and didn't speak to her.
The air swam for a moment with color, rich browns and cool grays, and then she found herself looking for just a brief instant at a floating, wise, kindly man.
"Shhh..." the man cautioned her, putting a finger of one of his broad, tan hands to his lips. He had shaggy auburn hair, almost sculpted, with bangs parted and brushed out of his wizened gray eyes. There was a hint of brown to them, as a touch of warmth, a bit of soft earth in the stone, that made his more chiseled, Roman features a bit friendly. His short beard and thick, trimmed sideburns gave the face a strong character, and instantly upon seeing him, Fabi felt this was some good king from her dreams, come to protect her with many knights on the way. He had the strong build and dignity of a king, and yet for all his noble bearing, he was dressed in modest brown trousers and robes.
"They mustn't know someone's here with you, little friend," he went on, in his most gentle baritone voice. Something about it made her feel like he could say or do not wrong. There was magic about him, but not of a kind she had ever felt before. It felt righteous and noble, like the feeling she got watching a real hero on TV or reading about a wise and benevolent ruler in a storybook.
Since he had warned her not to talk, her sleepy eyes could only look at him full of their questions.
"I have been sent to watch over you," said the Spirit of Justice, once known in life as Ernesto Vertimiglia. He was a rare friend of the girl's aunt among the Spirits, but he was not here on behalf of the gypsy woman today. No, Gaia had sent him here specifically for the girl's well-being.
"I will make sure they can do you no more wrong..." he assured her, "but for now, I must go. I will return... keep your spirits up, little Fabi."
Her mouth gaped when the magical man said her name, but then, he vanished just as suddenly as he had come. She began to wonder, after a little while, if she had just dreamt him up after all...
Working on Denebola's defenses was not at all like pulling at a thread, where all the rest would come undone once you started, Cadenza thought. No, it was far more like pulling at a tangle, where the damned mess would just get worse the more you pulled at it. There was something organic about the wards' strings of energy that Carla had warned of, but she had never expected it to be as bad as this. She had to go carefully, picking out knot after knot, sometimes doubling back over things she had already untangled just because another pull had caused a new knot to form there, using the shadows to guide her nimble fingers as she worked on the disorganized mess. It was like each time she made progress, the living, breathing construct of Denebola's defenses would just adapt and thwart her. Life magic had its advantages for sure.
The shadows were accustomed to sneaking in and working on things unseen, but untangling this kind of web of energy was going to take a lot of time. Her natural impatience bristled at sitting there for so long, like being stuck in the most taxing yoga pose ever. Breathe and focus. Slow and steady had to win the race.
In Zach's cell, something gave a pop and loosened, and the glass creaked a little. The defenses were not down, but they appeared to have taken a little hit. Then, out of nowhere, there was a man with a short beard and gray-brown eyes standing with his arms folded calmly, phasing halfway out of a wall of the cell.
Most people might have jumped at the sight, thinking him a ghost, but Ernesto had grown used to that. He had been a Spirit for a very long time, and even if he didn't get to go out in the material world as much as he liked, very few visits over so many years can still add up. It was his nature to know humans quite well.
"Zachary Leos," he called, distracting the man from his daydreams of torturing Denebola and the other mages.
OoC: Ernesto seen in these pics. ^^
Zachary looked at the man, although he wasn't as shaken as normal people would have been by this. In truth, he was actually kind of used to strange things happening. Zachary pulled at the chains again to make sure he wasn't dreaming before he paused. "Okay, so you ARE real... which means..." his mind thought back to others like this... Light and Ice had done similar things, only more dangerous. Still, Zachary couldn't SEE them. So... if he was a spirit, how could the ice mage see HIM and not those pricks?
"I don't mean to be disingenuous, but I have the feeling you're about toe tell me what I already know, which is figuring my way out and saving Fabi, right? I've already decided that, but that's not really ALL I want to do. UNless you're a psychic ghost, you don't know what I'm up to either, so perhaps talking about it is pointless. Anyways, how can I help you?" the red-haired boy asked as he cracked his neck and continued trying to struggle his way out.
If only he had asked Monroe how to sneak out of this kind of situation beforehand.
Ernesto found he couldn't help but laugh at the young man's rambling line of logic. It was a pleasant, deep, friendly sound, but he calmed himself before it could last long. "I am no ghost, but you would be surprised at what I know," he told him with a patient smile, "I have come to speak to you because a friend needs a bit of help getting to your rescue. You know by now that this building is warded off from foreign magics, but I can help tip the scales a little."
He floated over, robes trailing behind him, to kneel at a spot on the floor, and for a moment, the room seemed to go gray and time seemed to slow as he murmured quiet words. When finally he straightened up again, he dusted himself off as if only by force of old habit, since there wasn't a bit of visible dust on his intangible body anyhow, and gazed back at Zach.
"That should do it. I have weakened the defenses a little in this room. It is not yet enough to break you free, since I can't exert that much influence in the material world without problems right now, but it should be enough for you to give off a little of your own energy, and act like a beacon to your friend. She should sense you if you do, and be able to come here to get you. But be careful that you don't draw the attention of the mages here--if you do, you must cloak your energy immediately. That sound fair?"
"..." Zachary sighed as he closed his hand and energy began to shine in his hand away from the one-sided mirror. "You know, you could have just freed me and I could be killing them without any kind of difficulty, but I'll do things your way. So thanks for your help, but if you-know-who doesn't get here soon, I hope you'll do the right thing and free my powers so I can make these jerks suffer worse than any human beings have suffered before," he said, completely calm. "After all, if they're gonna play this way, they need to learn what happens when they mess with proverbial fire."
Cadenza murmured a few last words of power, and the entire main layer of outer defenses dropped. The rest were enough for a bit of quick spellwork to dismantle, now that the center they had clung to had fallen.
And we’re in the front door.
Doubtless, there would be more barriers and wards to worry about inside, but she knew from that moment on she was running on borrowed time. There was no way Denebola would miss such a big chunk of his wards blacking out at once. She had to move.
The trouble was, the place was so huge. Her tracking spell had petered out here, in this mass of other energies, stronger than the thin little connection she'd had to Zach's and Fabi's magic. She had her senses now to rely on, but Fabi must have been in a room that was still heavily warded inside, for she couldn't feel even a trace of the girl. Denebola's presence permeated the place like hothouse gases in a jungle. For a while, crawling along through the Realm of Shadows, she felt no safer from him than if she had been crawling through air ducts right above his head. She knew it was just superstition, but in that building, it felt like he saw all.
Then there was soon something giving off cold, like someone had left the freezer open—a gathering of ice energy, chilling the area around it by sucking up heat, just bit by bit. Other energies were gathering nearby, and she recognized them as other mages. Whatever was giving off that ice energy—and she was pretty damn sure of what, or rather, who—they were about to have a lot of company if she didn’t spring them free soon.
The only question now is how was he even able to exert any of his magic here, in the middle of Creepbola’s defenses? Guess that’ll have to be an answer for another time…
Beside the ice mage in the room, there was a sort of void she noticed as she came up to it--a big, gaping hole, as if something very large there had been ripped out or covered up. She'd felt presences like that before, and in her mind the memories clicked and made her fingers tense--a Spirit, here? One that didn't want to be noticed, if they were cloaking so powerfully... who? And why? Unfortunately the other mages were getting closer, and there wasn't enough time to puzzle that out.
"Maybe you'll see why we had to do it this way in time," Ernesto was telling Zach. Then a smile simply crossed his face, as if he were watching a rerun of a show he knew and loved, and already knew well what was coming next. "Please take care."
With those words, a large, round shadow opened up under the young man, almost like a hole, but instead of falling into a pit in the earth, he fell between realms into the domain of Shadow. The Realm spread out like endless dark hallways around him, all mere constructs of magic meant to help facilitate perception to the human mind, with ghostly, rippling visions of the world "above" through an almost liquid, violet ceiling. The not-quite-fully-fledged, because she was still living, Spirit of Shadow--his girlfriend's sister--caught him as he fell through an opening in this ceiling and conveyed him smoothly to his feet on the ground.
"There you are, finally!" Cadenza said, brushing off the bit of dust that had come in with him, "And all in one piece too, bom! We've got to get our asses moving here, Denebola's gonna know someone's taken down his wards, and while he can't reach us here, Fabi's still up there to feel the wrath of his ego when he finds out someone's dismantled his precious defenses."
"I hate this guy, I want to know how the freaking hell he managed to seal off OTHER WORLDLY GOD DAMN MAGIC!" Zachary complained as he looked at her and sighed. "Sorry, I"m just really quite frustrated right now." The ice mage paused as he stared at the woman and thought for a moment. "We should probably move, though. For Fabi's sake. I need her far enough from this place that when I'm not worried about her and can be equally, effectively pissed off, I can rain suffering down on this... man... far worse than anything he can imagine. I doubt very much he can replace his entire staff."
The ice mage paused as he stood up, feeling wobbly. "Z said this world was odd... but dear gods... I know this place wants to fling me out just standing here," the Replicator said with a smile. "Now then, we save Fabi, get her to safety and make these freakers pay!" the weaponsmith said with a smile.
He paused for a thought though. "Who was it that entered my room. Was he real... or did I imagine him to keep myself from going insane?" the ice mage mused to himself, scratching his cheek.
And if you’re good, Ernesto thought with a smile after Zach had gone, they won’t know you’ve done anything at all. Things will just seem right.
Then he vanished once more for the time being, letting the mortals now do their share.
“Be careful, Zach,” Cadenza was saying, “Denebola’s got spells set down in this place like roots, and he’s had time to research you too. He has to know about your ice magic, and has probably prepared some spells with nasty plants that survive and even thrive in cold just for it. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself.”
She led him along as she spoke, reaching out with her senses to seek a trace of Fabi's magic, or maybe even better, a sign of her shadow. There were a trio of large rooms that became apparent to her as she expanded her awareness to the building's shadows at large, rooms that felt like big voids, just as whoever had been with Zach had been. These she figured to be the most heavily warded, and she’d bet money that Fabi was being held in one of the three. However, they needed all the time they could conserve.
“Have you heard anything? Got any ideas of which lab she might be in? There’s three but I don’t want to give us away or waste time busting into the wrong one…”
Zachary paused, feeling dizzy again, and thought. "Oh yeah, that guy... er... what was his name?" the ice mage asked himself as he patted his chin with his hand. "Er... it started... Uh... I think it was..." he said, thinking harder. "He didn't tell me... and I have no idea what he looks like. He said he was gonna tell me where she was before that illusion appeared and let me help you find me... although that guy didn't just undo that bastard's handywork and let me do this MY way. If he had, I wouldn't have to worry, after all," Zachary said as a sword appeared in his hand, "you forget that I'm not just a master of cold anymore. I'm a master of weapons as well," the ice mage said with a smile.
The red-haired boy chuckled as his blade vanished. "So odds are, like you, he only understands the part of my powers that's relevant in this world and that... person... so the other part is unimportant to them," Zachary said proudly. In reality, he was terribly misguided in this belief, but right now, he had plans to commit mass murder as the Avenger again. He didn't WANT to, but he HAD to. After all, perhaps having his entire staff wiped out would teach this douche a lesson.
"Anyway," Zachary said as magic danced in his hand, his right eye turning teal. "If there is any nearby water, I might be able to find her," he said, smirking. "Oh, I don't know if I've shared with you yet... but my mom was an Undine, so I'm half that," he said, smiling proudly as teal waves began to form on the right side of his face starting next to his eye and new waves forming beneath the initial horizontal wave. "Hopefully THEY don't know that."
Denebola sat in his heavily warded office, the most protected room in the Mage Headquarters, and thought.
I can feel her. She has broken through my outer defenses and I can feel her magic somehow at work here, as black as I remember my sister’s presence to be. Pauline, how can she hope to best me when I have stood against even you in our fights growing up, you who are the closest thing I know to that Spirit of Death the gypsies so believe in? The other mages tell tales of this Madrigal intruder, saying that she has leveled cities, decimated vampires’ fortresses, left torn corpses behind of any foul creatures of the night who have tried to harm her or other people. I don’t believe them. Even if “vampires” were to exist, how could such a petit femme, not even Royal Mage of her own country, hope to best them? Non, she will fall prey to my vines, ensnared like so many others, until I can experiment on her and test her just like her niece. And then I will have her as my own, and not even Mage Livingston could take my prize from me. I can feel this in my bones, and seldom have they lied before… All that awaits now are a few preparations.
He picked up his cream-colored desk phone and made a few calls.
"If there is any nearby water, I might be able to find her."
“Zach you’re a genius!” Cadenza grasped his shoulders in the excitement of that rare eureka moment, her dark eyes alight, seeming even deeper and more vivid in the realm, like being there was pure nectar to her magic’s power, “I know I don’t say that much, but… if not a genius, than at least you’re the spark that sets off a good idea!”
“Wha?” was all the man could manage in the sweep of her enthusiasm.
“Water, amigo, water! If they’re running tests on her or anything, they must be using some! All we have to do is have me trace the water flow in the pipes to the right lab, they’ll certainly be casting a shadow, even in the dark there the space under them will be darker, and then you can verify for us by checking it out! How much water do you need to do that?”
As all this went on in the forefront of her mind, under her consciousness part of her felt something seeking her out, like a cat that has had its tail brushed by something unexpected, and her senses wanted to bristle at the feeling but she fought it down. Like searching in the dark, if her seeker did not detect any movement, she knew he would pass the faint hint of her magical presence over, and move onward. For that reason, she kept her other thoughts clear, and tried to kept her exertion of power on the building’s shadows to a minimum. When we begin tracing the pipes, I have to do this with as little energy as possible, or he may know.
Zachary's right eye began to glow as he looked through the pipes quietly, searching for other sources of water nearby. "This place..." the ice mage said as he quietly tried to look for Fabi. Still, he couldn't find quite a large enough area of water to see where Fabi was. "This place is a nightmare. The water is all locked up in these copper pipes... I mean... dammit... I need at least a small puddle to see anything."
For the first time in a while, Zachary cursed his only being half-Undine. If he was like Algretta... he paused in that thought. He NEVER wanted to be like Algretta or Monroe. ALl of that thinking and science stuff... it was no wonder they had almost no friends each. Shaking that thought off, he continued to search. "I swear to the divine, when I get my hands on whoever is near Fabi... well, I'm gonna shake them and yell, but when Fabi's safe, oh buddy!"