“I think I was drugged for most of my first weeks in the Institute, with something that made me more open to suggestion, something that clouded my mind. I don’t think back then I even knew my own name,” Felicia explained in her magical dream state, “some time after the second week a man came to see me; Master Magnus.”
As Felicia spoke Magnus’ name Sepheous felt a sorcerous twinge spreading out through Felicia’s young mind.
“Girl, tell me more of your time with this ‘Master Magnus’ I suspect that at least some of your missing memories are linked to him,” Sepheous explained.
“The first time I met Magnus he came to my room…” Felicia continued to recount…
Felicia looked up lazily from her folded arms as the door to her white, padded cell was opened.
Through the door stepped an old looking man dressed in an ornate black, red and gold robe with a dark beard. He carried a staff with a deep, but rough red stone at its peak. The man was also flanked by two others, they wore dark skin-tight suits overlaid with grey armoured plates.
“Who are you?” Felicia asked tiredly, her mind still addled from the regular rounds of injections she was receiving.
“I am Master Magnus,” the tall robed man answered as one of his flunkies handed him a chart.
Magnus flicked through the pages of information, taking in what little information he needed.
“You are going to be transferred to another part of this facility,” Magnus said coldly as he continued to leaf through the documents attached to the chart.
“Why?” Felicia asked as she moved one of her hands behind her back.
“You are going to moved into my quarter of this wretched place, there you will be trained by me personally until you are a finally honed weapon,” Magnus explained as he handed the chart back to his subordinates.
“But…” Felicia said slightly hesitantly before her expression changed to a steely glare aimed right at Magnus, “I want to go home!”
The young, red headed girl brought her concealed hand out from behind her back, a seething orb of fire clutched in her palm that, in an instant exploded forwards into a vast, volatile jet of flame.
The uniformed flunkies beside Magnus recoiled in fear of the coming fire but Magnus merely raised his free hand towards the oncoming blaze.
As the fire neared it was drawn towards Magnus’ open hand as if it were a magnet. It seemingly vanished as it reached his palm, until the entirety of Felicia’s inferno was no more.
Magnus looked down disapprovingly at Felicia and pointed the red jewel at the head of his staff towards her. The fire Magnus had stolen suddenly leaped from within the heart of the red jewel, blanketing the entire room, Felicia and all in fire.
“This is your home now,” Magnus responded heartlessly as the halls filled with Felicia’s pained screams.
The great sorcerer turned and stepped out of the room, beginning to walk away he turned for a moment towards one of the men that flanked him.
“Seal the door,” Magnus ordered, “I will return later to see if she has grown more co-operative.”
“Yes sir,” the Institute agent answered obediently, pressing a section of the door controls.
As the door of the cell slid closed the guard watched and listened to the young girl uncomfortably as she writhed, whined and wailed, trapped in the smouldering inferno, silenced only as the door sealed.
“Yes, good,” came Sepheous’ disembodied voice from beyond Felicia’s recollected memories, “continue, tell me more about this Magnus and your time with him, but skip forward a little, what happened when you were moved and became his disciple?”
Two days later Felicia stood in a large, hexagonal chamber lined with tall bookcases filled to bursting with arcane tomes. Felicia was one among six, all standing in a line before Master Magnus.
Felicia was now dressed in a similar skin-tight suit to many of the other agents of the Institute, but her arms were entirely uncovered. Magnus had observed that whenever Felicia used her powers her arms grew incredibly hot, and often burned away any material that covered them.
On her right breast Felicia noticed a word embroidered into her suit, it read ‘Ignis’, as she glanced along the line of children she saw that they too had words sown onto their garments. Each word was different, and all were unfamiliar.
“For some among you this will be your first time training in my sanctum here in Facility Twelve. This will be your life until I think you ready for greater things. You will be brought here to study, to learn, and then you will be taken back to your dormitories. Occasionally you will be taken to the medical bay where you will undergo the treatment necessary to make you into gods,” Magnus explained, “disobedience will not be tolerated. Any deviation from my instruction will be harshly, disproportionately punished. Is that understood?”
“Yes Master Magnus,” snapped the two oldest looking of the six, one a young teenage boy, no older than thirteen and the other a slightly older looking girl.
“While you serve me… and the Institute, your old names have no meaning. On your suits you will see a single word, that is your new designation, your new identity. If I hear a single one of you breathe a word of your life before the Institute, of your old friends, or of your families, then I will personally flay the skin from your back. You are now, and forever will be instruments of my will. You are tools that shall do my bidding without question, is that understood?” Magnus asked again as he looked down upon the assembled children with cruel, heartless eyes.
“Yes Master Magnus,” the two eldest answered fervently again.
After a few uncomfortable, hopeless moments the others, including Felicia also answered affirmatively, submitting themselves for fear of the consequences.
“Good, then let’s begin. Impetus,” Magnus snapped. As soon as he did the eldest of Magnus’ pupils stepped forward, “Ignis,” Magnus looked towards Felicia with a harrowing, uncaring expression set deeply onto his old, slightly withered features, “you two shall spar. Impetus is the strongest of my young acolytes, so hold nothing back.”
Felicia stepped forward uncertainly until she stood some distance away from the other children and Impetus herself.
“Destroy her,” Magnus commanded.
As soon as Magnus’ order reached Impetus’ ear she thrust her arms forward, causing Felicia to be buffeted by an invisible wall of force that knocked her flying backward, slamming into the base of one of Magnus’ tall bookcases.
A few books fell from the shelves above onto Felicia’s crumpled form. The young girl could feel the warlock’s insidious gaze upon her as she struggled up to her feet. When righted, Felicia turned about and flung a hastily prepared fireball at her scowling opponent. One that was easily batted aside with an unseen wave of force controlled by a broad, dismissive sweep of Impetus’ slender arm.
Felicia decided now was her chance, she rushed towards the calm, confident Impetus who threw out one arm with a clenched fist in response. Felicia felt herself be struck once again, this time by what felt like an invisible fist, knocking her off balance, causing her to veer off course by a few steps, but not halting her.
Felicia fought to ignore the pain that throbbed in her left shoulder. She brought her right arm down to her side and held it straight. The young pyromancer pooled all the power she could muster into her palm, forming a smouldering orb in her right hand.
Impetus’ scowl deepened as she saw her foe continue her swift approach, seemingly almost unphased by her last attack. Quickly Magnus’ arch-disciple brought her hands together and began to weave the foci for her next intended spell.
Magnus watched with great interest. He knew Impetus’ style and powers well. Her main strength was long range combat, as most of her spells required the use of many complex foci that took precious moments to weave, moments that she may not have with Ignis bearing down on her.
Felicia leaped forward as she neared her quarry, bringing her right arm back as if she was preparing to let loose a powerful blow. Felicia’s remembered self threw her arm forward and released the power of her spell, causing a torrent of fire to spew forth from the fireball she held captive.
As the heat of the fast approaching flames warmed her cheeks Impetus finished the last of her foci and exclaimed “Infragilis Moenia!”
Suddenly the flames changed course, instead of surging forward they spread even further, as if some large object had barred their way.
Felicia quickly tired. With her waning her flames died down, revealing an unscathed Impetus knelt behind a rippling wall of force she had erected to protect herself.
Impetus’ face contorted angrily. The fifteen year old rose to her feet triumphantly, dismissing the barrier that had kept her safe. The young woman flung her arm out in a wide arc, causing another controlled wave of energy to batter Felicia, knock her into the air.
Felicia crashed back down with a heavy thud. Instantly she felt an intense pain in her gut. Something was wrong.
Impetus stalked forward. She drew both of her arms above her head, likely to bring down some massive, crushing coup de grâce, but before she had the chance Magnus shouted “enough!”
Instantly Impetus desisted and allowed her arms to gracefully fall back to her sides.
“Return to the line. Both of you,” Magnus ordered.
Magnus watched as Felicia pulled herself up off of the ground and began to hobble back into the orderly, waiting line of children.
The old sorcerer wouldn’t say it, nor would he allow it to be shown on his face, but he was deeply impressed at what he just saw. That a girl of eight, with no training, almost un-enhanced by the Institute’s various drug and radiation treatments fared so well against his strongest acolyte was incredible. Ignis had potential, perhaps with his guidance Magnus could mould her into his greatest weapon yet.
For the next two hours the entranced Felicia continued to recount her youth, how as the years went on she lost her true sense of self to Ignis in the sea of the Institute’s mind, and body altering drugs and treatments. Eventually she was as singular in purpose and desire as every other of Magnus’ pupils. Ignis was merely a weapon that Magnus and the Institute would wield against the inhuman invaders that bled in from the worlds beyond.
Her power grew by leaps and bounds, so much so that Magnus quickly became obsessed, he poured almost all his efforts into the training of Ignis, Impetus and Terra, his three most promising disciples, but Ignis most of all.
But as Felicia remembered a meeting with Master Magnus she suddenly fell silent.
“Here,” Sepheous said in wonderment as more eldritch power trickled down from his fingers onto Felicia’s brow, “the memories beyond are blocked.”
“Can you undo what has been done to her?” Tar’el asked from the end of the stony cellar.
“I believe I can. These spells were woven by a Human, they lack finesse. Oh, the damage that could have been caused to this girl’s mind,” Sepheous said in a most disapproving tone.
The satyr began to mutter an incantation, grasping Felicia’s clammy forehead with one hand and waving his other in the air some inches above her face, a trail of amethyst power following his every arcane gesture.
“Girl, can you remember what Magnus said when he met with you?” Sepheous asked before returning to his hushed chanting.
Felicia’s mouth began to open as if she was about to speak, after several seconds of expectant silence words began to form in the young girl’s hoarse throat.
“He… met with me alone, after he had dismissed the others,” Felicia suddenly began to explain, though initially she sounded confused, “h-he told me that I would be brought to him later that night, along with… t-the others, he said it was time that I was told of his true design.”
The more Felicia talked the more she looked pained, as if merely accessing these forbidden memories grieved her.
“Continue girl, the more you talk the more I can pry the lock on your mind open,” Sepheous hissed as he continued his spells.
When the night of the meeting rolled around Felicia, now Ignis completely, was meditating quietly on her bed, her legs crossed. Within her, she channelled and moved about masses of her own power, sending her fiery essence about her form. It was a simple exercise, but one Magnus expected all of his pupils to master.
Suddenly the young girl’s meditation was broken as the door to her room hissed hydraulically as it slid open.
“It is time,” the blank faced Institute guard uttered as he looked at Ignis with empty, lifeless eyes, “I will bring you to the master.”
Ignis stood from her bed elegantly and began to walk towards the guard, stepping out into the featureless, pristine hallway to meet him. Ignis then looked to her escort to guide her.
The guard led her slowly to Magnus’ study, a room even she, one of his favoured pupils had rarely been allowed to see inside. As the young pyromancer and guard approached, the door to Magnus’ room opened as if it knew she was expected.
“Enter,” the guard droned, gesturing towards the open door.
Ignis walked towards the warm, golden light within, stepping through into Magnus’ own chambers. The room was large and furnished with exotic items the likes of which Ignis had seldom seen before, with grand, comfortable furniture from a dozen different countries and from a dozen different periods. Yet more book cases lined much of the walls, and the spaces that weren’t were covered by gorgeous paintings.
At the end of the long room Ignis spied Magnus, as well as Terra, and Impetus who looked back at her in turn.
“Ignis,” Magnus said, greeting his final arch-disciple.
Ignis walked directly to her waiting master and her peers, no longer paying any attention to the glorious artefacts and items all around.
“You sent for me, Master Magnus?” Ignis said in such a way as to sound like a question.
“Yes, it is time I revealed to you three my grand design,” Magnus extolled, “it has taken me… years. It nears completion, and you, my acolytes, will be the ones to finally help me complete my great work.”
Magnus turned to the wall behind him and with a simple wave of his staff the once solid Facility Twelve wall seemed to almost melt away.
“Step through into my real abode,” Magnus said, his voice becoming all the more sinister as he passed through his own portal.
Without hesitation Impetus, Ignis, and Terra followed after their robed master, walking through the rippling surface that separated the Institute’s compound from wherever they were now.
Magnus’ acolytes stepped out onto a black stone causeway suspended over an unnatural darkness, a seemingly bottomless abyss from which great statues rose to hold this impossible bridge. All around them in the distance were walls of black stone, borne by similar statues that held countless secrets. Light leaked from strange stone pillars that stood alone in the darkness between stone walkways and platforms.
“This is my true domain,” Magnus announced as he strode purposefully down the pathway.
Ignis and the others followed quickly after Magnus, taking in their bizarre surroundings as they did.
“Feel honoured my acolytes, you are some of the first to have ever seen my archives, well, the first humans here anyway…” Magnus croaked cryptically, “I have conducted countless experiments here. On beasts from beyond our little world. Oh the knowledge I have gained… knowledge that shall be yours, so long as you serve me.”
Finally the group came to a stop at a large, round platform at the end of the long bridge. Immense giants of stone bearing a strange, burning glyph upon their featureless, stone faces, with massive collars of iron around their necks stood guard over a wondrous, but arcane golden plinth.
“This is the terminal,” Magnus spoke to his following students, “from here I can travel to any of the vaults, laboratories or libraries that make up my great archive, and we will go to the most prized vault of them all. Come, quickly, stand upon the dais.”
Ignis, Terra, and Impetus quickly stood beside their master on the golden platform under the eternally watchful gaze of the near motionless golems.
Magnus banged the bottom of his staff against the rune etched floor and immediately the arcane glyphs began to glow a deep, powerful red.
“Take me to my greatest work,” Magnus commanded, and instantly the group of four vanished, leaving only a faint magic vapour behind.
In the same instant Ignis and the others appeared in a completely different space, overlooking a vast circular chamber with a large pit at it’s centre. A column of red light rose from the central void, and in the heart of this light was a small, dark object, but Ignis could not make out what it was from this distance.
Magnus, quickly followed by his disciples began to walk down the large flight of stairs towards the pit, and the light that emanated from it.
As Ignis walked down more and more of the black stone steps, she noticed strange arched talons of stone rising from around the pit and pointing towards the small, black object suspended within the light. These strange, blade-like fingers of stone had marvellous, vibrantly coloured jewels at their tips, pointing into the faintly crimson pillar of energy.
The group walked in eager silence as they continued to approach the pit’s edge.
“This is my greatest discovery, my finest work,” Magnus said, gesturing towards the dark shape within the heart of the coursing energy.
Ignis looked into the column of power and saw that floating serenely within was a smooth, black cube with intense, glowing veins of icy blue light running across its otherwise featureless surface.
“This my disciples, is the Crucible,” Magnus stated emphatically.
As knowledge of Magnus’ Crucible came back into Felicia’s near unconscious mind, deep in the mountain heart of the Institute’s Facility Twelve, Magnus felt his spell crumbling away, he could sense the secrets he buried in Ignis’ mind being unearthed.
Magnus looked up suddenly and with concern from Glacialis, his handless pupil who was laid out on a white, steel table.
“What is is, master?” Glacialis groaned.
“Ignis, her mind, her memory of the Crucible is returning,” Magnus said through gritted teeth.
“She cannot do anything to stop your grand design now,” Glacialis said painfully.
“She is no longer one of my faithful. Her knowledge of my grand design could ruin everything. I must call the others, the ritual must be performed without delay, my ascension must be assured,” Magnus hissed angrily, “you will be needed.”
“Without my hands I cannot form the required foci, master,” Glacialis whined sorrowfully.
“Then we shall fashion you hands of ice,” Magnus replied, “quickly, create your new hands and I shall render them as flesh.”
“Y-yes, of course,” Glacialis answered obediently as he tugged and bit at the cloth bandages and bindings covering his grave wounds. It didn’t take long for Glacialis to uncover the bloody stumps that were his arms, but it was painful.
Glacialis closed his eyes and pushed passed the pain. He began to concentrate, summoning all the magical energy he could to the ends of his cleaved limbs. He moaned and spluttered painfully as he mustered his strength. Beads of sweat born from this intense exertion of body and mind formed on his pale, sickly brow.
Slowly with a frosty crackle, ice began to grow from Glacialis’ torn flesh and rent bone until crude shapes resembling hands took form. Magnus touched his disciple’s icy prosthesis with his left hand, and began breath life into them, causing conjured ice to turn to flesh, bone and blood.
“Thank you, Master Magnus,” Glacialis wheezed between pained gasps.
“Those will do for now, use your magic sparingly, and do not conjure Permafrost with those, it is unlikely they could take the strain, however, they should prove to be enough for the ritual,” Magnus explained.
“Yes, Master Magnus,” Glacialis said thankfully as he slowly clenched his new magic-wrought hands.
“Now go to your work, I will contact you soon,” Magnus ordered.
“Yes, master,” Glacialis replied as he began to leave the medical bay.
“I have worked too long to let my failed disciple topple my glorious scheme,” Magnus muttered to himself resolutely before storming out of the medical bay as well.
About ten seconds after he left a small shadow started to creep along the walls, leaving the chamber silently and unseen.
“Continue, girl,” Sepheous said, his bodiless voice sounding increasingly more impatient and strained, “tell us more of this ‘Crucible’.”
Magnus looked down upon his three young acolytes, “the Crucible is an almost living repository of power, like a vast magical battery. Every time magic is used in our world, every time a monstrosity that does not belong is killed, remnants of their power that would otherwise be lost are drawn inexorably into the Crucible.”
“For hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years the Crucible has quietly supped the magical energy that bathes our world unseen, and soon, in another decade or so it will be finally be filled. Then I will harness its incredible power, and make it my own. Of course, such a transference of power will require enormous energy. I estimate the ritual would require an amount of magical power equivalent to six hundred thousand human souls, but what is progress without sacrifice?” Magnus explained as he looked up to the silently drifting cube with avaricious, amber eyes.
“You shall all assist me. When the time comes, it will be you, and perhaps others that weave the ritual that shall make me a god. Until then we must bide our time and pay lip-service to the Institute. We will continue to let the Crucible feed on the ebbing essence of the otherworldly scourges that assails us from their own discordant dimensions,” Magnus continued, “now you have seen enough. Speak to no one of this place or what you have seen here. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Master Magnus,” his three young pupils answered together in eerie unison.
“I sense there is still more hidden in the recesses of the girl’s memories,” came Sepheous’ disembodied voice once more.
Outside of Felicia’s entranced mind Tar’el shot the satyr a look of grave concern. “A decade!? Then that means if Magnus’ calculations were correct this ‘Crucible’ is now dangerously near to reaching its full capacity.”
“Perhaps, but where will he get the six hundred thousand human souls needed for the transference?” Nemesis asked.
Tar’el didn’t have an answer, but he had an idea who might.
“Felicia,” Tar’el said urgently, “do you know where Magnus planned to get the magical energy he needs for his ritual?”
“Master Magnus projected that by the time the Crucible was at capacity the city of New Brook would have a sufficient population to facilitate his ascension,” Felicia explained, entranced.
A chilled silence fell over the room, with Sepheous lifting his hand from the young human’s forehead and looked to the angel.
“The Accord are unlikely to ignore such a large scale and damning misuse of magic and life force, even if the perpetrator is a human,” Sepheous stated.
“The Accord?” Nemesis said questioningly.
“They’re the peacekeepers for the worlds beyond, trying to ensure the End Times do not take place before it is meant to,” Tar’el explained hastily, “we do not want them involved.”
“Then perhaps with Felicia’s mind restored she can take you to Magnus’ lair, to the Crucible,” Nemesis responded to the angel.
“Lead me to the Crucible? What would you be doing in the meanwhile? We will almost certainly need all the help we can get if we’re to avert this catastrophe,” Tar’el quickly retorted, his expression quickly turning to a slight, but serious frown.
“I have a sibling to find and reclaim,” Nemesis snapped in reply.
“You would risk forsaking six hundred thousand of your kind, for one?” Tar’el questioned as he scowled intensely toward Nemesis, “it seems I was mistaken in beginning to think you were not the corrupted, demonic wretch your outward appearance made you out to be.”
“Stop fighting you two,” Felicia said as she strained to look up from her horizontal position on Sepheous’ table. Sepheous quickly began to undo the bonds that held Felicia firmly in place.
“Felicia, do you remember all that you have told us?” Tar’el asked kindly.
“Yes, and more, years of my life have come flooding back to me. It’s like finding the missing pieces to a puzzle,” Felicia admitted with a tear in one eye as she turned to the inhuman satyr that helped her regain her memories, “thank you.”
Sepheous said nothing, looking a little uncomfortable at the human girl’s show of sentiment.
“I only went to Mas-… Magnus’ archives twice or so, every time I did he took us through the back wall of his room in Facility Twelve,” Felicia explained to the moodily silent Nemesis and Tar’el.
“Good,” Nemesis stated emphatically, “then we shall go there as planned, and while you two investigate Magnus’ chambers I shall retrieve my brother.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Felicia said slightly cheerfully as she looked at the face of her irritated angelic protector.
“If you have no more business to conduct with me here then leave,” Sepheous interrupted rudely.
The trio left under a pall of uncomfortable, angry silence.
Felicia thought back to the marks on her arms, she still couldn’t quite remember how, or why she got them. The latest memory that Sepheous had helped unlock was of Magnus taking Ignis to the chief biological engineer of Facility Twelve in his obsessive quest to forge Ignis into his greatest weapon.
She remembered them disagreeing on a procedure. She remembered Magnus forcing the chief biological engineer to comply. Then she remembered being submerged in a tank, and the intense pain that followed…
The group stepped out of ‘Cheng’s’ herbal shop and back onto the dark streets of New Brook. They slunk back into the shadows and dropped down into the sewers.
Felicia had became more resolved than ever to find out what had happened to her. Why was she branded? And why she was left to rot in the bowels of Facility Fourteen?