Mere moments after the trio of Tar’el, Felicia and Nemesis had left his shop Sepheous rushed back behind the nearby counter and into the back room of his store.
The satyr hissed a quick incantation as he gave a wide gesture toward the floor. As his hand passed over the wooden boards they creaked and slid away, revealing two grand chests covered in age old dust.
As soon as the old cases were uncovered Sepheous was quick to pull one up onto the floor of his back room and unlock it with another magical snap of his fingers. The satyr threw back the lid of the chest and without pause begun to furiously search through its contents.
“Where is it? I know I left it in here somewhere,” Sepheous grumbled as he cast aside magical trinkets, some of which were centuries old as if they held no value.
“Here it is!” Sepheous exclaimed minutes later as he wrenched a large, twisted key out from beneath two larger, heavier looking trinkets.
Sepheous slammed the lid of the ancient chest resealing it with another swift magical utterance before walking towards the entrance to his shop, flipping over the sign that hung upon the inside of his store’s simple door so that is said ‘closed’ to all those wishing to enter. In the same instant Sepheous opened the door himself and walked out onto the dimly lit street of New Brook, once again wearing the guise of the kindly old Mr. Cheng.
Commander Cyrus Blade sat dissatisfied upon a large, metal chair overlooking the deepening rows and galleries of the Facility Twelve command centre. He grimly stroked his stubbly lower jaw as he watched the teams of Institute hired engineers, technicians and other staff go about their work.
The Institute’s latest defeats weighed heavy upon his mind and the loss of Captain Varg was a hard one to bear. She, along with her brother Björn were some of the few that Blade truly believed that he had saved from a crueller life, instead of those who were torn from loving families that were often silenced. It was all for the greater good Blade oft had to remind himself, the Institute was making the Earth a safer place with each otherworldly monster it captured or slew.
Blade’s introspection was interrupted as he noticed a small shadow dart across the floor and merged with the larger shadow of a nearby console.
A sleek, leather wrapped arm began to reach out from the gathering shadow. Planting itself firmly on the steel floor the seemingly disembodied arm pulled more of the shapely, black battle-suit clad figure of Shadow from the darkness until she was wholly standing beside Blade on his throne.
Blade lurched his head slightly towards the commander of the Institute’s elite and secretive Black Division, a special group of operatives who dealt with quiet assassinations, reconnaissance, infiltration and making sure that the Institute and its actions remained secret.
“I think he’s finally making his move,” Shadow admitted to the eagerly listening Blade.
Blade turned his head and looked into Shadow’s eyes with an steely, intense stare.
“Are you sure?” Blade said, asking for confirmation.
Shadow produced a small, black device from one of the many black mesh pouches fastened onto a belt that encircled her waist. Shadow pressed a button on the side of the small, ebon oval.
Magnus’ disembodied voice began to speak, his damning words recorded for Commander Blade to hear “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.”
Shadow depressed another control on the small device she held, halting the recording.
“I’d say I am,” Shadow said confidently to the seated Blade who nodded his head assuredly.
“After all these years he’s finally slipped up,” Blade said with a slight grin, standing from his chair.
“It seems we were right not to trust him,” Shadow replied, “still it’s a shame it had to come to this. He did good work and has advanced the Institute by at least a decade with some of his inventions.”
Blade shot an unamused glance back at Shadow.
“All a façade Shadow. While he fed us his table-scraps to keep us and the higher ups placated it would seem he turned the Arcane Division into his own personal cult. The council was mad to allow Magnus to go unobstructed and unsupervised for so long,” Blade ranted, “well no more. I’ll see to it his ‘Grand Design’ never comes to fruition. I’ll take the recording to the council, see what those bureaucrats have to say to this.”
Blade strode up to Shadow and took the device from her open hand before beginning to march toward the nearby automatic door out of the Facility Twelve command centre.
“What do you want me to do?” Shadow asked her long time friend.
“Round up the best Black Division has to offer and keep tabs on Magnus and the rest of the Arcane Division. When the council hears this and orders Magnus’ capture you’ll be there,” Blade answered as he continued to walk away.
“As you wish Cyrus, we’ll be waiting” Shadow replied.
“Just think, before today is done we may have finally rid ourselves of the cancer that has eaten away at the heart of the Institute for so long,” Blade said with a hopeful chuckle before finally stepping through the swiftly opening door that lead out into a network of long, featureless steel corridors.
“Let’s hope,” Shadow said to herself before she activated the inbuilt communicator in her plated mesh suit, “this is a code black, I repeat; code black. All available Black Division agents assemble in the Facility Twelve war-room, over and out.”
The eerie almost-silence of the New Brook sewers was broken by the quiet stomping of Nemesis’ demonic, steel boots as she followed close behind Felicia and Tar’el as they walked through the long, dingy sewer-corridors.
As the trio reached an intersection Felicia stopped and supported herself again the only available nearby wall, she was visibly drained from Sepheous’ ritual and eager to stop for a moment.
“Where are we going?” Felicia asked, something that had not been discussed since the group left Sepheous’ magically pilfered store front and descended back into the figurative bowels of New Brook.
Tar’el stopped and looked back at the tired young woman he had sworn to protect and the immense, armoured visage of Nemesis, still half hidden in the darkness of the previous tunnel. Not entirely dissimilar to how Tar’el saw Nemesis herself. A human corrupted, perhaps beyond salvation by the demon caged within her.
Tar’el did not answer straight away, as he really didn’t know where he was leading Felicia, or whether what he was doing, allowing her to aid the demon who had nearly gotten them all killed in her seemingly singular quest to reclaim her captured brother was right. Tar’el was merely the young woman’s protector after all, not her master. Yet now he knew of Magnus’ devastating plans for greater power how could he pry himself and Felicia from her demonic saviour? Tar’el knew one thing for sure; Magnus must be stopped before he brings all of New Brook to ruin in his quest for power and the angel knew that he would have a better chance of stopping the mad sorcerer if Nemesis was on his side.
“We’re going to Facility Twelve,” Tar’el replied after some moments of internal deliberation, “we need to stop Magnus as quickly as we can and seize his ‘Crucible’ as well as rescue Nemesis’ captured brother, who you said was also likely moved to Facility Twelve?”
“I don’t know for definite, but it is the closest Institute compound to Facility Fourteen,” Felicia said, looking back to Nemesis as reassuringly as she could, “and I think I can get us in undetected.”
“How?” Tar’el asked.
“Well, there’s a few ways, some riskier than others. But if we believe that the Institute will be fully expecting us to waltz right up to the front door and try to knock it down that’s where they’ll focus most of their defences,” Felicia began to explain, “we need to use the tunnels.”
“The evacuation tunnels?” Nemesis queried in response.
“Not quite. While each Institute Facility, or at least the ones I know about do have large networks of high capacity tunnels beneath them, allowing for a quick escape if the facility is compromised, they are monitored constantly. No, the tunnels I meant were magical in nature, created by Magnus for us…, I mean the Arcane Division, to allow us to come and go without detection,” Felicia explained to her two waiting guardians.
“Sounds like we have a way in,” Nemesis said in reply.
“We’ll need to head out some way towards Facility Twelve, I’ll be able to locate the entrances to Magnus’ doorways when we’re there,” Felicia said assuredly.
“It’s been years since you worked in secret for Magnus, what makes you think his arcane doorways are still there for you to use?” Tar’el questioned.
“Nothing I guess, but we need to get to his sanctum and Nemi needs to find her brother and unless you have a better idea for getting us into Facility Twelve undetected I think we should give this a shot,” Felicia reasoned and although she understood Tar’el’s apprehension it didn’t seem like they had any other choices, nor the time for lengthy discussions.
“Then it is settled. Felicia, lead us,” Nemesis stated commandingly, her dark, echoing voice made all the more sinister by the dank acoustics of the New Brook sewers.
“Facility Twelve; here we come,” Felicia said, clenching her fists as she thought of all that had happened to her in the heart of that mountain compound.
Tar’el gave way to Felicia who gently strode passed, quickly followed by the immense armoured bulk of Nemesis and finally by the angel himself, who watched Nemesis from behind and worried about the fate of New Brook and all of Earth-realm if Magnus was not stopped before he enacted his ‘Grand Design’.
The large, silver door of Facility Twelve’s so called ‘War Room’ slid open with a loud, hydraulic hiss.
In the open doorway stood the silhouette of Shadow, gazing into the darkness of the newly opened room.
Moments passed before Shadow took her first steps into the War Room, causing the lights in the room’s ceiling to come to life, one room spanning row at a time with a loud, electrical clunk. The light revealed agents of Shadow’s Black Division, one after another all sitting perfectly still in one of the many chairs that lined the large, circular room.
All Black Division operatives were dressed in uniform, each one clad in the same black mesh combat suits that Shadow wore, with face covering masks that gave no hint to the facial features of the person beneath.
As the final row of lights clicked on and revealed the furthest extremities of the room Shadow could see her Black Division in full, numbering ten in all, not counting herself.
In unison the waiting Black agents all looked toward their commander.
“Our mission is a simple, but dangerous one. Commander Blade has long believed that Magnus and his Arcane Division have had ulterior motives in working for the Institute, now he finally has proof and means to share that proof with the Council. Until the Council has reached its verdict on Magnus and those under his command we have been ordered to keep them under close surveillance and gather further proof of their treachery. Commander Blade also wishes that should the Council reach a decision that mandates Magnus’ capture and the apprehension of all members of the Arcane Division that we take them out, quickly and quietly, any questions?” Shadow explained to her assembled group of silent assassins.
A short silence fell over the chamber as Shadow looked over her agents.
“Good. All members of the Arcane Division are currently in this facility, but we believe they, and Magnus will be making a move soon, so we need to start tailing them quickly. I will be shadowing Magnus himself while Black Agents One and Two will follow the strongest of the Arcane Division Impetus and Terra,” Shadow continued, dolling out the particular assignments to her agents, each named only by number, one through ten.
When she was done Shadow looked over her assembled, motionless agents earnestly and with slight concern in her eyes.
“You all have your targets but exercise extreme care, the members of the Arcane Division have long been some of the strongest the Institute has to offer. Most of them could easily be squad captains if it weren’t for the safeguards Commander Blade put in place to ensure they couldn’t, to prevent Magnus getting any more influence then he already has. And remember, you are only to engage if the Council gives the order, is that understood?” Shadow questioned aloud and in unison the members of Black Division gave an understanding nod.
“Then let’s go,” Shadow prompted.
There was a moment of silence before the lights up above buzzed and flickered off then back on, but that instant later, when the light returned the Facility Twelve War Room was empty.
It had been hours since the trio of Felicia, Tar’el and Nemesis had left the snaking sewers of New Brook, now surging towards the hidden arcane passageway Felicia spoke of that would allow them access to the Institute’s Facility Twelve.
The branch of a tree that had been standing for decades moaned quietly as Felicia both landed on and pushed off from it, bounding to the next branch. Tar’el did similarly, though he constantly peered down at Nemesis who ran beneath them.
“You’re so close now, so close to your revenge,” whispered a voice inside Nemesis’ head, “soon you’ll have your brother’s scrawny, traitorous neck in your grasp, with sword in hand.”
Nemesis smirked slightly at the thought of finally exacting her painful vengeance upon her brother.
“Yes, soon his soul shall be collected and I shall finally be freed from my servitude,” Nemesis thought to herself as she lazily dodged between the oncoming trees and other obstacles in her path.
“Servitude that Arthur himself sold you into,” reminded the voice.
“Yes, years of my life gone to pay for his mistakes, only to find that he had sold the souls of those most precious to me to save his wretched hide again,” Nemesis snapped in thoughtful reply to the voice, her face twisting angrily beneath the shadow of her hood.
Nemesis angrily grasped the hilt of her sword as she neared the next tree, a tree she had no intention of dodging.
With a ferocious slash Nemesis shattered the trunk of the upcoming tree, the loud, thundering sound that accompanied Nemesis’ act of wanton destruction audible for miles, causing both Felicia and Tar’el to turn their heads as they leapt between the trees to check on the demon-steel clad warrior.
“Nemesis!” Tar’el exclaimed, shooting a displeased glare down at the corrupted human.
Nemesis looked up as she sped along, returning Tar’el’s glare with one of her own.
“What is it angel?” Nemesis growled.
“We’re almost there guys!” Felicia shouted to try and ease the tension she felt swiftly building between her two protectors.
Commander Blade stood in the centre of a small, round chamber, the room’s tall walls were lined with several large monitors and on each one was a different shadowy figure, this was the Council, a small group of elected officials as well as wealthy backers of the Institute project that had the ultimate say in some of the Institute’s more divisive decisions.
“I believe this is all the proof we need that Magnus is and always has been using the resources of the Institute to further his own agenda and that we must act now to stop him, lest his ‘Grand Design’ be completed,” Blade pleaded to the present Council members.
“We’re well aware of your position Cyrus and we will take it under advisement, allow us a short time to deliberate, we will have a decision for you soon,” replied one of the silhouetted figures displayed on one of the many monitors lining the walls.
“Very well, but every moment you delay Magnus comes closer to achieving whatever his insidious goals truly are,” Commander Blade warned before all of the monitors in the room went blank.
Within a scant eight minutes the monitors surrounding Blade began to flicker and come to life, displaying the same silhouetted figures on their screens.
“That didn’t take long,” Blade said to the returning images of the Council members, though he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“We have reached a unanimous decision. The Council has decided that Magnus poses a significant threat to the Institute project. He must be apprehended and his true purpose discovered. The Council also believes that Magnus’ disciples in the Arcane Division have knowingly aided their mentor’s conspiracy at every turn and it is for that reason all members of the Arcane Division must also be taken, alive is of course preferable, but not necessary. Is that understood Director Blade?” Spoke the Council member directly ahead of Blade’s position.
“Yes, of course,” Blade replied before swiftly taking his leave of the chamber, the servos and actuators of his suit hissing and clicking as he moved.
As Blade strode through the swiftly opening automatic door and stepped out into the grey metal corridor of Facility Twelve he contacted Shadow.
Magnus’ ornately patterned robe swept across the floor as he rounded a corner flanked by Impetus and Terra, the trio striding swiftly and purposefully.
Some meters behind them followed Shadow and her Black Division agents One and Two, using Shadow’s power to slip silently through the web of darkness and shadows cast upon the walls and floor in a similar fashion as she had done when she transported Blade from Facility Fourteen. As they travelled Shadow’s communicator crackled into life, the stern and serious voice of Commander on the other end of the communication.
“The Council’s reached a decision. Time to bring Magnus and the other members of the Arcane Division in. Bring them in alive,” Blade ordered.
“Gladly Cyrus,” Shadow answered with a slight smile on her lips as Blade’s transmission ended.
Shadow activated her communicator and broadcast her own order to all of Black Division.
“Blade’s given us the go ahead, subdue all members of the Arcane Division and bring them in alive, Shadow out,” Shadow promptly ended her communication as soon as her order was transmitted.
The head of the Black Division turned her head ever so slightly as she gave another command, this time to Black Division agents One and Two.
“I’m going ahead, I’ll confront them as they enter storage vault nine, you two step in from behind to cut off their escape,” Shadow explained to her two most powerful agents.
Shadow waited a few moments and slowed her pursuit of Magnus and his two followers before she ejected her two agents from the shadows, allowing them to sneak up on the magi from behind while she surged ahead to the vault Magnus seemed to be travelling toward.
Shadow slipped into the ventilation of the facility, the lack of light within the silver tunnels making travel more effective and swift, and what’s more it allowed her to get ahead of Magnus and his party and make it into the vault before Magnus was even in sight of the maximum security bulkhead of the storage chamber.
As the sorcerer turned the final corner he outstretched his free arm, using magic he manipulated the air so that it could be used as an extension of his own hand and input the code required to unlock the vault.
The red light beside the heavy duty bulkhead changed to green with a loud buzz as the code Magnus entered checked out, then with another swift gesture Magnus caused the immense, vault door to slowly swing open, but as it did it revealed the familiar, black suited form of Shadow waiting for him.
As Magnus saw Shadow’s first long, shapely leg as the door swung open he stopped himself and his robed cohorts.
“Magnus,” Shadow said as some measure of a greeting.
“Shadow,” Magnus replied coldly.
“I’m afraid this is the end for you,” Shadow explained.
Magnus squinted his eyes and turned his head slightly in bemusement, “the end for me?”
“The Council has ordered that you and your little cult be apprehended,” Shadow continued.
“The Council? What have we been accused of?” Magnus asked in reply.
“We have a recording of you discussing your plans, or should I say your ‘Grand Design’ with Glacialis while you healed him in the medical-bay,” Shadow expounded, “looks like you finally made a mistake, I’m surprised it took you so long, I’m impressed really. Did you always have an ulterior motive behind joining the Institute or is it a recent thing?”
“I suppose there’s no use in hiding it any more. I have always worked toward my ascension, it just so happened that the Institute’s goals, for the most part have coincided with my own. I needed creatures from other worlds slain and their essences, their incredible power directed towards the Black Crucible to be absorbed,” Magnus explained, “but now the Crucible is nearly at capacity, after so long. It is time to transfer that power and make me the first of the man made gods.”
“So all this was just so you could gain more power? You’re already one of the strongest members of the Institute,” Shadow retorted, slightly confused at Magnus’ motives.
“Do you think that the demons, angels and whatever else that marauds into our world is the full extent of their might? Oh no, no, no. There are enemies in the other worlds that could grind us all into the dust. First I mean to attain a level of power unseen on Earth, then I intend to remake man-kind, use the same process again and again until humanity is a race of gods mighty enough to challenge even the strongest lords that send their servants to invade our world now,” Magnus ranted.
“Then why keep this from Commander Blade? We could have put proper Institute resources into researching the process you mean to use,” Shadow questioned.
“I mean to imbue myself with the Crucible’s power by means of alchemical transmutation, it is the only way such a thing is possible for us. It is a method Blade would not approve of because in order to transfer the energy an almost equivalent amount of energy needs to be used, that is the first law of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange,” Magnus explained.
“What?” Shadow said, her face wrinkled with confusion.
“I plan to sacrifice the inhabitants of New Brook as well as everyone here who is too weak to survive the process. I will strip them of their souls to fuel my ascendancy to godhood. That is why Blade would never have approved,” Magnus continued.
Shadow’s mouth dropped open slightly and her eyes widened in disbelief.
“You mean to massacre the population of a major city to gain more power!?” Shadow shouted, her once calm vocal tone now turned to intense anger at the mere notion of what Magnus had suggested.
“No, not just for power, but that is one of the major benefits. The sacrifice of the six hundred odd thousand population of New Brook is regrettable, but necessary. They lay down their lives for the greater good of humanity. After I have achieved godhood, when I come to repeat the process improvements will be made, the transfer should hopefully be possible with less sacrifice, but alas you cannot get something for nothing, at least not the kind of power I will soon possess,” Magnus expounded.
“You monster,” Shadow growled, “once Blade and the Council are through with you and your Arcane Division puppets you’ll rot in a prison cell so far beneath the earth no one will ever find you.”
“Do you mean to defeat myself, not to mention Impetus and Terra alone Shadow? I fear you may be overestimating yourself,” Magnus said mockingly.
Just then Magnus and his magi followers heard a sudden burst of noise as Black Division Agents One and Two appeared behind them in mid-air, descending quickly at their backs and ready to strike.
Felicia leaped down from the thick web of branches above down onto the edge of a small, circular clearing in the midst of the forest, the great mountain range that housed Facility Twelve looming some way off in the distance.
“Here we are,” Felicia said with a relieved sigh.
Both Tar’el and Nemesis emerged from the forest and looked around, the clearing was small and rather bare, with only a single, strangely shaped rock sitting on a small mound or plinth of dirt at its centre.
Felicia walked up towards the stone, holding out one of her arms as she did, but as she neared the mound nothing seemed to happen.
Felicia’s brow furrowed slightly in confusion as she walked even closer to the strange shaped stone but still, nothing seemed to happen.
“Is something wrong?” Tar’el asked as he watched the young red-headed woman step closer and closer to the centre of the clearing and the ominous rock.
“I don’t know,” Felicia yelled back, “my memory of these kinds of gateways isn’t perfect, but I could have sworn something is meant to happen. Perhaps there’s some kind of incantation or ritual I forgot?”
Tar’el stepped out into the clearing, away from the edge of the surrounding forest. As the angel walked closer to the oddly shaped stone he could feet a residual magic energy in the air.
“I think it’s more likely that Magnus altered the gateways, closing them to you when you fell from his good graces,” Tar’el suggested as he continued to stride through the magic laced air, “I can feel the kind of magic that was used here, it seems crude. If this arcane gate were fashioned by an Archangel we would never hope to pass through but since this was made by a human I think we could force it open.”
“How can we do that?” Felicia asked, turning back to look at Tar’el with hopeful eyes.
“It should just be a matter of overwhelming the sealed portal with power, to force our way in,” Tar’el answered plainly.
“I’m not sure I’d be able to do that on my own,” Felicia said doubtfully, rubbing her right arm.
“Then I will assist you,” Tar’el replied reassuringly.
“What about Nemi?” Felicia asked, looking off to Nemesis who merely stood propped up against a tree, watching Felicia and Tar’el at the centre of the hollow.
Tar’el looked back at Nemesis then back at Felicia, “hopefully Nemesis’ help should not be required.”
“Okay, if you think so, where do you want me to stand?” Felicia asked with a slight resigned shrug, she had hoped including Nemesis in this might go some way to helping her and Tar’el get along better.
Nemesis watched as Tar’el shepherded Felicia into a particular position in front of the stone and its earthen pedestal.
“The angel’s resentment of you grows, he senses the power you have gained with Abaddon’s help and he fears it. Soon, he will turn on you, and perhaps on that pretty young girl too…” spoke the voice of Nemesis’ mind.
“Let him, his opinions mean nothing to me, not when I’m so close to ‘him’,” Nemesis thought in reply as she continued to watch Felicia attempt to open the portal, the runes on her arms burning orange and a pained look upon her face.
“But what of the girl? Would you abandon her to face the angel’s wrath?” The inner voice asked.
“When Arthur has paid, in full for his betrayal of me. When his soul is finally reaped I shall make sure Felicia is safe, until then she isn’t my concern,” Nemesis answered the voice in her mind.
“She reminds you of Laura, doesn’t she?” The voice asked with a cruel chuckle.
“A little. She has the same lack of confidence I saw in Laura when we first met. She has the same conviction and remarkable inner strength too, if only she could believe in herself,” Nemesis remarked in thought.
Nemesis’ inner discussion was interrupted by the sudden and loud burst of energy released by the sealed portal as it was torn open by Tar’el and Felicia. The runes on Felicia’s arms burning the same, excruciating bright white as they had in the ruins of Facility Fourteen in the fight against Captain Björn, when Felicia delivered the sorcerous blow with the Helios Star that allowed the trio to escape.
Quickly after the portal was opened and stabilised Felicia collapsed from exertion into Tar’el’s waiting arms.
“Hurry Nemesis, this portal won’t stay open long with Felicia unconscious,” Tar’el shouted, contenting with the loud crackling and arcane burbling of the portal.
Nemesis strode over to the middle of the clearing and the coruscating portal at it’s heart.
The two warriors stepped through together, Tar’el with Felicia in his arms and as they entered the portal began to quickly close behind them.
Nemesis and Tar’el stepped through into the dull steel hallways of what they could only assume was the Institute’s Facility Twelve, deep within the mountains that could previously only glimpse over the immense green canopy of the forest.
The metal corridor was clear and silent, save for the faint humming of fans and other such temperature control systems.
“Nemesis,” Tar’el said, his tone serious but also somewhat desperate, “we need to find Magnus’ sanctum, we need to stop him and his ascension before he kills hundreds of thousands of innocents.”
“You know why I’m here angel. When I have my brother, then I will come help you,” Nemesis replied, her voice still harsh and almost inhuman.
“Something bigger than your brother is at stake here!” Tar’el shouted, losing his usual calm demeanour, as he had before in the cellar of Sepheous’ curious shop.
Suddenly a far off explosion rocked the complex, causing the lights in the ceiling of this section of the compound to flicker as the entire place seemed to shake.
“What was that?” Tar’el asked as he looked toward the direction the blast seemed to come from.
There was no answer from Nemesis, but as Tar’el looked back around to where she had been standing only to find her gone.
Tar’el let out a muted growl and cursed Nemesis’ short-sightedness, but the angel knew what he had to do, first he had to find Magnus’ chambers here in Facility Twelve, then he had to access Magnus’ arcane sanctum where he kept his Black Crucible, then Tar’el knew he either had to steal or destroy it.
The angel looked down at the unconscious Felicia, the runes on her arms still glowing brightly, he hoped that she would have roused by now, her memories of this facility would prove invaluable, but until she came to he would have to search without the benefit of her knowledge.
Tar’el began to stride onward as another violent explosion shook and rattled the facility.
“Seems like something else is going on here, hopefully I can use the commotion as a distraction,” Tar’el thought to himself as he continued to walk up the steel arteries of the Institute Facility.
It was the dead of night and Sepheous, in the guise of Mister Cheng the friendly shop keeper hastily walked through a massive brick archway, toward a large, abandoned looking building.
Sepheous checked all around him, to see that he was not followed as he slipped down the right hand side of the forgotten building.
The satyr snaked his way down a number of similar back allies between old, industrial buildings, long since forsaken by the owners and the old companies that used to operate within them.
Eventually Sepheous finally came to stand at a crossroads, a ‘T’ junction between several tightly packed buildings, the corners of two of these old heaps of bricks were just that, while the corner of the third building was a continuous black surface that Sepheous pressed his hand upon, looking once more around him to ensure he was not followed before he uttered an incantation.
At first there was no reaction to the satyr’s spell but then when he took his hand away from the smooth black stone a light purple imprint of his hand remained, slowly fading, seeping into the ebon stone.
A moment later there was a muted but continuous sound of slowly grinding stone that continued for some seconds before what seemed to be a doorway slid aside in the black rock, allowing Sepheous to enter.
The disguised satyr walked through into what could only be described as a vast cube of the same black stone-like material, the dimensions of the chamber far exceeding those of the section of the building from the outside that seemed to be fashioned from this jet-black rock, or of the building it was seemingly part of.
Inside the vast, almost warehouse-like hall were large cubes of this dark stone, easily big enough to be rooms in their own right if their insides were hollow. The great stone cubes stood with large, sturdy vault-like doors that each sat within a deep recess in the stone.
Sepheous walked up to one such cube, shedding his human disguise as he did and extending his right arm, dark metal key in hand and slotting it into the door of one such black stone vault.
The satyr turned the key purposefully, heavy clunks and the sound of whirring gears and cogs accompanying him as he did.
With a final, satisfying stony thud Sepheous released his grip on the key, leaving it in the immense vault door. Sepheous grasped at the far side of the door and began to slowly open it.
When the vault door was opened fully Sepheous gazed inside. This black stone cube was indeed hollow and completely empty, except for the slender, dark wood table sitting upon three claw like legs at the heart of the room and atop that was a large dark metal cage.
As Sepheous stepped in to the vault there was a loud fluttering of wings and an angry sounding ‘caw’ that came from the beast in the cage.
“Yes, yes, settle down, I’m finally going to free you, but you’re going to do a job for me Dust,” Sepheous announced rubbing his hands together gleefully as he approached the cage.
Inside the cage was a large crow, but it was not a normal looking crow. It’s beak was slightly hooked and its eyes were like lifeless pits of blackness yet you could still see them twitch and look around. Perhaps most bizarre of all, the crow was missing its right leg and in its place was a leg and set of talons made of metal, with a slight red glow coming from within the core of the fashioned limb.
“When I send you back to your master you must give him a message from me, will you do that Dust?” Sepheous asked as he knelt down beside the cage.
Dust surged forward and gnashed his hooked black beak against the bars of his cage in reply.
“Come now Dust, be reasonable. Don’t you want to go back to Purgatory instead of being cooped up here for the next forty years?” Sepheous said with a smirk.
Once again Dust cawed angrily at the satyr that had kept him caged for so long.
“Well yes, I do owe your master and the message I shall send you with will hopefully go some way toward mending the rift that has so tragically formed between us,” Sepheous said, his tone descending into a pitiable satire of concern.
Dust squawked three times in response, the third of the three ‘caws’ was longer and slightly deeper than the other two.
Sepheous chuckled, clearly amused by something Dust had said, “Very well, and believe me what I have to tell him is certainly of great interest. The message you are to deliver is this Dust; I have found another like him, a human cursed to share their being with a demon that will doubtless consume them. Although she does not know it, she fights right now for control of her very being with a foe far older, darker and more deceitful than she knows. Tell him that, tell him if he wants to find her that I can lead him to her, now Dust, go.”
Sepheous quickly gestured toward Dust in his cage, as he did a section of the bars of the cage turned to small pillars of purple smoke and dissipated allowing Dust to fly out.
Dust ‘cawed’ loudly one last time before it flew forward and opened a portal up before him through which he swiftly disappeared.