1.15: Reckoning

The dull silver corridors of the Institute’s Facility Twelve were once again rocked, the calm but intense white lighting turning swiftly to red as the automatic security protocols kicked in.

Magnus and Shadow stood opposite one another, both of them knew their combat would soon begin but waited for the other to make a move.

Shadow cracked her knuckles, she was a close range fighter for the most part, she just preferred it that way, despite her ability to kill from afar.

Magnus’ face had formed into a deep scowl, he knew he would have to be the one to act first, it was he, not Shadow that was on a very pressing time limit. Still, he had to play this carefully, he hadn’t faced an opponent like Shadow in a very, very long time.

The old sorcerer raised his free hand and wordlessly let loose a cone of thick, golden fire that somehow seemed to have a heavy black outline like something out of a comic book. The fire swept over much of the right hand side of the vault, incinerating all but the most sturdy of artefacts and curiosities the Institute had collected and allowed Magnus to store here.

Before the jet of golden flame that flowed from Magnus’ palm had even been halted the old sorcerer knew that Shadow was no longer there, but he had to keep up the pretence of his attack, at least until the head of the Black Division showed herself once more.

Suddenly an arm with a dagger of shadow in hand leapt from the nearby darkness, darkness created by the brilliant light of Magnus’ golden fire.

Magnus felt the subtle shift in the air and quickly reacted, bringing his dark staff down onto the cold steel floor with a resolute clang. As the sound rang out through the dull, immaculately clean halls of facility twelve a wall of what seemed to be sand leapt from the floor to block Shadow’s blind siding attack.

After an instant of relative calm Magnus looked around to see that Shadow’s last attack had melted away.

‘Another feint’ Magnus thought to himself cautiously as he quenched the torrent of golden flame by clenching his open fist.

Once again the atmosphere of the room shifted ominously. Magnus looked around and then up to see Shadow leaping down from the steel ceiling above, her right arm pulled back and enveloped in what seemed to be pure darkness.

With a steel rending crash and a bizarre supernatural yawning Shadow’s attack landed. A thick pool of pitch blackness spread about the floor for meters around the impact zone. Objects unlucky enough to be found inside were pulled down into the inky void Shadow had created, but Magnus was not amongst them.

Shadow stood back to her full height in the midst of her black mire and looked behind her, as she did she saw Magnus flit into existence with a crackle of iridescent light.

In an instant Magnus conjured and threw a ball of golden flame as he began to descend back down towards the dull grey metal floor of the vault.

Shadow rushed forward, almost seeming to skate upon the near liquid darkness she had spread with her last attack. She saw Magnus gracefully falling back down from his precarious airborne position, she knew where he would land; and when. The golden fireball was fast approaching, eclipsing its creator as it neared Shadow knew she only had a few moments to get into position.

As the conjurer’s conflagration was almost upon its target Shadow looked to the steel expanse that stretched out between her and where Magnus would soon land. There was nothing, all objects and relics had been either destroyed or been thrown against one of the four walls of the vault.

Quickly Shadow thought and reached down, taking a small object from one of the moulded synth-plastic pouches on her belt and tossed it some way in front of her.

The object she threw was a small, unassuming black baton, no more than a couple of inches long, but as it began to pass under the speeding orb of fiery magic Shadow smirked, her form beginning to melt away and hide in its shadow.

Magnus’ fireball detonated violently, its black bordered flames consuming what few objects had initially escaped the pull of Shadow’s void.

As the sorcerer continued to fall, he scanned the room frantically to see where Shadow had gone, or whether she had perished in the blaze, although he doubted that it would have been that easy to dispatch the head of the Institute’s Black Division.

As Magnus’ soft, comfortable shoes touched down upon the ground he spied the small black stick, rolling lifelessly on the ground, he knew now where Shadow had hidden herself.

With a sudden surge of speed the head of the Black Division emerged from Magnus’ own shadow, cast upon the floor by the very explosion of his own fire-blast, her fist drawn back. Shadow loosed her blow as she neared.

With a heavy smash Shadow’s fist imprinted itself unyieldingly in Magnus’ gaunt, pale jaw.

Magnus rocketed away and ploughed, head first into a haphazard pile of wooden and steel crates.

“If you think that’s all it will take to subdue me Shadow, you are sorely mistaken,” Magnus said, his voice now magically filling the vault.

With a sudden blast of arcane power Magnus scattered the toppled and splintered boxes that laid on top of him.

“I should hope not old man,” Shadow said wryly, “if it did then you should never have been made head of your own division.”

“You have no idea of the depths of my power,” Magnus retorted, confidence thick in his voice.

“Then show me,” Shadow replied with an almost gleeful smirk.

“Gladly,” Magnus said, raising his right hand, golden lightning dancing between his fingers.

Shadow adopted a low fighting stance and prepared for her combat to resume.

Tar’el rushed blindly down the red-light bathed corridors of Facility Twelve, with Felicia still unconscious and slung over his shoulder. The angel’s demeanour was less calm and collected than usual, angered as he was with Nemesis, who rushed off to pursue her own selfish and short-sighted objectives. With the young red-head unconscious it was up to Tar’el alone to find Magnus’ sanctum.

The sound of another muted blast rumbled through the almost featureless steel innards of the facility.

‘Good’ Tar’el thought, ‘so long as that combat continues there’s less chance that I’ll be discovered.’

The angel continued to dart about in his restricted human form. It wasn’t anywhere near as quick as his true angelic state, but it was certainly less suspicious at a distant glance and until he found Magnus’ personal chambers Tar’el decided that discretion was paramount.

The stainless steel halls moaned and juddered again as the sound of another explosion filling the intersection Tar’el had come to.

Tar’el paused and looked down the metal passages ahead of him and to his sides, each of them was as featureless as the others, giving no hint to what may be beyond.

As the angel deliberated Felicia’s eyes began to slowly open. The young woman groaned as she began to stir.

“Tar’el?” Felicia said as if asking, checking to see if her angelic guardian was still nearby.

“I’m here Felicia,” Tar’el replied as he stooped down and helped Felicia off of his shoulder and back onto her feet.

“We made it?” Felicia said uncertainly as she looked around at the steel walls of the institute facility made red by the warning lights.

“Yes, but we cannot delay. We urgently need to find Magnus’ study,” Tar’el implored, “do you know where it’s located in this facility?”

“I-I can try, it’s been so long since I walked these passages as a member of the Arcane Division,” Felicia admitted, hoping to reign in Tar’el’s expectations, “where’s Nemi? Gone to find her brother?”

Tar’el didn’t answer for a moment, anger boiled up inside him, but with a deep, exasperated sigh the angel nodded at the young girl who continued to inspect the intersection.

“I hope she finds him,” Felicia remarked.

Suddenly a memory came to Felicia, hitting her like a bolt of lightning. In her recollection Felicia remembered walking through this very intersection to reach one of facility twelve’s many artefact vaults, the direction she came from was Magnus’ own chambers.

“This way,” Felicia stated, her tone certain.

Felicia rushed down the south-facing passage, followed closely by her angelic protector.

Elsewhere in the vast mountain compound Nemesis continued to thunder down the endless steel corridors to find her hated brother. Nemesis wasn’t like Tar’el and Felicia, she didn’t care if she was caught, she didn’t care if this far off commotion wasn’t enough to mask her frantic search, if any member of the Institute got in her way she would destroy them.

He’s so close now, he knows we’re here, I can practically taste his fear, it’s so thick in the air,” whispered the voice in the soul-hunter’s mind.

“Good, I want him to know his end approaches. I only wish I could be there to see him stew in his own terror,”Nemesis replied in thought.

The demon-steel clad huntress halted herself as she came to a junction, as she looked down the blank, non distinct hallways of the Institute facility she smiled grimly under her hood. She knew where she had to go as she looked hungrily down the northern passage.

Tar’el rounded the corner with preternatural deftness, Felicia trailing a few steps behind, ahead of him now was a short stretch of corridor that opened up into another junction with a large, lacquered white door set deeply into the similarly coloured steel wall.

“That’s it,” Felicia remarked happily, “Magnus’ study.”

“Good, then let us not waste time,” Tar’el replied, rushing to the end of the short corridor, then across the open expanse of the junction, sword now summoned into being.

The angel raised his blade and sliced clean through the half-foot thick steel door, the force of his attack sending the bisected pieces of the bulkhead flying back into Magnus’ study.

“That’ll have probably raised an alarm,” Felicia said as she surveyed the damage through squinted eyes.

Before Tar’el could respond the whole complex seemed to reel from another shuddering blast.

“Hopefully whatever is going on here will keep our activities hidden, or at least make us seem… less important,” Tar’el replied as he strode over the threshold of Magnus’ personal quarters.

The pair made their way towards the back of Magnus’ impressive habitation, stepping over broken works of art, shattered glass and even the remains of the door that had previously barred their way.

As the angel made it towards the back of Magnus’ study he felt the same magic in the air as he had before in the forest clearing, it seemed likely the old wizard used the same kind of gateway spell to connect his abode here with his ‘archives’.

“I can feel the same portal magic here,” Tar’el remarked as he walked around an ancient, ornate mahogany desk.

“Then lets open it,” Felicia retorted as she walked up alongside Tar’el by the back wall of Magnus’ sanctum.

“Do as before, we need to overwhelm the portal with our strength to force it open,” Tar’el reminded his young companion.

Felicia steeled herself for the pain to come as she put her outstretched hand to the oddly unfurnished, cold, metal wall.

Tar’el did likewise, as he did a fiercely intense light enveloped him, quickly forming into his wide, angelic wings, his ragged clothes now replaced by his burnished plate armour and unblemished part-robes.

The two began to bombard the surface of the wall and the magic suffused onto it with their power, attempting to force open Magnus’ portal.

Felicia’s eyes screwed themselves shut as she bore the pain of her runes, now burning white-hot on her arms.

“Stay strong Felicia,” Tar’el said commandingly, “I cannot do this without you.”

Felicia couldn’t respond with words, it took all she had to hold back the agonised scream that was trapped in her throat and desperately wanted to be free.

Tar’el could see the steam and wispy ribbons of pale grey smoke rising from the blazing glyphs stamped onto Felicia’s arms.

‘This portal is markedly more powerful than the last, I shall give it all I have. We must force this gateway open!’ Tar’el thought adamantly to himself as he summoned up every ounce of inner-might that he could muster before bringing it to bear against Magnus’ spell.

As Tar’el redoubled his efforts the rubble and room around him began to shake. Instantly Felicia noticed the very air around her become heavier as her angelic protector exerted himself.

As the room shuddered around them Tar’el and Felicia both began to see something on the wall, a film like skin began seemingly to crease and distort until finally a small tear appeared.

Beyond the tear was a chaotic vortex of blues of every hue, at the end of the eternally swirling tunnel of magic was a blurred image of Magnus’ archives, all shadows and dark stone.

The pair continued to struggle against the magical barrier, Tar’el used more and more of his strength to wrench the portal open. No matter how hard they fought, how much power they used or how much pain they bore they could not widen the gap more than about six inches before the strain became too much and the gash lessened, the spell constantly seeking to reseal itself.

Felicia wailed painfully through tightly clenched teeth as she fell to her knees, her fingers clawing at the burning-white sigils running down her arms.

Tar’el looked to the young woman concerned, yet he knew there was little he could do to ease her pain but as he looked down he could feel the small breach in Magnus’ portal spell sealing itself without Felicia’s contribution.

With a determined growl Tar’el plunged his blade into the carpeted, steel floor and slammed his freed right hand upon the wall beside his left and channelled as much of his essence as he could through both of his arms to force the portal open but it soon became clear that neither he alone or he and Felicia were going to make their way through Magnus’ enchantment.

Exhausted and dejected the angel turned to Felicia with some urgency, taking up his sword once again as he did, “we need Nemesis, where would her brother be being kept if he was brought here?”

Felicia got to her feet, still shaking from the pain, “there’s only one big detention block here, that’s where they’d be keeping him when he isn’t being questioned… or whatever else they’d do to him.”

“Could you lead me there from here?” Tar’el asked.

“I-I think so,” Felicia replied uncertainly.

“Then let’s go, its our best shot at finding Nemesis,” Tar’el remarked, “now, hop on.”

Tar’el assumed a strange, low stance that seemed to communicate to Felicia that she should climb on his back like a child. Without asking Felicia got back onto the angel’s back, Tar’el dismissing his immense, shining wings as she did. The young red-head grabbed hold of the angel’s shoulders from under his arms and immediately Tar’el blasted forwards out of the wrecked doorway of Magnus’ study.

“Straight ahead here,” the young woman instructed as she and the angel travelled at what she felt was breakneck speed, “then the next right I think, no, left… definitely left.”

Arthur cowered in the corner of his crimson-lit cell, shaking nervously as he continued to feel the very Institute complex judder and convulse.

“She’s coming for me, I know it,” the sobbing young man whimpered to himself, much to the annoyance of the guards both immediately outside of his cell, and throughout the whole cell-block.

“Quieten down in there,” one guard ordered, smacking a ‘shock baton’ against the forcefield that made up the foremost wall of Arthur’s, and indeed all the cells in the facility twelve detention block.

Arthur didn’t answer back, instead he continued to rock back and forth, his eyes uneasily clasped shut.

Another blast rang out in the facility’s halls and rocked the compound.

The guards outside Arthur’s cell looked at one another concerned.

“Do you guys think we should go check that out?” One guard asked from further up towards the main corridor from which all these others branched out.

“No, the higher-ups will handle it,” another guard answered nervously.

“I just don’t know why we’re forced to be here guarding this wretch,” the guard closest to Arthur’s cell scoffed, smacking his shock baton against the cell forcefield once again, sending out a ripple of energy across the skin of the barrier.

“Something about him wailing about some demon-woman coming to get him, without someone on guard he just won’t shut up,” one of the guards answered with a shrug.

“Seems like a waste of time and manpower to me,” the guard just outside Arthur’s cell complained.

Just then there was a terrific, blood-chilling crash as someone, or something solid and heavy seemed to strike the bulkhead that sealed the detention block and immediately all of the guards fell silent.

Arthur’s eyes opened widely and his fearful shaking became near uncontrollable, he began to mutter to himself as he tried to crawl even further back into the corner of his prison.

Moments later there was another heavy crash against the detention block door.

“She’s here!” Arthur screamed as he clawed ineffectually at the clinically clean steel walls, attempting to burrow his way out.

“Shut up prisoner!” The guard just outside commanded as he himself tried to get to grips with his fear, “Simmons, go check that out, would’ya?”

Another guard further up the passage, presumably Simmons looked back at the first guard with disbelieving eyes.

“N-no way, I ain’t got no powers like one of those alpha-kappa-freaks! Maybe if we just ignore it, it’ll go away?” Simmons answered back in a hushed, dread-stricken tone as he tried to take tighter hold of his shock baton to reassure himself.

Another instant passes, but to all those within the detention block, near paralysed with terror it felt more like an eternity, then the door is struck again, the loud, booming impact accompanied by the groaning sound of metal beginning to give way.

Seconds later the door is assaulted one final time, another tremendous clash of metal on metal, but this time the sound is followed by the heavy slam of the detention-block bulkhead collapsing, its thick steel hinges, bars and locks finally succumbing to the severity of the onslaught.

The guards within the cell-block no longer had any choice but to gather together and confront the assailing forces that had broken in. Each guard gripped their shock baton all the tighter, one even rushed to a nearby jet black cabinet, opening it with a momentary retinal scan and a Institute key-card before pulling out a compact looking automatic weapon.

The guards of Arthur’s cell-block took a collective gulp as they looked to one another before rushing off around the corner to nearer the entrance of the detention facility.

Arthur whimpered and whined as he looked through the gaps between his fingers held against his face. He could hear indistinct shouting at first, then the rat-tat-tat of unabated automatic gunfire, then screams and pained cries.

“Please,” Arthur begged to anyone or anything in this world or any other that would listen, “let this be a dream, a nightmare. Please anyone, anything. Lord Neroth please save me!”

Suddenly with the sound of a heavy slice from what Arthur feared as his sister’s dire sword he saw the gun-toting guard flung backwards, preceded only by his pained scream, no doubt as a result of the blade cutting into him.

The guard disappeared from view and landed some little ways off with a thud and Arthur shook all the more as he heard the slow, deliberate footfalls of heavy boots on the clean and highly polished, steel floor.

A huge, hulking shadow turned the corner and Arthur’s heart immediately sank deeper as he beheld the terrible visage of Nemesis looking coldly at him cowering in his cage.

There he is! At long last your vengeance cannot be denied!” Nemesis’ inner voice exclaimed gleefully as Nemesis looked over her pathetic brother.

Neroth’s hound began to slowly walk towards her confined sibling, slowly turning her blood streaked blade in her hand and savouring Arthur’s deepening despair.

Elsewhere, in the nerve centre of facility twelve squad members from a handful of different units watched security feeds pensively as the Arcane Division members of almost all the squads combated agents of the Black Division.

“What’s going on here?” Asked one squad member, lost amongst the crowd.

“Blade’ll have answers,” another responded.

Confused murmuring continued for some time, even the squad captains looked to one another, clueless.

“Settle down,” Captain Steel of Alpha Squad commanded, pushing his way through to the forefront of the crowd, placing himself between the mob and the railing, beyond which was the wall of security monitors, “Blade’s already told me he is heading here directly to brief us on the situation.”

Assurance from the captain of the illustrious Alpha-Squad seemed to quell much of the unrest, even though Steel and the three other members of his squad were as eager to hear why Impetus, their trusted ally could be seen on screen battling against the Black Division’s Agent One as anyone else in the compound’s control centre.

An uneasy silence settled over the assembled Institute squad members as they collectively continued to watch the unfolding chaos on the screens before them.

Some minutes later the hydraulics and mechanisms of the command centre door hissed open to reveal the stoic figure of Commander Blade ready to enter. The gathered squad members parted to allow Blade to walk up to roughly where Steel had been standing previously.

With heavy clomps and the whirring of machinery Blade turned to face his soldiers.

“Earlier today the council ordered the capture of Magnus, head of the Institute’s Arcane Division as well as all other members of said division. To that end Black Division were given orders to apprehend them,” Blade announced, his voice loud, clear and authoritative.

Blade looked over the faces arrayed before him, he knew he wasn’t supposed to reveal any more of what had happened, merely order the squads to assist the Black Division in the capture of Magnus’ and his acolytes, but he could see the confusion in them deepen as they questioned the bonds they had forged with their Arcane Division allies.

“The council expressly forbade me from telling you this, but It had come to light that Magnus had long planned a coup and that all members of his Arcane Division were his accomplices, brainwashed and indoctrinated to be single minded in their devotion to him. The squad members you thought you knew, merely façades. While they appeared to carry out their duties for the Institute, all they ever really sought to do was to advance Magnus’ ambitions and his ambitions alone. It was hoped that Shadow and her agents could bring this matter to a swift conclusion,” Blade let out a drawn out sigh before continuing.

“But as you know the members of the Arcane Division are among some of the most powerful and skilled in the entire Institute. It gives me no pleasure in ordering you all to do this, but you must all assist the Black Division agents in the capturing of your former squad-mates,” Blade ordered somewhat reluctantly to his, and the Institute’s gathered troops.

“Yes sir,” Captain Steel snapped obediently, hoping to spur others around him to similar action, to remind them that they were soldiers of the Institute first and that they must follow any order given to them by their superiors, however little they may agree with it.

Slowly others in the crowd acknowledged their orders similarly and began to slowly funnel out of the upper gallery of facility twelve’s command centre after taking note of exactly where it would be best to head to engage each squad’s respective Arcane Division member.

One of the last to leave was Captain Björn, his eye having caught the security feed from another monitor, situated some ways off on one of the lower levels. The Beta-squad captain’s superior sight allowing him to see feed from the detention block. He saw the crimson cast silhouette of Nemesis stride forward, towards one of the cells.

Björn stepped outside like so many others, he turned left and marched down the sterile steel corridor. He knew that once again he was defying Blade’s orders, he knew he would face the consequences later, but only after he had torn his sister’s demonic killer limb from limb.

The sound of electrical crackling filled the air as Nemesis scraped the end of her demon-steel encased fingers against the red forcefield that kept her from her whimpering brother. The soul-hunter looked down coldly upon her hated sibling, she watched as Arthur continued to scratch against the dull grey steel of the back wall of his cell, hoping to dig his way out.

He has nowhere to go now, no one to hide behind, no tricks to pull… finally you may carve your vengeance from his flesh,” The voice in Nemesis’ head remarked, and with it a slight smile crept onto Nemesis’ lips.

“Please,” Arthur begged, “don’t kill me.”

Nemesis laughed to herself as she raised her enormous sword into the air.

“Dannie, please, c’mon… we can get them back together, I’m sure I can cut another deal with Neroth I-” Arthur pleaded but was instantly silenced as Nemesis’ demonic blade struck the forcefield that separated them.

Arthur gulped, tears rolling down his face as he watched the force of Nemesis’ attack ripple out across the barrier, a small crack in the wall of hard-light where her weapon had struck.

“Y-you wouldn’t hurt your brother would you? I’m all you have left,” Arthur blubbered but his words only enraged Nemesis more.

“You sold me into slavery,” Nemesis boomed as she struck the forcefield again with even greater force than before, “you gave Laura false hope and then you betrayed her and Sarah just like you betrayed me, you made them pay your debts, condemning both for eternity. As far as I’m concerned you worthless wretch, you’re worse then any demon in hell and even death is to good for you.”

Nemesis raised her sword again and, fuelled by rage and pain she struck out again, this time her demonic blade shattering the forcefield that kept her from her brother.

The soul-hunter strode swiftly into Arthur’s cell and grabbed her worthless sibling by the throat, lifting him effortlessly with one arm and smashing him against the steel cell wall.

“With your death I finally earn my freedom, but be assured, I shall do all in my power to make sure your soul suffers until the end of all things,” Nemesis threatened as she threw her brother to the ground and stood over him, her sword raised high over her head, its hilt now grasped firmly with both hands.

Do it Nemesis, end his life, let go of your humanity,” The voice in Nemesis’ head echoed goading her on.

With a hatred for her brother that before her time in hell Nemesis wouldn’t have thought possible she swung her sword, the force of her swing tearing and cutting into the steel ceiling and back wall of Arthur’s cell.

“Angelic Bulwark,” a voice exclaimed along with a terrific explosion of light.

Nemesis’ wailing blade clashed against the blinding wall of light before her. As the light began to fade Nemesis saw what she already knew was there, Tar’el knelt before her brother, his wings forming a pure white shield.

“Nemi?” A mousey voice said questioningly from some way off.

Nemesis looked back and saw Felicia, her expression was one of hurt and confusion as she saw Nemesis’ demon sword struggle against Tar’el’s seemingly nigh unbreakable defence to get at the person she always claimed as her captured brother.

“It seems you were every bit the monster I was afraid you were,” condemned Tar’el as he flung open his resplendent wings, turning aside Nemesis’ attack, “if you want this human Nemesis, you’ll have to go through me.”

Previous Story: 1.14: Infiltration                                   Next Story: 1.16: The Truth of Things

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