((37 - The Airship Chasm))
The pit was still very deep, and very large. The building was still very square, and very gray. The Void was still very foggy, and very empty. The crystal underfoot was still vaguely white-ish, and mildly striated with ore. Various strange noises, such as yelling and skittering, drifted up from the pit.
Kiara yawned. “I’m bored,” she complained.
Chun was leaning against Torrential Black, looking at the pit. “Huh, that doesn’t sound like fun.” Torrential bobbed his head, as if chuckling.
“Nope,” Kiara responded, glancing over at Umbra.
Chun walked a few paces towards the edge of the shaft. “Do you think we should check on them?”
Kiara looked up at the Void. “Well, I don’t see anything entertaining up there… so let’s.”
Chun grinned. “Yes!” Torrential bowed and she swung onto his back.
“Plus, I’m curious about those sounds.” Kiara added. “The shaft should be big enough for you both, right?” She looked at the entrance to the mine, dozens of meters in diameter.
“Probably!” Torrential began to fuss and pace.
Kiara nodded and beckoned to Umbra, who leaned down to allow Kiara to get on to her back. “Let’s go, then!”
((61 - Battle))
“Uh,” Spider said, very pointedly, her eyebrows raised. “Are you sure you want to do that? Really?”
Seth just grinned, laughed, and kept walking. The flickering flame from his lighter was barely enough to see another few feet, but it was something. “When am I gonna get another chance to do something like this?”
“Huh,” was all Spider said. She watched Seth for a moment, as if making up her mind, shrugged, and then followed after him.
Reno turned to Caf and uncessesarily jerked her head in the direction of Seth and Spider. The two of them, in synchronized step, strode towards the entrance of the cave, bringing up the rear.
The tunnel stretched ahead of them, bored out of the pure crystal. Occasional lamps hung from the ceiling, but they were broken. After a dozen feet or so, they came to a room branching off to one side.
“Whatcha guys see up there?” called Reno from the back.
“There’s another room, but it’s dark,” Spider replied.
“Let’s see what’s in here…” Seth turned and walked into the room.
It was clearly a storeroom. Various cabinets and drawers ran along the sides, stretching down the long, narrow room. The light from the lighter barely illuminated anything, but it was enough that they could see that all the shelves here, too, were empty.
“Kay, Scorpia—” The scuttling creature lifted its head. “Sniff out the place.”
At the foot of one of the shelves lay Wurm--or what was left of him. The skin of his chest had been ripped open, and his rib cage was bare within it. There was no sign of any internal organs or blood. Everything had been cleaned to a disturbingly shiny state.
“That’s pleasant,” Seth said quietly, as Scorpia examined the body.
Reno wrinkled her nose. "Ew. Ew ew ew ew," she muttered. "Do not like sight of dead creepy guy."
Spider frowned, then stole Seth’s lighter and lit up the cigarette between her teeth.
Reno raised an eyebrow in disgust as Seth followed Spider’s lead. "Okay," she said "You know, I REALLY don't see what you guys get out of those things."
“Styyyyyyle, my friend,” said Seth as he took his first puff. “Style.”
The pair and their demons reached the bottom of the shaft, looking around at the various tunnels. Five of them were lit, but the sixth was dim. Seth’s semi-corporeal demon floated outside the darkened one, as if guarding it.
Torrential quickly slowed, flapping his wings to hover for a moment, then landed calmly and squawked. Chun looked at the tunnels. “Well, well, well. Which way?”
Something yellow-white erupted from one of the tunnels, a glowing ball trailing light. It circled the shaft a half-dozen times at high speed, flitting wildly about it. It seemed to catch sight of the two Talons, though, and darted into the darkened tunnel, passing straight through Seth's demon as it did.
Scorpia moved away from Wurm’s body, looking bored or dissatisfied, if that were possible on a creature such as that. “Nothing here, let’s keep going,” Spider said, ignoring the sharpened hairs on her neck.
Seth nodded, letting out a steady breath of smoke. “Let’s.”
Caf, meanwhile, had trotted over to the corpse, and leaned down to sniff it. The fibers in his wings seemed to grow more tense. It smelled recently dead, with a hint of... something else. Something hard to place. Something fast and dark, if such intangibles could be said to have a smell.
The demon then tentatively extended his tongue. It tasted worse than it smelled. Dark, and predatory. Like a spider's web, waiting for a fly. Caf shuddered a little and backed away. Reno scrunched her face. "Ick...okay, Caf," she said "No more licking dead stuff for you. I can taste it too now, you know."
“Reno, you coming?” Seth said from the doorway.
She opened her mouth to say something, but went silent as something illuminated the tunnel behind Seth sharply.
A yellow-white glow rushed towards Seth and Spider, through them, past them--
The same glowing will-o-wisp they had seen before, or something very like it. It shot off down the corridor, vanishing around a corner.
Seth broke into a full sprint, chasing it. “I LOVE HIDE AND GO SEEK!”
Spider flew down the hall after him, falling faster than he was running. Her demon was crawling on the wall beside her.
Reno grabbed a handfull of Caf's fur and swung herself on top of him. "Hey! Don't leave without us!" she called as Caf's wings buzzed to life.
It was easy enough to follow, due to the trail it left imprinted on their eyelids as it flew past, almost seeming to glow visibly through the walls.
At the corner Spider bounced off the wall, and the halls tilted again. “What the hell is this thing?” she shouted to no one in particular as she fell.
The trio flew, ran, and fell down the corridor, chasing after the thing. It darted around dozens of turns, through intersections, past other rooms, stairs, ladders. Bodies.
Torrential wheeled around, trying to follow the will-o-wisp as it vanished down the corridor. “What the fuck was that!?” Chun said.
“Uh…” Kiara just looked after the thing. “Well, let’s follow.”
The thing had left a glowing trail behind it, easily visible in the dimly-lit tunnel. Umbra walked towards it, gingerly avoiding Seth’s demon.
Torrential raised his feathers like hackles. Chun shivered, but stroked the crow demon on the beak as she walked into the tunnel. It was clearly far too small for her demon to fit, and it squawked in protest, but she shushed it, then started down the tunnel. “I don’t like this, was that even a demon?”
“I’m not sure… but maybe it’ll lead us towards the others.”
The tunnel was long and narrow, with broken hanging lights, leaving it very dark. They could barely see anything save for the glowing trail zig-zagging in the air, slowly fading as they followed it around twists and turns.
"Shit, we have to go faster." Chun cracked a smile and began to run.
Kiara, barely visible in the darkness, closed her eyes, holding on tighter as Umbra sped up.
((62 - Black Water))
Up ahead the light glowed brighter, as if they were catching up to it.
“Okay,” said Reno nervously. “SOMEthing weird is making LOTS of people dead around here.”
All three of them burst out into a cavern-like space.
The glowing creature was hanging in the air, twitching wildly. It looked like it was stuck somehow, trying to free itself. The room was larger than they could see by the glow of Seth's upheld lighter. A pile of some sort of equipment was half-visible at the back of the room.
Spider slowed in the air, and oriented the world to normal gravity. She touched down, and stared up at the strange demon. “Woah…”
Seth looked up at the glowing orb. “ ‘Sup?”
A low rumble filled the room around them.
Reno and Caf stiffened a little. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing…”
“These things never make nice sounds,” Spider said quietly.
Chun walked in, covering her ears and looked VERY annoyed at not having Black with her.
“Hey,” said Seth to the latecomers. “Nice of you to drop by.”
Umbra (somewhat shrunken) darted into the room behind Chun, followed closely by Kiara.
The room rumbled again.
"...that doesn't FEEL like a good thing, either,” Reno muttered.
The glowing ball twitched faster, faster, shedding more and more light. As it did, they began to see something around it. A few thin places the light did not illuminate, almost like a net or a web that the orb was trapped in.
Umbra edged back for a moment, then stood straight, exuding more darkness in a small area around it that the light could not penetrate.
“There’re two things here,” Seth said slowly.
The rumbling came a third time. Louder. Closer.
Spider looked around, trying to pinpoint the source. Scorpia sniffed at the air, doing the same.
"What is that thing? And what the hell is that rumbling?" Kiara looked around nervously, taking a step out of the hallway entrance.
Caf let out an entirely uncharacteristically feeble squawk.
“That light isn’t the one we should be worried about.” Seth moved over to one of the strands of dark and tried to see if his knife would make contact with it, if it was something tangible. The darkness caught his knife and stuck to it, held it fast.
“Don’t tell me…” Reno’s eyes widened. She had an idea, and she didn’t always like it when she had ideas. “Are we INSIDE a demon right now!?”
Then then room around them erupted with motion. It was impossible to tell what was shadow and what was demon. The darkness itself seemed to be alive, seething and twisting and turning.
All of them, humans and their demon companions, hunkered down, trying to secure a foothold on the ground. All except Spider, who shot into the air, swearing violently.
The glowing orb in the center of the darkness-web suddenly stopped stock still. The shadows seemed to coalesce around it, surrounding it, scooping it up. The orb pulsed once, then dimmed slightly. The shadows seemed to manifest slightly more as it did.
Kiara cursed, backing towards the entrance she came through, drawing her crystal sword as she did. She bumped up against the wall—no, the exit behind her had become a wall. She stuck fast to the same webbing that trapped the will-o-wisp.
“This, uh, looks bad, guys.” Seth tried to yank his knife away from the web, but found it thoroughly stuck.
The light pulsed again and dimmed further. The shadows strengthened.
Spider hovered, careful not to touch the ground or any of the walls. “Dammit! Can’t even see a thing! Scorpia, help me sense something!” She began to feel through the demon for the energy in the room. There was a lot of demonic energy.
The orb pulsed a third time, and seemed to sink slightly.
Reno gasped. “I think…” she said, "I think those two demons are fighting!”
It pulsed a final, half-hearted fourth time, and went out.
“…and one just lost.”
The darkness shuddered around them, its meal finished, and let out a satisfied rumble. Without the will-o-wisp, the room fell into pitch blackness, save for Seth's lighter and the smoldering tip of Spider's cigarette. Everyone still in the empty blackness could feel the shadows moving around them, pushing up against them.
Reno felt cold. It was an eerily unique kind of cold. Almost like the brink of death.
“We could use some more light in here,” Seth said, barely lit by his flickering lighter. “How about a smoke, Reno?” No one could see his grin.
"Thanks, but no thanks Seth," said Reno "I’m not interested in dying faster right now. If you need more light, fine, but don't expect me to put that in my mouth!"
Kiara began to feel the strands at her back tightening, and the shadows pressing up against her. They wrapped themselves around her, pinning her against the web. "Shit!" She yelled, and Umbra moved back towards her, clawing at the webbing. Umbra's claws, no matter how many forms they took, made no impact against the webbing, though it didn't stick to the demon.
“What’s happening?” Spider called out. “Where are you?”
"The... it's trapping me!" Kiara tried to slice at the web with her crystal sword. The crystal shuddered and shimmered, and seemed to catch on the webbing. The webbing shook violently on her back.
Spider fell over to where Kiara’s voice was coming from, and felt around carefully until she touched Kiara. “Let’s not let it get you. Gimme your hand!”
“Try cutting it with crystal!” Kiara tried to jerk away, stabbing it again. The webbing seemed to shred apart, sucked into the crystal blade. The shadow-stuff still clung to her, though, wrapping around her tighter.
Spider pulled out one of her crystal guns. “Gimme your hand!” She repeated.
“Can’t… it’s wrapped around me!” It jerked her tighter, and she lost her grip on the crystal sword. It clattered to the ground.
Seth, meanwhile, had lifted his lighter to the darkness around his knife. As he did, the shadow-thread melted away, as if fleeing from the flame. “Excellent.” He ran for the flickering red dot of Spider’s cigarette.
“What the…” Reno seemed to just become aware of Kiara’s situation. She goaded Caf in their direction. “What’s cutting it?”
“Crystal absorbs it, a bit!” Kiara replied.
Chun suddenly ripped off her crystal-lensed goggles and pressed them onto the shadow. The goggles shook in her hands, sucking up the darkness they touched.
Reno withdrew a crystal dagger from the holster on her belt. Next to her, Seth picked up Kiara’s fallen sword, and they went to work.
Spider wrapped her legs around Kiara’s chest, holding tight. “Sorry, this might hurt.” She altered both of their gravity to be directly away from the wall, pulling with both of their weight.
Between all of their combined effort, Kiara ripped free of the shadows. She and Spider went flying backwards, tumbling towards the other wall.
The shadow mass whirled around all of them angrily, rumbling loudly, whipping past each of them. It was everywhere in the room at once. Nowhere to hide from it. Seth, still holding his lighter, was the only one untouched.
“Hey guys,” Seth said, shaking his head. “You won’t hear me say this much, but… group hug?”
Chun looked around, then went right up to Seth and put an arm around his waist, holding tight. Kiara, breathing heavily, followed suit, putting her back against his chest.
Spider, meanwhile, pulled herself to her feet against the far wall, and realized with a start that she was leaning against something metallic—not part of the wall. She gasped and felt beside her at once, trying to see what it was.
“You all right, Spider?” Seth asked, as he made his way towards her voice, lighter still held high. Reno joined the little huddle after a moment. Tucked into the light of the flickering flame, the four of them were untouched by the shadows swirling around them. They could feel them brushing against their feet, though.
Spider’s hands explored the object—a metal tube, maybe a meter long, open on one side. She’d seen them before, on ships and bases, and knew they emitted light from the open side. Normally, anyway. This one seemed dead. “AHA!” Spider shouted. “Get over here! There’s this thing! It makes light, I think…” She continued fumbling at it, trying to remember what she’d learned of mechanics from Kasby.
Chun thought for a moment. “It just needs energy. Use a crystal!” She held up her goggles, visibly pulsing with dark purple light through the darkness. “Catch!” She threw them to Spider.
“Woah!” Spider turned, and snatched the goggles out of the air. Without hesitating, she forced them into the slot, crystal lenses first.
The lamp hummed, flickered twice, and then lit up. It cast a wide beam of blue-purple light across the room, half-filling it.
Seth grinned. “Bitchin’.”
The shadows caught in the beam seemed to shred and disintegrate, as the rest of the room shuddered in pain. It let out a horrible rumble, fleeing back from the source of the light.
“Heheh… you don’t like this light stuff, eh?” Spider used her gravity to lift the light, shining it towards the shadows in the corners of the room.
Kiara raised an eyebrow, amused now that the danger seemed gone. “Well, there are less… convenient weaknesses.”
((63 — Hindsight))
Under the new light, they could see the rest of the room. The floor was littered with half-opened food packages and torn crates of supplies. There was enough food here to feed a hundred people for two weeks.
The shadows continued to shy away from the lamp, fleeing into the corridor they had all come down.
“Let’s chase it!” Seth sounded way too excited as he grabbed Spider’s wrist and tried to aim the light down the hallway. “Quick, before it gets away!”
“Aye aye, Sheriff Seth!” said Reno, mixing up her anachronisms. She leapt back onto Caf and the two took off down the hallway, followed by Seth and Spider, holding the light.
“Wait!” Kiara called. “Maybe we can find more batteries in here!”
“Demon now! Supplies later!” Seth kept running.
Kiara muttered a curse, climbing onto Umbra, and followed. Chun ran alongside her to keep up with the others.
Together, they all chased it, the light pushing it further and further back up the corridor, retracing their steps.
Chun spoke as she ran, sounding tired. “Why don’t we just go get the supplies?”
“Because Seth is insane?” Kiara said half-jokingly.
“Ding ding ding, we have a winner.” Seth advanced menacingly on the door of the supply room they had passed on the way in, where the demon had fled to.
“You guys gather up supplies,” Spider started, coming to a hovering stop in the doorway. “We’ll—”
“Let’s get this bitch!” Seth cut her off. “It tried to jack my knife.”
Reno raised an eyebrow. “It also tried to jack your life, Seth.”
“Minor detail.” He pushed his way past Spider, into the room.
Now the shadows filling the room were just that—shadows. Nothing supernatural about them. Wurm’s mutilated corpse still lay slumped against the back wall. The demon shadows clustered in a far corner, huddling against it, trying to seek refuge from the light and finding none.
“No escape now, demon-face!” Seth’s mad grin was fully visible this time.
Spider set down to the ground, pinning the demon against the wall with the light.
Kiara held out her crystal sword, and walked slowly to the demon, careful to keep herself from casting a shadow on it, in case it could use that. She stabbed her blade into the mass of shadows. The cluster hissed wildly, angrily, and began to dissipate, flowing into Kiara’s sword. She smirked, keeping her blade in the demon.
With a final, twisting rumble, the last of the shadows vanished into the crystal.
“Try and eat me now, fucker,” Kiara said with satisfaction. “Now, can we go back to that room with the food?”
Chun smiled. “Yeah, I’m hungry.”
“Let’s.” Seth laughed. “All that hunting made me kinda hungry too.” He looked at the space where the demon had been. “Another one in the books for Team Talon.”
Kiara grinned. "Now, some victory... dinner? Lunch?"
Reno spun her dagger around her fingers. With one final twirl, she redeposited it into its holster. "I'm up for whatever meal, as long as it's fit for HUMAN consumption." She cast an accusing glare at Caf.
“Shit yeah.” Seth headed for the room with the unboxed supplies, and the others followed.
“I’d go for something barely edible, right now,” Chun said quietly. It had, after all, been well over a full twenty-four hours since they’d last eaten, back at Sector Four.
They reached the now-quiet cavern, its floor strewn with supplies. The foodstuffs came in all varieties of genetically-engineered protein vegetable, as always.
None of them seemed overly picky, just grabbing the first food bar they saw and devouring it with a will. Chun started to wander, looking for more crystal batteries.
Reno took a huge bite out of the round-ish item she’d procured. “Ahhhh,” she sighed. “Sweet sweet olive loaf. I missed you.” She kissed the protein vegetable before chomping down again.
“So…” Spider said, a bit too casually. “Are we headed to Sector One?” She looked over at Seth.
He nodded, then bit into a massive tomato. “Yeah, ‘s why we gotta grab supplies here. Not like we can go back to Sector Four.”
“I guess you guys don’t really have a plan either.” Spider took another bite of her protein bar, then began to scavenge for more food, dumping what she found on Scorpia’s back.
Chun found several ripped-open boxes of crystal batteries, but many were already drained. She carried a few handfuls of powered-up ones over to the lights, and piled them there.
Kiara had started tossing protein packs into Umbra, who tucked them into her shadowy interior for storage.
Seth looked up from the crate he was filling with food. “You got any ideas, Spider? All I know is what your people told me.”
“Gonna get dark for a second,” Chun announced. She pulled her goggles out of the light, plunging the room into darkness. Then she shoved in the most charge-filled crystal she had found, and the light came back on, this time a healthier yellow glow.
Spider frowned. “They didn’t have much of a plan either. Crystals are breaking, and… my guys seem to think that the answers are in Sector One.” She put more supplies onto Scorpia, who swallowed them into her semi-transparent body, leaving them floating like curious organs. “The, uh, what’s it called? Center of the neb… thingy.”
Seth nodded. “We need to get to the Center, too. That’s where Cyc was taken…”
The others fell silent a moment, but Spider just rolled her eyes, still unsure of who exactly this Cyclops fellow was.
The silence passed, and they all returned to their packing. Demons, crates, and pockets were all filled to their brim with food and batteries for the long trip.
Seth came up alongside Spider, putting his crates down. “That was a nice trick back there, with the light.”
Spider shrugged awkwardly. “It was afraid of your fire thing. It made sense.”
He let out a laugh. “Yeah, well. Good to see you can pull your own in a fight like that, no matter how crazy. I like a pretty face like yours much as the next guy, but I like one better when I know she can watch my back.”
The girl frowned, not sure whether or not she was being complimented. “I, um, thanks? I guess?”
“The point is,” Seth continued. “Welcome to the team. You’re properly one of us now.” He held out a hand.
After a blinking pause, Spider remembered that it was custom for her to shake his hand, so she did so. “Yeah, thanks. You guys are a lot more fun than my old crew. Nice to be back with people my own age.”
Their hands stayed locked for a good bit longer than normal as they stared at each other, as if still evaluating the other.
Reno broke the moment by calling out. “Let’s get out of here! We’re all full up!”
The two sixteen-year-olds let their hands drop, and turned to carry the supplies they’d gathered.
After a few quiet minutes walking through the tunnels, they all arrived back at the open shaft, where Torrential Black and Seth's demon were still waiting.
Chun ran awkwardly toward Torrential and dropped what food she was holding in front of him. He flapped, bobbed his head once, and then began to devour the food.
“Ah, good to see these guys again.” Seth tossed his crate full of food in the general direction of the demon. A slice of quartz extended from the floating cloud of mist, catching it.
Spider looked around. “Anything else to do here?”
“I suppose not,” said Chun.
“Let’s get going then,” said Kiara, looking upwards.
Seth turned to his demon. “It’s about time I named you. How about… Noh. Yeah, Noh sounds good.” He walked towards it, and steps formed in its side. As he walked up them, they receded back into the crystalline creature.
Torrential finished his meal, and crouched over at Chun’s gesture. She swung herself onto Black’s back.
Reno followed suit, climbing onto Caf. “Oh, don’t be so negative, Seth,” she said, chuckling.
Spider sighed. She was tired, but she could probably hold her gravity in any direction for a few hours of falling before having to rest. Spider and Scorpia lifted up off the ground, the demon’s paper-like wings flapping to greater sizes.
Noh floated upwards, matching height with Scorpia. Seth sat in the chunk of crystal shaped like a chair, riding his demon like a throne. He caught sight of Spider’s exhausted face. “Hey,” he called to her across the open air.
“Nn?” She looked at him.
“If you get tired, you can rest in Noh. Don’t think he much needs energy, and there’s room.” He gestured to the various other large chunks of crystal suspended into the fog.
“Alright…” Spider nodded, then looked down, making sure the others were still with them. Confirming that everyone was together, she turned her gaze back up the shaft. “Let’s fly.”
The quintet rose into the air, flying up and out of the mine. Slowly they crested, coming level with the surface of the crystal.
Seth waved to the ground as it started to recede. “Later, rock.”
Reno saluted, with her middle finger.
The Void above them stretched wide, the same blank gray as always. Now fully stocked and loaded with enough food to last them the voyage, the Talons settled in for the three-week flight to Sector One.
To Cyclops, and to the Center.