Love on Gaia: The Causality Clause (Philia - Friendship Love)

The Causality Clause

Written By Illesdan
(In-game character nickname)

“What are we doing here?”
“Because. Whenever you pick our assignments, you never take me anywhere nice.”
“Paris was nice.”
“Maybe. But we were crawling around underneath Paris.”
“Well, I had fun.”
“You’d have fun sitting in a cave with rocks.”
Two men stood talking on a wooden dock in a long narrow inlet that served as a boardwalk of sorts for recreational crabbers and tourists alike. Waves crashing against distant rocks filled the air with their rhythmic cacophony, and the fine mist it produced was carried inland by the constant steady breeze off the Pacific Ocean. A tall, slim woman wearing a deep charcoal gray pantsuit stepped onto the sturdy wooden dock. Her hair was upswept and perfectly pinned into place to where even the ocean breeze did not disturb a single strand. She walked steadily towards the duo. Her codename is ‘BeforeEve’, and she heard her friends bickering before seeing them. At least they arrived, it was a start.
“Templars. You really can hear them a mile away,” BeforeEve smirked.
A tall, pale blond man smiled warmly and waved a greeting at BeforeEve; The shorter, stockier blond man looked at her with a mixture of puzzlement and relief. “Eve,” said the shorter blond, “what brings you out here?”
“Fresh air, sunshine, get my 10,000 steps in. How have you been, Theck?”
“Eh, fine.” Replied Theck. “I’m guessing you wanted to talk to us?” As he was speaking, Eve pulled out her phone and motioned for all of them to get off the ocean dock and toward a dark, wooden two-story building. “There’s a nice restaurant on the second floor, we can continue there.”
“Don’t do it, Eve,” Theck warned as he glanced sideways at the pale blond. “You’ll never financially recover.”
“Rude,” the pale blond remarked as he picked a random bit of fuzz off his black turtleneck sweater.
“Dan can eat whatever he likes. Corporate is picking this one up.”
The trio entered the building and were met by a yellow plastic chain barring the stairs to the restaurant. There was a small placard in the middle of the chain that said the restaurant was closed today for a private party. Eve chuckled. “That’s us, c’mon. Ceruleana should be here soon.”
As promised, the restaurant was empty, and the Maitre’d seated them at the booth with a view of the ocean in the distance. After they ordered, Eve grabbed her oversized bag and excused herself to the restrooms.
Theck watched Eve go back down the stairs. She no sooner had gotten out of sight and their server brought them breadsticks. Dan picked one out of the basket and mindlessly munched on it while staring out the window. “It isn’t looking good.” It was a statement, and it wasn’t about the weather.
“Not really, no.” Theck had to concede. Ley lines all around the Circum-Pacific Belt, also known as The Ring of Fire, were, one by one, going dormant. Where those lines coming from Agartha withered, the effects of their absence were felt. It started with large die-offs across the animal kingdom, then came the weather patterns in those dead areas; erratic and overwhelming. It was all blamed on climate change, of course, because that was all the limited scientific, rational minds of humans could grasp onto as a catch-all explanation for the ills of the world around them.
Those who relied upon Agartha knew something much fouler than The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was afoot.
Theck looked up as Eve padded over to the table, tossing her bag into the booth and then herself. She had changed; long white hair flowing freely and now she was wearing a baggy plain black T-shirt and matching sweatpants. “Much better!” Eve declared as she grabbed a breadstick and a glass of red wine at the same time, “I can breathe again!”
As promised, Ceruleana approached just after Eve sat down. Shrugging off her long navy-blue duster she folded it over a small duffle bag and set the entire bundle on the adjacent booth. She gave a quick smile to the two men and picked up a menu.
Their waiter came back to take the food orders. After his departure from the table, Theck and Dan exchanged glances and then looked back to Eve and Ceruleana. “The ley lines to get around the West Coast appear to be gone; there’s no way to get between Agartha and here,” started Eve. “I think I may have been the last person to get into San Francisco before the way collapsed early this morning. Good thing my visa papers are current!”
“Seemed like this was inevitable.” Dan began, “We just finished overseeing the move of all West Coast assets to the East earlier. The lines don’t appear to have fractured around the Atlantic as they have along the Pacific. Consolidation of resources seems to make sense until further notice.”
Eve’s eyes lit up like an alarm. “Please tell me you moved the whole thing to New York. Geary’d lose her ever-lovin’ shit!” She earned a tongue stuck out at her from Ceruleana for her efforts.
Theck grinned and shook his head. “No, Quantico.”
As Dan was picking croutons off his salad one by one, he asked. “How are the lines in Japan, Eve?”
“Oh, not there,” she replied around a mouthful of salad. “They’ve completely collapsed. According to Daimon, everything is going according to plan.”
The nonchalance of the statement caught everyone off-guard. “Damn Dragons,” Dan swore under his breath and Ceruleana appeared to nod in agreement. “Okay, I’ll bite, what’s in it for your lot seeing the lines go dark?”
“Oh, it’s not us, and absolutely nothing; we’re just as screwed as everyone else, if not more so. Ceru, dear, you seem to have found out more than I, care to fill us in?”
“Yeah, sure,” Ceruleana said, pushing away a now-empty salad bowl. “That’s kinda why I was late getting here. So, remember when I asked you to go poking around under the Louvre and Eiffel Tower last week for those old books and maps you were so kind to get for me?” Dan threw a glare at Theck, who shifted and pretended to ignore him. “Well, the original suspicion we all had was that one of the Gaia engines was maybe losing power. Nah, not the case. It’s not losing power; that power is being rerouted.” Ceruleana then got up to rummage through her bag. In a few seconds, she started motioning them to get up and look at the other table, where she had several large maps and papers unfurled and kept in place by various condiment containers. “I got some help from the Station Master and where we’ve all seen some ley lines, like the ones in and around the Pacific’s Ring of Fire go dormant, there’s an actual surge in others. Specifically, the ones that lead out of and to the upper reaches of Norway, in the Arctic Circle.”
“Why is it whenever we think we get one answer, we just end up with 10 more questions?” Theck sighed. They all returned to their table since the waiter had come in behind them and started setting down food.
After they had finished, Theck looked across the table. “Eve,” he began, “what did you mean by ‘everything going according to plan,’ earlier?”
Eve passed the dessert menu to Dan as she returned Theck’s gaze. “You know something? That bothered me, too. Short answer, I don’t know. Long answer, Daimon has, or thinks he has, an idea of what’s going on.”
“You think he’s keeping you in the dark?” Theck asked.
She shook her head vigorously. “No, it’s not that; he’s just as stumped by everything going on as the rest of us. I know we’re not always regarded in the highest of esteems in the eyes of other organizations, but we genuinely are trying to help here.” Eve looked up at the ceiling, stretching out as she did so. “I think he knows what’s going on isn’t by Gaia’s own hand, and we probably better intervene before whatever happens ultimately happens.”
“You realize this is a bad idea at best and a waste of time at worst, right?”
“We don’t know unless we try. Why it was better to split up and try to cover ground.”
“Bad idea part two. Splitting up never seemed to work out in Scooby-Doo.”
“If our competence is the equivalent of Scooby-Doo, then we deserve what we get.”
“Well, we’re here. What’s your plan?”
“Oh, you want a plan now, too? Aren’t you something special.”
Theck peered into the Breach and took a step back. He looked over at his friend, who didn’t look terribly enthusiastic about being here himself. “Second thoughts?”
Dan shook his head. “No. Just that the echoes of what is still here…” He stared down at the endlessness of the Breach.
–I left this memory for you. –
Dan closed his eyes. “…It’s still a bit raw. Time has stopped here,” he said quietly, “there’s a reason for that.” As he walked closer to the edge, he pulled out two small black bottles that had cork stoppers atop them and he then passed one to Theck. “Any last words?”
Theck frowned at the bottle as he took it. “The things I do for you,” he muttered as he took off his glasses and put them inside his jacket.
In a small cabin near the Arctic Circle in Norway…
Ceruleana threw another log into the fireplace and took turns watching the small inferno rage and BeforeEve fiddling with all the things she bought from a dollar store in America before journeying here.
“Do I even dare ask?”
“You paid for our cabin with elk meat and some gold nuggets, and you’re worried about what I’m doing?”
“Eve, you’re holding a balloon in one hand and forcing flavored syrup into it with the other. I’m worried about you. No, scratch that. I’m worried for myself.”
“For your information, I’m just doing what I was told to do,” BeforeEve said as she pulled out another syrup bottle after judging it could hold more. After the balloon devoured the second bottle of syrup, she pulled out a colored string and started threading little bells through the string, and attached it all to the balloon. “…’Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings…'” Eve chirped happily.
“That’s it. I’m sleeping in the snow tonight.” Ceru said as she got up and started taking out all the maps and paperwork and laying them out on the common table. If all went well, this would be the last time she would have to reference them. She pulled out a red marker and transferred some information to a smaller piece of paper and a local map obtained from the tourism ministry building in town. There was an abandoned coal mine Ceru wanted to start at, as it looked like it lined up with one of the stronger ley lines. As she was finishing her work, she turned to Eve and–
–Snoring. Eve was out like a rock while surrounded by her Daliesque arts and crafts project. Ceru was going to leave her, but guilt pulled at her, and she gently scooped up Eve so as not to wake her and put her in a nearby bed.
“I knew you loved me!” Eve barely coherently mumbled before falling fast asleep again. Ceru shook her head as she pulled a thick blanket over Eve. “Goodnight, dumbass.”
“I hate you so much right now.”
“Take a number.”
“Is this–”
“–A memory? Yeah, I think so.”
“What even made you think of this?”
“When you’ve exhausted all practical solutions, you start looking in some strange places for answers.”
At first, it was long darkness, then a bright clear sky opened over the dark, the eternal void chased away; being filled in until all the darkness was gone and replaced by a mountainous region filled with tall stands of trees and shimmering pure white snow. They were standing at the crossroads of a humble dirt road and now had to find a direction to go.
Dan recoiled a bit from how bright the surroundings were but then got his bearings. “The cabin is up ahead, let’s try there.”
They walked up the road and then ventured to the cabin. The door was already open. Dan approached. At first, cautiously, but then he stood straight and motioned for Theck to follow him inside.
“Look, Teddy, guests! And you’re just in time for tea!” A young thin blonde girl wearing a white tracksuit motioned for them to join her at a modest wooden table. There were two vacant seats and teacups were placed for them. “Teddy was wondering if you were going to make it, he’s been waiting for you.”
“My apologies to Teddy.” Dan said as he bowed an acknowledgment to the small stuffed bear seated next to her, “We arrived as soon as we could.” As he and Theck took their seats, Dan picked up the teacup and held it in his hand. It was warm and felt rather fragile. “Thank you for the tea, Anima,” he began. “Do you know why we came?”
Anima poured a cup of tea for herself and put a generous blob of honey into it. Stirring it thoughtfully, she then replied, “You’re here because of that woman, aren’t you? Oh, yes, she’s so very, very bad. You really should stop her.”
“Woman?” they said in unison.
“Yes. The woman with the key. She’s done so much damage already. She’s on her way to undoing everything.”
“You know more than us, Anima,” Theck remarked. “Can you help us find her so we can stop her?”
Anima gave a nod as she got up and put the small stuffed bear in the center of the table. “Teddy knows the way; he can take you to her. Take Teddy’s hand and finish your tea so you can be on your way.”
“Thank you, Anima.” Dan smiled, “we’ll do what we can.”
In a restricted area covered in snow and…
“Polar bears,” Ceruleana whispered as she nudged BeforeEve in the ribs with a thickly gloved knuckle. “Don’t make any noise.”
“OW! Watch it with those things!” Eve was shouting because she couldn’t hear anything through the earmuffs, hoodie, face covering and parka encasing her head. Ceru cringed and went stiff as a board, hoping the large beasts would at least have the decency to eat the noisy one first. “What’s wrong wi—Oh!” Eve halted as she saw the mother with her cubs coming up from where they were going. No aggressive actions took place yet on the part of the mother; she seemed to be too busy being hounded by her offspring. Ceru motioned for them to get down and crawl sideways away from the path they appeared to be on. It seemed to be working until the winds shifted and the mother started investigating the air. Now she was standing on her hind legs and surveying the landscape for the source of what she was smelling. Both women stopped moving, but it didn’t seem to help; she was back down on all fours and moving toward them.
Eve, as slowly and deliberately as she could, unslung the large satchel she had been carrying and opened it. She pulled out two of the balloons she had been working on and passed them to Ceru. “Leave one here and toss the other towards them.”
It didn’t seem like the greatest idea on the planet, but Ceru didn’t have anything better to offer up, so she lobbed the one balloon in the mother bears’ path, where it landed in a noisy gooey colorful pile of distraction. The mother and cubs were drawn to the sound of the bells and flavored syrup that was inside the balloon. Ceru then rolled the other balloon away from her, it signaling its presence by the little bells ringing away.
There was no time for slow and subtle now; now was the time to run.
Luckily, they were already close to the entrance to the shaft, all they had to do was hope the bears were occupied enough to lose interest in them, and then everyone could be on their way. Geary’s orders for this trip rang through Ceru’s head and were crystal clear: ‘You screw up our position and goodwill in this area and you’ll be scrubbing toilets for Inbeda for eternity!’ The essential gist of the conversation was everything was to be left intact, no killing of people, wildlife, or destruction of property. The security operators had been paid to be turned off and loop-feed the cameras with sanitized footage, but that window of opportunity was only available for a week. ‘You’re running out of time. I don’t care that you want to wait for your Templar playthings; you need to get your ass in gear and finish what you started. You’ve eaten a lot of time and resources here with nothing to show for it. I expect results. Ciao-ciao.’
“Ugh!” Ceru spat in exasperation, thinking back on the conversation from last night with Geary and what they just escaped from. She pulled out her lockpick gun and made quick work of the employee accessway. The door had no power, so once the lock was opened, they had to shove to get through and make sure to close it securely behind them.
Eve made her way to a bench to get out of all the heavier clothing items and put them away. Since she could now properly hear again, she looked over at Ceru, who was doing the same thing as her. “Where do you think Illesdan and Theck are?” Eve asked.
Ceru looked thoughtful for a moment before she spoke. “I honestly don’t know. I tried to stall, but, well, we couldn’t wait for them forever. My ass is in a sling here. I’m sorry; I’m worried about them too, but we really must finish this assignment.”
“I know, I get it. But no one anywhere has heard from either of them in four days. I not only got Daimon on me, but now half the Templars, as well, like this is all my fault or something!”
“Well…” Ceruleana drew out and smiled impishly, “someone here said, ‘Avengers Assemble!’ and we all came running, because we’re your friends, no matter what factions we all belong to.” Ceru walked over and placed a hand on Eve’s shoulder. “Look, don’t beat yourself up, okay? Wherever Dan and Theck went, they’re together, which means they’re most likely perfectly fine, just incommunicado for the time being.” Ceru then rummaged around until she found an empty locker to put everything into, save for a map and a piece of paper. “Hey, by the way, thanks. For earlier.”
“Save the bears, save the bees, save the world. That’s what I’m here for!” Eve gestured grandly before giving a mock salute. “You ready?”
“Almost,” Ceruleana said. She fiddled with a small device and then set it free. The small drone actively scanned its surroundings and then seemly stabilized itself in the air. Ceru took off her smartwatch and pushed several buttons until she seemed satisfied enough to put it back on. “The drone will hold its position and go dark if it detects anyone within 15 meters of it whose vital signs it doesn’t already have in its database. Think of it as a silent alarm.” Ceru explained. “There shouldn’t be any civilians, ‘normal’ people here, but that’ll help keep an eye out for the unexpected.” She drew her sword from her side and started walking down the darkened corridor behind the drone.
BeforeEve followed behind and pulled out her pistols. She would occasionally check behind them to make sure nothing was coming in behind them. Eve didn’t like this place; it was too dark, too empty, and too quiet. It felt like they were walking into a crypt. The corridor now opened into a cavernous wide space that was full of heavy machinery and awaiting carts. The silent metal sentinels loomed large and managed to make the area feel claustrophobic. Ceru motioned that they stick to the wall and go forward. Continuing this way, the path started to gently slope downward and would flatten and angle downward again. They walked like this for roughly half an hour before the small drone was unceremoniously blasted to plastic particle dust by a blindingly white beam of light.
“You can stop right there, little bees,” the seductive voice of a woman rang out of the now-retreating darkness. “Oh my, what has come forth into my web?” The blonde woman stabbed what looked like a massive glowing cosplay sword into the ground and leaned against it with her chest thrust out. “Long time, no see, Sarah. Or should I say, Ceruleana? Mine’s bigger than yours, honey,” she purred sickly as she looked at the blade in Ceruleana’s hand. “You don’t have what I’m looking for, though. Pity,” the woman sniffed. “I suppose you’ll both have to die now.” With that, the woman grabbed the hilt of the weapon and it promptly let out a shockwave that reverberated through the mine and knocked both Ceru and Eve to the ground. When the duo could get back on their feet again, the woman retreated into the mine.
Ceru looked up in concern. “This mine was abandoned because the engineers feared the structure was becoming unstable at the lower depths. This place can’t handle much more of that kind of drama.”
“Never mind that!” Eve snapped as she jabbed a finger down the mineshaft. “Who the hell is that!?”
“Cassandra King.” Ceru hissed venomously. “I haven’t seen her in years. Coulda went longer without seeing her, too.” They both started running down the winding shaft but then it leveled off and the cavern looked like a hub to a network of tunnels with no sign of Cassandra in sight.
A vast network of cables, scaffolding, and lights illuminated the massive cavern that Theck and Illesdan ended up walking into. There was a steady low thrum of machinery at work and the smell of coal and diesel hit them as soon as they fully materialized. It was a drastic shift in the environment in contrast to the austere place they had just arrived from. They looked over the guard railing and down into a deep excavation site, seeing a small number of workers down below moving earth out of the way and down other connecting shafts. As they drew forth their weapons to have them ready, they heard what sounded like some type of explosion somewhere a ways off from their position. Instinctively looking up, the two men saw dust and small rocks shake loose and fall from the cavern ceiling.
“Well, that can’t be good,” Dan remarked.
Theck waved his hand to get Dan to follow him as he seemed to find a way off the walkway they were on. “Do you know who we’re looking for?” Theck asked over his shoulder. “Because I don’t know if you noticed this or not, but we left Anima without getting a name.”
Dan gave a shrug. “I may have assumed it would be obvious once we got to wherever Teddy dumped us off at.”
“That’s great. No wonder Eve likes you so much.” Theck chided.
“You like me.” Dan smiled wryly.
“My cats like you so I guess I can like you, too.” Theck then stopped quickly, and Dan almost ran into him. They had been walking down a ramp that angled around to a large opening, but Theck clearly could make out something that didn’t sound like everything else around them. Whatever it was, it was echoing off the walls and growing louder.
Theck’s eyes widened as then he turned and grabbed Dan’s arm and leaped over the railing. Before they could land, a choking could of dust and debris filled the area and more rocks rained down from the ceiling. Most of the overhead lights had been knocked out or had fallen down due to their supports being toppled over. After giving each other a quick glance over to make sure the other was all right, Dan brought up his katana in a defensive position when a figure started approaching them out of the debris field.
“Looks like the cavalry finally showed up. Where is Anima?”
Theck shook his head, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, lady. It’s just us here.” As he was speaking, Dan positioned himself by slowing backing past and away from Theck and saw they had attracted the attention of all the workers. The workers were no longer concerned with anything other than closing in on their position. In his hand, the katana looked to only be a katana, but once Dan channeled his anima essence into it, he became a virtually unstoppable force once the focus was fully infused.
Dan left Theck to deal with the woman, who was now drawing down on him. They had both dealt with enough delusional types to know there wasn’t much use in talking or diplomacy. Theck sidestepped a leaping lunge from the woman and began to channel his power to the large earthen hammer in his hands.
Eve and Ceruleana felt the second shockwave and braced themselves against the rough wall of the mine. Dust came out in a plume from one of the corridors, signaling it was now completely impassable. “I don’t suppose she did herself in that mess,” Eve said walking towards the collapsed passage.
“When have we ever been that lucky?” Ceru growled. “We better find another way to get to her.” Ceruleana double-checked her map and pointed to an opening to her left. Running towards it, Ceru saw a lift that was already there and appeared to be running on emergency power. “Get in! I think I know where to go.” Ceru threw a switch outside the lift to fully power it then climbed in. “If I’m correct, she’s going here,” she pointed at a large area on her map that looked to be the last chamber of the mine. “This is where the miners were forced to stop.”
Eve folded her arms and looked levelly at Ceru once the lift was on the move. “Okay, spill it. Were the miners forced to stop because of structural integrity issues, or did they get too close to something?”
“I’d love to say both, but this is really a ‘humans being stupid’ situation.” Ceru shrugged. “The government ended the lease on this property early due to the findings on the most current environmental impact report, so the lessees decided to go hard before they went home. The last three chambers, including the one we’re going to and the one we came from, didn’t undergo any proper inspections from the government engineers. When they did get in there and saw how far they had gone, everyone was escorted and trespassed out with all assets seized. We, ah, may have tipped off the government about what was going on.”
“Oh, for the love of lollipops.” Eve groaned.
The lift came to a full stop and the two stepped out of it. They saw faint light and heard a noise coming from a shaft ahead of them. Ceruleana and Eve drew out their weapons and started running forward, upon getting closer, they heard what sounded like gunfire, but also ended up seeing Cassandra King standing at the very mouth of the mine opening. Her back was to them, and she stood motionless grasping the sword in her hands with her head bowed over it.
Ceruleana knew they had no time to waste getting that sword away from her. She channeled her anima essence into her own blade as she ran forward. Once she had enough built up into her focus, she burst forth in a brilliant bluish-white light and Ceru was instantly on top of her, but somehow, Cassandra managed to react fast enough to completely sidestep Ceruleana’s rush on her. Eve fired her pistols at Cassandra on the run, but they seemed to have little impact. Ceru drew forth everything she had to grab the woman’s free arm and throw her into the cave.
Illesdan, busy fighting off the workers and drawing their bullet fire towards himself, noticed the figure flying into the open area of the pit and tumbling down completely prone, the sword they were holding flying far out of their reach. Dan had been enough of a distraction that he was able to summon forth a sizable blast that tore through the immediate mob between him and the newest target. As he ran through the now disorganized crowd, he heard the popping of electrical connections and a distinct smell of ozone. As he looked at the fallen, he realized they weren’t people at all; but androids that looked exactly the same; they all had the exact same look as the blonde woman Theck was fighting, now that he paid closer attention. He saw they were all wearing a strange golden wristband and the ones he had fought through were now reassembling themselves. Dan swore and made a charge to the blade laying on the ground. The remaining mob was rejoined by the reassembled workers and continued to fire at Dan as he was trying to make his way to the blade, but he ended up taking enough damage to go down himself.
“Dan, NO!” BeforeEve shouted as she opened fire on Cassandra King, who was now on her feet and sprinting towards her sword. Eve aimed at the woman’s legs, causing her to lose her balance and fall.
Theck was in a stalemate with the woman he was fighting, with neither side gaining ground on the other. Ceruleana was torn between going after Cassandra King or helping Theck, who was fighting–
–Cassandra King? Ceru had no time to be confused. Whoever this was, they weren’t playing. Theck’s version of Cassandra King didn’t have a blade but instead wore a large golden glowing wristband. She trusted Eve to manage the Cassandra blade-wielder and went on to help Theck. Ceru charged forward, dodge-rolled to avoid several rounds of bullets, then sprung forward and lunge thrust the sword in the center of the woman. Theck became startled by how close the blade came to his face and started to fall backward. Since he was off-balance anyway, Theck decided to use it to his advantage and take the now-struggling woman down with him. He quickly rolled her away from himself and Ceruleana swooped in and cleanly sliced off the arm that the glowing band was worn on. The android Cassandra King and its army dropped in their place and went dormant. Ceruleana extended a hand to help Theck up off the ground. “Good to see you, Ceru,” Theck said as he got on his feet. They heard Eve still firing at her Cassandra King, so they ran off to help Eve. The pair came around a large generator on a trailer and they saw BeforeEve fighting to keep Cassandra down and away from the sword, but she was rapidly losing ground. Theck pointed at Cassandra and Ceru made a run for the sword still on the ground. Theck unleashed everything he could into an attack he channeled into the ground to knock down Cassandra, but it ended up being powerful enough to destabilize the entire mine, burying everyone and everything in the process.
“Can you pass me the Forest Green?”
“Yeah. Are you done with Azure? I want it for the edges.”
BeforeEve, Theck, and Ceruleana knew what had happened; they were crushed in the coal mine, but now struggled to process where they were at now. Looking up from his place on the floor, seeing the look of confusion on the faces of his friends, Illesdan sighed. “Took you all long enough to show up; we’re on our third box of crayons here.”
This was no longer the log cabin Theck remembered from the earlier memory but now appeared to be a normal-looking well-maintained home. Anima had gotten up from the floor, picked the small stuffed bear up, and walked into what looked like the dining room.
Dan picked himself up from the floor and brushed himself off. “I’m guessing by now you figured out the same thing I did, but I didn’t have the knowledge until it was too late. All we were fighting were extensions of Cassandra King.”
“But did we kill her, or did she get swept off as we did?” Eve asked.
Dan looked like he wanted to shrug, but ultimately resisted the urge to. “Yeah. Well. Here’s the problem: You saw the wristbands on all of the android clones we fought? Those weren’t wristbands; they are actually rings, forged by the same smith and imbued with the same magic behind the sword and, by that extension, the mythical Mjolnir. It’s a ring that creates multiples of itself every so many days, so the real Cassandra King never had to be there at all since it looked like she was using the sword as a focal binding point for the entire operation there.”
Theck turned and glared at Dan. “Why didn’t you say anything about any of this before now?”
“I don’t think you realize something here,” Dan began quietly, “I know all of you likely ‘died’ a few moments ago, and I probably didn’t pass much sooner than all of you, but I’ve been here a very long time. Anima is also much younger in this memory. Everything I’ve told you I’ve had to piece together through the fragments she has been able to verbally communicate, my own rusty knowledge of mythology, and by spending time drawing with her and getting interpretations through that.”
“Oh shit!” Eve and Ceru shouted in unison, as something came to the forefront to both of them at the same time. “Dan!” started Ceru. “When you Theck peaced out of existence last time, you two were gone, like, four days before we saw you again.”
Eve looked officially worried. “If that’s the case, how long are we all going to have been gone now?”
Four days later…
A tiny stampede surged towards Theck as he walked out of the kitchen and onto the outside deck, four cats clearing the three small steps leading up to the low deck and were on top of him with their excited voices, loud purrs, and trying so hard to get him to feed them faster.
“Settle down, you little beggars!” he chuckled as he filled two separate bowls, “you all need a diet.”
It was dinnertime, and the sun was beginning to set. Theck had just sat down in a patio chair when he heard the front door open and quickly slam shut. He picked up one of the cats who wandered away from the food dish and now wanted attention.
A few moments later, Dan came through the patio door, holding a takeout box. “Sorry I’m late; even though I called it in after the meeting, I still had to wait.” He handed Theck a bottled beer and plate wrapped in aluminum foil then placed his own food and drink on the table and set the box down for the cats to investigate.
“So how bad is it?” Theck asked before taking a bite out of his taco.
Dan looked annoyed as he twisted the cap of his bottle of beer and flung it across the yard at the garbage can. It hit the upper part of the fence and ricocheted halfway back into the yard. “About as well as expected when you go dark for almost two weeks without filing a flight plan first even if it did produce results,” Dan smirked. “You’re suspended from duties for a week effective immediately, by the way. I’m suspended for a month.”
“You didn’t treat the debriefer like that bottlecap, did you?” Theck said making a thumbing motion to the backyard. It was only a half-joke; Dan’s temper was something of a legend around Temple Hall’s watercooler talk.
“Close,” said Dan. “Originally, it was two weeks, I got an extra week for being the leader of the assignment and showing ‘Poor leadership skills.’” Dan stopped talking to take a drink.
Theck tilted his head to the side, waiting for Dan to continue but he instead went on to eating his own taco. “Ah, okay. That’s two weeks. So, where did the other two weeks come from?”
“They wanted me to go into therapy and then anger management classes when they saw how well the first demand went over. We compromised and said I could leave for a full month, and I’ll just try to be a better person when I come back.”
Theck winced but now made a mental note to ask around if there was any footage of this debriefing. There was no way on this or any other earth that may exist that Dan was going to talk to a complete stranger about anything, let alone whatever deep-seated issues he had.
“You didn’t have to take full responsibility for everything; I definitely could have said ‘no,’ to you.”
Dan looked down and smiled. “No. You couldn’t and wouldn’t have.” Still smiling, he looked at Theck head-on. “I think you go along with most things I suggest we take on out of morbid curiosity.”
“Speaking of morbid curiosity,” began Theck, “have you heard from Eve?”
Dan nodded. “Yeah, this morning when I woke up. Everything seems fine on the Dragon side of things; she said Daimon was satisfied with how everything turned out. All of the ley lines are restored, so back to business as usual for them.” Dan picked up an orange stray and started poking a strip of steak at it, which it greedily nabbed and ran off with. “They still won’t come in the house, eh?”
Theck was full and set the leftovers down for the other cats to pick over, “Nah. Maybe it’s for the best; I’m barely keeping up with the eight in the house. The strays seem to like it out here. I need to build them another house.”
“You’ve been saying that for a month now, guess we both have time to do that now. Have you heard anything from Ceru?”
Theck picked his paper plate up off the deck after the freeloading felines picked it clean. “Ah, right, last night. I forgot to tell you. She’s fine. Everything that happened out there is being blamed on the lessees since the entire network is now too unsafe to even enter to retrieve anything. That’s a bit disappointing; I think we could have learned more by retrieving those androids and artifacts.”
“I’m more than perfectly fine leaving it all to molder in the Arctic,” Dan said as he gathered all of the takeout remnants, picking up the bottlecap from the yard along the way.
When Dan came back to the table to pick up his beer, Theck stood up and looked at him, picking up his own beer and walking back into the house. “You don’t think anything is down there in the mines, do you?” Theck said as he held the patio open for Dan.
“We don’t know what ultimately happened after the collapse if anything. For the time being, order has been restored. For how long? Eh.” Dan sat down on the sofa and stared up at the ceiling. “What are we doing tonight?"
Theck sat down on the couch next to Dan, “I was thinking….”

                                                                      --The End--

A word from the author:

I’d like to thank BeforeEve, Theck, and Ceruleana for allowing me to use their characters for this story to make this tale possible. I hope that it meets with their approval.


lol this is awesome! I love it!

1 Like

Stay classy, Cassie!

1 Like