Monthly Archives: February 2012
Lancer and Rei arrived at the Ellis’s home by quarter past five.
In the morning.
Lancer wasn’t pleased, in fact he felt he would have loved those few extra minutes of sleep, but Rei took advantage of his semi-consciousness in his half awake state and herded him out of the house early.
He couldn’t very well complain now. Finding out they’d arrived fifteen minutes before their necessary thirty minute early arrival was just fine and dandy. Oh, yes, nothing wrong at all. People shouldn’t expect you to arrive at six when they wanted to leave at six, no, never.
His lack of complaint attracted attention, probably because instead of speaking he kicked the ground and grumbled.
“That boy’s always so ornery,” Mr. Ellis said, packing luggage atop the carriage.
“Would you like a muffin, Lancer?” Mrs. Ellis asked, holding out a tray of various muffins.
Lancer took a muffin. “Thank you, Mrs. Ellis,” he said in between stuffing his mouth.
“Any time, dear,” she said. “Cheer up, alright? It’s going to be a beautiful day and you can sleep on the ride if you’re tired.”
Saying that, Mrs. Ellis added that whenever she traveled she found it dreadfully difficult to sleep because of bumps in the road―they needed to fix that, someone should pave it like in the big cities―but since he was young he shouldn’t have problems catching a wink.
Lancer stopped grumbling because he had a muffin, but he started again a moment later.
“Do we need anything else, daddy?” Jaylee asked from the front porch.
“Should be set. Thanks, darling,” Mr. Ellis said.
“We don’t need this catalytic charge displacer, dad?” Jared asked from inside the house.
“Next time, Jared. This isn’t a business trip.”
Lancer paused mid-muffin chew. He stared at Jaylee, who smiled and waved then looked down shyly when he didn’t stop staring. Jared told Lancer he’d help him with the schoolwork he’d missed. Rei stepped to the side, whistling, until Lancer jerked his head towards her and glared.
“Oh,” Rei said. “Did I forget to tell you Jaylee and Jared are coming?”
“Mmmffmmrrhhh,” Lancer said, then swallowed his mouthful of muffin. “Yes, you did! Why didn’t you say something? Seriously, Rei?”
Before Rei could answer, Jaylee waltzed up and stood next to him, hands in her pockets. “I’ve missed you at school, Lancer.”
“Yeah,” Lancer said. “Sorry.”
“Is that a muffin?” she asked. “Can I have a bite?”
Mrs. Ellis happened by with the muffins again. “Jaylee, hurry, take a muffin before your father and brother eat them all. I swear they act like I never feed them.”
Jaylee frowned and took a muffin from the pan. “Thanks,” she said in the most disingenuous way possible.
“Of course, dear.”
Before more awkward moments could commence, Mr. Ellis said, “Time to hit the road! Last one in’s the spoiled cheese.”
Jaylee looked at Lancer and rolled her eyes, gesturing towards her father. “It’s rotten egg, dad!”
“Spoiled cheese is worse, trust me.”
Lancer cared little for rotten eggs or spoiled cheese. He also no longer cared much for this carriage ride into Garde. Having to deal with Kanin was difficult enough, but Jaylee was another story.
Now, he didn’t hate her, far from it. He thought she was fun sometimes in larger crowds and an overall interesting person, but that didn’t mean he wanted her attention, which she gave him fully. It also didn’t mean he wanted to sit next to her in the crowded carriage, but the seats were so small that one of the boys needed to sit next to one of the girls for everyone to fit. Rei, his evil demon sister, jumped in before him and sat next to Jared.
Jaylee blushed when Lancer sat. “I can help with your schoolwork if you want? Since it’ll be hard for Jared to do if he’s not next to you?”
Lancer grudgingly accepted, Jaylee not noticing his ire and Rei feigning ignorance by refusing to look at him, humming.
Homework help was alright. Besides the fact that Jaylee kept touching him, playfully slapping his hand when he messed up, squeezing close and smiling whenever he did something right, and putting her arm around his to guide him if he took too long to write an answer. Those things bothered him, but it was better than the alternatives.
Imagine if he’d slept? He knew he would’ve woken with a tousle-haired Jaylee yawning, curled up on his chest. “Did you have a nice nap?” he pictured her saying. “I dreamt of you, Lancer.”
Bump! Creak! Crack! The carriage stopped.
“We’re here?” Lancer had never visited Garde so he had no clue how long it took to get there, but this seemed like a really short ride. Only a couple hours?
“Sorry, kids. Wheel’s busted. Going to take a few to fix. Stretch your legs for now,” Mr. Ellis said from the rider’s stoop outside the carriage.
They got out. Lancer relished his freedom from Jaylee.
“Help me out, Jared?” Mr. Ellis asked. Father and son went to work replacing the wheel.
“Isn’t that a nice lake?” Rei said to Jaylee, pointing out a small lake at the end of a willowy grass field.
Lancer suspected something.
“Daddy, can Lancer and I go to the lake while you fix the carriage?” Jaylee asked.
Ah, that’s what he suspected.
“Don’t be gone too long, darling.”
Lancer didn’t expect that.
Nor did he think Jaylee would take his arm in hers and rush off to the lake. Why was he going to a lake? Better yet why were they going to a lake?
Rei giggled and Lancer would have yelled at her but he was too busy being made to run towards some lake that he didn’t have time to do much else.
Lancer stayed home from school for three days. Not for any legitimate reason―unless fretting over his sister’s well-being counted as a valid sickness―but because he needed time to think.
Thinking, unfortunately, wasn’t his greatest ability. At least not with the kind of thoughts he needed. No matter what he came up with, no matter the random ideas floating through his head, it amounted to the same thing.
To fix Rei, to have any chance at reverting her to flesh and bones instead of a wooden toy, he needed to consult their older brother. Kanin wasn’t the most knowledgeable person ever(Lancer loved to point this out during their spats), but he knew people and might know someone who understood the sphereshifting involved in Rei’s transformation.
This, of course, meant they needed to travel to Garde. Kanin lived there now, visiting them only once or twice a year for a week at a time. He had no time for his hometown anymore, preferring the transcendent lifestyle of the big city, whatever that meant.
Everyone learned sphereshifting, but not everyone was good at it(Lancer, frowning to himself, knew he was a prime example of that). People like Kanin, skilled and masterful, had an abundance of work they could perform, and Garde was the place to go if you wanted to take advantage of that. Jobs varied as widely as small time work in shops to guarding trade caravans, and everything in between.
Lancer broached the subject to Rei when she came home that afternoon. “Hey,” he said. “Let’s visit Kanin in Garde.”
Rei ignored him and awkwardly held a pencil between her wooden fingers, attempting to write answers for her homework. “When are you going back to school?” she asked.
“That’s not important. We haven’t seen Kanin in forever.”
“I saw Kanin a few months ago when he visited, but you hid the whole time and refused to see him. I don’t see why you’d want to see him now. I don’t understand why you two can’t get along.”
“It’s more that–”
Rei refused to let him finish. “You want to see if he can change me back.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad to visit, either.” Except it would, Lancer thought. He hated it when Kanin came home, and while they’d never visited their older brother in Garde he imagined it would be ten times worse.
“I’ve written him a letter,” Rei said.
“I wrote telling him what happened. He’ll write back.”
This hadn’t occurred to Lancer. A letter? What a great idea! That meant he wouldn’t need to see Kanin after all, and he could still do something about Rei’s predicament.
“I wouldn’t mind going to see him, though,” Rei remarked offhandedly.
“What?” Lancer asked, startled out of his jubilation after realizing they didn’t need to travel to Garde.
“You said it wouldn’t be so bad to visit, and I wouldn’t mind going, so if you’d like we can go.”
“Well, there’s school–”
“You haven’t gone to school in three days.”
“I don’t think Mom and Dad would–”
“I’ve written them, too. They wrote back actually. They said they’ll come home as soon as possible but work’s got them stuck and as long as I’m alright it should be fine. If we need anything, they said to take money and visit Kanin.”
Although this was Lancer’s original intention, having learned of alternative options, and rejoicing in not needing to see Kanin, he just didn’t like the idea anymore. Rei stared at him, her glassy eyes wide and pleading. Despite his preferences, Lancer gave in.
“Alright,” he said.
“Alright what?” she asked.
“I guess we can go.”
“When? In the morning?”
“Isn’t that too soon? Don’t you have to―I don’t know―shouldn’t you tell your teacher?”
“I’ve already told her. I heard you mumbling in your room the other day about visiting Kanin, so I asked Ms. Allen today if it’d be alright, and she gave me a folder with classwork for the next few weeks.” She rifled through her schoolbag and pulled out a folder filled with far too many worksheets. “Here, I spoke with your teachers and got your lessons, too.” This time she took out four folders, each close to double the size of hers. “I thought since you’re having trouble maybe extra would help, so I asked your teachers and they added extra credit so you can catch up.”
“Thanks,” he said. He was not thankful.
“Let’s pack!” Rei hopped up, forgetting her homework. “Oh, this will be so fun. Do you know they have a giant observation wheel in the center of Garde? You can pay for a seat and it spins around with magnetics and at the top you can see for miles. We should do that. Can we do that?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Do we have to pack now? It’ll be nicer to sleep in and leave in the afternoon, right?”
“We can’t. Jaylee and Jared’s father offered to bring us in his carriage for free, but he’s leaving at six sharp, so we need to arrive by half past five.”
“In the morning?” Lancer frowned; she had to be kidding.
Rei gave him a strange look as if she had no idea what other time he thought she could mean. A second later she shrugged and smiled, jumping up and skipping to her room to pack her belongings, her wooden feet tapping her retreat through the house.
Needless to say, Lancer disliked this, but after grumbling for a couple minutes he went to pack.
Weight: 150 lbs.
Hair: Dark Blond
Eye Color: Light blue grey
Body: Athletic, Mesomorph
Blood Type: AB+
Sphereshift Affinity: None(Unknown)
Related to: Rei(Reisalily), Kanin
“People worry too much about stupid stuff. Sphereshifting is nice, but there’s a lot of other things to be good at, too. Like what are you going to do if a bear comes at you while you’re sleeping during a camping trip? I’d rather be really good at running than sphereshifting if that happened.” -Lancer
Today he would become powerful.
Lancer knew it, could feel it, the built up power straining to get loose for years. This was the time. Today. Now.
True, every time he sphereshifted, he failed, but now he understood why. Simple, really. Why hadn’t he realized it before? Everyone thought him subpar, less than mediocre, but he would prove himself.
A tree branch clicked against the classroom window. Sunlight splattered through the trees, spreading across the floor in an array of color. Lancer breathed deep, soaking it in, preparing for his first successful sphereshift.
History lessons didn’t start for another ten minutes. Everyone should be outside, eating lunch, unaware of his moment of awesomeness. When they came inside to return to their daily routine and study boring old history about sphereshifters who’d influenced something no one cared about, they’d find him, successful.
This is how he imagined it, at least. Having been unable to perform controlled sphereshifting, he didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, he could do some stuff, and a bit happened, but he couldn’t do it on purpose and he never knew what would happen. He just sort of tried, and it happened or not; the whims of the world, fate, kismet, and all that.
Lancer stood at the front of the classroom, facing the desks. He started by bringing his hands high into the air. He kept them there, spread his fingers.
It was warm inside. Not too warm, but warm. This is what he thought of while attempting to summon his innate power, some miraculous sphereshifting no one could imagine. History lessons? Pft! He would become history incarnate; people would learn his story in the years to come.
The secret, he realized while eating lunch, was not to practice minor sphereshifting. Who cared about small stuff? He’d go big. Huge. Powerful, wonderful, and awe-inspiring. He coaxed forth all his energy, willing it to focus itself in his center so he could command it as he wished.
Nothing happened. He closed his eyes, waited. Nothing still. Something tickled his nose and he lowered his arm to scratch it. In that instant he heard a crackling.
His eyes snapped open and he looked towards the source of the noise. Another hiss, then boom. Boom! Again. It came from outside. He laughed, giddy, never realizing how easy sphereshifting was. He could do this all day. Ha!
Fireworks sputtered from the floorboards, whizzed through the air, and let loose with a bang. Not quite what he expected, but who didn’t like fireworks? They kept going without him even concentrating, so apparently he was good at this.
A teacher ran around a corner outside the classroom window and scolded some kids in the yard. The fireworks stopped. The leader of the group frowned and shook his finger in the air, losing the spark of firework he’d planned to send skyward.
Lancer frowned. He hadn’t made fireworks; he hadn’t made anything. He stared out the window, dejected. What had he done then? Not much. It hadn’t felt like anything, so it probably wasn’t. Like every other time.
Something tickled his nose again. Before he could use his hand to itch it, he sneezed. The force sent him flying backwards, crashing into the desks. He blinked, because he’d sneezed quite a few times in his life and never once had it sent him flying. Haze filled his vision, stiff webs like interconnected sparks clouding his sight.
And then he could see normally again. He should get up, he thought, and fix these desks. How much time did he have left? Not much. A minute?
He stood fine, but when he touched a desk to pick it up and push it into place, a jolt shocked his fingertips. He yelped, surprised. Sparks flew from his body as his hand snapped away from the desk, leaving a trail of electricity connecting him and it.
“What the?” Really, this had never happened before, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
The desk shook, hopping back and forth like a chilly bird trying to move to keep itself warm. Without warning, the desk shimmied towards him of its own accord.
Lancer stumbled away, tripping over another desk. This time, caught up in his downward descent, he didn’t even cry out at the sparks connecting him with the new desk in a static line. Rumbling, this desk too was heading for him. Careful not to hit another desk, hitting a pair anyways, he scrambled towards the edge of the classroom.
The desks kept coming like hungry beasts. Wobbling towards him, faster and faster, he had nowhere to escape but out of the classroom. Except a desk cut him off before he could make it to the door.
Jaylee found him first, sprawled on the ground, assaulted by desks. Not an attack so much as toppling onto him, but it didn’t feel good either way. She squeaked, plowing through desks to reach him. They snapped back towards him seconds later, but being so close they lacked the momentum for any serious oomph.
The history teacher found them, limbs akimbo, struggling to get free. It looked, for all intents and purposes, more illicit than it was, but the teacher had no idea what had happened and scolded them for improper actions. When he realized sphereshifting was involved, he fixed the problem with a flick of his wrists.
“Oh! Lancer! Are you alright?” Jaylee flung herself at him, squealing when sparks tickled her skin, laughing when they didn’t hurt.
“Jaylee. Ergh.” Lancer couldn’t move. Which was worse, her or the desks? “I’m fine.”
“I don’t know what you did, Lancer.” Mr. Jacobs’s husky voice didn’t sound like it cared, either. Lancer knew he was about to get in trouble, but with Jaylee clinging to him like a bug he couldn’t very well explain himself and try to get out of it. “You’re staying after class, though. You cause enough trouble during lessons and now you’re causing trouble between them? I don’t know why you’re so obstinate.” When Jaylee appeared in no rush to release Lancer from her death hug, Mr. Jacobs added, “If you want me to send a note home to your parents about your lack of discipline, by all means Jaylee continue this lewd display.”
She let go after that. Lancer was left alone, with only static burs stuck to his clothes to keep him company.
The pandemonium from the destruction of the Archaic’s laboratory and the subsequent burst of light attracted people; night guards and villagers wanting to investigate. They found Rei, Lancer, and Francine huddled together, injured but relatively no worse for wear.
Tired, worn out, unable to respond to questions and finding it difficult to keep himself aware, Lancer drifted towards lethargy as soon as someone offered to bring him home. He stumbled, ankle bothering him, but sure he could make it. When a gruff man tossed him over his shoulder he just let it happen, though. Eyes closing, his body relaxed, and he slept.
He woke the next morning in bed. Someone had wrapped bandages around his ankle and a mild pain throbbed against his bindings. Putting his foot on the ground, testing his weight, he felt discomfort but not enough to stop him from walking, albeit very slowly. His stomach groaned and gurgled. Food; he needed it.
Hobbling to the kitchen, he stopped suddenly. There, searching through cupboards, was a giant doll. Facing away from him, he only saw her light brown hair and clothes; Rei’s clothes. Memories, his thoughts, collided, forming a horrid collage of last night’s dire events.
He ran—though his ankle slowed him—to his sister. She tilted her head towards him, the smile on her face vanishing when she saw the serious expression on his. She blinked, wooden eyelids making a strange clacking sound.
“Rei,” Lancer said, stifling a sob. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He hugged her and she returned it, wooden arms wrapped around his midsection. “It’s alright,” she said. “I don’t feel too much different.”
He stopped crying—though he hadn’t really started, just on the verge of it—and looked at her. “What do you mean? Doesn’t it hurt?”
She shrugged in his embrace. “Not much. I feel peculiar.”
“You know when you grab something or touch the side of something with your arm?” She put her hand on the edge of the counter top and squeezed. “It presses in, right? Your skin, I mean. I can’t do that now. It doesn’t press. It’s firm.”
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Is that it?”
“My eyes are very noisy,” she said, blinking a few times for show. Her eyelids clack-clack-clacked against each other. “Also it was so difficult to untie those strings on my arms and legs. I can’t seem to do simple things like that. It’s hard to hold a spoon. I was looking for a bigger one so I could make breakfast.”
“You’re making breakfast? Do you think you should do that?”
She stared at him, confused. “Why not?”
“I mean, aren’t you, uh–” Lancer couldn’t think of the word. “Sick, maybe? You should relax until you get better.”
Rei frowned. “Layne, I don’t think I’m going to get better.”
When she used his real name, he knew it was serious. “What do you mean you won’t get better? Of course you will. This will wear off and you’ll be my little sister again.”
“I’m still your sister,” she said, her voice soft, sad.
“I know, I know. But you’ll be–” He was so bad at this, he couldn’t even explain it. “You’ll be regular again. Not wood and a doll.”
“It’s not wearing off, alright?” she snapped. “It’s just not. It’s not going to. I’m sorry I’m like this, and I didn’t want to be, but it is how it is. I can’t change it. No one can.”
He frowned, eyes sad, not understanding.
“I don’t know everything, but it’s nothing fixable. It’s not something anyone can fix. I heard the Archaic talking about it when I was strapped to his worktable. He was reciting notes out loud. He made me swallow a chocolate whole, and at the time I thought it was a candy. I thought maybe he was just odd, and rambling, that I’d be fine, but then he read some part about acorns and sphereshifting for accelerated growth and I didn’t understand everything because it’s not in the books, but–”
Lancer shook his head as if refusing her words would solve everything.
“The point is he used my body to grow the acorn into a tree, and it’s part of me now. If you get rid of the wood, I’ll die. There won’t be anything left of me. That’s what he said, and though I don’t know everything about sphereshifting it makes sense. I love you Layne, I really really do, and I’m still your sister but—do you understand? I’m sorry, but this is me now.”
Lancer nodded, barely listening anymore. He heard what Rei said, he understood, but he disagreed.
Someone could fix her. Maybe not him—not him at all, no maybes about it—but someone somewhere would know how.
And if anyone should know, if he could entrust someone else with Rei’s safe being, he thought Kanin would. Their older brother doted on Rei. Sure, he treated Lancer like an idiot hardly worth offering the time of day to, but this had nothing to do with either of them getting along.
Rei rolled her eyes and went back to looking for larger utensils while Lancer daydreamed about thoughts of fixing Rei.
“I’m sorry, Lancer. I know it might be difficult having a doll as a sister, but think of how I feel?”
Weight: 200 lbs.
Hair: Light Brown Gray
Eye Color: Light rust red
Body: Rugged, Endomorph
Blood Type: A-
Sphereshift Affinity: Earth
Related to: Unknown
“People put a lot of faith in the general good nature of others. Personally I believe that’s wrong. I’d love if everyone was a wonderful person, but deep down sometimes I don’t think anyone is.” -the Archaic
Jonathan Douser was knocking on his door. Sanford, or the Archaic as the villagers called him because of his propensity towards antique toys, frowned. What did he want? The fire was an accident, not his fault. Some impatient child must have went searching for his gift on the night he knew Sanford delivered, toggled with the toy before reading the user’s manual, and lit the package aflame with sparks from mismanagement.
Sanford loved children, he did, but sometimes they acted so ill-mannered he wished he could refuse them gifts. A ledger, he often thought, with lists for good children and the less-than-exceptional, would work wonders. He couldn’t do that, though. Playing favorites, no matter the reason, caused resentment, which would ruin the good children’s fun. A person couldn’t enjoy a gift if hooligans, who wouldn’t receive any, bullied them about it.
Jonathan knocked again, insistent. Sanford rose from his chair, grimacing. This better be quick, he had business to attend.
Jonathan was preparing another knock when Sanford opened the door. Fist raised, the pounding he intended to inflict upon the door evident from clenched, white knuckles, Mr. Douser shot a look of contempt at the Archaic before lowering his hand.
“Yes?” Sanford asked. “What is it?”
Jonathan’s fury grew, hands restrained at his side, tense and ready for action. “Burn my house, ask what I want? Whatcha think, Sanford? Recompense. You owe me.”
“I do? What for?”
Jonathan blinked. Sanford enjoyed this, knowing he irritated the man. Let him repeat himself, hear the folly in his accusation, then perhaps they could come to an understanding.
“You burned my–” Jonathan started to say.
“Stop there,” Sanford interrupted. “By you, you mean one of those brats you fathered, correct? Because I―and I know this for truth―burned nothing down, let alone your house, as you intended to say. The mistrained and impudent children you and your wife are rearing in that―let’s not mince words―wretched shack ransacked my pile of presents and knew not what they dealt with. It’s hardly my fault if a child burns their house down, is it? Would you blame me if―what’s your snotty older daughter’s name? Brandi, right?―would you blame me if she dropped a match into a haystack and it converted your shed into a bonfire? I think not.”
Sanford said little more, because Jonathan wound up and punched him in the jaw. The shock of the strike, physical and mental, confused the reclusive toymaker. The man hit him again, and once more, favoring shoulder and chest this time, but when he returned for another attack Sanford regained his equilibrium.
Spotting an iron smelting ladle on the floor, the Archaic kicked it into his hand, then thrust it into his assailants sternum. The wind knocked out of him, Jonathan crumpled to the floor. Wheezing, on his knees, the man’s eyes held only hatred for the Archaic.
Another shot to the side of his head brought Jonathan into unconsciousness.
And this was how that went. Sanford deliberated on what to do with the fellow while keeping him tied in the corner with rope. Of course he fed him, because he didn’t want the man to die, but after two days of entrapment he knew he needed to do somewhat more.
Then, brilliance struck.
“You’re right about toys,” Sanford said, conversationally. “Not that the fire was my fault, but perhaps there’s room for improvement.”
Jonathan said something. The gag muffling his mouth shoved the words back into his throat.
It began that day. Sanford tinkered, melding toys and sphereshifting knowledge to create the ultimate gift. No child could screw this up, not even the awful ones. It was perfect. He used Jonathan Douser as his test subject.
First, he practiced with a sphereshift to alter the man’s bodily water. The human body contained a remarkable amount inside it and he’d heard stories of sphereshifters using this to their advantage, transforming their own fluids into weapons. Sanford had never tried this, but he learned the basics soon enough.
Water alone didn’t suffice, but he formulated a hypothesis and course of action. He required one more step, though.
Metal wouldn’t work, was confusing to shift, but wood should suffice. A simple task, shifting spheres of earth and water together with a seed to influence life; plants, trees, and the like. He could use this. And he did.
Finding an acorn from an oak tree, he coated it in chocolate and fed it to Jonathan, forcing him to swallow it whole. Using that as a base, and the man’s fluids, he experimented with his new sphereshifting idea.
It worked better than he imagined.
With artful manipulation, he used Jonathan’s body to grow a tree. Flesh and bodily water as soil and nourishment, he coaxed the tree to replace the man’s current anatomy with wood. Some specialized shifting for joints, carving the tree to suit his needs, sending a jolt to halt the growth of leaves and roots, Sanford crafted his perfect toy.
It went well, except Jonathan wasn’t moving much now. Sanford left his heart alone, allowing it to pump nutrition to the tree, so he knew it still beat, but without body motion or movement it slowed to a quiet pace. A few beats a minute, if that. Jonathan felt cold and lifeless.
He tried to fix this later, adding wind and light to the sphereshifted concoction. The wind was a spate of genius after noticing the branches of an umbrella tree swaying in the breeze, but the light was whim; it seemed apt.
Jonathan didn’t move much, but Sanford chalked it up to a stubborn disposition and unwillingness to adapt to change. Still, he moved, and with effort conversed, berating the Archaic for his magnificent efforts.
Around that time Sanford took up ventriloquism and learn to spindle fine threads the likes of which puppeteers used for fantoccini.
Jonathan never appreciated the puppet plays, but after a year as a toy he ceased functioning, anyways.
The Archaic repeated his experiment with animals to ensure he understood the process. Finalizing that, he decided he’d best get to work on the children’s toys. How long since his last batch of gifts?
He couldn’t recall, but that boy who’d visited, the only one in years―Lancer?–he seemed a good start. Rambling about his family and little sister, he’d lauded her as an angel. She would be the first to receive Sanford’s wondrous gift.
His plan went into motion.
Rain fell in sheets. Caught in the Umbral Stand’s canopy, water pooled on each tree’s leaves and coalesced into raindrops the size of marbles. The pitter-patter of rain, like myriad tiny footfalls, overwhelmed the night noises.
The Archaic looked up, wiping his face. Water drenched his lantern, seeking the flame within. Raindrops hissed, vaporized by the fire, and the lantern dimmed, but remained luminant enough to reveal the immediate area around the Archaic.
Lancer sprung into action, though with less spring than he wanted. Ankle still aching, and Rei in his lap, he eased her towards Francine and hauled himself to his feet using the tree behind him as leverage. Pain shot through his foot, reaching for his knee. Before the Archaic could finish wiping rain from his cheek, Lancer launched himself at the man.
Stumbling, the Archaic toppled backwards. His lantern clattered to the ground, the wick’s flame dwindling. Hair slick and stuck to his face from the unexpected torrential downpour, Lancer swung a blind fist in the Archaic’s direction.
The tinkering man caught Lancer’s knuckles in his palm and shoved the attack away. Without surprise, Lancer had no advantage. The Archaic twisted his body, tossing Lancer to the ground. With a lurch, the boy found himself with a face full of mud and leaves.
The Archaic hobbled, meaning to stand, but Lancer grabbed his ankle. Pulling with all his strength, he managed to heave the man back onto the ground. A temporary win, as the Archaic simply kicked at his head until he let go and then rose once more.
Water invaded the confines of the dropped lantern, dousing the flame. Night overcame them.
Lancer saw nothing, but he heard sloshing footsteps from the Archaic. The man moved tentatively, careful not to fall. Lancer rolled to the side right before a kick aimed for his shoulder would have connected. A rush of wind and water whooshed past his ear. Whatever assault he’d avoided, it wasn’t enough to deter the Archaic, though.
The recluse stopped, listened, waited. When none of that revealed Lancer’s vicinity, he kicked wildly around, spraying water and dirt in all directions. A splash caught Lancer in the face. He bit down, teeth grinding, determined.
He would live. He wouldn’t accept anything else.
Crouching on his knees, he ignored the pain in his ankle and focused on his surroundings. Where did the water come from? A storm like this shouldn’t have erupted out of nowhere. He vaguely recalled Rei’s homework. Earlier in the day, before the kidnapping, she’d mentioned an assignment given to her by Ms. Allen. She’d asked him―though he suspected more to tease him than for real information―how to sphereshift a cirrus cloud; mentioning, as Ms. Allen told her, with practice she could form cumulonimbus clouds.
Lancer knew nothing of clouds besides the fact that they inhabited the sky and tended to rain occasionally. And whatever cloud lay above, it had decided to rain heavily. A gift from Rei? His sister was moving again, a sphere of light reviving her, and if anything was the reason for this rain he thought it was her.
When he tried to stand, his foot sank into the mud. The ground churned, sucking at his leg and pulling it further in. This didn’t happen often, if ever, and he needed to think for a second to realize why. All the while the Archaic thrashed air, coming closer and closer through effort of deduction.
The ground usually didn’t give way, he thought, because there was more ground beneath it(a logical conclusion?). When miners mined caves, they set support beams to halt the walls from collapsing on them. This he knew.
And if the mud was pulling at his body, it must mean nothing was below it. Except how did that make sense? Then he remembered the underground laboratory, and everything became clear. Whatever the Archaic had done after Lancer knocked him over and grabbed Rei, whatever rage induced mistreatment or burst of uncontrolled sphereshifting, it must have knocked loose the support beams making the ceiling susceptible to destruction.
Wonderful, Lancer thought. He sat in the mud, in the middle of it, ready to go tumbling into the wreckage of an underground room.
Maybe not, though. He had a plan.
Easing his leg out of the mud, he lay flat and rolled sideways. As quietly as possible, he rolled until the ground solidified somewhat. Reaching for his foot, he removed his shoe.
The Archaic closed in on where Lancer had been, moving slowly. Still kicking, he must have sensed instability in the ground and didn’t want to stumble. Lancer understood anger, though; he felt it whenever his peers mocked him for his lack of sphereshifting ability. True rage, the maddening sort, had no rhyme or reason; it merely needed to run its course.
Whenever Lancer got upset, he threw rocks at the pond. Heavy, they made a satisfying smack hitting the water. He repeated this behavior, using his shoe and the rain-drenched ground as his rock and pond.
The shoe splashed when it landed. The Archaic wailed, prepared for vengeance. Night blind, Lancer heard the Archaic pouncing upon his shoe, flopping in the mud. The man bellowed and screamed, finding nothing but leather and laces.
A circle of light bloomed where the Archaic lay, the earth opening to swallow him whole. Lancer slid backwards, avoiding being sucked in. The madman slipped, gravity claiming his body. Clinging hands reached for safety, attempting to pull himself out, but his fists yanked snatches of mud instead of handholds to freedom.
The ground collapsed. The pitter-patter of rain drowned out the Archaic’s screams and he crashed into the laboratory floor.
Using the burst of light to guide him, Lancer searched around. Rei and Francine huddled together nearby.
Seeing Lancer alright, Rei’s concern changed to a beaming smile. The rain, as if never meant to be, ceased. Rei was safe, the fight with the Archaic finished. He went to her.