For half a moment Maeve and Kiara froze as the two asylums hit the ground, and Olivia started screaming. Then, experience took over. ”Everyone out!” Maeve bellowed, gesturing for the students to leave. They stood there, in a more stunned silence than when
Angel had beaten down Samad and Cade.
Maeve took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders, and then yelled again. I SAID OUT! Her alchemically enhanced voice reverberated through the whole room, galvanizing the students to leave, and leave quickly.
Kiara put her arms around Olivia, ignoring the stream of students around them. Right now, the younger woman needed help and that was all that mattered. She still found amusing, in the distant back of her mind, that she cared this much about people. Even after being an asylum for as long as she had, after seeing the darkest humanity had to offer, here she was. Helping a girl she barely even knew. ”Hey, hey. Focus. It’s going to be okay. Come with me, it’ll be easier if you two are touching. We’ll get him back, I promise. But you need to come with me.”
”I yield.” Lawrence croaked as he tried to figure out what just happened. His link with Olivia had faltered, not fully dropped. The fact that he wasn’t dead proved that fact. Samad had been a special case. It still felt like a part of him had died, though. All of the pleasant, optimistic thoughts that swam at the back of his mind were gone, replaced by the simmering hatred and rage that had always been there. He pulled himself to his feet, reaching into his pocket and grabbing his Rubik’s Cube. He spotted Olivia crouched on the bleachers and covering her head.
”Yeah, no shit!”
Not good. If Olivia was feeling anything even remotely similar to him, her mind would be in shambles. Lawrence started to make his way towards his partner, only pausing with a flinch because a terrible pain ripped through his ear. He jerked away from Maeve with a scowl, his eyes flaring with a deep rage. He blinked and focused on his Rubik’s cube, forcing his anger down.
”Just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I’m immune to noise. Watch it!” He looked back at Olivia, who had started to rock on her heels. ”Get your partner away from her. The next few moments won’t be pleasant for anyone within distance of her.”
Maeve deigned to ignore the oxymoron Lawrence just uttered, focusing on the situation at hand. ”Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. She’s got a bleeding heart. What the fuck happened?”
”GET AWAY!” Olivia batted Kiara’s hands away from her. As she rocked back and forth, she started to sing a song underneath her breath. Soon the sensitivities of all those around began to increase. Then the tune changed and pain started radiating from her. There was nowhere safe for her to be. She began to tune those around her out and retreated into her mind.
”I would love to but you need to get to Lawrence.” Kiara replied through gritted teeth as pain hit her harder. Olivia seemed to increasing their sensitivities and then radiating pain, it would have been clever if it wasn’t for the fact that it seemed to be largely unconscious.
”We can fix this Olivia you just need to help us help you.” Kiara sighed as she saw Olivia begin to retreat into her mind. ”Alright plan B it is.”
She reached out to the Ante Mortem with her mind. Angel, Reri, we need help. Olivia and Lawrence’s link got hurt or reduced somehow, and we don’t have the mental power to help them reconnect.
As the wave of pain emanated from the withered Asylum, the Chrono remained as nonchalant and stoic as ever, her mismatched eyes observing the spectacle, unmoved, uncaring, not a hint of worry or excitement. Like a doll she simply watched. Ideally she would have prefered to have her partner around so the students could have learned from this experience. Angel could have told them of the three primary dangers which alchemists face.
The first and foremost being the threat of ‘Insannadiction’, alchemy is a taint which is addictive. The more you use it, the more you get tainted and the more you wish to use it till but an echo remains of what you were.
The second danger arose from trying to surpass your limits. Everyone is born with a predefined alchemic potential and when you try to go beyond that, the body takes the brunt. It is called an ‘Alchemic Backlash’ where you push your alchemy beyond its limits and in turn the body takes the toll in the form of physical damage.
The third threat arises from exposure to unhealthy amounts of foreign alchemic energy. Every alchemist possesses an alchemic drive, the basic purpose of which is to breathe in alchemic energy and transmute it into alchemic power. Every alchemic drive is unique and often incompatible with another, When an Asylum is exposed to extreme levels of another’s alchemic drive and or warped alchemic energy they are afflicted with ‘Alchemic Poisoning’. This affects the mind, the body as well as the alchemic capabilities of the victim.
“You will not disturb my brother,” Rin replied, her callous voice overwhelming Kiara’s mind and shattering the channel she was trying to establish though just a second too late. If the Chrono should have been shocked she didn’t show it, instead she simply observed time slow down around her until everything came to a still. Thin cracks slowly began to appear around them as if the world was fracturing, reality breaking upon itself. Rin though knew that this was simply how the mind reacted when being dragged into the void. The purpose of it though alluded her, Angel was not so selfless as to assist at the expense of his rest.
“This is unusual,” Reri was the first to materialize and solidify her conscious within the ethereal realm. The world around them seemed far from stable and it was still blank and even more importantly Angel was not present. Her partner once described that the Void is endless and infinite, a psychic plane of existence that connects to the subconscious minds of all intelligent life. Or how he put it for the layman, ‘the void is the road that exists between our minds, it is a glue that binds the collective conscience’. She was also well versed in the rules of the void, one’s conscience could only solidify in an architects domain, for if one were to be thrust out into the crude void their consciousness would be lost for an eternity. It was easy to deduce that they were present in an Architects domain but it was crude, as if a pale reflection of the original. There was also the issue of the absence of Angel, without the architect the domain remained blank, easily influenced by the inhabitants. Meaning the world around them would shift to the whims of the Asylums present.
“Banshees……” The Chrono slowly whispered those words, her lifeless eyes meeting with theirs and though her expression remained as emotionless as usual,a cold and sinister aura seemed to pulse from within her. “What….. did…. you...do?.”
Maeve groaned in irritation as she saw where she was. Angel was too damn lazy to come himself, so he gave them this stupid place. It was practically his favorite ‘take people here when I don’t really wanna put effort into talking to or helping them’ place to use. Maeve’s face briefly twitched in irritation at the misuse of their team name, but didn’t mention it. Rin wouldn’t care anyway.
”Fuck all. We were just continuing with the sparring. Lawrence hit the ground, the connection snapped, and the two of us aren’t skilled enough in mental alchemy to help them reconnect it.”
Why can’t it have been Rena in control. Kiara thought tiredly, standing up as the void took form around them. They could have bribed Rena to get Angel to help, or at the very least she would have been less threatening. Kiara couldn’t be bothered to make the world around them too her liking, she had to figure out how to get the two other asylums connected.
”Maeve’s right, if tactless. We didn’t do anything, intentional or unintentional. She and Lawrence were sparring. Lawrence hit the floor, the connection broke, and now here we are. We need someone with better mental alchemy than us to help them reconnect, otherwise we might make things worse.”
”I’m not entirely sure that the connection broke.” Lawrence said those gathered. ”It’s diminished greatly, to the point where, unless you focused on it, it would seem that the connection had been severed. I suspect the culprit of this is either the time spent in the tanks, or the poisoning.” He looked around as the location they were in, that was originally flickering between the different minds of the Asylums, took form.
Grey, dingy walls lined a black and white tiled hallway. Doorways lined the walls at fixed intervals that stretched on for seemingly forever. The harsh white flickering glow of fluorescent lights saturated the hallway. If the gurneys that lay scattered around were anything to go by, they were in an old hospital. Lawrence sighed. He knew this place. Looking around, he noticed that Olivia wasn’t a part of the group here. Even better. Guess they needed to find her before they could get to fixing the issue of their disrupted link.
“Looks like someone is wandering where they shouldn’t be.” A silhouette appeared off in the far distance of the hallway. The voice was overtly cheerful. “No, that just won’t do. Come along, let’s get you where you ought to be before anything bad happens to you.” The figure started advancing towards the group.
“Locate -LIV- and terminate or pacify the source of disturbance,” Rin commanded mechanically, her eyes sweeping the changes in their surroundings, distortions caused by their subconscious minds.
“The absence of Angel has made this zone highly volatile, our minds will be our enemy. Maintain calm and proceed methodically.” The Little Chrono spoke in her usual deadpan monotone, her mismatched set of eyes settling on the figure in front. “It is impossible to kill a void wraith, they are not real, a manifestation of one’s morbid subconscious…..silence….or pacify…..now.” Her cold apathetic gaze landing on the ‘Banshees’.
Lawrence ignored the slowly approaching figure in the distance and instead opened one of the multiple doors down the hallway. The door led to a small padded room that looked similar to the boxes that AMRO tended to throw the more violent new recruits when they first arrived. Lawrence frowned and moved to another door. The same padded room. Several more doors revealed the same room.
The next room was different.
It was smaller than the padded room, but what caught Lawrence’s attention was that it was coated in blood. The metal walls, the examining table, which was warped and bowed inward, and even the floor were covered in gore. Almost too much blood to have come from only one person, but Lawrence knew the story. This was where Olivia surged.
The next room that Lawrence searched had a wooden pedestal. Laying on top was a small disk made of some sort of metal. Small enough to fit in his hand easily. Lawrence frowned as he stared at it. Compared to the rest of the rooms and the hallway, which had a fuzzy haze to it, the disk was in vivid detail.
The figure came closer. A man with greying hair and a smile that appeared far too wide for his face. He wore a green t-shirt and a pair of worn jeans. At Rin’s words, the man’s smile fell. “You were chosen for something greater and this is how you repay me, repay us?” He cracked his neck from side to side and rolled his shoulders. His arms elongated with the motion and metal rushed like liquid around his hands and fingers, which were stretching out, and formed sharp looking blades.
“Very well. You have been chosen, yes, but you’ve been found unworthy. The unworthy shall be culled.” He dashed forward towards the Banshees and Rin.
“Yeah, yeah sure leave us with the job of pacifying the whacko.” Maeve muttered in annoyance as Lawrence disappeared into one of the doors. ”Listen buddy, I don’t know who you are. Or really care. All I know is that I have to deal with you because someone with immense power can’t be bothered.” She held up a hand, bone shards forming in it. ”So be a good wraith thing, and just go down easy.” The bone shards launched themselves from her hand, whistling as they raced towards the man.
As the bone shards shot towards their opponent, Kiara waited for the man’s reaction. When his attention was fully on the shards attacking him, she struck, his shadow rearing back and going to wrap itself around his limbs, mouth, and body, in an attempt to restrain him.
Rin observed the ordeal with impassive eyes, her slender silhouette calmly retreating away, following Lawrence.
“Void Wraiths... never die for they never are….leave them and find the source of this disturbance.” Rin’s voice echoed as she disappeared through one of the many doors in the corridor, her voice lingering a bit and then silence, leaving the Banshees alone with the wraith,
It didn’t take long for the Wraith to untangle itself, its body shifting from incorporeal to tangible in strange fluctuations. Its eerie, inhuman eyes locked onto the Banshees with that demonic grin spreading wider and wider, splitting the wraith’s face.
”You just said to deal with it!” Maeve yelled at the Chrono’s retreating back, throwing up a stone wall in front her and Kiara. Kiara hurriedly drew a sigil on it before falling back with Maeve. The wall would explode around and attempt to seal the wraith when he destroyed it.
”Fucking wraiths. Fucking chrono. Fucking kids damaging their connection.” Maeve muttered, heading through the door. Kiara followed, warily watching behind them for another attack.
The wall collapsing seemed to offer little relief, the Wraith merely phased through the rubble with a single flicking finger admonishing the Banshees in a most irritating manner. “Tsk tsk, you had a chance to be a part of something greater. Now you have the chance of just being torn apart. Why do you reject me…..WHY?” The wraith bellowed, its anger sending a surge of instability across the world around them, an earthquake. It’s left hand had now more or less morphed into a sickening blade, dented and cruel while on its other hand the nail grew to an obscenely terrifying length, sharp and deadly.
“Accept my love, for it is endless!” The creature spoke in it’s monstrous voice as it madly dashed towards the two Asylums.
The doors in the hallway were seemingly endless, with each of the doors holding one of the three rooms. Lawrence cursed as he opened a door to another blood-filled room. He needed to find Olivia before the wraith escalated.
Soon, he found himself in what looked like the lobby of the hospital. Panicked sounding shouts could be heard from outside the main door, slowly dwindling before they grew quiet and started over. He almost didn’t hear the hushed sobs coming from behind the front desk. Lawrence rounded desk to find Olivia hiding underneath it, her arms wrapped around her knees as she rocked back and forth.
She looked ragged, as if she hadn’t slept in weeks. She was wearing a shirt that looked like it had once been white. Her hair was a mess, with tangles and snarls in it. Olivia’s mind was a mess, if Lawrence went by her appearance in the void.
Lawrence placed a hand on Olivia’s shoulder and she reacted immediately. She grabbed his hand and twisted away from her body. Her eyes were wild and unfocused as she stared at Lawrence. Slowly, her eyes locked onto Lawrence and she let go of his hand.
”What happened? I...I thought you-”
”I didn’t. Do you remember what Angel said after the tanks, about the symptoms of alchemic poisoning?”
Olivia nodded. “Yes, we’d experience claustrophobia, hallucinations, migraines, and-”
”And link disturbances, yes. Not extremely pleasant. We’ll be fine, though. That is, if we get out of here. It seems that we have been brought into the void, and we have ourselves the late O'Doherty to deal with.”
Olivia’s face paled as she looked down the hallway where the sounds of the fight between the wraith and the others.
”Fuck your love! Maeve shouted back at him as the world shook, dragging Kiara through and slamming the door shut. She gestured and another wall sealed over the door, ready to attempt to stomp the monster again. Kiara herself merely sighed and looked around at the room. They were going to be here a while, so long as Angel didn’t show and the other two’s link remained disturbed.
Maeve concentrated for a moment, a large automatic shotgun appearing in her hands. ”There we go. This oughta do it.” She said appreciatively, aiming it at the door. Kiara looked at her, raising an eyebrow. ”And what are you going to do with that?”
”Shoot the sonuvabitch.”
”It’s a wraith. It can’t be killed that way.”
”It’ll make me feel better, at the very least.”
Kiara sighed again, drawing a sigil on the ground behind Maeve. As the wraith burst through the door and the wall, Maeve unloading her shotgun at it, Kiara’s sigil activated and iron chains burst from the ground, attempting to wrap themselves around the wraith.
The process repeated itself once more, the Wraith took the shotgun shells point blank, the slugs rendering it’s flesh while the chains coiled around it. The creature simply phased through, shrugging away the binding and the damage, its form regenerating back to its original repelling state and moving towards the Banshees ever so slowly.
“Did you try and shoot a Void Wraith?” Angel’s voice suddenly whispered behind the Banshee followed by a taunting snicker. “You can’t kill a Wraith…” The Lost Number replied, telling them once again the infuriating fact about the infuriating creature in his infuriatingly casual demeanour. The Reaper had manifested right behind the little sirens, lounging atop a grand throne. His appearance looked considerably different; thinner, slumped, exhausted. What was even more stark was he was completely transparent, his form as ethereal as the creature in front of him, perhaps more so. Angel was impervious to contact but it seemed he was also invisible to the Wraith.
“Maybe you primitive women would prefer to stab it with a stick next? I do believe it would be amusing to witness such a spectacle, you wouldn’t mind if I observe?” The Lost Number crowed, his fingertips starting to gently tap his temple. “Where are the other fools?”
”We wouldn’t need to kill a wraith if your dumb ass hadn’t dragged us in here!” Maeve snapped back at Angel, taking steps back as she threw the shotgun at the Wraith. It exploded when it reached him.
”All we asked for was help, not this godsdamned mess!” She glared at him over her shoulder. ”I hope you’re exhausted. And that because of this your favorite foods taste like ash! If I die here I’m coming back from the dead just to stab you with a stick!”
Kiara sighed quietly, drawing another Sigil on the ground, a pillar of stone erupted forth to attempt to hit the Wraith in the chest. ”Lawrence went to find Olivia, Rin followed. Given that it’s Rin, I can only assume her goal was to kill Olivia, Lawrence, or both, to get rid of the Void Wraith. Your time is, hopefully, perfect. She’ll probably not kill them now. We’d generally appreciate it if you did more than watch, but we expect you to not do anything more than that.”
“Your conjuring is a hindrance,” the Chrono’s cold and empathic voice echoed as her petite outline appeared through a door while approaching Lawrence and the petrified Olivia. Rin’s expression was blank, no anger, no frustration, no expression but the absence of expression. Her mismatched eyes callously observing the Asylums as one may observe an ant. In but a few short strides the child stood before the two, her appearance an exact replica of how she appeared in the real world, like a fragile doll dressed in a victorian gown, all except in her left hand she wielded a considerably large scythe.
In an instant Rin closed the distance to Olivia, her scythe already mid swing and suddenly stopping inches from decapitation. “My brother has arrived…….” The Chrono mused as her scythe still hovered uncomfortably close to the two Asylums. “Very well you may as well indulge him as well, face your wraith….or would you rather choose the alternative?”
Lawrence’s gaze shifted from the scythe inches from Olivia’s neck to Rin. Olivia was still too lost in her own mind to notice her near death. He could hear his pulse pounding in his ears as he stood up to stare at the girl. Olivia flinched away from him, her hands covering her head. The distraction made him aware that his hands had been clenching into fists hard enough that his knuckles were starting to hurt. The area around him had been in the middle of distorting in a violent bubbling way that warped the room.
Lawrence took in a deep breath and fished in his pocket for his Rubik’s cube. For a few seconds, he dedicated himself in the calming algorithm and clicking of the cube. Once he was as calm as he could be, he turned his attention back to Olivia. She was staring down into the hallway with a worried expression. ”Hey.” He set his hand on Oliva’s shoulder. Olivia looked up at him. Oh, how he hated this. ”I think it’s time for a second round with this bastard, don’t you?” Olivia nodded hesitantly. ”Remember, you’re in control.”
”I’m in control…” Olivia repeated Lawrence robotically. She frowned, and then she slowly started to smile. She sang a small song under her breath and flinched as if she had been struck. The room around them shifted momentarily.
Olivia stood up from her hiding place under the desk and her form flickered and changed. She now wore a dark grey sweater and a pair of black cargo pants. Her hair was free of tangles and now straight. She reached into a pocket in her pants and pulled out a black skullcap. She put it on and grinned at Lawrence. ”I’m in control this time around.” Olivia rubbed her hands together. “Ohhhh, this is going to be so cathartic.”
Angel seemed to nod away as Maeve spoke, his hollowed gaze staring through the Asylum with an expression of disinterest. Much like how a parent entertains the gibberish of toddler. His eerie gaze switching from Kiara to Maeve to the Wraith, neither a company he is all too fond off. One the ironic idealist, one the tactless berserker and a conjuring of a terrorized mind. ”Lovely” The Lost Number though to himself while observing the futile fight.
“I am doing a tad bit more than...nothing,” the Reaper replied casually, each sentence spoken lazily, deliberately slow. “I am maintaining two parallel worlds...simultaneously. I would be far more convenient to just let the world collapse and my partner and I could, quite possibly, materialize our consciousness in the real.” As he spoke he continued the soft melodious tapping, as if almost considering the less exhausting option. “But you all may not have the same luxury. You Banshees have managed to persistently stay alive, infuriatingly thwarting the Universe which pairs you with the Demons that have a track record of….. misplacing….their teammates.” A rather sly smirk appeared on Angel’s face as he continued to observe the life threatening battle waging between the Banshees and the Wraith. “Wouldn’t want to spoil that record and of course the infamous reputation, ‘The Reapers’ Shadow’, yes that is what they call you.”
It wasn’t long till the Lost Number sensed the other two, Olivia and Lawrence approach, no doubt hoping to join this tedious exercise. “We all have countless tethers that keep us chained, keep us caged. Fear, hatred, guilt, regrets. It takes a moment of panic, just a moment of hesitation to trap you. That creature is nothing but a representation of a tether. A wraith can not be killed…..because it is not real.” Angel’s voice was now nothing more than an exhausted whisper. “Can you stab a fable? You can not undo that which does not exist but you can strengthen it by believing it does. There is no way to kill a wraith because it is nothing. Make nothing realize it is nothing and it goes back to being nothing. Beat a Chimera…..what’s a ghost?” With that Angel gave Olivia a knowing wink.
How easy it would have been to just walk away, am I not tired enough….I know what is to come….then…..why?” Angel’s palm had hidden his face, too tired to aid the others...or perhaps simply regretting helping them at all.
Olivia barely glanced at Angel as she drew her pistol from its holster and emptied the entire clip into the wraith. She drew her other pistol and shot it one more time. There was a pause, then all of the bullets that she had hit the wraith with punched out of its side and into the wall next to it. She stared at it for a second before frowning. ”That didn’t help near as much as I wanted it to. It’s a shame he’s already dead,” she muttered to herself before turning to Angel. “You look like garbage.” She glanced back at the wraith. “So how do we kill him? Again.”
Angel remained still for a few seconds, his palm covering his face. Two fingers parted allowing his blackened gaze to fixate on the Asylums. “Believe it gone?” The Lost Number finally replied with a weary shrug.
Olivia scrunched her face up. ”Seriously? You’re saying it’s that simple?” She turned to face the slowly approaching void wraith. It had nothing in common with the person it came from. Perhaps they shared the same height, but that was it. The man was dead and gone, and this wraith was a shadow of the monster he had been. As she stared at it, it started to change, until it looked like the man that had originally approached the banshees,
Olivia frowned, and her form flickered at the sight of the man. A moment of her original bedraggled appearance before her gaze hardened on the manifestation of her panic and she was back in her mission attire. The wraith’s eyes darted around the room in a panic. His arms held in front of him as if he were holding something. A deep gash dragged along his arm from the inside of his elbow down to his wrist, and he threw his arms out with a cry.
“You little b—” His voice was cut off as a quarter of his skull disappeared with a spray of red mist. The wraith fell to the ground and vanished.
”That was extremely lacking in catharsis..” Olivia crossed her arms and glared at where the wraith had fallen before turning to Angel. ”So why did you bring us here, anyway? If you say it was to teach some sort of lesson, I will find you after this and do my damndest to strangle you.”
”He brought us here because he couldn’t be bothered to just say ‘no’ and not bring us here.” Maeve interjected, cracking her knuckles. She hated this place. It was too figurative, to intangible. She dealt best with things she could touch and break and not have to worry about her belief in them.
”When you two had your incident, I reached out to Angel to help balance you two. Caught him while he was doing something similar to this with the Experimental Team. We got dragged in and now we have to figure our way out. Angel’s rooms don’t just ‘end’ like normal people’s mind conversations.”
Angel’s eyeless gaze flickered across the Asylums in front of him, his expression distasteful as if one had nibbled on something rather sour. “The rules and laws of the Void are incomprehensible, even I had not thought a tear in my fabricated reality possible.” A rather casual shrug followed as the Lost Number made himself comfortable in his throne, the world around them reshaping itself to his whims. The Victorian stylized, candle lit, library resurfacing once more. It took but a few seconds of mild discomfort as the world around them shifted, changed into a maze of furniture and conjuring then it was all still, even the candle flames.
“Understand what I am about to say to you children, I perceive no joy in your belated stay in my world. I have two choices, to eject my partner and I and let you lot be lost in the Void for an eternity of suffering or attempt to last long enough till you bothersome fools escape. Let me also state that my patience as well as my strength is waning.” A weary sigh escaped his partner, his exhausted expression suddenly uplifted with a smile upon seeing Rin walk onto their group.
“Your amusement will be the death of you…” The little Chrono replied as her cold gaze fixated upon Angel, the others too insignificant to acknowledge.
“How sweet it is to be doted, I do thank you little one.” The Reaper replied with a light hearted chuckle and receiving yet another cold glare, albeit one more pacified than before.
“Listen to me, we all have attachments. Some of those are good and most of those are bad and a rare few of them are so terrible our mind forces us to forget. These last ones are tethers and as the name suggests because of them you are anchored and as such I am simply unable to eject you safely. These tethers manifest as your “Red Doors”, a metaphorical closet where you keep your regrets, fears, monsters, the entertainment. You all will need to face your “Red Doors” and if you succeed in overcoming the challenge you will return to the Void untethered and I will be able to safely eject you.” Angel finished the explanation with a flourish of his hands followed by a snap, as if it is all that simple.
“And of course there is a lesson in this, there always is.” Angel finally responded to Olivia with his usual fiendish smirk. “A child who is so grounded in reality she fears the disruption of what is normal and then a child who who has slayed her monsters and yet continues to be haunted by their ghosts. The Void will teach you, I however can only offer you an advice, death is better than drowning in the Void, do not fail. I will be waiting here….do hurry.”
“Abandoning them would have been far more efficient….I will not hesitate to tear it down if you can’t keep together… fool.” A rather uncharacteristic expression crawled its way on the Chrono’s face, it was still cold, still stoic...but somewhere there was worry as she observed her partner drift of to sleep.