A weary eye peered around the corner, narrowly pulling back in time to dodge the rain of bullets shattering the pillar.
"Shit," grunt the ragged man, no longer caring to maintain his silence. "These thugs just don't give up." Patting himself down for another clip, his bloody hand stumbled across a large, square object. He pulled it out, puzzled, until he remember. It was the source of all his problems, a stupid, old book. Those goons wanted their little treasure back. Having spent years digging for it beneath the rubble of ancient and modern cities, he couldn't blame them; however, his superiors instructed him otherwise.
"Oh, right," he vocally realized, recalling his days at the academy. The grunts swarmed to his location with weapons drawn, but their aim fell onto empty space. Bickering ensued as each of the faceless peons accused the other of letting the target slip by. Their behavior quickly changed upon realizing a commanding officer had arrived on the scene.
"What's going on here?" the beautiful woman shouted, betraying her appearance. "I don't see a bleeding body, so I know you idiots failed." They all rushed to explain what happened, fearful for their lives, in a jumbled banter. She pieced together that he got away. "You morons! That's not what he does." Something fell past her fiery gaze, a droplet of some kind. Tracing the path, a lopsided hole was found in the ceiling, dripping molten pavement. "He's gone up!" their commander yelled, springing them into action without an order. "Stop that man before he gets to the roof!"
AFTERMATH : THE RELOGUE
"Mr. Vincent!" shouted a stern voice, rousing him from his slumber. "I do hope you are paying attention to today's lesson. It could very well save your life one day."
"I doubt it," mumbled the student to a classmate, disguising it as he stretched out. Tanner only cracked a slight grin, far from his norm.
"Now, you should all know that there are eight disciplines of magick. Should," the instructor repeated, directing his harsh gaze at the slacker who had, already, begun staring out the window. "Magicks are found in roughly eighty percent of the human population in various levels of strength: fire, water, earth, air, electricity, ice, heal, and curse. However, those are not the only divisions. The way these abilities manifest can also be different. Not every application..." Vince's focus had already slipped enough to reduce the speech to droning babble.
"Dude, this is so lame," whispered the deliquent. "'Oh, I'm mister shiny head. I teach magick 'cuz I'm not cool enough to use it.'"
"Teacher," a small girl in glasses chirped, raising her hand, "Vincent is talking."
"No one likes a taddle, Sasha," dismissed the professor without interrupting the flow of his tedious talk. "Now, while mastering one element is typical, two or three are also common, and four is not unheard of..."
"Yeah, bitch," agreed Vince, looking to the desk behind himself, "no one likes a taddle."
"I like taddles," noted Tanner, butting between the two with his regular, cheesy smile. Her eyes rolled behind her thick lenses as she tried to ignore the simpletons and focus on the lesson. The fact that Tanner remained staring at her with that idiotic smile, leaning across an aisle, failed to help.
"You're lucky we're indoors." The threat barely rose above a breath.
In a dark corner, where he thought he would be safe, Vince waited patiently for his recovery team. The rendevous was minutes away, and he needed to be alive for it. Flaming fingers pass over his wounds, cauterizing his own flesh. He had scored a good number of scars from his nights on the run, all over.
"Aw, the poor baby," soothed a lovely voice. "Baby got hurt all over. Want me to kiss it and make it better?" Vincent was already on his feet, or as much on them as he could manage in his condition. Battered and bleeding, there wasn't an inch of his dark suit that hadn't fallen victim to dirt, ash, blood, or a bullet hole. Weakly, he barely clung to his pistol, nearly out of shots. He faced a 6'4" godess adorn in a bright yellow suit, trimmed in black. Standing tall and boastful, she flipped around her blonde locks as she did her thick, cord whip. He wanted to make a move, desperately, but his body wouldn't budge. It seemed over.
"So, Maria," coughed the bruised agent, "you're looking... well."
"Pathetic," she scoffed. "Looks like I win again." A surge of power crackled through her whip. "Last words?" As his mouth opened, a piercing beep emitted, which was later placed coming from his watch. "You're joking! What the hell did you have to remember during a mission?" Her eyes bulged at the realization hit her along with the blinding spotlight. "... Shiiit." Bullets stormed through the already busted window and walls with equal ease. There was no sigh that any of them hit, but they did their job. Hobbling, the wounded agent entered the beam.
"Tango Unit," boomed over a grainy speaker, "you're chariot has arrived." Gladly, he endured the painful walk to the window to board the helicopter. Soon, this whole night would be over, and he could have a good laugh about with Tanner in the med ward, or so he hoped. There was no telling if his partner was still alive.
"You damned fool," Vincent cursed his friend, "why did you try to take him on? It wasn't worth it." His glance shifted to the book he apprently had gained possession of. "And when were you able to stick me with this death trap?"
"Sorry, love," sharply disappointed the vixen once the chopper had already left. Pointing an arm at the aircraft as it departed. "I can't let you get away that easily." Crosshairs blinked over her right eye as her arm fractured and split in several locations, forming into a hollowed tube. A mortar shell rocketed out from her artificial limb, striking its target's motor. The vehicle rapidly lost altitude, crashing down to the streets below.
"Oh, hells yes!" Vincent scored a five from his friend. "Tests show that I'm a pyromaniac, and a big one at that. Mom's sure regretting it now when she yelled at me for playing with matches." The youth stomped upon the floor. "Screw you, bitch. It was my destiny!" Tanner seemed less joyful about it. "What gives? Fire is awesome, and I got lots of it. Therefore, this is awesome."
"Oh, it's nothing," Tanner muttered, stuffing his print out into a pocket. "Just some screw job on my test. So, what section are you being moved to?"
"Uhh..." He glanced at his report again. "T-7? I didn't know there were that many levels."
"Huh, looks like we're in the same group," puzzlingly admitted the other. "How did that happen?"
"Oh, so a fellow pyromancer, are you? We're gonna be torching so many people's asses-"
"It's not 'pyromancer'. You'd be divining flame if that were the case. And I'm not," Tanner halted, "that's just the thing. Why would we be put in the same group?" His thought died in a whisper.
"Wait, so what element are you?" questioned the self entitled pyromancer.
"More importantly," the blue coated student changed the topic, "is the sexy Sasha gonna be there with us?"
"She is not hot," corrected Vincent. "She's like a little sister wrapped in a mom: totally unbangable."
"Yeah, but I've seen enough movies to know that when those glasses come off and that hair falls down-"
"Her hair isn't even up!"
The helicopter fell fast. There was little the pilot could do, even with conjuring an updraft to prevent too rough a landing. The vehicle crashed and burned, forming into a flaming ball of wreckage as it bounced across the street between buildings. Emerging from the fire stepped the agent, untouched by the heat, his gift. The pilot was less fortunate, and, as badly as Vince felt, he couldn't stop. They were after him, after the Tome. He had to press on, no matter what stood in his way.
"What is wrong wit' ya crazy blokes?" shouted a ragged man stepping out from a dark alley. Several others like him followed suit. The slums harbored many tramps and homeless, it was there domain. The buildings were not structurally sound enough to serve as reliable homes, even for their standards, so they made due. Whenever their territory was enproached upon by the "rich", no matter the reason, although generally war and personal gain through strife, they had to be answered to. Society had swept them off to the darkness in order to reach its proclaimed "perfection", so this was their way of getting even.
"Ya damn fools force us ta live out here in these dumps," the outspeaker continued, approaching the pyromancer, "then ya fight yer wars out here. If ya want it, keep it, but don't be takin' both." Vince was too tired to deal with the mad ravings of a drifter and tried to press on. "Ya here me, boy," shouted the bum, grabbing Vince's arm as he tried to squeeze by. "We don't want ya here." As he prepared to incinerate the vagrant's arm, he noticed a fleet of vans blocking the street ahead. As the doors slid open, Thanox goons poured out with pistols and rifles. Much of the dregs were too distracted with defending their turf from a single, wounded man to notice the henchmen taking aim. The fireslinger had to think fast, but his decision didn't weigh well upon his conscious. The loud tramp was flung forward right before the bullets flew. What numbers of the crowd didn't crawl back to their holes were instead riddled with them. When the dead fell to the ground, only Vince was left standing with his human shield gushing buckets of blood.
"I am surprised, Vince," cried out a familiar voice. It was not Maria. This was deep and booming. Only one person could carry such speech. "Vhy, I surely thought you vould rather die in his place," devilishly teased the giant as he parted the ranks of gunmen. The broad shouldered man muscled his way through the dwarfed minions, sliding elegantly over the ground without a step. Only his icy wake betrayed the means. "You are so cold and vithout heart. You truly could be one on our side, yah?" The purple suited man let out a thunderous laughter that jostled the long mustache which hung over his mouth.
"I am nothing like you, Gunter" snarled the agent with a blaze in his eyes. "I at least feel for these people. They are only obstacles to you and your bullets." The bald foe's head wrinkled and contorted as he frowned deeply. With a sweep of his powerful leg, the corpses that littered the ground around the two magicians were dispersed, some clattering against the buildings that lined the road. His thick hand then engulfed Vince's throat as his body was flung into the air like a doll before being slammed into the pavement. He was powerless to fight back, now beyond the point of exhastion.
"Vhat is wrong? No fight left in you? Given up?" demeaned the German as his words were spat straight into Vince's face. "Or have you realized it is all futile? It does not have to be this vay. Ve can be allies. Join us."
"I'd rather die." Spitting into the giant's face, it froze on contact. The brute chuckled as the shard was brushed away.
"You speak as though you vere given a choice," he grunted through clenched teeth. Lifting the broken body from the asphalt, the spare hand was swiped over the agent's body, entombing it in a crystal prison. The cacoon was tossed haphazardly towards the station of vans and was kicked the rest of the way there. "You are lucky you are so varm, Vince. Now you only may die before ve get back to our headquarters."
The troop loaded back into the vehicles as the frost ogre loaded the shell on his own. Leaving behind the bloody mess, they left with their prize and radioed to inform the other scouting units. When all the armada had parted, a nefarious laughter clouded the air. A single body rose from the massacre, hunched over and twisted.
"Oh, Vince, Vince, Vince!" repeated the individual. "What on earth would you do without me?" The shadowed figure reached into its threaded jacket, recovering the Tome of Ten from within. The treasure had been deposited when the bum was used as a bullet catcher. The drifters head rolled back, looking to the sky with with wrinkled and weathered face. In jerky, wide movements, he awkwardly approached the brick wall of a building and proceeded to scale it. His dirty fingers tore into the structure, peeling away flesh till bone was exposed. Careless of his own destruction, he continued higher until reaching the top. Spilling onto the roof, the tangled body righted itself and brought the book to a man perched on the building's ledge. Run just as ragged as Vince, the blue suited man's tie hung low from his neck. Most of his dingy blonde hair had escaped from the ponytail it once started in. He did not react to the bizarre arrival, choosing to finish his cigarette instead. He balanced the stick in his lips with skill, never needing to take it in hand. Through the smoky veil and a pair of bent shades, he had witnessed the events in the street, and it was why he wore a smile on his face. When he was finished, he flicked the spent butt over the edge of the roof, turned, and accepted the Tome.
"Oh, I'm done with you, too," informed the bespeckled man as he engrossed himself in the book's knowledge. By command, the bum threw himself over the edge, landing back in the pile of death it crawled up from. "Yessiree, Bob. What would you do without ol' Tanner watching your back, Vin?" A demonic grin flashed across his face. "'Cuz I'm not gonna be the one to save you from me."
A door blew open, forced by a fiery burst as the flame wielding agent passed through the dying flames. As he entered the stairwell, his bullets fired back at his pursuers. When his current stock of ammunition expired, he knew it was time to move on. Following close behind, a blonde man crashed through the same entry way.
"Dammit, Vin," cursed Tanner between explosive discharges of his weapon, "not all of use are flame-retardant. A little consideration would be nice." Thundering rounds tore holes through bodies until none within range were left standing. "How many of these guys are we gonna have to kill?"
"We can worry about body count later," shouted Vince from a story below and still descending. "We gotta get that book out of here."
"Oh, don't worry about it," assured his partner. He held the relic out in the open as he slid down the stair's handle railing. "I'm keeping her safe."
"Let's keep it that way." The reply came from his friend, currently out of view. "Fall back! Arrgh!" Footfall began pounding down the steps as Tanner was about to turn back.
"No can do, Big V," he informed his partner as he slide down another railing. "Whatever's coming up your end's better than that." He touched down on the next landing along side a grounded Vince and saw the route's roadblock. "Shit, I chose wrong."
"That you did, hun," smirked the devilish Maria, but it was not the vixen troubled them, it was the inhuman brute who stood before them. Thick, broad, and overstocked with muscles, a shirtless man stood between the woman and the men. He stood solid like a statue, firmly rooted in his place. The living blockade was set on not letting the book elude them once more. "You know, boys," teased the electric lady, "if you just gave us the Tome back, we could let this whole incident pass." She leaned over her latest conquest, barely managing to wrap her arms over his massive neck. "Trust me, no one is gonna be able to take down my man." Tanner's interest was piqued.
"Don't do it. It's not worth it," grunted Vince as he righted himself on the floor. He could not see his partner's face but knew him well enough to know what he was thinking.
"A challenge, is it?" questioned the shotgun wielding maniac with a toothy grin. As the book was stuffed back into an inner pocket, he paused. A tranquil calm and reason was present in his demeanor that could never be found normally. "Oh, my dear, you know how I just love those." A tug came at his pant leg.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" scolded his hurt friend quietly, alarmed mostly by his decisiveness. "We can't beat him, and you sure as hell can't."
"Oh, trust me, Vince," boasted Tanner. "He's going down." The fireslinger was not certain which one of them had take the blow.
"What? You're crazy!" he told and added, "er than usual."
"Don't make me say it again, Vin," hissed the blonde mage. "He's going down." His stern eyes locked into the cloudy one's of his friend as he finally understood. The pyromancer's body burst into a superheated temperature as he sank through the floor. The melted hole was big enough to engulf both of their positions. As the flamethrower crashed on the floor below and began to run, it was too late for him to do anything about the ploy he was subjected to.
"Don't fret 'bout me, V," shouted Tanner, hanging over the hole from his spread out legs. "I'd hate to do that to you, buddy, but this jerk is goin' down."
"How courageous," mocked the she-wolf with crocodile tears. "You sacrificed yourself so that your dear life partner could live. It's touching." While her display was only to be amusing to herself, the sacrificial lamb still bore a wide smile. Hopping back on flat ground, he rolled up his sleeves and pulled open his coat, showing that there was nothing inside.
"I use to do some magic tricks when I was younger," roused the blue garbed agent. "And, by now, the book is already far, far away." Only just realizing what had just transpired, an infuriated Maria prepared to end the haughty magician, but a thick, tree like limb cut her off.
"He's not worth it," the previously silent brute told. "Go after the Tome. It is our priority. I'll make sure this loser doesn't reunite with him. They'll be easier to pick off alone." Before any word otherwise could be spoken, he shot her a harsh look over his dark lenses. She obeyed the order and left the two.
"So, it's just you and me now, huh?" The long haired squinted his eyes at the other's stylish glasses. "Nice shades. Can I have 'em?"
"Over my dead body," grimly replied the foe which only caused Tanner's grin to grow.
"Let's see what I can do about that." As he spoke, his shotgun was aimed and fired. A giant hole was blown through his adversary's stomach, dripping out organs and fluids. "Score one for the good guys!" His celebration was premature as the vitals were pulled back into the wound and sealed. It was then that Tanner spotted the sole earring worn by his enemy, the Staff of ____. "Aww... you're the Doctor, ain'tcha?"
"'Fraid so," briefly answered the fully recovered man. "Your friend already tried something like that. Why do you think I'm not wearing a shirt?"
"So, Doc, a high level healer employed by Thanox. Possesses the ability to regenerate his own flesh," treaded the agent through the case file as he circled the unphased behemoth. "None weaknesses: none."
"How nice. I'm famous." The bulky beast smashed his fist into an open hand. "Still feel like dying?"
"Never even considered it." The two lunged at one another. As massive arms squeezed the blue mage, the firearm was positioned beneath the undying's chin, decorating the ceiling in graymatter. Buying time to escape from the temporarily lapsed grip, the smoker reached into his back pockets and pulled out his trademarks. When neurological function was regained, Doc was confronted with the Blademaster flinging his knives. The long edges stuck into his hardened flesh, barely piercing the coarse and solid muscle. Wiping off the shower of steel with a mere sweep of his hand, the heavy bleeding was quick to stop. A second wave was launched as the first was dismissed, pinning the deathless' hand to his own body.
"Cute," he admitted as he tore his limb through the sharp edges in order to free himself. "Just so you know, that hurt, but it's nothing compared to the torture you're going to know." With a hard right, the challenger ducked under the blow and latched onto the limb. Dragging the larger man through with the punch, he was launched toward the center of the stairwell. His back cracked against the railing, and the injury was compounded as Tanner threw himself out into the void, bending the hulk further around the railing. Unhooking the brute's legs, his body was ridden down the handle, crunching at every turned corner. After three flights of this, the mangled body was allowed to drop to the bottom floor. Still, the blue coated wizard hung on to his foe, using the battered corpse to break the fall. After the hard landing, the agent rolled off the splattered pile, breathing heavily.
"I lived," he observed, surprised by the fact. He was uncertain to if his bravado deed was survivable. Sitting up, he noticed the object of his desire setting an armslength away. Although they were not bent out of shape and tarnished, they represented more a sense of accomplishment than looks. As he slid the shades on, the first sight they darkened was Doc pinning him to the floor. "Shit, you're still alive?"
"You'd be surprised what hasn't killed me," seethed the healer with clenched teeth. The ride he was taken for was barely pleasent for Tanner, so the transportation fared far worse. "Nothing can kill me. I can't die so long as I have a scrap of my body." The great hand about the agent's neck was prepared to wrench it, but hesitation prevented it. "But I must know," he ordered, lowering the tension, "before I kill you, slowly," he stressed, "why didn't you try? You didn't use one spell against me. I mean, what's a mage without his magick?" The flattened man squirmed to free himself, helpless beneath the weight. The larger one let out a single chuckle as he mocked his capture. "What? Don't tell me you're... you're just normal? Hah! They sent a commoner? Are they just getting sloppy or desperate?" Doc let more laughter pass his lips, eventually erupting into a violent frenzy as he pressed Tanner's head beneath his whole.
"You wanna know?" softly spoke the blue agent. "You wanna know what I can do?" The dark lenses masked his true intent. "Do you really want to?"
"Yeah, show me, pipsqueak," prodded the brute with a toothy smile. "It won't do any good. Like I said, if so much as a cell of my body remains, I'll be back."
"Oh, your body will be fine," the Blademaster informed. "I'm going a different route."
An adolescent sat, impatiently, in the large, blank room. There was only a single chair which he occupied and a door. The blonde youth drummed his lap to idle away the time. At long last, the door opened, and an officially dressed man entered.
"Yo, what's the deal? I've been waiting here forever," he complained immediately, accepting no explanation.
"Pardon the wait, Mr. ..." The gentleman checked the folder he was carrying. "Quincy Tanner?"
"Tanner does justs fine," the student instructed with a lowering his head, slightly embarassed. "So what's this mess about? Did a little snitch rat me out?" A quizzing glance came from the well dressed man. "Not that I did anything, of course."
"Of course," reluctantly agreed the official. "Do not worry, Mr. Tanner. This is not about your behavior. It is about your test results."
"Oh, that shit? You gonna tell me why it was so broken?" crudely questioned the youth. "I don't know how many times you guys kept 'losing my result'. Feh."
"It pains me to say," regrettibly informed the man, disgusted with the student's behavior, "that it is those results that have gotten you selected. You are being placed in the T-7 program."
"Yeah, my bud Vince got into that, too," the younger stated. "Mind telling me what the hell it is?"
"T-7 is a division kept separate from the rest of the classes," the man explained. "Most people come to the Cane Academy to learn about magick and how to use it. The entire school is only a ruse, however, to find high level magicians, a level seven. You, Mr. Tanner, are a level seven."
"The hell I am," spat out the increasingly annoyed student. "I've sat through all the classes, I've learned all the medications, and I've drilled through the practices, but the most magick I've ever done is cards tricks."
"What you don't understand is your potential, Mr. Tanner," related the older. "You are a magician, far more powerful than anyone here. We just do not know your discipline."
"One of eight," grunted the uninterested teen, now looking at the ceiling. "You're tests couldn't even narrow it down."
"Ten," corrected the suit. "One of ten."
"And they say I'm dumb," mumbled the exasperated adolescent. "I knew there were eight before I even came here. Didn't they give you the memo?" The man kept up his false smile.
"There are ten magicks, Mr. Tanner," repeated the man. "You only think there are eight since that is what everyone has been told for centuries. You have a magick. We can't identify it since we do not know what it is. Only a small number of the population are like you, thinking they have no ability. It is present but dorment, and has been for centuries. You, however, show strong aura of it, a rarity in all our years."
"This sounds like a load of crap," confessed the student. "Did someone put you up to it? I bet li'l missus brown-nose called in some favors, right?"
"This is no joke, Mr. Tanner," the official assured. "You are a very vital key to the T-7 project. Your training will continue until you are fit for missions."
"Missions? Whoa, I don't remember signing up for that," the youth noted.
"If you think you have a choice in the matter, you are sadly mistaken. The Academy accepted you, Mr. Tanner, when no one else would. You will repay our generousity." At that, the suited man departed, leaving the blue coated one with more questions than he had before he got any answers.
"Wait," begged the lost student. The man paused but did not turn around. Struggling for some sense of direction, the youth was uncertain was to ask. "What... what does the 'T' stand for?"
"Thanox? What the hell is that?"
"A name you'll grow to wish you never heard."
A green flame appeared in the darkness, shedding its light upon a wizened face. Barely able to see, he wrote in a text, constantly looking over his shoulder out of fear.
"Seeker of forbidden knowledge, turn back. Within in this Tome is inscribed the undoing of the world. The power of magicks is too great for any mere mortal to control. I have realized this. To advert this disaster, I have lived a lie. My research, my findings, and my teachings are all half truths. The Tome of Eight will be my destiny, and I desire to keep it as such. I do not want my name tarnished as the ruiner of mankind.
"Throughout my studies, I have learned all there is to learn about magicks. I was a rarity, gifted in all domains. This connection with the arcane arts allowed me to see what others were overlooking, which fueled my research. Now, the secrets of magick are unlockable by all men with the gift. They will not have to discovery it on there own.
"But, in my gift to humanity, I ran a tremendous risk. The fabric of nature should not be man's plaything. We should respect our place. Power inevitably brings destruction, and with such great forces as the raw elements, only ruination could follow. A balance had to be reached. All knew that such forces were able to be harnassed by man, and it would only be a matter of time before the secrets were revealed by another. If I was the first to uncover the mysteries of the magi, then I could dictate its fate.
"The art of magick has been revealed so that it may help those that it can, but much of it was too dire a threat to the wellbeing of humanity. I had broken the system down into its most basic divisions. As far as the world knows, these are Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Ice, Lightning, Heal, and Curse. These are the powers I told the people could be dominated, and they accepted it without question. I had saved the world.
"However, I cannot let knowledge die. In my waning age, I must divulge the truth. I write this only so that it will not be lost. I pray that it is never used by anyone. I beg you who found this grimoire to read no further and destroy this now. I could not let the knowledge I spent so long perfecting be lost for it was my own. Prove yourself stronger than I. Let this knowledge be lost forever.
"The truth, the whole truth, of the matter is simple. It is not eight elements that comprise the craft but rather ten. The fundamental, material elements are the same. These gave dominion over the world itself. This could be allowed. The consequences for its abuse would be great but nothing in comparison to what could be unleashed. The remaining elements, the forsaken four I refused to give to the people, were far too dangerous. They allowed control over humanity.
"Flesh, mind, soul, and fate. These aspects of magick could not be placed in the hands of any mortal. Yet, there were benifits to be had. Countless lives could be saved with the craft of flesh, but it was too tempting a force to be left to a creative mind. My teachings hindered this skill, focusing it only on healing and curative applications. Outside of this, the rest offered no positive rewards, and I have sealed them within this book. In order to do such, however, I needed the last craft, Fate, or, as it is more familiar, Curse. What once could command one's destiny had to be belittled to nothing more than hexes.
"If left unabridged, the threat to all of mankind would be too great. Thus, its power needed to remain in the world if the others were to be prevented, a globe encompassing banning. I used this spell to bind the others. A forbidden magick used to forbid the rest from being used. The irony was not lost on me. It had to be done, however, for the good of humanity. This is why there were not seven magicks. The last needed to be kept to prevent the others from being used. In this way there came to eight rather than ten.
"By now my words of warning have little meaning. If you are still reading this, you are either too curious or too bent on obtaining the forsaken power. In either case, I know there is nothing that can curb your desire at this point. I am powerless to stop you now in death and will not stand in your way. I shall tell you all there is in its entirity. Know that the Tome itself is the key to unlocking the curse. When you first parted its pages, the lost secrets were restored to you. It was another compromise I had to make. If it sealed the magicks, it would have to open them.
"Now, disciple of ten, your true training begins..."
- Thanox Radam Cane, the First Archmage, Tome of Ten Preface.
"What an old blowhard," blew Tanner as he leafed through the early parts of the Tome. "Tell me what I'm doin' already." As deeper knowledge was sought, the delapodated ground began to shake. He was aware of the poor structural integrity of the buildings in the old city and decided to seek a more peaceful area to read. Hoisting himself over the ledge, he was carried to the street below on the outstretched hands of piled bodies, each climbing higher up another to help their master down gently. He was placed gingerly back onto his feet and began strolling down the broken boulivard, engrossed in the text. It consumed him so that he did not see who stood before him.
"That shipment wasn't adressed to you," squeaked the figure. The voice immediately seized the Blademaster's attention with a wide smile.
"Li'l Sasha?" he began enthusiastically. "Is that... you?" The maiden that stood before him was a far shot away from the girl he had known. The thick, round glasses had been replaced with a slick visor. In place of her knee length pleated skirt and blazer, a form-fitting, silver outfit surrounded all of her body, save her head. This was the only means she could be recognized as she still wore the same, short, bowl cut hair.
"Intercepting a deliver, spying on our communications, ambushing a carrier," listed the shiny suited lady. "Those sound like our tactics, not those of the Agency. Is the Tome worth that much to them?"
"It seems it was, but it matters little now," informed the blue coated man, approaching the old agonist without concern and an expression of glee. "I hold the relic now. It's secrets are mine alone."
"So I've seen," she admitted, looking around the crazed figure to the bodies once again returned to the dead, "but there's one thing you forgot about, Tanner."
"We're not indoors." The departed building's shadow grew larger, shroading the Tome's taker in its shade. The rubbled structure was adverted as a once living shield was quick to erect itself around him. Torsos thick, many bodies were lost in the effort, but they were only pawns in Tanner's eyes. When the dust cleared, the bubble of bodies sunk down as well, relinquished with a jagged barrier of stone.
"Ain't that cute? We're just like an old couple," joked the bespeckled man, "doing the same thing, reacting alike. I bet we'll be finishing each others' sentances, too."
"Shut up, jackass," they spoke together.
"See?" chuckled the agent through a gleeful grin. "Ain't we just an adorable pair?" The street buckled beneath him as pillars of stone broke through the ground. The sheer surfaces were lept between by the surprising spry Tanner. "Temper, temper, li'l lady," he called from atop one of the peaks. "But I'm sure the couple's therapy will iron out these wrinkles." Increasingly annoyed, her assult became less focused, but with the broad reach of her weapon, the destructive magnitude grew. Entire blocks were being lifted up from their foundation with dried up sewer lines crushed between them and the bedrock. His legion of the dead was gone, swallowed in the torn earth early in the attack. The crude blades of shattered stone had torn the once broken street into an impassible hazard in mere moments. At the peak of one of the jagged towers, the agent balanced himself on a single foot, hunched over without a hint of exhaustion. Meanwhile, the earth sculpter was in deep breathes, drained from her landscaping. "You look tired, doll," he tuned cheerfully as he slid down the course slope. "Why don't you take a nap?"
"Why don't I take you too hell!" roared the angered woman as a wall of rock rose in a ring around the two. Touching the sky, the encompassing barrier fell inward. "There is no escape for you this time, bastard, no matter how light on your feet you may be."
"A shame to be true," admitted the doomed man as he haphazardly approached his future killer, "but when grace fails, I'm also quick on wit." A cold stare shot from over his shade directly into the girl's soul. The force was such that she flinched. "I really didn't want to do this to you, Sashy. I liked you, afterall." Strained, she lifted her hands and spread her arms outward, dismissing the collapsing tide of earth seconds before they were both entombed. "You left me no choice. I'm sorry, sweetie," he begged as he brushed the hair from the frozen maiden's face. "I really dunno what happens now. I mean, I never tried to keep someone alive after I turned them into a plaything." Her mouth hung aghaust as her body twitched sporatically, but no action could be made unless Tanner willed it. She was now no different than the bums he had commanded, a puppet to dance whenever he tugged a string on her very soul.
"I can't believe this crap," belched an old geezer, barely conscious on his mug of ale. "What's... what's happenin' with the times, buddy?"
"I do believe things are not faring any more disasterous than they were in our prime, ol' chap," coothly responded the dignified elder seated with the booze hound at the bar. Contrasting to the street worn, and lived in, garb of the ever drinking cook, the gentleman wore a striped suit complete with matching hat and cane. "Things always appear the way you desire them to be remembered at a point in time. You feel this age is in shambles simply because you only focus on the good of our days. Contrarywise, you would only acknowledge the hardships in the past if you were arguing for easier times. It is human nature to never consider the whole picture." After his longwinded speech, the gent sipped on his glass of wine.
"Boy, you're a pussy." The accusation was followed with another deafening burp as the old man passed out into a puddle spilled booze and vomit he produced earlier.
"Yes... lovely." As the fine drink was further enjoyed, the wall of the tavern erupted as glowing orbs broke through, striking down those seated in the bar dead. A roaming skirmish had passed by outside, and collateral damage was never considered by the warring factions. The refugees could complain, but it would amount to nothing. They had no power to stop it as they were not great magicians. Only those with power were cared about. The rest were brushed off to the gutter. Once the battle had blown by, the bar tender rose up from behind the bench.
"Is... is everyone alright?" There was a dead silence. Many were already weak and injuried. Finally, a pile of debris stirred and a younger man stood up, holding his head.
"Yeah... yeah, I think I'm okay," he rationed. Despite his hooded sweatshirt being torn and gashed, he did not seem to have a scratch on him. However, the same could not be said about his vehicle. "Ah, man! My car! They trashed my car!" he complained. "I had a date tonight, too, and it's not easy to get one with Maria."
"Uh, yeah..." falsely agreed the bar keep with adverted eyes. "It sure ain't, Jules. It sure ain't."
"Vhat is the meaning of this?" roared the purple suited general over the radio. "Is the prison secure?" A large explosion tearing through the side of the van gave Gunter his answer. "Damn you, Vince," he uttered off the radio before addressing his troop. "All units, halt. Our guest requires our attention."
It had all happened so fast that none could stop it. The pyromancer freed himself from his frozen prison, hollowing out the inside until only a husk remained. He then blew out the thin shell and the back of the van in the same heated blast. Leaping out onto the trailing convoy, he punched out molten holes of metal through their frames as he speedily progressed backwards through the lines. He strayed his blasts to create as much confusion as possible when tracking him, damaging the streets and buildings lining the way. It wasn't his job to care for the people leaving out here. It was his mission to acquire a dangerous object from enemy hands. This line that was always clear to the Vince and was never questioned.
The flat street the agent has been backtracking along was suddenly a hill. He didn't recall heading down an incline before as he trudged up it. As he questioned himself, the answer was seen at the summit, the small brunette from his past. She was easily recognized, but her demeanor was different. She held herself cold and rigidly rather than self conscious and sheepishly, and he knew her better than to suspect that she gained confidence.
"So, they called in the twirp squad for help?" thundered the fire slinger, jumping back into old habits. "What are you gonna do? Tell your boss on me?" No response came, not a grimace or a groan. The same distant stare was maintained. Preoccupied in figuring what her game was, he felt his heels begin to slip. The slope was turning sheer and his footing had vanished. Driving his fingertips into the asphalt, they scraped along, sinker deeper and deeper as they burned a gaping hole through the upturned road. Catching himself in the melted out crater, he bore the rest of the way through as the slab overturned completely. He looked upon his assalant with uncertainty.
"So, you finally grew a pair, Sasha? We were all waiting for you to," continued to bash the flamethrower despite being truly disturbed. The sweet, innocent girl he knew from the academy was never one to resort to such wholesale devestation as sandwiching a neighborhood. She had her fits and temper, as Vince felt all women did, but this was out of character for even the craziest of dames he had dated. Sasha, still perched firm at the head of the concrete wave she had just crashed down upon Vince and many of her comrades, stood blankly with her back turned to the agent. Cautiously, he approached with his gun drawn, despite the fact that it was absent of any bullets. Stiffly, she spun around with a look of horror on her face.
"Help me," she scarcely cried before a cage of stone pillars trapped the fire magi. A haunting laughter filled the air as a shadowed figure emerged out from behind one of the columns. The dark glasses slid down his nose as a evil smirk was delivered.
"T-Tanner?" a bewildered Vince sputtered.
"Hiya, pal," sharply put his friend. Leaning over, he planted an elbow upon the earth shaper who solidly supported his weight, unflinching. Terror and woe faintly showed upon her locked face, gazing out into nowhere, as wet streaks glistened down her cheeks. "Miss me?" It may have worn his face, but it was not the Tanner he had known. There was something different, an air about him and how he carried himself. He acted cocky before, but that was only to compensate for his lack of a reason for the attitude. Tanner was a joke, a charity case. He rarely got sent on missions of importance due to his complicated situation.
"No?" continued the gaunt agent, answering the question for his friend. "Well, it doesn't matter." He patted his puppet on the head. "Honey, be a dear and squish this idiot like a bug. I got some readin' to catch up on." Tapping the Tome's cover, he stepped off whistling an inappropriately cheerful tune. Reluctantly, the geomancer brought up her opened hands next to one another as the stone prison rumbled.
"I'm... sorry," she struggled to speak as her hands slammed together.
There was a line that Vince had placed his fate in. It separated those who needed saved from those who deserved punishment, friend from foe, right from wrong, good from evil.
The line had just been broken, shattered like the world he once knew.
Broken fragments rained around him as he stared off to where his past friend had been. He had not even taken the time to defend or prepare himself for the approaching death. Fortunately, for him, others were looking out for his well being.
"Do you have a death vish, lad?" bellowed Gunter as he lowered his steaming arms. The stones were flash frozen, exploiting weak spots in their form. Vince came out with a few bruises rather than having his bones reduced to dust. "And Sasha, my lamb, vhat is the matter vith you? You know ve are not to kill him." Distant and inresponsive, the woman only fell to her knees wearing a mask of torture.
"What the hell did you do to my friend?" growled the firebrand in a raising volume. "What did you do to Tanner?!?"
"Ve did nothing," grumbled his elder in an ominous tone. "Ve vere trying to prevent things like this from happening. This is your fault."
"What?" outburst the outraged agent. "Funny, last I checked, the Agency of Cane was taking out of the hands of terrorists!"
"You are young, little vone. Your ignorance is forgiven," degreed the frost giant. Vince fought against every urge his body had to keep from slugging the man in the face. "Thanox only desired to keep the Tome out of the hands of dangerous persons, such as Agent Tanner has demonstrated. Ve knew of its true power. That is vhy ve desired to find the book first to insure that none vere able to abuse its might. You greatly complicated those plans vhen you stole it from us. Now, the vorld is in danger."
"I... I..." The hothead was at a loss for words. His anger slowly dissapated as the truth was seen. "I've screwed us all?"
"Yes, that is vone vay to put it," grudgingly agreed the frigid man. "Ve must make haste. The longer he has to study the Tome, the more pover he vill gain."
"More pover?" echoed Vincent. "I mean, more power? What power? What has happened to him?"
"Your friend has come to a realization of who he is," grimly reported the violet clad soldier. Draping a massive hand around Sasha's shoulder, he dragged her with him as he left. "You come, too," he shouted back.
"You... you? Want me? To help?" bombarded the confused agent.
"I desire nothing, stupid vone. This problem is your fault. By right, ve help you."
"For years I have been trapped, caged by the rules a dead man set," bantered on the thin man, pacing through the dark streets. "I wasn't allowed my destiny because he feared what people like me could do. He was scared. Well, he was damn right to be!" The figure smirked a wide grin as he settled onto a stepped landing. "I'm tired of playing second fiddle. I carried these people even without a magick. Now that mine has been restored, they had all better look out. Nothing is gonna stop me. Now, it's Tanner's turn to shine."