Things didn't look good. Gabriella hadn't thought this far ahead. Here she was supporting a tortured man in the basement of the university in complete darkness. People couldn't fail to notice that if she went back up to the ground floor, but she didn't know where the other exit from the basement was. Worse, some of the university professors seemed to be involved so she couldn't even go to the staff for help. And they were coming back, she had limited time. It was time to step up.
Gripping Michael she stood and concentrated, let her mind expand outwards, trying to spread her vision as far as possible. She felt herself melt across the entire campus, could see each person moving, see their Aetheric signatures echoing through the darkness. She saw the rats and the bugs and everything else crawling around her, the place was rife with life and energy. Somewhere, she found the drain entrance but she found something else as well. As she looked out something looked back at her and she immediately knew it to be the man who had been with the professor questioning Michael. His Aetheric signature was insane, not even human just a miasma of hate and rage and cunning malevolence, a twisted, deformed scarab-like shape, it's single eyes glistening with an emotion she couldn't even describe. He stared back at her and then turned to his companion and they began running back to the basement.
Gabriella released herself from the vision and nearly threw up. Whatever she had seen, at knew where they were, she had given them away and now it was coming for her and Michael. They had to move, now. She hoisted Michael up and began to head in the direction of the drainage exit. Michael tried to keep pace but was still to weak from the torture.
“Michael, we have to hurry. They're coming!”
With renewed effort they stumbled towards the exit in the dark. Gabriella could hear the rhythmic squelching of feet coming towards her, closing in.
“Chair? I got you out of it.”
“No, Chair! Where's Chair?”
They were nearly at the exit when Gabriella heard a voice.
“You child. Stop now and I wont have to make you suffer like your friend here.”
Gabriella turned around to see the scarab-man holding Casey by the hair. She looked like she had been badly hurt, blood ran down her face from a rude tear in her scalp. Gabriella cried out.
“Don't hurt her!”
“Cute. But little too late. Now, you are going to drop Michael and you are going to tell me how you found him and why you are here.”
Gabriella looked apologetically into Michael's eyes and let go of him. “What are you? You're not human!”
“I'm asking the questions and you still haven't answered mine.” He slammed a fist into Casey's face with a sickening crunch as her nose shattered.
“I'm just a student, we both are. We just wanted to see this man again after we met in the hallway.” Gabriella sobbed. “Please, please don't hurt her any more. I'll do anything.”
The man dropped Casey's unconscious form to the ground where she hit her head with a crack and a squelch. Gabriella screamed. “What you'll do is tell me the truth. I saw you there, in the Aether. You have a talent it seems. People with your abilities are only ever in places they mean to be. There are no coincidences.”
He took a step forwards and Gabriella shuddered, terrified both for Casey's and her own safety. As he approached she felt frozen to the spot until she spotted something hurtling towards her in the darkness. It wasn't human either and she feared the worst. The man was nearly in her face when suddenly the thing impacted into his side, sending him flying. Gabriella looked to Casey but she was gone, faded away, where she had been just a slowly fading puddle of pain and fear. She was dead. The creature that had knocked him down came up to her and jumped.
“Chair!” Michael exclaimed. “You're okay!”
Chair nodded an armrest and scooped Michael up into a sitting position, it's armrest wrapping round him and securing him in place. It looked at Gabriella. Gabriella couldn't do anything though, she was distraught.
“Casey...I...oh god...” She sobbed.
“We've got to go now. Chair wont have knocked that guy out for long. I'm, I'm really sorry about your friend but we can't do anything for her if we're dead. We need to get out now so we can fix this later.”
Gabriella was barely listening though, all she could see was grief and rage, she was awash with it, drowning in it, she was blind to anything else. She spotted a shovel, presumably left by the workmen that had installed the drain entrance, and picked it up. Slowly she walked over to the stunned form of the man. Lifting the shovel up she brought it down on his head, again and again. She felt the warm splash of blood on her ankles and suddenly she was sick and crying uncontrollably.
“Casey, I love you Casey! I'm so sorry!”
In his death throws, the man grabbed her ankle but another shift blow put a final end to even that last grasp. Turning to Michael, she let the shovel clatter to the floor and pointed to the area where the drainage exit was.
“Just go on without me. I just don't care any more.”
“No, you've got to come with us. You'll be killed!”
“I don't care!”
“And so you'll let Casey's death go unavenged?”
Gabriella looked at Michael as if he had slapped her.
“I'm sorry, that was over the line, but killing yourself isn't the answer. Come with us, at least for now, and when we're safe we can see about what we each want to do then.”
Gabriella nodded mutely. She turned and knelt down by Casey, kissing he forehead and then took her bag, something to remember her by. A final moments pause to hold back tears and then she lead the way. Gabriella reached the set of steps leading up through the emergency drainage area and climbed up them slowly, Chair following behind, gripping Michael tightly. They saw daylight but when they reached the exit they were blocked by a metal grill locked into place.
Gabriella looked at the lock. It didn't look good, it had the distinct aura of being new. Chair got closer and wrapped a fold of flesh over it, there was a metallic, acidic smell and when Chair withdrew the lock was badly corroded. Gabriella pulled at it and the lock snapped in her hands. They were free!
“You've certainly got a lot of tricks up your sleeve, haven't you boy?”
Chair wagged an armrest in agreement.
The drainage exit came out in the rear car park of the university where, luckily, Casey's car was parked. Gabriella choked back a sob as she pulled Casey's keys from her bag and slid them into the car door. The door opened and she got inside, Chair pushed Michael into the back seat and then climbed in after him.
“Where do we go?”
“Anywhere. Anywhere but here.”
* * * * *
Arthur was nearly back to New York when a call came in.
“What? Michael never showed? Well, he wasn't the most trustworthy of people, he might have decided to try and make his own way.”
“No, you haven't heard the whole story yet. We think a cache of Possessed got to him first, seems they infiltrated the university.”
“Crap is right. Even had some of ours working for them. They can be very persuasive. Some girl got killed in the crossfire but not before their ringleader got a spade through the head.”
“We think Michael's on the run and he may have someone with him, it's possible he might be being followed.”
“What are you telling me for?”
“You don't care?”
“It's not that I don't care, it's that I can't do anything about so why waste both of our time. You do something about it – you were meant to be sorting things out in the first place.”
“It's not that simple now. Politics have gotten involved. You know as well as I the government has been looking for an excuse to challenge the Technomancers. Let me tell you a story. Triad brings across a Technomancer to his accursed tower then lets him loose in our territory. The man goes straight to the top university in the area, near a sight of special scientific interest for the Aetherics and kills one of their most promising and gifted students.”
“Sounds more like problem between Triad and the Aetherics.”
“There's more. This man had assistance from our government and he's known to have been involved in illegal Diving, apparently for some time. The Technomancers are throwing up walls, demanding the return of the 'national asset', the man who met with Triad, and the Aetherics, they practically worship Triad, it can do no wrong which means they are pointing the blame at us.”
“What, that doesn't make any sense.”
“Think about it. The Technomancer, who apparently know nothing about this man suddenly want him back. He comes here via Mendelian territory – a Technomancer, without so much as a peep from us and then goes and kills some very promising students. To the Aetherics, it sure looks like we and the other side have some kind of deal going on, that we knew something they didn't about their students and decided to take action.”
“Isn't that a little far-fetched? This hypothetical man could have just been a crazy.”
“If Triad wasn't involved, I'd believe that, but something bigger is going on here. That's the thought in everyone's mind and everyone is blaming everyone else. The people up top think the Technomancers cause this situation to deliberately create a rift between us the Aetherics. They've never been as close with the Aetherics as we have and they felt threatened by that, so the theory goes. This is just a rather messy and poorly executed attempt to change that, they are saying.”
“Hypothetically, if that were true they would have shot themselves in the foot, they certainly weren't going to make any friends with the Aetherics sending one of their guys, hypothetically of course, to go kill some of their kids.”
“I know, but any excuse, huh? The senate are trying to turn this into an international incident. Triad seems to be staying out of it. I guess our little squabblings amuse it.”
“So what's happening?”
“There is going to be a formal declaration of protest tomorrow, we're gonna push for answers we know the Technomancers don't have, when they don't deliver, well, I'm sure you can guess.”
“Really, all this over a couple of school girls that aren't even ours. You're not telling me everything are you? What are you hiding?”
“I mentioned the Possessed earlier, right?”
“Well, think about it, I'm sure you're work it out, that's all I can give you.”
“Generous as always, I see.”
“Look, I'm just warning you, when things kick up people like you are going to be scrutinized very carefully. You remember what those days were like I'm sure.”
“I've never forgotten and I don't care to repeat them.”
“Well, be ready.”
The call ended and Arthur continued to lay in his hammock. This was troubling news indeed. He did hope Michael was all right. The Possessed getting involved could only be a bad thing. No-one even believed they existed, most people took Triad's proclamation that it had cleansed them all of demons from the Aether at face value. Arthur knew differently know, being what he was, he'd had no choice but to move in similar circle to those things that had slipped through the gaps, inhabiting others and dominating them to their will. He wasn't proud of it, but it had opened his eyes. They were out there and they were real and they wouldn't rest until they found a way to bring all their brethren with them to the real world. He'd worked closely with a group within the Mendelian faction for ages, cleaning out incursions when the odd demon decided to try it's luck faking it's way into government or something similarly dangerous. Now they were dealing with something they'd missed, it seemed. They been kept distracted until something bigger could happen. Then again, perhaps even this was just another distraction and something worse was coming.
Arthur didn't believe in God, but right then, he wished he did.