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Elegy

The Line of Syme (IC)

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Thursday, August 1st, 2013

6:30 PM

 

If this was the price of urban expansion, Seth reflected, he favored the Freedom of his day all the more.

 

The young mage crouched on the roof of a crumbling tenement, his glowing gaze sweeping across the surrounding buildings. He took in flickering neon signs, boarded up apartments, "adult" stores, seedy bars, women of negotiable virtue, all without pausing or reflecting further, as he might have done under better circumstances. Nothing glowed in his Second Sight. Seth let out a long breath, trying to calm himself. He would find the place. They wouldn't get away with this, whoever they were. Opening a portal, he warped deeper into the Fens.

 

It was the same story from atop the sparking XXX sign: dirt, desperation, and no sign of the shadowy, serpentine magic he was looking for. He punched the metal full-force, causing his brazen bracelet to vibrate as it absorbed a blow that would otherwise have broken his hand. Someone had finally come to Seth, giving him complete trust, and had promptly been kidnapped on his watch. Trying again to steady his breathing, Seth cast his mind back to when this debacle had begun, desperately seeking some clue he'd missed...

Edited by Elegy

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8:00 AM

 

GM

 

The young man lingered on the sidewalk near the colossal mansion, captivated by its brooding old world mystique. It was hard to believe that the place, which seemed to loom over its two neighbors despite the fact that they were some of Lantern Hill's larger houses, had appeared overnight two weeks ago. Past the iron gates, which were worked with patterns of twisting ivy, neatly-tended hedges lined the path up to the grand staircase of dark stone. Two tall doors of polished mahogany waited at the top, somehow undamaged by the wet weather.

 

Gazing down at the letter in his hand, the young man sighed. He would have preferred a phone call, but as it turns out a house that suddenly reappears after three hundred years is unlikely to have a land line. Its occupant didn't seem to have a cell phone or email address either, and there was no mailing address (or mailbox, for that matter) for an empty lot, so it'd been necessary to do things the old fashioned way: by hand. He could've asked to be invited in, but he didn't want to impose. He had no idea what the man would be like.

 

Mustering his courage, the young man squared his shoulders and walked through the gates. He walked quickly between the hedges, feeling a little claustrophobic, and headed up the stairs. Staring around for a good place to leave the letter, he finally settled on wedging it in the crack between the two doors, where it couldn't possibly be missed. His task complete, he fairly sprinted back to the gates, closed them behind him, and jumped back in his car. This whole business creeped him out, but he owed his ancestor this much.

 

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"He's made this very easy for us, brother," the young woman told her companion, putting down her binoculars and revving up her unmarked van. "He has no reason to suspect anything, sister," the man in the passenger's seat replied, sliding a dart into his tranquilizer gun and sighting down the barrel. Behind their grimacing halloween masks, both wore smiles. As their target's car left the circle and headed back downtown, the white van followed at a distance, keeping it just in sight. "The Nightmare Architect will have his due."

Edited by Elegy

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12:00 PM

 

A circle of orange light appeared in the dining room of Havenglen House, and Seth Syme stepped out, stifling a yawn. He collapsed into one of the gilded, ornately-carved chairs and decided that getting only four hours of sleep had been a poor idea. Still, it'd been two weeks now without any sign of the mask; he had no idea how long the Twilight Angel intended to give him to find it, but he'd personally expected to have it by now. Later nights and earlier mornings had blurred together as he searched, block by block and alley by alley.

 

Perhaps it was time to start on the subway tunnels.

 

His stomach grumbled, and a china platter immediately materialized on the long mahogany table, laden with food. Seth smiled; there were benefits to having a house as saturated with magical energies as his. Tugging his chair closer, he wolfed it all down in a matter of minutes, allowed himself another few minutes to simply sit stunned in his chair, and then prepared to head out again. A flick of his hand brought up another portal, but he reconsidered. He would walk in the gardens for a few minutes before he left; the roses his mother had loved were in bloom.

 

Appearing in front of his house, a sight he'd decided his neighbors would simply have to get used to, he was immediately glad that he'd hesitated. An envelope was tucked between the double doors. Seth initially found it odd, even suspicious, but reconsidered after a moment; how else was anyone to get in touch with him? And then excitement seized him, pushing out his exhaustion. When he'd been interviewed a week ago, he'd put out a call to modern-day Symes, hoping to speak with them. Could this be a response?

 

Heart beating fast, he sprinted up the stairs two at a time to take hold of the envelope.

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Dear Seth,

 

My name is Albert Syme. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get in touch with you; this is all really, really strange, and I wasn't sure if I wanted any part in it at first. But you wanted to talk to people who knew a little about our family's history, and I fit the bill. I'll tell you upfront that I don't know exactly what happened after you were hanged and your house vanished. Most of the Symes left the area, but no one knows which ones or where they went. The only thing I know for sure is that your brother Andrew stayed. I know because he's my ancestor.

 

I can tell you what I know about him and his immediate family, and I can put you in touch with some people who might know more about your other siblings, if you're interested. I get off work at five, so I should be home by half past unless the traffic is really bad. I live in Port Regal; you'll find my address on the back of this letter. Given what I've heard about your powers, I don't think you'll need directions beyond that. I'd say call me before you come by, but I don't think you have a phone, so just pop in when you can, I guess.

 

-Albert

Edited by Elegy

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5:20 PM

 

Seth was early, but he could hardly help himself; he'd gone through his new searches, though they were no more successful, with renewed enthusiasm. The fact that he knew nothing about what had happened to his family after his death gnawed at him daily. He doubted knowing would ease the pain of their absence, but it might provide him with a little closure at least, and he was glad of something to look forward to. Teleporting through the darkened subway tunnels while dodging the speeding trains couldn't pass fast enough for him.

 

Not having a watch was a bit of a problem, so he'd popped out to check the big digital readouts on the Wading Way banks every few minutes.

 

Albert Syme's place was small, especially after Havenglen House, but nice nonetheless. It was colonial-style, red brick with symmetrical windows, a slate roof, and a weather vane in the shape of a rooster swinging gently in the breeze. The white front door and windows were freshly-painted, as was the white picket fence around the place, and the lawn was well-kept. A bay window at the back broke with the style, but provided a nice spot to sit and read; it overlooked a little vegetable garden of herbs, pumpkins, and zucchini.

 

It was a little odd that the front door was open, Seth reflected as he approached; Port Regal had a fairly low crime rate, but precious coolth was escaping the house, and as he understood it people paid for that coolth in the form of "air conditioning" now. There were two cars parked out front, but Seth had no idea if either of them belonged to Albert. It was not until a young woman burst from the doorway, tears spilling from her wide eyes, that the young mage was entirely convinced that something was amiss. "Help," she whispered between sobs.

 

Seth rushed forward, taking her by the arm and escorting her back inside. "You are safe now, madam. What happened here?" He kept his tone gentle as he eased her into one of the kitchen chairs, the pulled one up for himself. "They... they took him. They took Albert! They said if I called the police they'd... they'd... But I knew you were coming, and I..." Seth's mind reeled with this information. He knew nothing about Albert, least of all why anyone would want to hurt him. The man wasn't poor, but there were far better targets for a ransom.

 

Then the magical residue caught his eye. It was a dark, twining thing, like a serpent made of smoke: a warning charm, set to trigger when someone new entered the house. And, distracted as he was, he'd stepped right through it. Suspicion took hold in his mind: whoever had kidnapped Albert had known he was coming. "Did you see which way they went?" She nodded. "Back downtown. They... they said something about a haunted house in the Fens when they thought I couldn't hear them. They were in a white van..." She trailed off, staring at her hands.

 

"I will find him, madam. I so swear before almighty God. Now come with me; we must get you somewhere safe." Settling one arm gently around her waist, Seth conjured a portal around himself and fell through. He waited only a moment to take in the stunned expressions of the precinct's receptionist and off-duty officers before conjuring another that would take him toward the Fens. There was only one thought in his mind: that whatever had happened to Albert was tied up with Seth. He would not allow anyone to get hurt on his account.

Edited by Elegy

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In the back of the van, Albert did his best to remain calm.

 

He'd had only a second to take in their hideous halloween masks at his front door before he'd been hit with some kind of dart. Now he was sitting on the carpeted floor of his captors' vehicle, his hands zip-tied and a foul-smelling sack over his head. He had no idea what these people wanted; he was just a mid-level manager at an insurance company, and his wife was a second grade teacher, so it wasn't as if they could pay much in the way of a ransom. Maybe a denial of coverage had really, really pissed someone off? He always felt bad when that happened.

 

His captors were talking quietly to one another. He picked out the word "ritual" several times, and that set his heart to beating faster. Was he going to be some kind of sacrifice for cultist nutjobs? But that didn't make much sense. It would've been easier for them to round up homeless bums from the Fens; no one would even know they were missing. Why barge right into his house to kidnap him in front of a witness? His stomach dropped out at the thought that they might have hurt Molly to keep her quiet. He couldn't bear to have that happen.

 

From what he could gather, they'd taken the highway back downtown, the same way he went to work every day. But they'd turned off well before Wading Way, so they weren't planning to use him in some sort of scheme to rob his workplace. It was almost like they were heading for... yes, it had to be the Fens. But why? Nothing about his broad daylight kidnapping added up. The thought that he would miss Gloaming's visit momentarily depressed him, then gave him a surge of hope when he thought about it. Surely the hero would come looking?

Edited by Elegy

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6:35 PM

 

It finally occurred to Seth that he was going about this all wrong.

 

There was no guarantee that the kidnappers' lair would have traces of the same magic; even if it did, picking it out of the jumble that was the Fens was nearly impossible, as the past hour of fruitless searching had demonstrated. The young mage mentally kicked himself when he realized that he'd had the perfect tool for the task all along. Conjuring up one of his portals, he warped himself back to Havenglen House. But rather than ending up in the atrium, library, or kitchen, he reemerged in the cavern below.

 

What had once been a small cellar for wine and perishable foods had been utterly changed by exposure to the infinite planes. Instead the staircase led down to what seemed to be a natural, water-carved cave. Smooth stone columns, stalactites, and stalagmites dripped moisture down to the uneven floor. Huge crystals of the same dusky orange as his magic studded the walls at irregular intervals, pulsing unevenly with some inner energy. At the center of it all lay a pool of startlingly clear water, cold, deep, and still.

 

Seth hurried over to the pool, his footsteps echoing loudly, and dropped to his knees beside it. The water glowed brightly before his Second Sight; he'd recently discovered its powerful scrying properties, though the way it searched meant that it wasn't much help in finding the mask. But here was something to which it was ideally suited. Drawing on his reserves of stamina, Seth called up an image of the Fens, which immediately began to fly at breakneck speed past his one good eye. He would cover the whole district in an hour.

 

All he needed to do was find a white van near a haunted house. How hard could it be?

Edited by Elegy

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Bound and gagged on the stone altar, Albert decided that it was a good time to panic after all.

 

Men and women in halloween masks, leather jackets, and black jeans loomed out of the darkness all around him, carrying an impressive array of knives, machine pistols, and sawn-off shotguns. They moved with practiced efficiency, carrying engraved brass bowls, skulls painted with runes, and flickering torches. Candles marked the corners of the rough stone on which he lay, dripping hot wax uncomfortably close to his face. Above him, barely visible in the dimness, a serpentine symbol had been painted on the ceiling. It hurt his eyes to look at it.

 

So, he thought, crazy cultists after all. But why him? It seemed he was going to die without ever knowing. But he'd been here, wherever here was, for what felt like hours, and the whole time they'd never even looked at him. Whatever their preparations were for whatever they were going to do, they were certainly taking a long time. He kept hoping that Gloaming would show up any minute to kick down the door and rescue him, but how could the hero possibly know where he was? It was a big city, and he himself had only the faintest idea...

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7:30 PM

 

"Found you."

 

Seth sat back from the pool, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The barrage of images, condensed into a single hour, had left him bone tired; it was only through an exertion of great willpower, and the simple knowledge that he had to succeed or something very, very bad to someone who didn't deserve it, that he was still functional. But he had finally figured out where they had taken Albert. Unless they'd ditched the car, or there was another white van near a haunted house, or Albert's wife had misheard his one and only lead...

 

But there was no use thinking that way.

 

At first he'd nearly been stumped, he reflected as he looked down at the image in the pool, because of his lack of knowledge of the modern world. When he'd heard haunted house, he'd assumed a house that was literally haunted, which was rather difficult to distinguish from an ordinary house at a distance. He'd had a lucky break when he'd spotted a billboard advertising a haunted house, not as a historical landmark but as an entertainment venue. Apparently, people in the modern day liked to be scared, and paid for the privilege.

 

That made little sense to Seth, but perhaps that was because he'd been truly scared enough times in his life that he knew it wasn't much fun. With a weary shrug he called up another portal, and an instant later he was across the street from a boarded-up building. The place had been built in a faux-gothic style, and shaky blood-red lettering proclaimed it to be "Midnight Manse". A white van had been parked in an alleyway on its right. And thought the place looked abandoned, someone was lounging in the shadow of the front door, devoid of boards.

 

Seth walked across the street, his coat billowing out behind him in the evening breeze, and the door guard stepped out into the open. The man wore a black motorcycle jacket and a werewolf mask; a machine pistol was clutched in his hands. When it became clear that the young mage wasn't going to stop, that gun came up to point at his head, meant to threaten him away. Seth flattened the guard with one flick of his wrist, covering his brain in a cloud of dusk and leaving him to drop with a stifled grunt to the ground.

 

Easing him aside with one foot, Seth pulled the door open, ready to confront the madness within.

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Just inside the door, Seth found himself face to face with an old-fashioned (though not so old-fashioned as the mage himself) mechanical fortune teller. The brightly-painted wooden doll sitting inside its glass case had been made to resemble a tuxedo-wearing, wand-twirling magician complete with top hat. It immediately rose up at his approach, and a crackling recording issued from a speaker beneath it as it moved its arms and clacked its wooden jaw in a crude imitation of conversation; it had clearly not been repaired, or even cleaned, in years.

 

"HEE HEE HEE! Welcome, one and all, to Midnight Manse! For those who enter, only screaming insanity and hideous death await!" The voice was grating, its pitch oddly altered by the aged speaker. "Take your tickets and enter... but first say a prayer, for few ever escape the curse of this house of madness! HA! HA! HEE! HEE!" And then, with a whirring, grinding sound, the recording came to a stop and the mannequin ceased moving again. A paper ticket spurted out from the case with far too much force, striking Seth's jacket and falling to the floor.

 

Printed on the paper in small type was a disclaimer: "not responsible for personal injury or death." Behind the booth, a "closed for renovation" sign hung loosely in front of the door that led further in. But the door was slightly ajar, and the sounds of booted feet on creaking wood and low-voiced conversation drifted through it. Perhaps there was a back door somewhere, but time was running out. The fastest way was straight ahead, through whatever it was people paid to be scared by and whatever ambushes could be set up in these dark confines...

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

"He's here, brother," the man in the hockey mask told the man in the Frankenstein mask. The latter nodded; it was not entirely unexpected. They would simply have to buy a little more time. Despite the advantage of numbers, he knew all too well that their weapons would be insufficient against the might and determination of a superhero. But if they could hold the interloper off just long enough to complete the ritual they would not need such mundane weapons. Even if captured they would be victorious. "Be swift, brothers and sisters," he ordered.

 

"And brother," he told the man in the hockey mask, who was monitoring the cameras, "activate the exhibits."

Edited by Elegy

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Seth brushed aside the chills that ran up his spine like cobwebs. As eerie and distorted as this place was, it would have to do better to frighten someone who had feared for his love and family, sat in a prison cell facing a noose on the morrow, and lived through three hundred years of maddening emptiness. To frighten him something had to stand a chance of taking something he cared about, and he doubted he would find any such thing within these halls save the people who, for whatever reason, wanted to hurt poor Albert on his watch.

 

Blinking rapidly and shaking his head, he tried to throw off his fatigue. It didn't do him much good; danger would have to set the fire, and that was easy to arrange at the moment. The young mage crept forward over the creaking floor, around the bizarre little mechanical man, and pushed the hanging sign aside. Dusky magic blazed around his hands before his Second Sight, ready to leap out and strike anyone who came at him. He was powerful now, and knew how to put that power to use. He could handle this. Taking a steadying breath, he threw the door wide.

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A twisting hallway, the walls covered in purple curtains and the floor in crimson carpeting, led deeper into the old building. Eerie music sounded from speakers placed every few feet. After several twists and turns, the music growing louder further down the hall, Seth emerged in a room half occupied by a life-size diorama. In a stone courtyard overgrown with lichens, a strange, sparking electrical apparatus had been set up above a white-sheeted bed. A greenish monster lay restrained on the bed, and a wild-haired man in a lab coat stood over him, lowering a brain into the creature's open head.

 

The story of Frankenstein was, of course, entirely lost upon Seth.

 

As the young mage made to move on, however, a voice issued from the mechanical doctor's throat. "This brain is no good." Seth turned to stare at him, bemused by the interactivity of the display, and found the lifelike model staring right at him. It had discarded the brain in favor of a rusty bone saw. "I think I'll take yours instead!" The doctor pulled free of his moorings and dashed forward even as the monster snapped its restraints, rose to its full towering height, and made to do the same. "IT'S ALIVE," The doctor shrieked. "IT'S ALIVE!"

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Seth was reasonably sure that wasn't supposed to happen.

 

Fortunately he'd been prepared for most anything when he stepped into this crazy place, and while he hadn't had this in mind he was ready to deal with it. Making a snap decision to deal with the bigger target first, he threw one hand out in the direction of the hulking, open-skulled monster. The invisible forces of the universe responded instantly to his call, reaching down to crush the metal with incredible force. The creature's right shoulder buckled beneath the intense pressure, arresting its charge and spinning it around on its awkward, gangly feet.

 

Conjuring up a portal with a flick of his wrist, Seth jumped through, putting the slab and electrical apparatus between him and the stunned monster. He hadn't brought it down, but he'd bought himself some time to deal with its supposed creator, and an obstacle would buy him more time still. Turning on the spot, he raised his left arm and its shield bracelet, preparing to meet the mad doctor's charge. Now that he looked, he could see black magic on them: smoky coils had burrowed inside the machines, tainting the steel with hate. He was definitely in the right place.

Edited by Elegy

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Doctor Frankenstein pivoted to face Seth's new position and rushed forward, screaming "Take your brain! Take your brain!" He swung the rusty bone saw two-handed, as if it were a sword. It was fairly obvious, however, that the fake surgical tool, though genuinely sharp, was not meant to be a weapon. The mechanical madman's blow whistled straight past his live target, severing one of the dangling wires of the reanimation device. Sparks flew everywhere, momentarily blinding the combatants, but the doctor merely readied his steel arms for another swing.

 

The monster, its crushed shoulder throwing off sparks as well, was too stunned by feedback to even turn around.

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As the monster sat, trying to sort out its damaged functions, Seth and the mad metal man grappled on the opposite side of the fake machine. Fighting up close was not something the young mage was accustomed to, and as his opponent closed the distance with another swipe of his bone saw, wearing a maniac's grin, Seth fell back before the onslaught. Both attacks went wide, his concentration broken as he frantically dodged away from the jagged instrument coming at his face. Meanwhile, the monster shook itself and began to stomp toward their battle.

 

Knowing that he couldn't afford to be flanked, Seth let loose with his power once more, wrapping invisible hands around Doctor Frankenstein's torso and pushing with all his mystical might. The metal chest plate caved in beneath the tremendous pressure, bending and denting the steel frame beneath and crushing wires and mechanisms. The Doctor fell to the ground, smoking, leaving Seth just enough time to spin around and face the monster bearing down on him. Of all the strange things he'd done in this city, he reflected, this was by far the strangest.

Edited by Elegy

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Hungry for revenge, or as much so as a half-magical machine can get, the monster hefted the slab bed on which it had been restrained and swung it at Seth, narrowly missing the young mage as he leapt back. The huge electrical coil that had been suspended over it took the hit instead, shearing off from the ceiling and flying against the faux stone of the diorama's side walls, where it shattered like the hard plastic it was. Sidestepping around the creature, Seth tore its sparking shoulder wound wider with invisible hands.

 

The thing reacted by pivoting on the spot and swinging the bed directly into Seth, sweeping him from his feet and hurling him across the room. He thudded into the curtained wood wall of the horror house, his protective bracelet rattling frantically and becoming hot against his skin as it absorbed a blow that might otherwise have pulped him. Still, the young mage could only lie there, ears ringing and seeing stars, as the monster stomped over to where he'd fallen and raised the heavy table to finish the job...

Edited by Elegy

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By some extraordinary effort of will, Seth managed to regain his feet by the time the monster reached him. He reached out once again to tear at the shoulder joint with invisible but potent force, ripping away a strip of metal that crossed all the way down the animated machine's chest. It hardly even slowed, swinging the table at him again; Seth ducked the blow and tore the chest plate open even further, but the monster still refused to admit defeat. With a mechanical groan-roar it swung again; this time, as he dodged, Seth managed to tear its left arm clean off.

 

The monster dropped the table, sinking to its knees as its arm hit the floor beside it, throwing up a curtain of sparks. It stared blankly at Seth, trying once again to assess and move past the terrible damage. Reaching invisible hands into the chest plate, Seth tore the gap wider, causing it to leak black smoke. Yet the monster still refused to keel over. Frustrated now, Seth seized its head between his metaphysical hands and squeezed. The monster's flat-topped green visage slowly buckled, seemingly imploding, then squashed like a soda can. The body hit the ground an instant later.

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Seth had no time to savor that triumph; a moment later, a bone saw bit savagely into his back! He gasped in shock and pain, managing to pull away and wheel around. Doctor Frankenstein, though throwing off sparks and smoke from his mangled metal body, had managed to haul himself across the floor one scoot at a time and bury his weapon in his unsuspecting foe. Blood tricked down Seth's spine as he struggled to remain standing, eyes wide with shock. Doctor Frankenstein grinned the same manic grin, raising the bloody saw...

 

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"He's finished, brother," said the man in the hockey mask. "The ceremony may proceed unhindered." Behind the Frankenstein mask, the other man's lip curled. "Well done, brother. Our delays were more effective than we could possibly have hoped." But a flicker of motion on the monitor caught his eye, and he strode over to look more closely. Somehow, in spite of the wounds he'd suffered, the young mage was still alive, still fighting. "You may not be entirely correct, brother," he said. "Prepare more of them, just in case."

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Somehow, by some combination of instinct and blessing, Seth managed to dodge the next strike.

 

The swipe of the saw that would have taken his head cleanly from his shoulders whistled instead through empty air, and the young mage seized the moment to fight past the pain and take hold of his power once more. And once more the forces of the cosmos leapt to heed his call. Invisible fingers tore into Doctor Frankenstein, pulling at the shredded metal of his chest plate until it sheared entirely away. Then they pulled once more, half of them up and half of them down. Sweat ran down Seth's face as he concentrated.

 

And then, with a great screech of tortured steel, the good doctor was torn in two. His mechanical jaw continued to work as sparks flew and smoke billowed from where his waist had been, grating out "Take your brain! Take your brain! Take your br..." And then, with a long zhooooow, the robot was cut off mid-sentence, never to speak again. Gasping for air as he fought against the pain, Seth kicked it in the head for good measure and then stepped over it, moving back toward the hallway. He hissed through his teeth with each throb of his bloodied back.

 

For a moment he looked back the way he came, wondering if retreat was his best option now, wounded as he was. But no one else was coming, and there was no telling when something awful would happen to poor Albert, if it hadn't already. He was the man's only chance; letting him down was not an option. So he walked on, deeper into Midnight Manse, a spell ready at his fingertips. He had no doubt that this was only the first obstacle on his path; whoever these strange kidnappers were, they were determined to stop him...

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Seth staggered down the twisting hall once more, the eerie music growing louder as he went deeper into Midnight Manse. The crimson carpet, thick with mold from long years of neglect, crunched and squished beneath his feet with each step. The tattered purple curtains fluttered uneasily as the cooling units pumped out streams of frigid air. The young mage's breath misted in front of him, no mean feat in the month of August. Dark magic, the cold stuff of the void, suffused the very walls; Seth could see it like no ordinary man could, a dark, cold web of snakes that streamed in from an unknowable otherwhere.

 

The place was like a maze, and Seth, already tired and disoriented, quickly lost count of how many twists and turns he'd passed before the hallway opened up into another cavernous room. This one contained two large dioramas. On Seth's left, the carpet turned to roots and dirt. Tree trunks rose until they met the ceiling, transforming from painted plastic to painting. Fake moss drooped from the tree limbs, and a glowing full moon (a lightbulb behind a plastic shell) shed eerie light down on the scene below. A hulking wolfman and an old man with a silver-tipped cane squared off, trading the same series of blows again and again.

 

On the right, the carpet became the stone floor of a dusty crypt. Moonlight streamed in through a filthy stained glass window, illuminating a rotting coffin of dark wood. Rats scurried around the two men who stood over the coffin, one holding a wooden stake and the other a silver crucifix. The lid had fallen away, revealing the beautiful young woman lying within. Pale, slim, and dark-haired, the young woman seemed to be sleeping. But over and over again she sat bolt upright as the stake was driven into her heart, loosing a hideous scream as her angelic features twisted into an animalistic snarl.

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Experience was a good teacher, and Seth could guess how this was going to go. The vile creatures in the dioramas were going to come after him, slow him down at least. Given his wounds and exhaustion, they might do more than that. And so, when the vampire surged up from her coffin and the werewolf stalked to the forest's edge, howling, the young mage was ready for them. As the old man on the left shouted "Beware the curse! Beware the curse!" and the vampire hunters on the right yelled "Beware the eyes! Beware the eyes!", Seth reached out once more with bolts of telekinetic force, striking at the blood-drinker robot.

 

Though the attack itself was invisible, its effects were not. The vampire's head snapped back, and it stumbled several paces as it tried to regain its balance. Violet beams of energy burst from its eyes, carving grooves in the painted ceiling. But Seth had been distracted, and it cost him. The wolfman leapt at his back, its claws sinking into his shoulders, and he cried out as blood trickled from the new wounds. His shield bracelet shook, struggling to lessen the damage. The young mage reeled away, gasping as he tried to regain his balance. But it proved difficult to fight through the pain, granting his enemies another chance at him.

 

The wolfman swung again, trying to rip open the gouge Doctor Frankenstein's bonesaw had cut into Seth's back, but this time the shield bracelet rattled even harder. Seth's skin was suddenly iron-hard, protected by the magic within the brass, and the claws rebounded. Turning around, vengeful determination blazing in his eyes, the young mage lashed out with a crushing wave of telekinetic force, driving the wolfman back and viciously twisting one of its metal legs. It let out a tinny yelp-whine and retreated one uneasy step, and Seth turned in time to duck as the vampire's eye beams shot past his face.

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Twice more Seth lashed out, his telekinetic bolts slamming into the steel werewolf with terrible force and crushing it back into itself inch by grinding inch. But perhaps the magic within the robot lent it some of the ferocity of the creature it was built to resemble, and it took the damage and kept swinging, garbled and distorted snarls emerging from its speakers. Refusing to hesitate again, it leapt at Seth and sank its sharp metal fangs into his shoulder just below the neck, trying to lift him and shake him apart. The young mage tried to force it away with another telekinetic blast, but the pain and motion broke his concentration.

 

Finally managing to get free, Seth staggered several steps back, trying to get some distance between himself and his bestial attacker. The wolfman lunged past him, but any sense of triumph was cut short as the vampire's eye beams struck him between the shoulder blades, burning through his clothes to singe the flesh beneath. He gasped in pain, sinking to his knees, as the sent of cooked meat reached his nostrils. His protective bracelet just kept shaking like a leaf in a storm, trying desperately to shield him from so many wounds. The werewolf lunged past him, missing with a swipe meant for his head as he half fell and half knelt.

 

The vampire offered no such respite; walking over in front of him, it fired its eye beams into his chest at point-blank range. Smoke curled up from his pecs as he flew into one of the trees of the werewolf "habitat"; his shield bracelet turned white-hot against his forearm as it devoted all of its energies to keeping the vicious attack from burning right through to his heart. Even still, it nearly did. But Seth, though the haze of pain, forced his own magic into the bracelet by willpower alone. Somehow he staggered to his feet, dragged ice-cold air into lungs emptied by his impact, and conjured his spells once more. Somehow, he kept fighting.

Edited by Elegy

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Seth was not generally a believer in revenge, but that was a belief he'd held long before he'd had to do any fighting. In the heat of the moment, he felt pain, fear, and anger overtake him, something he had never before allowed while using his magics. Raw power bubbled up from him as he lashed out once more, ripping the wolfman's mangled leg clean off and forcing it down to its forelimbs to balance. His vengeful concentration was such that he hardly noticed the spectral autumn leaves, borne on a warmer wind, that swirled around him, spirits of a lost time and place called back into being by this mobile nexus of the magic of dusk.

 

When next the werewolf struck him, he raised his shield bracelet to meet it. The impact sent a wave of numbness down his arm, but he batted the powerful robot's strike aside as if it'd been delivered by a child. Twisting on the spot, he struck out with a telekinetic wave, crumpling the creature's snout so that its own fangs jutted through its nose. He ducked the vampire's eyebeams again and again, seeming to dance away from death as he wove yet another spell. This time there was no escape from his Seth's fury for the werewolf. Its entire frame buckled down in the middle, as if an invisible boot had plunged straight into and through it.

 

Seth turned toward the vampire robot, eyes blazing even brighter than normal, and prepared to finish the fight.

Edited by Elegy

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"Impossible," the man in the hockey mask breathed as he watched the fight over the monitors. "Brother, he should be on the floor after those injuries. Whatever protective magics he has, they are potent. Still, he must be slowing. I've prepared all of the remaining exhibits." The man in the Frankenstein mask turned from where he was sharpening the ritual knife on a heavy granite whetstone, a frown on his true face. "The ceremony can't be rushed, brother. If these creations of yours can't kill him, he may still reach us in time." The other man shook his head. "They may still kill him. He's bleeding, and badly. If not, we can gun him down when he gets here."

 

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The vampire's next blast went straight and true, but if it was hoping for a repeat near-crippling it would be disappointed. Seth raised his bracer once more, allowing the burnished bronze to absorb the violet energy in a burst of light. Then he raised his other hand, letting the forces of the cosmos burst forth at his command. The blast struck the robot in the stomach and burst out the other side, trailing sparking wires and glistening lubricant along with two fist-sized chunks of steel. It reeled back, thick black smoke leaking from its ears, nose, and mouth, and fell against the wall. Even then it tried to push itself back up, arms struggling ineffectually to push against the curtains...

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Seth stood over the mechanical monstrosity that had nearly been his doom. His only thought was to remove the threat; his pain, his fear, he pushed to the back of his mind. And he rained down blast after blast on the vampire, pushing her well-rendered face back into her steel skull an inch at a time until, suddenly, it gave way all at once. Jagged steel fragments lanced the wall behind it, while the construct itself, ruptured and leaking, sank limply to the floor. The young mage stood over it a moment more, breathing hard, as one by one the aches and pains of the fight returned. Blood trickled down his chest and back, and every inch of him ached.

 

Pulling off his tattered doublet and coat, and wondering where on Earth he could possibly get them replaced, he tore at their shredded edges, ripping them into long strips and tying them tightly around his bleeding shoulders and upper back. There was nothing he could do for the burns. He rested only a moment, fearing that he wouldn't be able to get back up if he lingered longer than that. Strangely, it didn't even enter his mind to retreat this time. He'd come this far, suffered this much, to rescue a man he hardly even knew; he couldn't let it all be for nothing.

Edited by Elegy

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