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Quarrel in the Quarry


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June 4, 2017

 

The rails out of Greenbank might not have run trains out to Goldman Quarry anymore but that didn't mean the abandoned hole in the ground never saw visitors. At some point in the early aughts a Claremont student who's name had been lost to the annals of high school history had hit upon the quarry as a good place to test out powers a little too destructive for supervised sessions in the Doom Room and the location had been passed from rebel to loner to misunderstood problem child. Every few years the faculty had reason to make it clear that students were to stay well away from the quarry but those who made use of it tended to prefer asking forgiveness rather than permission anyway.

 

At least that's how Riley had explained it to Winifred after they'd begun searching for somewhere to test the new explosives they'd been tinkering with in the chemistry lab. "You're sure you know where you're going?" the alchemist shouted over the noise of the wind, seated behind the survivalist on his motorcycle. They'd already driven clear across the length of the city from Bayview but she still hadn't decided which was the more terrifying conveyance between Smith's bike and Sanderson's flying broomstick.

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"Yeah!" called Riley, who wasn't much for shouting even over the noise of the motorcycle's engine. He'd debated the relative merits of taking Fred out on his bike versus something like the city bus, or even borrowing Peyton's car, but he'd made the decision months earlier that Fred was someone he was willing to let into his circle of trust. The circle of not breaking my damn spine, anyway. It had been a pleasure to rediscover Goldman Quarry, an area he knew well on two worlds now. The partially flooded sand and gravel pit had proven a poor home for the Forest Primeval - and most of the trees that had sprouted there had died of various causes in the years before his birth. Like the best wild places, if you came in numbers, and armed, it wasn't a bad place. 

 

He parked the bike in the most familiar spot on this Earth, chaining it to the old chain-link fence behind what might have been an ornamental bush a few decades earlier. If he'd been there alone, he'd simply have scaled the fence, but taking Fred up to a high spot would be both cruel and dangerous. He fastened his bow onto his back with motions that Fred knew came from long practice, pulling armored gauntlets onto his hands. "C'mon, this way." The fence had been cut, years earlier, here behind the bush, and he pulled it aside just far enough for the two of them to slip through. "Should be clear. Chased off th'dogs." 

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"We might take a moment to make sure. I'd hate for Matthew to learn we'd accidentally blown an unsuspecting mongrel to smithereens." Between her crisp diction and odd sense of humour it could be a little difficult to tell when Winifred was trying to be funny but they'd spent enough time working together for Riley to have gotten a reasonably good feel for it. The displaced Victorian had left her riding boots back at the Academy in favour of the beaten sneakers she didn't mind getting dirty but she her steps were still ginger as she tried to avoid any major hazards. "Do you think we'll be far enough from the road to avoid rousing suspicion? Some of these are liable to make quite a din." She patted the bag slung over her shoulder, the sound of glass clinking off of glass muffled by the heavy canvas.

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"Salright, I've done everything up to twenty pounds of TNT n' nobody's heard. We're inna hollow here, in sound gets caught up by the trees outside it." He shrugged. "People prolly hear it in the city, but out there it's just super stuff." He led the way down the gravelly path towards their destination, a flooded crater surrounded by sand and gravel piles. It was good ambush ground, and so by reflex that he was determined to never lose, Riley kept scanning the scenery as they talked. Riley did not have a high opinion of the attentiveness of your average Freedomite - an opinion that had not changed during his time here. "Sides, I'm faster'n the cops." 

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"A fact which sadly makes the case for the odd, barely regulated, vigilante-based system at work," Winifred mused as they traipsed further into the fenced off area. Very much a city girl at heart the alchemist had never spent much time in wild areas and while Riley took careful stock of potential avenues of attack her head was on a swivel, trying to take in everything at once, making mental notes. She wondered if she might find useful components growing in the underbrush.

 

Stepping carefully over some metal beams that had been left behind decades before, she opened the flap of her bag and took inventory. "I want to test the new triggering mechanism, specifically. The wind-up timers I'm confident in but the tripwires seem a bit dodgy, frankly. You've gotten them to work before?"

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"Not me personally," Riley admitted, "but I've seen it done and practiced on 'em with other folks - and with less gear'n we've got 'n hand." Riley blinked a few times, a look Fred was more than familiar with at this point when thinking about the world of his birth. "Let's get 't goin." 

 

Eventually Riley stopped, the two of them in the relative shelter of a nearby gravel pit on one side, the nearby crater on the other. "'S good fifty feet deep in there," he commented, walking over to peer idly at the water. "Water's colder'n hell, and there's stuff in it. Good swimmin', though," he added as he turned back to Fred. "All right, so I think we should start with the tripwires from the warehouse to the truck."

 

The titular warehouse had, like everything else here, seen better days - and the big loader had been abandoned a long time ago, its tires long-gone and its windows cracked, and even its graffiti was getting faded. "I'll test it with an arrow shot." 

 

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"I may not be much of a swimmer," Winifred allowed, having only learned the very basics since she'd begun at the Academy, "but that looks about as 'good swimming' as the Thames." She didn't get quite as close to the edge at Riley, though curiosity still had her leaning further forward to peer into the murky depths than might have been strictly advisable. "I've heard good things about the local beachfront. Did you go there on your Earth? No trees in the sand, I'd assume."

 

She followed Riley's suggestion, setting one of her smaller flasks of byzantine fire next to the weathered vehicle; they were testing the tripwire mechanism in this case, not the explosive itself. The wire was carefully spooled out, the opposite end pinned to the bottom edge of the warehouse. She thought she'd struck a good balance between sturdiness and unobtrusiveness with the thickness of the spun metal but gauging how taunt to make it felt more like guesswork than she liked. "How do you suppose that looks?"

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"Not for fun. Tried fishing - got seasick." Riley typically used a rashguard at the beach or pool these days, the former being one of the many pleasant innovations of this world. "Should go in February. No crowds, 'cept Atlanteans." Riley smirked. He had come through the invasion with a few bruises and cuts, some missing arrows, and a few notches on his belt. It had honestly been pretty great - at least once he knew for sure they'd kicked their scaly asses. 

 

"Looks like it'll kill a sucker," he replied with a grin, raising his crossbow and taking aim. "Five...four...three..." 

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"It's saying things like that which make people question your overall stability, Smith," Winifred sighed, grasping the hem of the hood hanging behind her friend's back and leading him back several steps to a pile of rubble that looked to have been stacked together by one of the previous visitors, since it was long and tall enough to easily crouch behind. Riley's initial position should have been well outside the blast radius but the alchemist didn't see any point in not taking an additional precaution if it was right there.

 

Kicking a bit of detritus away to clear a spot, she hunkered down. "Thank you for humouring me. Robin would be upset if my explosives reduced one of your better parts to ash. Now, I believe you were at three?"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Woodsman was happy to fight about a lot of things - but he took safety seriously, maybe more so than many of his superpowered classmates. He didn't object when Reagent moved him out of the way, even though he was reasonably confident he'd been safely out of the way to begin with. "Likes my hand best," he muttered as he took aim again, then counted down again before firing. The bolt, freed of any of his usual fuses, struck home and triggered the tripwire with an impressive flash of light and heat - just as Fred had planned. By that time Riley, no dumb cookie, was down with his eyes and face protected - there was no point in taking chances. 

 

By the time he looked back up, though, it was clear some reaction was continuing. The alchemical fire hadn't actually melted the rock it sat on (it hadn't reached that kind of temperature) but the rock was sparking and popping almost electrically, with occasional smaller flashes of light as the visible reaction worked itself across the rockface. "Well, tripwire works," he told Fred. "Musta been something in the rocks that's doin' that..." They both felt, beneath their feet, a faint tremor from the rocks below.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Lord in Heaven, Smith, I didn't require the specifics!" Winifred balked, colour rising in her cheeks as she suddenly became very reluctant to look at her friend's hands. If she were being completely honest she might have had to admit to some small curiosity regarding the exact mechanics involved but that was easily outweighed by not wanting that image in her mind. She rallied in time to shield her eye from the glare of the explosion, noting the efficacy of the tripwire mechanism with satisfaction.

 

She straightened upright to get a better look at the unexpected reaction. "Fascinating!" There hadn't been anything in her mixture that should have generated sparks like that but the heat generated certainly could have triggered a secondary reaction in the exposed minerals, assuming there was something more that simple crushed stone. Forgetting her own safety warnings she hurried closer to take samples.

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Riley's grin didn't help the innocent air he was trying to project - but like Fred he focused quickly on the chemical anomaly before him. People going crazy was the sort of thing that gave him the cold sweats, but science going crazy was the sort of thing he could watch all day. "Huh, that is somethin'" he opined. "Hey, watch it," he added in a hiss. "Don't need you gettin' a facefulla sparks here." Speaking of people going crazy... 

 

"Looks like it's reactin' to something in the rock," he added, "'zat pyrite?" He was reasonably sure that the yellowish flecks scattered across the rock's surface, a little bit like mica, weren't actually gold - otherwise this quarry certainly wouldn't be shut down! After a few moments, the rock eventually stopped sizzling and sparking, leaving behind an impressive crater where the initial sample had been, then series of shallower pockmarks all over its surface. "Huh. Stuff must be new, or it'd have set things off before now." 

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Not a reaction I've seen before," Winifred admitted. Given her area of expertise that was saying something and it was only with some reluctance that she heeded Riley's call for caution and took a half-step away from the sparking rock. Knowing that they weren't the first people to use the quarry as a testing ground she agreed that the archer's reasoning was sound but that led to another question. "Why would there be new minerals embedded in an abandoned quarry? Do you think someone with transmutational abilities might have been about?" It was a fanciful possibility but not so outlandish after some of what she'd seen at the Academy. She couldn't imagine the motivation for the change otherwise.

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"Weird thing t'transmute..." After another few minutes, the sparking reaction had died down - leaving the rock pitted with the strange scars left over from the chemical's reaction with the 'pyrite' scattered along its surface. While Fred collected her samples of the ashy grit left behind by the reaction, Riley patrolled the perimeter - and it didn't take him long to find something. "Over here!" he called, realizing that Fred was too focused on her work of collection and analysis to see his hand signal.

 

He'd moved down by the water's edge, where a small drift of sand was scattered through with deposits of the strange golden substance. "Looks like tracks." Closer inspection, with Riley practically down on his hands and knees, revealed other marks that looked oddly like footprints leading to the rock and back, albeit scattered too far apart to be more than just an incomplete trail. "'S'just on broken-up spots," he commented out loud. "The sand, the rock...can't be _in_ the stone, or the miners wouldn'ta left the quarry behind." 

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"Honestly, with all the exotic energies and 'magical' fireballs and radio waves being thrown about this city it seems a wonder there aren't more unexpected reactions in the environment," Winifred opined as she hurried after Riley. She'd been assured that the wireless technology used daily in the modern day was perfectly safe but there'd been considerably fewer people with extra limbs in her day.

 

Tucking away the samples she'd collected the alchemist stepped carefully, not trusting the sand beneath her shoes. "I hesitate to ask but are they human tracks?" This was clearly her friend's area of expertise; she wouldn't have made anything of the indentations had he not pointed them out. "That would lend credence to the idea that another visiting student was responsible."

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"No." 

 

Black and trans, Woodsman was a double minority on the Claremont campus - but Fred had seen Riley argue in ethics classes that non-humans were by definition less trustworthy than humans, and that some things always were going to be monsters. Sometimes it was hard to tell when he was provoking the settled 21st century people around him and when he was speaking from absolute conviction. By the time she'd turned around, Riley had his crossbow out. 

 

"Not human."

 

Scanning the area gave them several tracks of various vintage, all of them in areas where the ground was disturbed or broken by some reason or another. They all seemed to come back to the water, leading Riley to stand on the edge of the bank and peer down into the flooded crater. "I can see the bottom, but there are crevices n' the walls and overhangs. Could be 'n openin' there." 

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With a small glass orb full of sloshing liquid in hand Winifred moved to stand a few paces behind Riley as he inspected the water. "Admittedly my curiosity is piqued, Smith but I did not intend to go swimming today while I was selecting my wardrobe this morning." She could tread water passably well thanks to the Academy's physical education classes but diving through unmapped underwater tunnels seemed out of the question. "If there's no immediate threat we could return with proper equipment and greater numbers. Or simply report what we've seen; I assume there must be someone who's job it is to deal with the like." Nothing in her tone sounded particularly hopeful that her friend would listen to the voice of caution.

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"Can't swim 'n fight," commented Woodsman with a faint smile. "Not too well, anyhow." He raised the crossbow to his eye, peering through its magnifying sight down into the water. "Still can't see much," he commented. "Just gonna pop one magnesium flare 'n there, see what that lights up." Woodsman believed in coming prepared for any situation, a rule that had never once let him down at Claremont. He took a moment to load said bolt, a compact orange flare with a water-soluble exterior, and painstakingly wound the bow's lever to give it extra power. "Gonna try it there under that overhang, see if it gives us a glow bright enough to make things out." He lifted the bow, shifted so he could actually see the shadows he was aiming at, and fired a single shot deep into the heart of the flooded quarry.

 

The glowing white magnesium flared to life as it hit the water, shooting down into the depths of the clear water. Sure enough, the glow illuminated underneath the rocky overhang under the water, clearly illuminating a dark passageway and odd, vaguely humanoid shapes standing outside said passageway. Shapes that began moving out from under the overhang, stirring up the water as they went, almost immediately making the bottom layer impenetrably murky with stirred-up sediment that gleamed with that same yellow pyrite glow. 

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Winifred sucked in a hissing breath as the moving shapes were revealed by the flare. "Really, Smith?!" she barked in reprimand, backing quickly away from the edge of the water. "'Just gonna pop a flare'," she repeated with a passable imitation of Riley's accent while she fumbled about in her bag to take stock of which flasks she'd packed for the excursion. "Men." She glanced back in the direction of the motorcycle before returning her attention to the churning waters. "Should we make a run for it?" Rebukes aside she still trusted the woodsman's experience when it came to surviving encounters with inhuman creatures. She just hadn't been planning on participating in a demonstration.

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"Better us than the civilians," said Riley stoutly, a principle of the Woodsmen that he believed in absolutely but he had to admit wasn't the easiest principle to uphold. "Might not be hostile." He thought fast, thinking about Fred, and his friend's pride, and the horror of the Alkahest. "You get back behind the rocks," he suggested, jerking a thumb back at the testing site they'd started using only about an hour earlier. "Better parabola," he added, miming a thrown flask. It would also keep her out of melee and out of sight, just in case she did turn into a monster. 

 

"I'll be real diplomatic," he went on, reloading his crossbow with one of his red-striped bolts - he didn't carry many of those because of the risk of shattering his internal organs in the event they ignited. "It'll be fine." 

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"'Civilians'? Was I signed up for the Foreign Legion while I wasn't paying attention, then?" Winifred groused without really debating the underlying point. "And don't think I don't know why you want me out of the way!" she added over her shoulder as she scrambled over the uneven terrain to crouch behind the rocks Riley had pointed out. "Not that it isn't sound advice, but still." The alchemist wasn't any more eager to engage in fisticuffs with whatever was surfacing than her friend was to deal with the likely consequences. She took a few deep breaths and peered over her cover with a worried look. "Relying on Smith's diplomacy. This can't possibly end well."

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It was not an auspicious beginning to Human-Auran relations. 

 

With Reagent taking cover behind the rockpile, Woodsman was the one facing down the three humanoids that emerged from the lake. Though humanoid was a generous term - they had two legs and two arms and heads atop their torsos, but their shifting, featureless quicksilver bodies were clearly inhuman, their molten-moving skin cast in shifting colors that varied between cream and goldenrod. The leader of the trio pointed a limb at Woodsman and made a sound Riley couldn't understand, one that reminded him of the bubbling of a hot spring - or of the volcanoes he'd seen on television. A quick glance at ground level revealed that these creatures were leaving the same trails as before - they weren't shedding on the ground as he'd thought, but sand and other loose particles seemed to be _changing_ where the ystood. 

 

"Hey," said Riley, doing his best to sound friendly, "sorry about the flare, didn't think y'd be home. You wanna sit down and-" 


The leader of the Aurans made that sound again, louder, and hurled a gobbet of itself at Woodsman! Ducking at the last moment, Riley rolled as he saw the ball of molten gold stuff strike the rockpile behind him and leave behind a sizzling trail of transformed metal! 

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Under fire, Woodsman returned fire automatically - an arrow thunking out from his bow and burying itself in the 'armpit' of the Auran who'd fired on them. He turned and ran, not stopping to look as the short internal fuse inside the bolt ran down. From her position, Reagent could see and hear the muffled bang of the small explosion - the afflicted creature's side bulging outward like an inflated bubble for a moment before it staggered and seemed to right itself, its side collapsing backwards into a semblance of its original shape. Woodsman briefly had a tactical problem, not wanting to lure the gold creatures towards Fred's hiding place but not about to stand there in melee with them, but solved it by running for a warped-looking tree growing nearby. He'd almost made the partial shelter of its trunk when he heard that same noise behind him and turned. 

 

Another creature, not the one he'd hit, had thrown a piece of itself at him. Turning at the last second, he managed to get the golden mass to hit him a glancing blow across the shoulder-blades, still a cold, wet mass that nearly struck him to the ground. He didn't hesitate, having seen what the mass had done to the rockface, he divested himself of his poncho and (with a fast motion, and his knife) his shirt too as he felt that spreading wet cold extend everywhere. As he watched from his position behind the tree, shirt and poncho both transformed into thick, heavy golden masses. He knew objectively he was stuck in a sports bra above the waist. He'd deal with the feelings that stirred up later. 

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Winifred watched the strange rocky creature struck by Riley's arrow all but shrug off the explosive and immediately changed tactics, setting aside the stoppered flask of a combustable, tar-like substance and snatching up another filled with something in an unnatural, almost luminescent green. As she did she saw her friend tear at his shirt as it was transmuted and let out a cry of alarm. Wasting no more time she hurled the container at the monster that has attacked Riley, catching it square in the chest. The glass shattered and splashed the corrosive acid across her target where it immediately began to sizzle and eat away at the golden rock.

 

Ducking back down behind her cover before a counterattack could be made she shouted, "Smith! Riley! Are you alright?!"

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Woodsman shot the monster Fred had hit, center-mass, the muffled interior explosion sending off a fine spray of gold particles across the surface of the quarry. The beast kept coming, though so Woodsman fired again, this one striking the creature in the lower abdomen with similar effect. He heard his bowstring snap at the second shot and inwardly cursed himself for loading too hastily. He restrung, too fast, knowing he'd pay for it in the field until he had time to fix it up. He prepared himself for another attack, half-guarded by the protection of the tree, but watched the monster he'd shot seem to hesitate. It was bleeding now, rivulets of yellow stained with coppery-orange flowing down its torso from the two bolts that had exploded inside its body, and it didn't seem like that one bit.

 

Making a hissing noise like a burbling mud pot, it turned and ran for the shelter of the pool - bringing a hard smile to Woodsman's lips. Got you, sucker! he thought as he ran for Fred's shelter. 

 

And just in time, as the creature punched Reagent! Fred felt things pop, but not break as she hit the barricade behind her - luckily the creature evidently wasn't trying to transform her this time! The punch had great force, anyway; if she'd been any slower to dodge she'd have broken ribs or worse from that hit! It was looming over her, big as life and making inhuman noises, its flowing, shifting golden body looming nearby even as the Alkahest threatened to bubble up... 

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