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“Just two more, I promise.” Net ignored Komiyan’s words as he touched the next green line, which flashed yellow.
“By the gods…” Komiyan’s voice was a quiet whisper as suddenly he felt as though he were completely weightless. His consciousness drifted away, and he could suddenly see the world around him clearly… it would be so easy to just pull away, leave existence behind…
Net’s voice echoed in his mind faintly, “Now, now, don’t drift off on me.” With a jolt, Komiyan found himself violently back inside his body again.
He snarled, “You do that one more time, snake, and…”
Net touched the last green line, which flickered and turned black. After a moment, Komiyan smirked. “It seems that one failed.”
“Hardly.” Net turned to Komiyan and grinned. “It told me exactly what I needed to know. Come, it’s time we begin your magic instruction.”
* * *
CJ looked over at the naga with a smirk. “You’re sure about this, Net?”
Net nodded. “Draw into what I’ve taught you, and send a bolt of fire directly at me. Komiyan, watch what I do carefully; you should pick up on this fairly quickly, since it’s in your essence realm.”
Net chuckled. “Ready when you are, CJ.”
CJ nodded and concentrated, pulling fire to her weapon easily. With a cry, she sent three bolts of fire headed directly toward Net… who deflected them quickly and snapped his fingers. The fire changed course and turned back toward CJ. The triple bolts merged into one gigantic ball of fire that rolled almost lazily toward her.
She shrieked and raised her hands to deflect it… and stared as the fire just completely disappeared. “What in the…”
“Did you see, Komiyan?” Net glanced at Komiyan with a smirk.
Komiyan returned the look. “Aye, that I did. The fire went on past you harmlessly, but you made it appear to CJ that you’d returned the first toward her. An illusion.”
“Exactly right.” Net moved over to Komiyan and motioned for CJ to approach. “Illusion is a powerful force when used correctly. You can turn the tide of a fight and have the enemy never even know it. You can have allies fight themselves, make a dropoff appear safe to walk on, all sorts of things.”
Net turned to CJ. “Given your natural abilities, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to perform some of this magic as well. To begin with, I want you both to envision in your minds the most horrible creature you can conceive of…” Net’s voice drifted off as the magic instruction began.
* * *
“Did anybody else hear that?” Claude asked, when the shaking from the explosion had stopped.
“No, we were all struck deaf by your idiocy,” Lego snarled and Claude shrank back. Lego then turned to one of his consoles. “Computer, where did that explosion originate?”
“Corridor AA, room 23,” the computer replied in a grating voice.
“Bob...” Lego hissed, instantly dissolving into a billion tiny pieces and, in what can only be described as “oozed” out the door and down the hall. The others followed quickly. When they ran into Orange in the hall they simply dragged him along with the rest.
They quickly found the shambles of Bob’s room and Lego reformed himself.
“Did he explode himself?” Orange asked.
“I doubt even Bob is that stupid...” Lego muttered and scanned the room, his eyes instantly locking on several pulsating crystal fragments. What followed was a series of sounds the others could only assume were vulgarities in Lego’s native tongue. When he had calmed himself he picked up the largest crystal fragment and motioned to Ra.
“Be a dear and tell me everyone who’s come in contact with this,” Lego instructed.
“She... she can do that?” Tynan whimpered.
“You don’t really think I recruited her just because she’s a nice piece of ass, do you?” Lego growled at Tynan.
Tynan let out and audible gulp which no one took any notice of.
Ra, smiled, took the crystal in her hand delicately and tilting her head to the slide, let her tongue snake out and lick the crystal, almost erotically.
“Mmm,” she smiled. “I can still taste its original owner.” Her mind drifted fondly to the creature deep within the castle and the hours of enjoyment she’d gleaned from torturing it. “And, of course, you, my sweet,” She grinned at Lego who seemed to be in no mood for her antics. “And... Bob. Bob was the last to touch it.” Ra nodded.
“That I already gathered,” Lego snarled. “Anyone else?”
Ra licked the crystal again. She paused for a long moment. “Tynan.” Her face split into a malicious grin.
Lego didn’t hesitate for a second; instead of turning he simply rearranged himself so he was facing the other direction and thrust out his arm. His fingers elongated into jagged knives and pierced Tynan’s torso as he tried to sneak out of the broken room.
Tynan wailed in pain and fear as Lego drew his blocks back to himself, bringing Tynan with them.
“You betrayed me,” Lego’s face had contorted into that of a ravenous wolf, his eyes burning red with an unholy light.
“He made me do it!” Tynan struggled to come up with any excuse that might sound reasonable, but the intense pain was somewhat distracting.
Claude and Orange looked on in horror, Grim and Pimpette with amusement, and Ra with disappointment, as Lego reached out with his other hand and popped Tynan’s head off of his body as if it were nothing but a toy. He tossed the head aside and let the body slump to the floor as his hand returned to normal.
“You said I’d get to kill him!” Ra pouted.
“Sorry, my dear, I became somewhat wrapped up in the moment. Find me Bob and you can do whatever you like with him,” Lego hissed.
Ra smiled at this and nodded.
“Grim, in his desertion Bob is neglecting a mission, handle it yourself or send the succubus, I don’t care which,” Lego turned to go.
“You shouldn’t have killed Tynan, we could have gotten information out of him,” Grim hissed.
“Listen, bonehead,” Lego let the name linger in the air for a moment. “In Sihodael’s absence, I am in charge, I made a choice and if you have a problem with it, you may take it up with our master.” In saying this Lego seemed both to grow in size and position himself right in front of Grim without even moving. The two locked eyes for a long moment, before Lego turned to handle other matters.
Just as Lego had his back turned Grim raised his bony hand.
Lego paused. “You really think that little “touch of death” trick will work on me?” Lego smiled. “Try it.” Lego once again altered his form to face the other direction so that he could meet Grim’s deadly stare.
“I thought not,” Lego smirked and cascaded into a billion pieces again. His disembodied voice called out behind him. “Get back to work!”
“Blockhead,” Grim muttered under his breath.
* * *
Grim waited until everyone had left the room before he walked over to Tynan's head. It had fallen just off to the side of the devistated room, near where one of the shattered pieces of the crystal had been.
Grim picked up Tynan's head and smirked. "You know, Sihodael might not have told me to bring this one back... but no one's told me I can't make my own personal zombies."
He chuckled. "After all, it's about time I had some assistance around here." He looked around for the body, but shook his head when he found it. "Lego's pretty much destroyed most of what's here."
"Only one thing to do then." Grim held Tynan's head by the hair and grinned. "We're going to have to build you a body. Let's go on down to the spare parts room and see what we can find, shall we?" Chuckling, Grim started to walk away, headed in the direction of the graveyard.
* * *
“CJ, I wanted to talk to you about…” Net paused at the entrance to CJ’s room as CJ hurriedly tried to cover up the fact that she’d been crying again. “… Have I come at a bad time?”
CJ shook her head furiously, willing the tears to stop with a grimace. “No, no, come on in. Just… just a lapse, is all.”
“Ah.” Net paused for a moment longer before he continued on through the door, the opening closing behind his serpentine tail quietly. “We all have those moments, CJ, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Do you?” CJ wiped at her eyes savagely. “Do you know what it’s like to leave behind the person you love, the live you know and everything you’ve ever wanted in life?” Her fist clenched as she struggled to keep the tears from restarting.
Net studied her for a time before he nodded. “Yes, I do. All of us here have had to give certain things up in order to do what we know is right. However, I believe that perhaps the time is now to explain something to you in further detail.”
“What?” CJ sniffed. “Can you talk straight for once, Net? I can’t follow all the paths you tend to wander all the damn time.”
Net nodded. “Here, come over to the mirror.” He moved in front of the mirror and waited for CJ to join him. “Now, I want you to look into the mirror, and see yourself.”
“Oh god. This is stupid, Net. I KNOW I’m doing the right thing, I don’t need an ego boost!” CJ went to turn away, but Net’s scaled hand on her arm stopped her.
“You don’t quite understand.” Net motioned back to the mirror. “Touch the surface of the mirror, and concentrate on seeing yourself. Don’t look at your reflection… look to see yourself.”
CJ raised an eyebrow and sniffed again, but did as she was instructed to after another moment of consideration. She placed her hand on the cold glass and looked into the mirror carefully.
“Net, I don’t see…”
CJ sighed. “I really… wait.” She looked harder into the mirror as a cloudy image began to form within it. “What the… oh my god, that’s me!”
Net smiled as the cloudy image began to take shape in the mirror. In the mirror, CJ and another woman were sitting inside her house back in Alaska. It appeared that a small dog nearby was giving birth, and CJ and the other woman were happily wiping the tiny babies clean and chatting merrily.
CJ stepped backwards momentarily, her hand on her heart. “What… what is going on?”
“Do you remember what I told you when we first met?” Net moved away from the mirror, so that he did not impede her view at all. “How you and all the others were special because you had the Stalker soul?”
CJ nodded, her eyes glued to the mirror.
“What you are looking at is what’s currently happening in your home dimension. Life there has continued as normal. Your body continues living and doing everything just as before, like nothing happened at all.” Net tapped on the mirror. “When we stepped through the portal, your soul was detached from the body to do what it needed to do. The computers keep track of everyone’s home body, and we enhance the life currently happening back in the home dimension.”
“What you are, CJ, is your soul, taken its natural form. Once you’re done here, we’ll return your soul to your body, and your memories and skills will merge into one. Your memories from the calmness of your life will meld seamlessly with your memories from your time with the Stalkers, and you will still retain all the abilities you’ve learned here.”
“So I’m…” CJ tried to find the words. “I’m like a ghost?”
“No. You’re as solid as the next person. It’s merely the form your soul has assumed for travel between dimensions and for combat. Once you merge back with your body, you’ll only have the one form, not the two.”
“Wait.” CJ looked back over to Net, her eyes shining. “You mean I’ll be going home?!?”
Net nodded. “Yes. There is only so much time that a soul can remain away from its body. That is one reason that we monitor and assist the body back in the home dimension; another is the fact that, if you were to lose your body, your soul would remain stuck in this environment forever.”
“Like heaven and hell?”
Net frowned. “More like Limbo, truth be told.”
CJ glanced at Net. “Your body died, didn’t it? How long have you been here?”
Net sighed. “Yes, my body was decimated a long time ago. I’ve been here for well over two thousand of your years at best estimate.”
“Do you… do you miss your life before?”
Net chuckled. “I was married and had kids, if that’s enough of an answer for you. My body was destroyed a day before I was to return to it; but considering that a good third of the population was extinguished that day, it’s probably for the best that my soul remained here to continue training the Stalkers.”
“A third…?” CJ frowned. “What happened?”
“My whole race was magical in nature.” Net moved over to the mirror and touched it, making the clouds swirl away and reveal a desolate landscape. “Once, a long time ago, the land you see before you was full of grass huts and simple villages. Our magic provided any necessity to us; living in luxury was unnecessary, and living in small, open villages provided the necessary environment for our neighbors to meet each other and keep the gene pools from getting too stringent.”
The scene moved over to a massive crater, easily over fifteen miles wide. “However, there had always been a few that wanted to see just how far they could push the inherent magic within us all. Those few worked diligently at a place we called simply ‘Research,’ because the idea alone was strange to us. However, the ones that worked there were quite successful in their endeavors, finding many new uses for magic that none had ever considered before.
“Until one day, the day before I was to return home to my body, it happened.” Net let his finger drift down the mirror almost lazily, and the scene zoomed in to the center of the crater itself, where three creatures that looked similar to Net were frozen in what appeared to be some form of magical encasement. “Three of the Researchers discovered a new way to tap into the essence around us, and without bothering to set up safeguards, they opened themselves up to the essence fully.”
Net sighed. “The resultant release of magical energy destroyed all life for hundreds of miles from the center, a radius that included my home village. What life didn’t die in the first initial release of energy died from starvation within a year; no sunlight pierced the clouds of magic across the face of my world for over six hundred years. Food supplies quickly dwindled as the plants perished, and so did all animal life soon afterward.”
Net swiped his hand across the mirror, clearing the glass. “Life is slowly returning to the planet now, small plants and the like, but it will be eons before any sentient life returns there.”
CJ breathed out, having been unaware until then that she’d been holding her breath. “God… I’m sorry…”
“Sorry for what?” Net shrugged. “I’m the only survivor of my race. If I’d been present there, would I have been able to stop it? Hardly. I’m thankful for the chance to remain alive and continue training Stalkers; that is my life now, and I’m happy.”
CJ nodded. “Right.”
Net smiled at CJ. “Don’t worry. We’ll return your soul soon enough, and then you’ll remember all the life experiences you’re currently experiencing. Your family and friends have no idea that you’re gone, and I’ll make sure that you return home to them safe and sound.”
“Sounds like a deal to me.” CJ grinned, her sadness finally dissipating. “Now, can you show me exactly how to work this mirror?”
* * *
Sprite cleared his virtual throat. “War, sir, I believe I’ve discovered something.”
“Oh really.” War didn’t look up as sparks continued flying around his head, the metal saw he was using biting deep into the metal on the table before him. “I don’t remember asking you to do anything discovery related, which means you’re violating what Cortland promised me you wouldn’t do. Which means I get to get you the hell out of my computers.”
“Do you want to see what I’ve found or not?” Sprite sighed inwardly. War had done nothing but threaten to have him removed from the moment he’d been allowed in the computers. No matter that the safeguards Cortland had set up were still active… “After all, it involves defeating the encryption on a certain dimension…”
The saw dropped to the table with a clang as War turned around. “Are you saying you’ve made headway into breaking it?”
“No.” Sprite smiled. “I’m saying that I’ve BROKEN it, and I have an exact fix on their dimension. I’ve been recording what’s happening in that dimension for fifteen minutes.”
War was silent for a time as he regarded the miniscule Sprite. “Good job, Stalker.” He reached over and touched the intercom button. “Net, Corland, my workshop, now!”
Sprite chuckled and winked back out of existence. There were still numbers to crunch, but he’d done it.
* * *
The demon Sihodael glanced upward, ignoring the succubi around him. He’d felt… something… something tiny, yes, but still something.
It was annoying that one of his had escaped. He had to track down this “Bob” and return him before it was too late… and there was still the matter of reprimand against Lego for killing the midget Tynan. Of course, Grim was fixing things at the moment, but still…
All his personnel were there for a reason. Insubordination in the ranks was just not acceptable, not at all. But this tiny presence bothered him… what could have pierced the spell around his dimension…
The computer program. Of course. Sihodael smirked and sat back into his massive throne, his attention returning again to the succubi that danced suggestively before him.
The time was close…
* * *
Net peered into the monitor and chuckled as a clear picture of a man and a dragoness humanoid came into view. “Amazing, simply amazing. How long did it take you, Sprite?”
“In relative time, only about an hour. In electronic speeds, I was basically working on that encryption for over six years.” Sprite dangled his virtual legs over Net’s shoulder and sat down, the hologram having no actual weight beyond a slight touch. “Also, the man you’re looking at right here has some way to view other dimensions. Some sort of device that allows him to see; I used a combination of the man I saw flit through the dimensions’ tracebacks and the signal coming from this device to finally break it.”
Cortland chuckled. “Every firewall has its holes. One of the easiest ways for a hacker to get inside where he’s not wanted is to have an idiot behind the firewall.” Cortland tapped on his own screen. “Can you block his view of us?”
“I see no reason to.” Sprite chuckled. “Not when I can manipulate what, exactly, he sees. Right now, he’s been viewing the same hour-long session of K-dawg’s training sessions. Eventually, he’s going to realize that there’s no way K-Dawg has been training for that amount of time…”
“But by then, it’ll be too late.” War nodded, cracking his knuckles. “It’s invasion time. Net, you take K-Dawg, TLH and Mayhem. Cortland, you take CJ, Tdot and Komiyan as your team. Try to stay together initially, but once you’re inside that complex, split up as the need dictates.”
He moved over and glanced at Sprite. “Program, make yourself useful. Bring up the schematics of that cave complex.” War smirked as the hologram of Sprite immediate changed into a three-dimensional map that hovered in midair. “Ok, I’m starting to warm to you, Sprite.”
War touched a large cavern, which began to pulsate with red light. “This looks like it’s the home cavern for the demon Sihodael. This is our target; take out Sihodael, and his flunkies will tear themselves apart. Taking him out will also remove those damned shadow creatures that constantly hound us every time we try to retrieve another Stalker.”
He touched two other points near the main cavern. “We can’t bring you out directly in it, for obvious reasons; number one, we don’t know what we’d be sending you into, and number two, he’s got his own protections in there to prevent portal access anyway. So we’ll bring you into this large chamber here, which appears to be an eating area.”
The other area pulsated once. “Additionally, this area here shows a high concentration of dimensional activity. This is a secondary target; only investigate it if you’re in the area directly. Sihodael should be your first target.”
“Anyone that impedes your progress is not likely to be a friendly; remove them.”
Cortland raised an eyebrow. “Incapacitate them, or kill them?”
War shrugged. “Whichever is more convenient at the time is fine. If you want, slap a crystal on them and ‘port them back here. We’ve got plenty of cell space to use until we can reprogram them, and somehow I doubt they’ll be able to do anything once they’re here.”
“Now assemble your team. You have fifteen minutes.”
* * *
“How do you feel?” Grim looked onto the new construct with interest.
Tynan peered groggily up at the skeletal creature. “Strange. Foggy-headed. But alive.”
“Good.” Grim knelt down so that he was closer to the new creature before him. “I couldn’t risk getting your body; the shadow creatures that live in this place needed to leave behind a trail of blood and bones to make sure no one would think you’d been moved elsewhere. Which they did very nicely; there’s no doubt that they’ve ripped you body into shreds by now.”
“Lovely image.” Tynan held up one bony claw, regarding it idly. “So what am I, now?”
“I did to you what I did to Laurel… you’re a demon, like her now. Except that your body was reconstructed with parts I assembled from, well.” Grim chuckled. “Let’s just say that you don’t want to know where I got the parts.”
“I don’t care anymore where you got them, so long as I’m living.”
“Good. That means that you’ve been brought back correctly.” Grim stood again and motioned to the room around him. “Remain inside this room at all times until I return. If anyone approaches, disappear.”
“You mean hide, right?”
“Think grander terms, Tynan.” Grim’s bony visage smirked. “You are a demon now. Simply place yourself between dimensions until they’ve gone.”
“I can do that?” Amazed, Tynan finally stood up. His head had been attached to some form of insect, the largest Tynan had ever seen. He was now four feet long from head to toe, and he had four long pincered arms and a thick armored hide. “What the hell?”
Grim chuckled. “Lego always called you a little cockroach. Now, you are one, perhaps the deadliest one in all the known dimensions. We’ll work on your demonic powers later, for now I have to report back to Sihodael.”
Grim motioned to a large number of openings just inches above the floorline. “If you can’t figure out how to place yourself between dimensions, then simply hide. Your scent is now that of an animal, so no one in this place will be able to detect anything out of the ordinary.”
“Good.” Tynan clicked his pincer together, reveling in the sound. “Consider me hidden.”
* * *
“You all know what to do.” War looked around the room at the assembled Stalkers. “You’ve all trained for this, you’ve all reached a level of proficiency with the combination of your weapon and magic to combat these bastards directly.”
War cracked his knuckles. “Expect no quarter, and give none. Kill any in your way if you have to, but you must get to your target. Sihodael must be brought down, and brought down now.”
“If you fail, every dimension is likely doomed. Sihodael won’t hesitate to attack us on our home turf; he’s proven as such with those spiders. We can’t wait for him to do so again.”