For a second, Purple Thumb held his breath. Shutting his eyes, he hesitantly allowed himself to think: I'm going to destroy her one day. Then, he released it. The contract hadn't taken hold. He still had his thoughts. He owned nothing else. Before, he could claim Caida, but now she was gone too. Another damn thing you've taken from me. The wound in his hand starting throbbing madly, and when he looked down he realized it was because he'd clenched his fist. But not for long. He left the room, marching towards a storage room as he trickled blood onto the ground. Every step he took, he forced himself not to look towards Caida. I wonder what's going on in her head. He mused to himself, to distract from the pain and focus his thoughts. We've talked in secret dozens of times about our plans to overturn her. Hell, she's the one that gave me the contact to the Phoenix girl. Now that she's sworn to Hikaru, can she not remember anything but compliance? Has she blocked every tender moment we had? Because she obviously feels no compulsion to reveal any betrayal in the past. I guess those contracts aren't so bulletproof. Thank God. He turned into a small room off the beaten path and rummaged for a healing salve that he knew was stored there, but after looking both ways down the hall, he shut the door and cast a simple locking ward on it.
So, she left the castle. And she's gone too far this time. If I ever I needed a reason, this is it. Let's just hope that translocation spell can get all the way into the mortal dimension. He was in there for several more minutes, just enough to finish the recordings he'd been working on for weeks now. Glancing down at the simple glass sphere, he paused, and felt as if time was standing still. Closing his healed hand over it, he muttered a simple incantation. As he opened his palm, it vanished.
I offer my life
Cursed in this shrine
Broken roots entwined
And I feel my insides breaking down
I bury it in time
"Let's just finish the recording before we really hyperventilate. When they contacted me, they said they had a plan." Nodding, Nails limply gestured, starting the recording again.
"By the time you receive this, you better move fast. She left the castle after that little display, but crossing entire star systems only takes a snap of her fingers, so she may as well be just outside the door." The faded image of the purple robed man shifted to show a three dimensional blue print of the castle.
"This is a memory scribe, it only shows the places I've seen with my own eyes, so it's by no means a perfect representation, but it should be enough to get you by." Over the next several minutes, like a general meeting with his cabinet, Purple Thumb pointed out multiple points on the map, highlighting them in his signature color as he went along. Sleeping quarters, eating quarters, training areas, it was a fairly comprehensive map of what Gabby would need to know.
“As soon as I send this, I’m going to gather some students here-“ Purple Thumb’s detached voice chimed in, as a certain section glowed his.
“I’m going to practice teleportation spells with several of them, that should mask your entrance. Move quickly, I don’t know how long I have. If you wear generic robes, you should slip by unnoticed, but if Hikaru sees you, she’ll know you’re not one of us. Before you can do anything, you’ll have to find this girl.” The image shifted to a picture of Inari, taken from the pendent.
“Hikaru’s second hand girl, she’s holding the contracts. She’s talented with magic, but stupid. Be careful how you approach her. It would probably be better to kill her, she’s very loyal. If you burn the contracts, we all go free, and then you can get us the hell out of here.” Shifting once again, Purple Thumb’s entire face filled the projected image.
“If anything goes wrong, I don’t mind my own death. It would be worth it to stifle her plans. But there’s a girl here- an Aralang named Caida.” A scale image appeared of the girl, short blonde hair and simple robes.
“…I’d like for you to save her, if you can.”
With that, the image flickered out, leaving the two in silence. A long silence. Five minutes passed, with Nails manipulating images on a holographic screen as he clattered on a displayed keyboard, reviewing notes and footage. The image of the castle blueprints hovered as he zoomed, moved, and manipulated it. Finally, the tense silence broke.
“…FL, can I have another bagel?” Gabby chimed. An electronic chime sounded, followed by a reluctant synthetic voice.
“You are free to access nutritional distributors.”
“But can’t you like, shoot one at me?” Gabby asked.
“With pleasure.” Springs released as a raisin bagel flew through the room with surprising velocity, beaming Gabby in the head. She cringed, holding her head in her hands.
“FL, that was rude!” Nails shouted.
“One is only fulfilling obligations.” The voice synthesized. Gabby waved him off, picked the bagel off the floor, and took a bite from it as she walked towards the wall to grab a beverage.
“We’re going to have to work on that attitude.” Nails said.
“One is only fulfilling obligations.” The voice responded, with special emphasis.
“Speaking of attitudes, this one would prefer subjects to use the proper designation.” Gabby shot a surprised look to the ceiling, where in her mind the detached voice resided.
“What’s this, computer?” She asked venomously. There was a long silence where Nails ceased his work nervously, before a chime echoed through the large room.
“I am a Class 3 virtual artificial lively voice electronic, or VALVE. I am programmed with a particular personality, however, and it is customary for the Captain to designate a name or designation that is more… Stimulating than VALVE. This one’s designation was Grace Sonata until two hundred and sixteen hours ago, coinciding with the arrival of a new passenger aboard this vessel.”
“Now, hun, let’s not get into this right-“ Nails said cautiously, before being interrupted by a chime.
“This one’s designation is not, nor has ever been, Hun.”
“I think he’s right,” Gabby began, indignantly,
“You need to sort out your attitude.”
“That is amusing coming from a lifeform who’s sole purpose is to incinerate other life forms with whom she disagrees with.” The synthetic voice retorted. Gabby’s mouth hung open, her hand frozen with a hot cup of Synthesspress© halfway to her face. “I-“ she said weakly.
“This one can hear all conversations held within their vessel.” Gabby’s hand glowed blue, visibly illuminating the area around her face, as the plastic cup in her hand began to melt, the liquid inside boiling.
“Sensors indicate a sharp uptake in cardiac rate. Assumed prognosis: chronic bitchery. Recommended treatment: chilling the fuck out.” A flame erupted in Gabby’s hand, incinerating the cup. Nails rose from the chair:
“Now listen, both of you!” He started, before red lights began flashing.
“Fire detected in the mess hall. Deploying countermeasures.”
“NO-“ Nails called, too late, as he was interrupted by the sounds of a foamy solution being sprayed into the chamber, obscuring sight as the sealed door slammed shut. When the solution cleared, everything in the chamber, including Nails and Gabby, was left covered in a thick filmy foam. The red lights ceased, and the door opened with a satisfied thunk.
“Fire suppressed. Damage assessment: minimal. Deploying autonomous cleaning vessels.” Two large, plastic, pyramid like structures entered gliding along the floor, emitting a loud hum as they began to suck up the remaining foam. Nails sputtered and spat, clearing his mouth of the foam.
“What in the hell has-“ Once again interrupted by the electronic chime:
“Warning: fire countermeasure may have a carcinogenic effect if consumed, injected, or absorbed through the skin, especially for a long period of time. Recommendation: showers located on port section 3. Please clear the room for the Autonomous Cleaning Vessels to proceed with their duties.” Wordlessly, Gabby swept the foam from her face and stomped out of the room in a huff.
“That was entirely unnecessary, Grace!” Nails quipped, still wiping the foam from his clothing.
“That is this one’s proper designation. Thank you for your courtesy, Captain.” The voice chirped, almost happily.
“Haven’t you heard what we’re talking about?! This is no time for antics. We’re trying to take on one of the Sage Three, and we have to move soon!” Suddenly, it seemed to dawn on him. One of the Sage Three? Nails paused, almost dumbstruck.
“Can it, Grace.” Nails stomped out of the room as the bots resumed their work.
As he made his way to port section 3, he noticed various foam covered clothing scattered across the floor of the halls. He sighed, but noted the irony of how often clothing had covered the floor in this manner before- under more favorable circumstances. He picked up each piece as he passed, dumping them in a chute near the now steaming showers. He peeled his own clothing off, doing the same with it as he entered the tall cylinder of one of the shower booths. Gabby was waiting for him in there, but as soon as the spray touched his skin he recoiled with a yelp.
“Christ! It’s almost boiling- turn it down!” Gabby’s skin- only barely suntouched- looked completely unaffected, not a trace of redness. She scowled back at him, fanning her feathers and applying a thin solution to them. The sterile fluorescent lighting was reflected beautifully in their iridescent sheen.
“Didn’t ask you to join me. Get cleaned up- quick, we’re on a fucking timeline, and your computer would do well to remember that.” In response to her outburst, the steam in the cylinder died down almost immediately. Nails could feel the ambient temperature shift dramatically; the water must have been cranked down to minimal temperature. But not a single rump of gooseflesh appeared on her flesh, nor did she grow paler. It was like her body maintained perfect temperature constantly.
“I’m a Phoenix Sage- idiot! I don't feel the cold.” She shouted to the unseen meddler. To punctuate her expression, she slammed the sliding wall of the cylinder shut, leaving Nails shivering on the outside.
“Great- now both the women in my life are pissed at me.” He muttered. “Grace! Please turn the temperature to normal- 38 degrees celcius.”
“Only because you said please.” Gripping the handle on the sliding door, Nails yanked it open.
“Now listen- I’m not here for fun. We should talk about this!” Gabby scowled at him, now coating her wings and flapping them to thoroughly rinse the solution. She didn’t stop him when he stepped in. Nails stuck his head under the flow, foam filtering out into the drain.
“Look, when we agreed to work together, you didn’t tell me were going to take on Hikaru Tyris!” Nails snapped, as he reached for a piece of soap stuck to the wall and lathered up.
“If only you could talk to your VALVE like that, maybe she’d listen to you instead of trying to sabotage our fucking operation.”
“If your so worried about your timeline then let’s take this one argument at a time.” Three bottles tucked on a shelving unit began floating as Gabby issued a whistle. One poured a pink liquid into Gabby’s hair, she began lathering it up as the other two waited at attention.
“Oh, I didn’t realize we were having an argument!” Gabby said, her voice brimming with sarcasm.
“This is big league stuff! What’s my corvette going to do to someone who rules her own dimension, Gabby?!”
“It’s not just your precious damn corvette with its faulty AI, you’ve got me. I’m kind of a big deal. Don’t worry so much.” Nails laughed heartily as he applied the bar of soap to his arm pits. Gabby shot him a look of disgust.
“Easy for you to say! You get reborn when you die! I stay dead!” Gabby let out a harsh noise from her throat. Another whistled tipped the second bottle, which spilled a blue, sparkling fluid.
“Stop assuming you know everything about me. I’m not any less scared of dying than you are, asshole! If she killed me, she could probably make me stay dead.”
“I didn’t say I knew-“
“Oh stop! You mortals are always assuming things about me. I don’t think I’m better than you, man the fuck up and stop being so insecure!” Gabby shouted, washing her hair.
“What are you even saying?! All I’m saying is I didn’t know how much risk would be involved with this.”
“Because you didn’t need to. Why are you being such a coward about this?” The third bottle dumped it’s contents, a thick viscuous yellow, before seating itself back on the shelf.
“Now who’s assuming things!”
“Prove me wrong, flyboy. There’s a couple thousand people stripped of their fucking free will. Imagine how terrifying that is!”
“I am! That’s why I’m so concerned!”
“Just trust me.”
“I’ve known you for a week!”
“Plenty of time to sleep with me.” Gabby said pointedly, shutting off the shower.
“Oh come on, that’s not even relevant right now.” Pushing past him, Gabby opened the door and unfurled her wings, flapping them rapidly to dry herself.
“You would say that.” She said, almost pouting. Nails paused, as orange panels lit up the wall, heat emanating to dry his body. He took a breath before responding.
“Look, all I’m saying is we should take a step back and evaluate this.”
“Sleeping together?” Gabby asked, worry in her voice.
“No! No…” Nails said, shaking his head as if in disbelief.
“Taking on Hikaru- on her turf. We need some serious intel before we try something like this.”
“We have serious intel. An inside man, with a plan, a blueprint, and a means of escape. He sent that transmission ten minutes before we listened to it! It doesn’t get much cleaner than this. He even said she’s not there right now! We could be in and out before she even comes back. This. Is. Perfect. It won’t get better.” Try as he might, Nails couldn’t really come up with a counterargument.
I want to be part of light
Detritus open up my mind
Reentering the mess hall to discover it had been cleaned successfully, Gabby appeared in a new dress- this one a deep brown leather affair with ruffles. For the sack of brevity she’d skipped the stockings and wore only a pair of white leather low top sneakers. Nails appeared to be wearing a near identical outfit as before- a threadbare tank with a pair of belted coveralls, the zipper undone and the sleeves dangling behind him, trailing the ground in almost the same way Gabby’s feathers would.
“Last chance to reconsider.” Nails said, gesturing to the holographic display to bring up the plans to the Castle.
“No chance.” Gabby said confidently, her plumage fanning out behind her and refracting the bright light.
“Look, before we get started, about all the other stuff-“ He was silenced by Gabby placing a finger to his lip and smiling slightly.
“Later, space cowboy, after we pull this off.” He gave a half-hearted smile in response.
“Okay, fill me in. This ship can’t jump interdimensionaly, so I assume you’ve got a spell for that.” He said confidently. Gabby unfastened the crude, chunky wrist mounted computer she wore, setting it on the table.
“Nope.” She said curtly.
“Oookay.” Nails said in response.
“In Hikaru’s realm, technology won’t function unless she allows it. We bring that thing in there, it’s dead in the water, VALVE or no.”
“Alright, so you’ll use that ring to teleport there, kill the Fox girl, destroy the contracts, get everyone to join hands, teleport back?” Gabby shook her head, smiling.
“You really don’t get magic, do you? There’s rules.” Nails was beginning to look frustrated.
“Look, time’s going fast, and we don’t have much to spare, so I’ll explain, keep up.”
“Grace, please take dictation, display text in live speed.”
“Grace?” Gabby asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Nevermind.” She approached the display of the castle and reached her hands out to manipulate the image, she whistled sharply and muttered a familiar incantation, her spellbook appearing from its pocket dimension, along with two disks carved from obsidian, about six inches in diameter.
“The Ring’s a one way ticket, and I don’t have the power to jump easily, especially not interdimensionally. These discs open portals between the two physical places they’re located in, no matter the distance. I use the ring to jump near here-“ She pointed for emphasis- “Where Purple said he’d be teaching teleporting. I keep a low profile, find Inari, burn the contracts. Then, I use the disc I’ll carry with me to open a portal to here and start bringing people over. You get them settled in the cargo bay, there will be too many for cabins. Probably about a thousand.” A digital chime chirped.
“Precaution: our life support systems will only be able to sustain that many people for less than 72 standard hours, even with substantial overclocking, which runs the risk of-“
“That’s your end of the bargain to figure out. Our deal was for me to retrieve, you to deliver.” Gabby said stoically. “Anyway, I get everyone here, pop the portal closed, and destroy this disc. She’ll be able to activate the one on the other side and come right to us otherwise, and there’s no way to bring the disc with us when we cross over. Pretty simple stuff. I’ll be wearing this cloak-“ Gabby grabbed a deep magenta hooded cloak off the floor- “So I’ll blend in just fine. I’ll be able to get around no problem.”
“Great. Sounds simple. I don’t know why I was worried.”
“Me either! So go get your zero grav gear on and let’s do it!” There was a pause.
If that's what you like
Your lesions will blur the line
Purple Thumb was getting exhausted. Him and about a baker’s dozen other students had been practicing short range teleportation spells for nearly an hour now. Doing the spells a few times was nothing, but consistently for an hour, it started to wear on you. You started to feel like your whole body had been put through a strainer. He pulled back the hood of his robe, sweat pouring down his brow, wondering if all his efforts to summon the Liberator had been meaningless. However, through the ajar door, he noticed someone standing and peering through. An unfamiliar face at first, but with familiar golden eyes. For a second he thought Hikaru was checking on their progress, but as the face peeked forward, a shock of teal blue displayed itself. Purple Thumb winced to avoid showing his surprise, but more importantly, his excitement. They made eye contact briefly. He only nodded slightly, and craned his neck to indicate a direction. Quietly, Gabby crept back out of the doorway, unnoticed by the other students. Purple Thumb went back to work keeping his colleagues distracted.
The Liberator was on the move- in Hikaru’s own castle.