Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aether and Death: Chapters 4 and 5

Enjoy! And let me know what you think! :)
BTW, I'm not sure why some lines are highlighted in white, and I'm not really interested in going through the hassle of fixing it. Just know that it has nothing to do with the story :)
P.S. If you would like to start from the beginning, you can find the Prologue and Chapter 1 here, and Chapters 2 and 3 here.


The Crystal Grove, Dragonspyre

        If spiders could sweat, then Araki would have been drenched as he entered the tower. It sat ominously at the end of one of the streets, near the South Grove, menacing fireballs leaping out of the lava fields surrounding it. Of course, the hot climate of the desolate world of Dragonspyre was only half the reason for the discomfort the arachnid- who never left Grizzleheim for any reason other than this- was feeling.
        Naturally, Araki’s trip was not voluntary. Early that morning, two Draconians had shown up at the mouth of his cave, demanding that he come with them. As always, Araki had been polite and diplomatic, knowing that the Draconians had full authority to roast him on the spot if they so desired. He had instantly known why they had come. Some aetherdust had been taken- not much, though; in fact, Araki was sure that only the utmost scrutiny of the reserves would have even revealed that any was missing. Nevertheless, Loki had known. Somehow, he had known, and there was not the most miniscule amount of doubt in Araki’s mind that the Deceiver would not be happy.
        The Draconian on Araki’s right opened the door; the one on the left jabbed him sharply with its claws, ushering him inside. Araki, quelling his anger at the creature’s gesture, stepped over the threshold and into the dark room on the ground floor of the tower. In the next instant, he was shrouded in darkness as the door was shut behind him.
        The brazier at the far end of the room suddenly lit up, and behind it, a metal door lifted, beckoning Araki through and down into the depths of the forlorn building.
        Loki’s room was just as dark as the one on the ground level, but not for long. As Araki stepped inside, two torches on either side of him lit up, followed by a second pair, then a third, fourth, and so on until ten pairs of torches illuminated a pathway through the middle of the room.
        At the end of the pathway, just beyond the light, stood the sinister outline of Loki the Deceiver. To Araki, he was nothing more than a faint specter, not so much due to the spider’s poor sight, but because the raven was dressed entirely in black. The red pendant that Araki had sometimes seen him wear- what was it called? - glowed in the corner of the room. Loki never had it on inside the tower; he knew he had protection enough without it.
        When Loki spoke, he barely moved his beak, yet his voice was shrill and commanding. “Araki. Hello.”
“Hello, Allfather.” Loki demanded he be called this by all his servants. It was all Araki could do to keep from rolling his eyes as he said the ridiculous title.
        Loki took a single step forward- he was now just a hint more visible. He motioned to the torches with his sickle-like claw. “I know you don’t like theatrics,” he began. “So I decided to be as theatrical as possible. Nevertheless, I don’t want you here anymore than you want yourself here, so I will be quick. You know why I summoned you. Tell me.”
        Although he was sure he knew the answer, Araki also knew one could never be too careful with Loki. He spoke cautiously. “Because some of the aetherdust was stolen.”
        “Because you allowed some of the aetherdust to be stolen,” Loki corrected. “What in all the cosmos were you doing wrong that could have let that happen?”
        Araki sighed inwardly. This was where things would become difficult. “They were wizards, Allfather. They were both young, but powerful. We had them on the run, and we had almost overtaken them when one turned around and blasted us with fire magic. They were close to the entrance, and ducked into the cave that leads to it. A few of our ranks noticed them and continued the pursuit, but they never returned. It was an accident, Allfather, I promise. The wizards were lucky. They were very, very lucky.”
        “They entered your cave, Araki!” Loki almost shrieked. “They were looking for the aetherdust! Why else would they have gone inside? And by the way,” he added, more calmly. “You said they were both young. Do you mean to tell me that there were only two of them?”
        Araki mentally reprimanded himself for slipping up so easily. His intention had been to give Loki the impression that a horde of wizards had taken the aetherdust. How could he have been so careless?!
There was no backing out now. Sounding as regretful and apologetic as he could, Araki answered the raven. “That is correct, Allfather. There were only two.”
        Loki growled, obviously very annoyed. He began to shriek again. “You fool! How could you and your entire horde have let two young wizards escape with AETHERDUST?! Do you even realize how valuable it is? If they discover its secrets, it could mean the end of my designs!”
        Araki honestly did not know what it was that caused Loki to put so much value in the aetherdust. He had always thought it was just a reagent. But it wouldn’t help his position at all to admit that. “Yes, Allfather,” he lied. “I am aware of the value the aetherdust has, and I understand your position. I’ll do anything I can to remedy this situation. Just tell me what you require of me, Allfather, and I will take care of it.”
        Loki pondered for a moment. Araki knew he was considering whether he should dispose of the spider now, or give him a second chance.
        The pondering didn’t take very long. “Very well, Araki.” The arachnid sighed with relief. “One more chance for you. Your next course of action is quite obvious to you, I’m sure. Eliminate the wizards. And do it as quickly as you can. And, Araki, understand this. If you fail this time, then there will be some promotions in your army. I’d imagine there are a number of young, resourceful spiders who have twice the potential you ever did.”

        Mavis regarded the Model MB with amusement as she ascended the front steps to the main building of the Metropolitan Manor. Since she had first met him, Duncan had had an affinity for old-fashioned things, and such a car as the one the Thaumaturge had parked in front of his apartment was no exception.
        She stopped on the small porch, and, staring a little further, studied the worker golem in front of the garage. Duncan had been working on constructing it for some time; it was almost finished now. Mavis had always been awestruck at her friend’s aptitude for machines, particularly with this last project. A big brass model known as a steam trawler, it was Duncan’s largest undertaking yet.
        Even more amazing than Duncan’s mechanical ability was his academic versatility. On the second floor of his apartment, Duncan kept his own personal chemistry lab for both scientific and magical experiments, and in the courtyard, various artifacts from all worlds of the Spiral created an impressive display.
Turning back to the front door, Mavis rapped lightly, and then tried the handle. Sure enough, it was unlocked. Duncan had been expecting her.
        “Duncan? I take it you’re home.” She closed the door behind her. “Duncan?
        “Upstairs,” Duncan’s voice sounded from above.
        As she crossed to the stairwell, Mavis admired the three mummies her friend had lined up against the opposite wall, each representing one of the three Elemental schools. Mooshu linens, practice mannequins from Scotland Yard, and Marleybonian photographs also habited the first floor.
        In the hallway upstairs, posters, playbills, and displays of crossed swords covered the wall. A telescope sat on the balcony, which looked out upon the beautiful night sky. Across from the balcony was the main upstairs room. While obelisks from both Mooshu and Dragonspyre had been placed near the doorway, most of the room was littered with maps, blueprints, and diagrams of all kinds. And at the far end of the room, in the alcove on the left, was Duncan Daystone, hunched over a large desk which was part of his lab. Two crafting stations and a second desk completed the area. Each table was populated with test tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners, and specimen jars, among other tools.
        Even though it was one o’clock (not that the sky indicated such), Duncan was still dressed in his nightshirt and cap. He had obviously begun experimenting on the aetherdust the moment he had woken up, and never bothered to dress. He seemed slightly frustrated.
        “Hi, there,” Mavis said cheerily, coming up behind him.
        “Hello,” Duncan responded tiredly. He didn’t turn to face her, but from where Mavis stood, she could see he was worn out. Heavy rings had formed under his eyes, due as much to his work today as last night’s adventures, she was sure. The Pyromancer wondered if he had even eaten since the previous afternoon.
        “How are things going?” Mavis asked, trying to hide the undercurrent of sympathy that had worked its way into her tone.
        Duncan shook his head feebly and fell back into the chair behind him.
        “I have never encountered such a mysterious material before,” he answered. “It doesn’t react to or with anything. I’ve burnt it, wetted it, mixed it with serums of all kinds, and still nothing has happened.”
        Mavis sighed. She felt bad for her friend, and although she was curious about the aetherdust, the priority now was getting Duncan some food and rest.
        “Maybe it’s not what we were looking for, after all,” she tried.
        “Impossible. Why else would it have been in an enormous cave, in sparkling mounds surrounded by water, with a teleport stone conveniently placed to take us back to Northguard?”
        Mavis couldn’t think of an answer, so she didn’t say anything.
        Duncan stood up and walked slowly over to the bed. He sat dejectedly on the edge and sighed, then got up again and began to pace throughout the room, a determined look on his face. Mavis watched him bemusedly. Duncan wasn’t giving up, even if he was half-starved and had barely gotten any sleep.
        She turned and looked at the aetherdust, in a small pile on the desk. She stepped over to it, and picking it up carefully in her hands, looked around for something to try on it. Most of the instruments were relatively foreign to her, but she wanted to help if she could.
        She transferred the reagent into its test tube, and was walking over to the other desk against the wall, when she heard Duncan exclaim from behind her, “Look out for the wire!”
        Mavis looked down just in time to see a long copper wire, stretching from behind a crafting station to a Bunsen burner on the desk, but not in time enough to stop herself from tripping on it.
        As she fell, the test tube hurtled forward. It smashed against the desk, the aetherdust spilling over a fragment of black cloth Duncan had out.
        The aetherdust sparked and crackled. Mavis looked up, but as she got to her feet, she suddenly fell back down again.
        Focusing on the desk leg, she learned why.
        The house had begun to shake. Mavis lay flat as the tables around her and the items on top swayed from side to side. Duncan shouted to her, “Mavis, get out of there!” She slid back on her stomach, just as a beaker came crashing to the floor.
        Duncan was running to the balcony. He leaned out over the railing, then quickly came back in. Bracing himself on a chair, he called out, “It’s an earthquake! The whole island is shaking like nothing I’ve ever seen!”
        Two more beakers fell, followed by the candle on Duncan’s bedside table. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, the shaking stopped. The entire ordeal had lasted no more than thirty seconds, but to Mavis it had felt like thirty minutes. She had never been through an actual earthquake before, and was reeling from the experience. She slowly stood up, exchanging wondering looks with Duncan.
        “What just happened?” she breathed. “What caused that?”
        Duncan let go of the chair and casually walked over to the desk where the aetherdust had spilled. Brushing it off the black cloth, he gently picked up the fragment and held it up for Mavis to see.
        “Do you know what this is?” he asked, wide-eyed.
        “Black cloth?” she tried, knowing there was more to it than that.
        “True enough,” Duncan smiled. “But you know me too well to believe that I would be keeping an ordinary piece of cloth in my laboratory.”
        “Well,” Mavis chuckled, “you’ve never exactly been the most organized person I know.”
        Duncan laughed. “Maybe so, but nevertheless, this cloth has significance. It was torn from the cloak of Lord Nightshade, way back during our early days of practicing magic. I picked it up after he was defeated, and have kept it all this time in a specimen jar. I pulled it out the other day to perform a few tests, but nothing I’ve done on it has been nearly as conclusive as this.”
        “So the aetherdust makes contact with Nightshade’s cloak,” Mavis thought aloud, “and both have some sort of magical property that causes them to react, with the earthquake as a result.”
        “Exactly!” Duncan said excitedly. Mavis smiled has she watched the brightness return to her friend’s eyes, and the color to his face. It was as if he had never been fatigued in the first place.
        “But how?” Duncan continued. “What type of reaction could create such a phenomenon, and why? What properties does the aetherdust contain that allow it to create the reaction? Is this reaction unique to interaction with the cloak, or will it occur in other scenarios?” He stared intently had the cloth, then at the aetherdust, then at the cloth again. Then, slowly brushing the sand-like material into another test tube, he walked over to the bedside table and set in a rack.
        Turning to Mavis, he said, “I know just the man to help us out. He is an expert in magical chemistry.”
        “But first,” Mavis said quickly, “Why don’t we eat something? You must be starving after all the work you’ve done.”
        Duncan smiled warmly, causing Mavis to feel strangely content inside. “A very good idea, Miss Rubyeyes. A very good idea, indeed.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm towards the door. “Ladies first.”


Cyclops Lane, Wizard City

        Duncan tipped his top hat to Privates Emerson and Sweeney as he and Mavis strolled casually through Festival Park. The guards nodded politely in return, and Duncan looked ahead to the circle where the street curved right. The yellow and gold paint of the buildings surrounding it shone beautifully in the sun; even for Wizard City it was a particularly gorgeous afternoon.
        Duncan crossed to the left side of the street as the pair reached the end of the park. Mavis, quickening her pace, sidled up next to him, saying, “So, explain to me again who this Aldous Pastfinder is, please.”
“I told you,” Duncan replied, “he is an expert in magical chemistry.”
“An expert, eh?”
“One of the smartest wizards I’ve ever met. He’s solved many a problem for me in the course of my experiments. He also knows a lot about history. When I undertook this isolation project, I knew it would only be so long before I went to visit him.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard of him, then?” Mavis asked skeptically. “I’d think someone like him would be quite the celebrity in the academic community.”
Duncan chuckled. “He’s not that kind of expert. He is… rather eccentric. Even I am hard pressed to believe some of his theories, and his potions aren’t always to be trusted. But Aldous means well, and is a good person. He just doesn’t have much interest in, or appreciation for, mainstream magic. Even as wondrous a place as Wizard City has its occult, and that is what Aldous likes to dabble in.”
They walked around the circle and came up, stopping at the edge, just as the incline ended and the street flattened again.
“This is it,” Duncan said. He knocked on the door three times, then tapped three times with his palm, then knocked once more.
There was no window in the door, just a small slot which slid open quickly. Two grizzled, old blue eyes peered out. A pungent smell emanated out the slot which Duncan found hard to place. Whatever it was, though, he probably didn’t want to know.
A rough, whistling voice sounded from behind the door. “Which one is it?”
Duncan leaned in close, trying to keep Mavis from hearing. “The one who eats bug eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mavis laughed.
Duncan sighed, his attempts to keep quiet obviously unsuccessful. He looked at Mavis embarrassedly. “Don’t ask.”
“Suppose you’re right. Half the reason it’s funny is the mystery of it.” She laughed again. Even though it was at his expense, Duncan felt elated by it. As a matter of fact, he had always enjoyed it greatly when his friend laughed. But he didn’t feel comfortable admitting it, even to himself.
The slot closed, followed by the knob slowly turning. Then the door opened, revealing an incredibly aged man. He sported a long, white beard and eyebrows, a small mouth which was almost completely overtaken by the beard, and no fewer than fifty wrinkles, large and small, across his face. His outfit looked like that of Headmaster Ambrose, although it was purple instead of blue (Duncan figured that had once been a style of some sort), and the size and arch of his eyebrows caused him to look permanently disgruntled.
  When he spoke, however, it was with a bright and cheery tone, and only a hint of a rasp. “Hello, young Daystone! Hello! It has been all too long since I saw you last. Now, with most anyone else I would believe the visit was due to not having things to do, but with you I know it is just the opposite. You must be up to something, and something important, to be paying me a visit.”
Duncan chuckled as Aldous led Mavis and himself inside, closing the door behind them. “Good day, Aldous. And, yes, I am up to something. I was experimenting this morning, and I came across a phenomenon which I figured only you can explain. This is my good friend, Mavis Rubyeyes. She has accompanied me on a majority of my adventures.”
“So this is the young Rubyeyes!” Aldous exclaimed. He took her hand and shook it vigorously. “I am glad to finally meet you in the flesh. Duncan is nearly always talking about you.”
“Oh, really?”
          Mavis smiled wittily, looking as though she was stifling a chuckle. Looking at her, Duncan smiled back, although he kept his head low. He hoped his cheeks weren’t turning red.
  Aldous, apparently, had realized he’d said too much. He quickly changed the subject, asking Duncan, “But tell me, Duncan, what is it you have come to me for?”
Grateful for Aldous’ understanding, Duncan immediately jammed his hands into his coat pockets, searching for the test tube containing the aetherdust. If there was one problem with these Marleybonian cloaks, it was that there were simply too many pockets. Finally he found the test tube, and held it out for Aldous to see.
“This,” he replied. “Aetherdust. I presume you’ve heard of it.”
“I’ve heard of it, yes.” The old wizard took the test tube and held it close to his eyes. “But I don’t know much about it.” Using his free hand, he created a circle around his left eye out of the forefinger and thumb. Out of nowhere, a monocle appeared inside the circle, which he used to focus on the contents of the test tube.
“Hmmm! This material is very rare. Consider me impressed. Where did you find it?”
“In an underground lake last night in Vigrid Roughland- mounds of the stuff.”
“Really?! Amazing! Then it follows that you were searching for it. Why?”
“We have reason to believe that the aetherdust is related to the isolation of Grizzleheim. There was a teleport stone in the cave, so someone must have put it there. And not only that, but I was experimenting with it this morning and, well…” Duncan stopped speaking, unsure exactly how to proceed. As far as he knew, no one had ever caused seismic activity before without the assistance of Myth Magic.
Mavis picked up where the Thaumaturge had left off. “Somehow, when a fragment of cloak made contact with the aetherdust, it set off a tremor which created an earthquake throughout Duncan’s castle. The cloak itself belonged to Lord Nightshade.”
Aldous perked up. “Lord Nightshade, you say?”
  The old man was suddenly over by the bookshelf. Putting the test tube on top, he began thumbing quickly through the thick volumes, some of which Duncan could tell hadn’t been touched in years. A few seconds later, he had located the book he was searching for, and held back a sneeze as he retrieved it and opened it up. The pages were noticeably yellowed, but perfectly readable.
“What’s on your mind, Aldous?” Duncan stepped over and watched as Aldous flipped through the book. “What are you looking for?”
Aldous stopped at a page almost in the dead center of the volume. On the page were four small pictures in a row, each of an article of clothing. The picture on the left seemed to be of Nightshade’s cloak.
Aldous pointed to this picture. He looked up at Duncan.
“Do you know what Lord Nightshade’s cloak is?” he asked excitedly.
“You mean aside from the garment worn by one of the most notorious wraiths in the history of the Spiral? No, I can’t say that I do.”
The old wizard’s eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. He tapped the picture eccentrically. “That cloak.” He paused dramatically. “It is one of the Artifacts of Death!”
Duncan eyed his friend quizzically. “The Artifacts of Death?”
“And what are those?” Mavis positioned herself next to Duncan, inspecting the pictures in the book.
“There is an old legend and little-known legend,” began Aldous, “which tells of four items, naturally created but with the appearance of being purposely crafted. It is said that these items are enchanted with powerful Death Magic, and, if brought together and activated, they will unleash a terrible force upon the Spiral. No one knows, however, what is required to activate the Artifacts, let alone what they would do.”
Duncan smiled. Things were starting to make sense. “Now we know,” he said.
“Yes, indeed!” Aldous grinned. “Now we know.”
“So,” said Mavis, “there are four Artifacts. Each look like ordinary items but aren’t, for if brought together and activated with aetherdust…” she trailed off.
“They would create a seismic cataclysm which could destroy the Spiral.” Duncan finished.
“And one of them ended up in the hands of Lord Nightshade,” added Mavis.
“I doubt he had any knowledge that his cloak was an Artifact,” said Aldous. “For the Artifacts have existed since the beginning of Death Magic, each residing in a different world, and changing its appearance so as to continue to blend in as the society of that world changes and evolves. Of course, they have changed hands many times, so much so that few today know exactly what and where they are.”
“How do you know?” asked Mavis.
“I am one of only a few left who actually believe in the Artifacts,” answered the old wizard. “I devoted a large portion of my life to learning as much as I could about them. This book,” he added as he tapped the page again, “is my own personal diary.”
“Well, aren’t we lucky to know you, Aldous!” Duncan chuckled. “Would you happen to have any of the other Artifacts?”
“Unfortunately, no. All four either ended up in the clutches of someone like Lord Nightshade, or simply disappeared, to be dug up one day like actual artifacts.”
         “Figures,” put in Mavis.
         Aldous smiled, then said, “Either way, by the time I figured this out, my age was already preventing me from attempting to recover them. By the way, would you, by chance, have brought that cloak fragment with you?”
         Duncan grinned, reached into a pocket, and pulled out the enchanted piece of cloth. He passed it to Aldous. The old wizard’s eyes gleamed with delight as he took it in his hands.
         “Amazing,” he said. “There truly is nothing looking out of the ordinary about it.” He inspected it for a few moments, a look of awe on his face the whole time. Then he set it down on the table, and turned back to Duncan and Mavis.
         “You must obtain the other three,” he said. “I told you aetherdust is rare, but you say you found mounds of it. Someone must be stockpiling the stuff, and if that’s the case, then they are probably looking for the Artifacts. Whatever happens, the last thing any of us want is those items ending up in the wrong hands.”
         Duncan stepped over to the bookshelf and picked up the test tube with the aetherdust. “What, exactly, are the other three Artifacts?” he asked, turning around.
         Before Aldous could answer, however, Duncan cried out as, stepping forward, he tripped over the black furry bundle that was Aldous’ cat, Merlin. The animal had decided to lie down directly in front of Duncan’s feet.
         Duncan managed to stop himself falling but the test tube had flown out of his hand, smashing, as fate would have it, directly on top of the cloak fragment.
         Not again, he thought. As Merlin meowed indignantly and strode away, Duncan began to feel a low rumble, which was quickly growing. He looked over at Aldous, who seemed simultaneously concerned and excited, and then at Mavis. The look on her face was one of pure worry.
         Duncan crouched low, bracing himself for the quake. Aldous and Mavis did the same.
         At that moment, the rumble erupted into a full-blown shake. Duncan held on for dear life to the table leg. Unlike the last time, all the aetherdust had made contact with the cloak, so Duncan had a feeling this earthquake would be more violent than the first.
         And violent it was. Duncan squeezed the table leg harder as all of Aldous’ house began to shake fiercely. Stacks of books toppled. Sculptures fell to the floor and smashed. An empty cauldron tipped over.
         Duncan imagined the chaotic scene outside on the street. Even in an area governed chiefly by Myth Magic, earthquakes of this magnitude were rare. He could see in his mind’s eye people running through the street seeking shelter, guards racing around trying to provide what assistance they could, the tents in Festival Park collapsing, the cobblestone road splitting, buildings crumbling a little as stones and bricks fell onto the sidewalk.
         His vision ended just in time to spy a large bust, teetering on the edge of a shelf next to Mavis, preparing to fall on top of her.
         Duncan called out his friend’s name frantically as he leaped forward and pushed her out of the way. At the same time, the bust fell, but instead of hitting Mavis, it blew to smithereens on top of Duncan’s head. The Thaumaturge cried out and slumped back to ground. The chaos of the quake continued around him, but he was becoming less and less aware of it. The last thing he saw before slipping away entirely was the look of dire fear on Mavis’ face as she watched him fall into unconsciousness.

         His already terrible headache worsened by the bright sun shining down on him, Duncan groaned and opened his eyes. He attempted to sit up. His head exploded with pain in protest, and he quickly lay back down.
         Where was he?
         His vision was still a little blurry; he couldn’t quite make out the structure above him. He squinted hard and tried to focus, recognizing suddenly the statue in the middle of Unicorn Park. Reality began to reassert itself. Duncan was lying beneath the head of the statue, which was glowing green. Duncan furrowed his brow in confusion. He had never seen the unicorn glow like that before.        
        Another second of consciousness, and Duncan Daystone realized his feet were pointed towards Unicorn Way. A few wizards milled about on the street in front of him, and pixies, sparkling, buzzed overhead. Duncan smiled at the peaceful scene. He could remember a time, not too long ago, when Unicorn Way had been a fairly dangerous place to visit.
The statue head began to glow brighter, drawing Duncan’s attention back towards it. Why was it doing that?
He found out a moment later. A brilliant green beam shot from the unicorn’s horn, turning into a ring of light which surrounded Duncan. The next thing he knew, his headache was gone, and he felt completely refreshed. As he bounced onto his feet, he noticed a small group of figures coming around the statue, including Mavis, Moolinda Wu, and Headmaster Ambrose.
“Well done, Moolinda,” Ambrose smiled.
“Thank you,” the Life Professor replied softly. She looked at Duncan. “To be honest,” she said, “your injury was not very serious. I could have healed you on site. But I’ve been looking for someone to test out this new enchantment, and you were the perfect candidate. I hope that wasn’t a problem.”
Duncan beamed. You couldn’t find a more courteous person if you went looking for one.
“No problem at all. Thank you very much.”
She nodded in return, and looked like she was about to speak again, when a deep, stern voice interjected, “Right. Now that that little issue has been resolved, let’s talk about why you created an earthquake on my street in the first place.”
Professor Cyrus Drake came round the unicorn statue, joining the other three. His habitual rapping of his palm with his wand seemed stressed and impatient- well, more than it usually did, anyway.
Duncan sighed inwardly. He suddenly realized that he had known this was coming, from the moment the quake had begun. Professor Drake had gained more respect for Duncan and Mavis since they had stopped his brother from inadvertently destroying the Spiral, but he was still a short-tempered sort, and was undoubtedly much more eager to harshly reproach the student wizards than Headmaster Ambrose was.
         He wondered if Mavis had explained any the situation already, and asked such.
“She has not,” Cyrus replied. “I only just arrived here, after tending to the damage and chaos caused by you two.”
Sighing again, Duncan explained to Professor Drake and Headmaster Ambrose about the aetherdust- what it was, what it did, and how it required making contact with an Artifact of Death to activate.
He finished his story, and Cyrus snorted. “The Artifacts of Death!” he exclaimed. “That’s nothing but a legend! A fantastical fabrication created to entertain the masses of yesteryear. They don’t exist.
Duncan was about to retort, when Merle Ambrose turned to Cyrus, raising a placating hand. “Now Cyrus,” he said calmly, “something caused that earthquake, and I did find both aetherdust and a piece of black cloth at Mister Pastfinder’s house.”
“Where is Aldous, by the way?” asked Duncan. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Ambrose replied. “He’s assisting with the clean-up on Cyclops.”
“As he should,” Cyrus added. “He was responsible for the quake too. To be honest, I’ve never fully trusted him.”
No surprise there, thought Duncan.
Ambrose raised his hand again. He was obviously starting to become irritated with Cyrus. “That’s beside the point,” he said. “I’ve never particularly believed in the Artifacts of Death myself, but if my two finest students say they exist, then I’m inclined to trust them, as should you, Cyrus. You have before, and with more serious issues than this.”
Cyrus sighed exasperatedly, as if he had been waiting for someone to bring this up. Duncan was just glad it had been Ambrose and not himself or Mavis. He felt proud for what he had done to help the Spiral, but the last thing he wanted to do was hold it over someone’s head.
“Very well,” Cyrus said. “The Artifacts might exist after all. That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that Cyclops Lane was thrown into disarray because a certain ‘hero’ doesn’t know how to handle them. Surely this calls for some sort of…”
He stopped suddenly as a large spider landed heavily on the ground in front of him. It screeched and leapt at Cyrus, who skillfully forced it back with a jolt of Myth Magic from his wand. The spider flew over the top of Duncan’s head, hitting the cobblestones with a crunch. The next moment, ten more spiders thudded down onto Unicorn Way. Then ten more after that, and ten more after that.
“Duncan?” Mavis sidled up next to her friend and asked quietly, “What is happening?”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Duncan said grimly.
One hundred spiders were now amassed on the street, approaching the small group menacingly. They seem especially focused on Duncan and Mavis.
One spider stood off to the right of the small army- most likely a leader of some kind. He was directly facing Duncan. The spider shouted in an earsplittingly high pitch, “Attack!”
The first rank of ten spiders, fangs barred, lunged at the professors, who, despite their magical acumen, could not force every single one back at once. Three flew straight into Ambrose, scratching and clawing at him. The Headmaster dropped his staff and stumbled backwards as magical energy began to emanate around him. A sudden blue burst caused all three spiders to explode off him, whizzing back over the trees and into the wall of a house. Ambrose hurriedly picked up his staff and held it forward. It sparkled vibrantly, aching to blast an arachnid or two. Smarter creatures would have stayed away from someone as adept as Merle Ambrose, but spiders are not known for their intelligence, and the great wizard was soon zapping his attackers left and right, Cyrus and Professor Wu backing him up.
Duncan and Mavis, meanwhile, were having their own problems. No sooner had the head spider given the order to attack than it had leapt at Mavis, knocking her to the ground. This had been unexpected; the spider had been looking straight at Duncan. Mavis squirmed and struggled to get the spider off her. It dug at her face, attempting to open up a space big enough that it could sink its fangs into her, but Mavis kept it at bay, grabbing its legs to try to throw it off.
Duncan immediately brandished his staff, sending a flash of Ice energy in the spider’s direction, but to his astonishment, a blue aura momentarily formed around the spider, absorbing the Ice flash entirely. Duncan was dumbstruck. He knew spiders generally favored Thaumaturgy, but he had never seen one powerful enough to resist it completely before. He would have to switch tactics. Duncan waved his staff through the air in an arc, sending a brown bolt into the sky. As a result, a Balance Scarab popped into existence, landing on top of the spider and forcing it off Mavis. The two creatures rolled over onto the grass, the spider ending up on top. It promptly bit the scarab, which screamed and disappeared in a brown cloud.
Mavis scrambled to her feet and stood next to Duncan, holding her staff in front of her as well. They watched as the spider turned and called to two of his soldiers in a tongue Duncan had never heard before. They turned and lunged at the pair of wizards. This time, however, Duncan and Mavis were prepared. Mavis reacted first, summoning a sunbird which effectively held back one of the arachnids. The second, however, dodged the fire blast from the bird, re-pinning Mavis. Meanwhile, the head spider came at Duncan, forcing him down as well.
Duncan swung his head left and right, dodging the creature’s menacing fangs. His staff lay on the grass next to him- just out of reach. Of course! he thought.
In a surprisingly able feat of multitasking, Duncan maintained his alternating dodges as he stretched his middle finger towards the staff. Managing to get his fingertip over it, he pulled back, and the staff rolled towards him.
Relieved, Duncan squeezed his staff hard. He felt it begin to radiate Balance energy, the dial on the top whirring, its hand speeding across the numbers. A great burst of Sorcery magic flashed out the magnet, and the head spider was once again flipped onto his back.
Duncan flew to his feet and stood over the floundering spider, bracing his staff to knock him out completely. Before he could even concentrate on a spell, however, the spider that Mavis had struck back leaped onto him. Duncan cried out and slammed onto his stomach, his staff flying through the air and landing far away.
Duncan knew he wouldn’t be able to dodge the spider’s fangs if he couldn’t see them. He shut his eyes, waiting for the venomous appendices to pierce his neck. Instead, he felt a wave of heat surge over him, accompanied by a small, high-pitched squeal as the spider was thrown off. The smell of burnt exoskeleton hit his nostrils, and Duncan realized that Mavis had, once again, saved him from a painful demise.
The Ice Wizard stood up, brushed off his cloak, and looked at his friend. He smiled.
“Don’t mention it.” She returned the smile, her hazel eyes accentuating the forcefulness of the expression. Duncan faltered for a moment, his mouth dropping open slightly.
She frowned. “You okay?”
Recovering his composure, Duncan shook his head and blinked rapidly, feeling a might embarrassed. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
She smiled again, though it was lighter and more subtle than before. “Good.” Then, looking over his shoulder, she began to chuckle. Duncan turned around, and noticed that the streak of fire that Mavis had sent had struck the head spider as well as his henchman. That should make things simpler.
Duncan was wrong.
Separating from the main group, another spider- obviously a second-in-command of some kind- faced Duncan and Mavis, and gave a shrill whistle. Almost instantly, a hundred more spiders materialized over Unicorn Way, dropping to the ground and preparing to attack.
Mavis gulped. “This isn’t good.” The pair looked over at the Ravenwood teachers, who were actually starting to falter themselves. They didn’t seem any more ready to take on another hundred spiders than Duncan or Mavis did.
The army of spiders was slowly overtaking the small group of wizards. They inched closer and closer, their eyes shining hungrily. Duncan and Mavis, moving to assist the teachers, slowly strode back with their professors to the edge of Unicorn Pond.
Mavis gulped again. “This really isn’t good.”
Duncan stepped into the pond and waded through till his back was against the statue. He scanned the area, frantically attempting to come up with some sort of solution. Unfortunately, it seemed as though his innovative powers were failing him in this tense situation.
Then, miraculously, a bolt of lightning zapped down from the sky, frying the spiders closest to them. At first, Duncan thought some sort of divine intervention had gone on. However, looking up, he was elated to see three Grizzleheemian warships, with soldiers at the ready, slowly descending towards the street. As they landed, the bear soldiers sent down more and more lightning bolts, gradually decimating the arachnid army. Emboldened by the tide suddenly turned, Duncan stepped out of the pond and began summoning large snowballs to knock out spiders with himself, while Mavis brought down great flaming rocks. Thankfully, most of the spiders did not seem to have the impressive resistance to Ice magic that the head spider had displayed.
The ships landed, and the bears leaped out and began a more radical assault on the spiders. The spiders, their numbers now quickly dwindling, screamed and squealed as they were bombarded from all sides by bear and wizard alike. Within minutes, the battle was over entirely.
Duncan, scanning the regiment of bears, noticed the king of Grizzleheim, Valgard Goldenblade, standing at its rear. He smiled, nodded hello, and gestured for the king to come closer so they could talk.
Because the wizards of Ravenwood and the bears of Grizzleheim had much to talk about.

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