Jen climbed up from the pit where the Thomas Brothers warehouse had once been. In the center of an abandoned city block, there was a hole the reached down far enough that magma could be seen burbling in the depths below.
“Any sign of fatalities?” Connie asked. She’d made a similar descent into the second, larger hole that had swallowed the warehouses parking lot and the old subway station annex that it bordered.
Jen shook her head and let Sarah help her out of the climbing harness that had done most of the work reeling her back up.
“We didn’t think there would be,” Sarah said, unclipping the last of the fasteners from Jen’s waist. “More importantly though, was there any sign of divine energies?”
“Thankfully, no,” Jen said. She waved the control panel of multicolored gems which Sarah had added to Jen’s left arm. “Your sensing stones showed that the area is still severely overcharged with power but it seemed to all be Earth native magic.”
“It is now,” Sarah said. “That was the trick that let the High One bring a nuke’s worth of magical energy into our world. From the moment he stepped foot here, all that power was earmarked for conversion as a gift.”
“It came with some pretty serious strings attached,” Connie said, looking at the new proto-volcano that was forming below them.
“We were lucky Tam was able to vent the detonation downwards,” Jen said. “It’s left us with this problem to deal with but the results would have been a lot worse if that much force hard erupted upwards.”
“She picked up a good site for the conference they were having. This whole block has been abandoned for years,” Connie said. The swarm of disaster response vehicles and the crowd of onlookers behind them made that point hard to imagine but the general state of the other abandoned buildings in the area supported the claim.
“I guess her ‘keep away’ wards held until the High One showed up,” Sarah said. “Even in an ‘empty’ area in a city like this, I would have expected to find plenty of people lingering around, trying to keep to themselves if nothing else.”
“She said they had to bring some of the homeless people in the area to shelters when they were setting up for the conference,” Connie said. “I wonder if any of them lost anything important here?”
“I’ll make sure JB includes them in the discussions on the recovery efforts here,” Jen said.
“Speaking of recovery, how are Tam and the other’s doing?” Connie asked, turning to Sarah.
“Val’s not in great shape,” Sarah said. “She went toe-to-toe with a god though so we’re lucky to still have her around to be honest. Tam’s better physically, but mystically and mentally she’s pretty out of it.”
“Our guests at the conference are insisting on offering her their thanks and well wishes,” Jen said. “I think they all know that without her work, none of them would have walked out of that room.”
“Technically none of them did,” Sarah said. “From what I was able to get out of her, Tam threw a twist in the binding spell she’d laid on the High One and them stole some of his energy to cast a mass teleport spell on everyone there.”
“I’m guessing that wasn’t exactly easy?” Connie asked.
“To steal a god’s power you need to either be a god, or be very clever,” Sarah said. “And the clever ones still, inevitably, get burned.”
“What about Anna?” Connie asked.
“She briefed me and then went to a meeting with Charlene,” Jen said.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Connie asked.
Behind them a fire truck pulled up loaded with a variety of non-standard gear.
“Whether we should continue our policy of accepting all refugees, I’m guessing,” Jen said.
She turned to face the lead Firefighter as he approached carrying a black duffle bag as long as he was tall.
“Pardon me, I was supposed to bring this to you I believe?” he asked, glancing down at Jen’s clockwork arms.
“Yes, thank you,” she said, slipping out of her climbing boots and opening the duffle’s zipper with her toes.
“Does anyone know what happened here?” Fred Booker, the fireman, asked. He seemed a little out of his element, which Jen couldn’t blame him for. Dealing the aftermath of divine wrath wasn’t the sort of thing anyone on Earth had a lot of experience with. Or almost anyone.
“There’s lot to explain,” Jen said. “The short form is this is the result of an attack by a hostile foreign power.”
“The Russians?” Fred asked. He was old enough for the Cold War to have left an indelible mark on his psyche.
“No, a lot more foreign than that,” Jen said, reaching into the bag with her toe to make sure that what was inside was what she’d been told it would be.
Fred laughed, trying to go along with a joke he didn’t understand.
“Like aliens you mean?” he said.
“The reports will be out soon enough,” Jen said. “For now though, yeah, pretty much just like aliens, only less little green men from Mars and more weird science stuff.”
“It’s not science,” Sarah grumbled.
“Everything is science once it’s understood well enough,” Jen said.
“Aliens blew up a gas main?” Fred asked, still incredulous.
“There’s no working gas mains within five blocks of here,” Connie said.
“But I mean…aliens? I thought this stuff was just terrorists,” Fred said.
“It was a terrorist action,” Jen said and stepped into the open duffle bag with both feet. “But it was also something more than you’ve ever seen before.”
From the bag, glittering bits of sand flowed up her body, hardening into shiny silver plates as the flow of sand wrapped around her.
A moment after the transformation started, Jen stood encased in a shell of glittering crystals that were harder than diamond and yet moved with the suppleness of living flesh.
“How did you….” Fred started to ask before his words failed him and he was reduced to simply staring.
“Magic is real,” Connie said. “More now than ever before.”
Fred nodded, blinking as his view of the world rearranged itself in seismic mindquakes.
“What are you going to do with it?” he asked, indicating the suit, and perhaps more broadly the topic of magic in general.
“The attack caused only minor damage up here,” Jen said. “I need to go see what impact it had on the people who were underneath it.”
“I’m coming with you,” Sarah said, stepping into the duffle bag after Jen exited. The same sand flowed up her body, but the resulting armor plating was subtly different, hers having a blue-ish sheen where Jen’s seemed to take on a red cast.
“Same here,” Connie said, taking her place once Sarah was done. Again the final result differed for Connie from the other two, her protective shell looking thinner and less bulky by comparison, with a vibrant green tinge around the edges.
“What should we do?” Fred asked. “And what do you mean ‘the people below the blast’? Where there people down in the old subway tunnels?”
“Yes,” Jen said. “They were all evacuated in time though.”
“What’s below that then?” Fred asked.
“Far enough down? Apparently the lava,” Jen said and marched to the whole, her steps carefully controlled as though each one had the power to send her flying through the air.
“While we’re gone, keep an eye on the pit. If you see anything come up other than us, pull back and give them room,” Connie said.
“What else is down there?” Fred asked.
“We don’t know, but things that live in fire don’t always get on so well with people who can burn,” Sarah said.
Jen dropped over the edge, plummeting out of view in an instant.
“It’ll be ok,” Connie said. “We’re going to talk to some people who are just as affected by this as we are. They just happen to be made of lava. There could be creatures from their realm that get out and head here. All you need to do is keep people safe and stay away from anything that looks weird and scary. We’ll come back with people who know how to properly handle anything that gets up here.”
“If anyone else from the Second Chance Club shows up, you can let them know where we went,” Sarah said before dropping over the edge herself.
“And if you see anyone glowing weirdly, give them a wide berth and call the special emergency number you were given ok?” Connie said. “The man who’ll answer is named James and he can help you out with any weirdness you run into.”
“What should I tell my team?” Fred asked.
“Tell them the truth,” Connie said. “You don’t know exactly what’s going on but it’s definitely not something you’ve trained for so you’ll handle the things you do know how to deal with and leave the weird bits to the people who are used to dealing with them.”
“I can do that,” Fred said, relaxing into the idea. “Will you be ok with the weird bits though?”
“Probably not at first,” Connie said. “We’ll get there though. I hope. We’ve got some great friends backing us up on this one. It’s just a question if that’ll be enough in the end.”
With that she pitched herself after her teammates and felt the thrill of free falling all the way down and then straight through the glowing lava as thought it was as dense as marshmallow fluff.
Beneath the surface of the lava, normal vision became impossible. Lava being rather opaque, sensing things by the light they reflect was worthless endeavor to attempt. The crystal hardshells the women wore were ready for that however.
In place of natural light, the inside of the crystal suits projected and illusory image into the wearer’s eyes, showing them the outlines of each other and the other solid elements in their vicinity. Those were comforting things to be able to “see” in such an alien environment, even if they weren’t really “seeing” anything directly. What wasn’t so comforting was the whale sized serpents of fire that coiled and rose from the bright depths below them.
“Who are you, invaders!” a thunderous voice that rang their bones called out. “Do you plan finish wat your first assault has begun? Or did you think to evade our wrath?”
“Sareesh?” Jen asked, her voice as much as projection as the images of the Core Serpents the team could see spiraling around them.
“Jen?” Sareesh said. “Is that you?”
“Yes! Yes it is! Oh am I glad to see you Sareesh! I thought we were going to have to go through the whole Ritual of Sparking Names for an introduction again.”
The lava wobbled as the giant serpent laughed.
“I presume you don’t have a week to spare for the ritual this time, do you?” Sareesh asked.
“Unfortunately no,” Jen said. “We’re here to see how you’re doing. There was an attack that blasted a hole from our realm to yours.”
“We suspected that was the case,” Sareesh said. “There were a few that thought it could have been a natural catastrophe, but the damage was too severe and there was too little pressure coming from above.”
“Was anyone hurt?” Jen asked.
“Yes. We didn’t lose anyone, but you know how small our numbers have gotten. Even having only a few go dormant in recovery will leave us with very little warmth to go around in this chill sea.”
“We might be able to help there,” Sarah said. “I believe our of our support staff has the connections to get you a ready supply of spent radioactive fuel rods.”
“That would be of great assistance, but I fear there’s nothing we can do in return for you,” Sareesh said.
“That’s ok,” Jen said. “Our first goal is to make sure you and yours are ok. Recruiting allies to help stand against the person who did this is second on the agenda to that.”
“I do not mean we would choose not to help you,” Sareesh said. “I mean, I do not believe any Earthly power can assist you. We saw the attack building and had time to ready our defenses against it and we still couldn’t protect ourselves.”
“Could you do any better now that you know what you’re dealing with?” Sarah asked.
“No,” Sareesh said. “This attack turned our own powers against us. The more we try to defend the harder it will hit us.”
A moment passed in silence as the team understood what that meant. Even as he was bound up, the High One had learned from Tam’s spell and had used the magic to turn the Earth’s power against it.
None of them would be able to fight him the next time he returned.