Mental combat was fast for those not involved. Much like a dream, where years can feel like minutes, a psychic fight of minutes would feel like seconds. Being an esper and trained in battle in mindscapes gave Allie the edge she would need when invading the mind of another.
Dell’s mindscape was serene. It was rolling hills of tall grass under a clear blue sky that continued as far as the eye could see. It smelled of flowers, although none were visible. A single tree was the only thing that stood out, adorned with various fruits. Beneath it, sat Dell’s psyche, dressed in denim overalls. He was holding a piece of fruit Allie couldn’t place and seemed consumed in its study.
Allie drew her gun and fired. The bullet struck like dandelion fluff and floated away in the breeze.
“It was unwise to come here,” Dell’s psyche said as it rose to its feet. “I am invincible here.”
“Everyone is invincible in their own mind, Dell,” Allie said allowing her six arms to manifest from her back. “Until they aren’t.”
“You misunderstand. You’ll learn.”
“I suppose one of us will.”
Dell extended his hand and unleashed a beam of light. Using her TK arms, Allie launched herself into the air, out of the path of the attack. She hit the ground running, rapidly closing the distance. If a cognitive bullet didn’t work, Allie would kill him the old fashion way.
The ground erupted in stone spikes as Dell fired another blast. Allie threw herself sideways away from the explosion and landed on her TK arms, now running with them, suspended over the hostile ground.
“Stay back!” Dell shouted as a stone wall burst from the ground beneath Allie, forcing her to ride it skyward. She held on tight, as the wall rose at speed she felt in her bones before stopping suddenly, throwing her backward.
Now hundreds of feet up, Allie gripped the wall with one TK arm and swung back in, throwing herself over the wall’s apex. Grabbing the wall again, she hurled herself downward toward her prey, shortening and tensing one of her TK arms into a stone hard spear.
The wall shattered and formed into a massive serpent of wind and rubble that coiled beneath her and struck. Allie shaped her remaining arms into a drill-like shell, allowing her momentum to pierce Dell’s final, desperate defense.
As she neared him, Allie could see the confusion on his face. The profound disbelief he wore at watching defeat streak towards him like a missile. And then she hit him, her arm-turned-spear shattering the bones of his ribcage once, then twice, as she smashed him into the ground.
Dirt and rock filled the air, both from Allie’s impact and from the shattered serpent raining down. She pinned his arms down with two of hers, while the other three shielded her from debris. As she drew back her spear arm to strike, Dell began to laugh. A horrid noise born from lungs filling with blood and bone.
“Take that to Hell with you,” Allie snarled in disgust as she drove her arm through his head.
This time there was no crunch of failed bone. There was no sensation of contact. There was only confusion.
Dell was gone, as was his tree and the rolling hills of his mindscape. There was only darkness. Allie could feel and see nothing, yet her senses gave awareness. She wanted to recoil from this sensation of the void, to retreat to the protection of her own body, but something stopped her.
Finally, she saw it. Something within the space she found herself in that was less than the nothing around it. It was like gazing at a concept in the way she imagined Amber and Goldie tasted them. Only with this, Allie could but grasp the edges.
She lashed out on instinct and found that she could hit it, but immediately regretted the action. An avalanche of emotions overran her. Fear, desperation, revulsion, and above all, hate. It was shapes without names and colors beyond descriptions. The thing grabbed her arm, and for a moment, she experienced pain without words as the understanding of what she was looking at forced its way into her.
Allie returned to her own body screaming. She writhed and thrashed on the ground and fought not to swallow her tongue. She wanted to get away from what just happened. She needed light, food, something, anything to free herself of what was running through her mind. She latched on to Don, merging their minds, desperate to use her old friend as a shield.
Allie felt herself being lifted and held tightly. It was Don. Don was Allie’s lifeboat in a sea of insanity that was threatening to swallow her up.
“Allie! Allison! What’s wrong?” Don’s voice cut through the fog. The words were followed by a sharp pinch in her neck and a sudden sensation of warmth.
“She was just in his head,” Allie heard Lora shout.
Allie opened her eyes to see Don holding her. The whole group was looking at her. How long had she been out?
“Did you jump into his head?” Malcolm asked. “When you started screaming everything dropped. What happened?”
Allie struggled to look around, her head wobbling drunkenly on her neck. The Homunculi had indeed dropped close to where they were before she attacked Dell. The mage himself was down, draped over Lucian.
“She beat him, that’s what!” Don said excitedly. “She got in there and put him down. We gotta go over and-“
“No!” Allie exclaimed, grabbing Don’s face with her hands. “Don’t go over there! Don’t touch him! There is something in him! Something wrong! It’s not dead!”
As the words left her lips, the fallen homunculi rose to their feet like giant marionettes. Allie could see a void of light, much like the thing inside Dell’s mind, surrounding them. Dell also rose to stand. At his full height, his head rolled back, and he stared at the sky, mouth agape like a dead fish.
“I killed him, but not it,” Allie said, panic creeping into her voice. “I killed him, but not it! What is it? What are you?” She began to shake violently, and tears ran freely down her face. Don tried to hold her tighter, but Allie’s shaking was too intense to steady.
“Didn’t you just dose her?” Jason said.
“I did!” Don said. “She’s reacting to them. She’s hiding in my head to get away from something in her own. Malcolm, what’s wrong with her?”
“She’s scared,” Malcolm said as he stared at the dais. “And right now, so am I.”
Allie could see the void around Dell and his servants grow more intense before suddenly vanishing. Dell looked down at them and then around in confusion. He touched the side of his head and his chest, the two spots Allie had stuck him in his mindscape and began to laugh. It was a nervous, cautious thing at first, but then it swelled into a full chested mad howling.
“Do you see?” Dell screamed, his eyes burning with madness. “I can not be beaten! I am chosen!”
Something became strange as Dell began to rant. The time between his words became longer. Allie felt like she was taking long blinks, but her eyes were not closing.
“This is my destiny!” The mad mage rambled.
The world stilled before moving again.
“This is your fate!”
The stilling became longer.
“My transcendence is almost-“
The world stopped.
Allie found she could still move as she looked towards her friends and Allies. Jack had started to run but seemed frozen in mid-step. His face wrought with desperation. Monica was lifting her face in response to a small hand signal from Malcolm. Don’s face was a picture of confusion and shattered hope. None of them moved however. Not even the merest centimeter.
Voices drew Allie’s attention. They were loud, not because the speakers themselves had raised their voices, but because the stillness of the world had no effect on them.
“You see now, Old Scales? I told you something was abnormal here.” A young sounding female voice said with all the tones of ‘I told you so.’
“Yes, yes, Whelp. I shouldn’t have doubted you.” An older, gruffer voice replied. It carried an air of complete exhaustion.
“If you just listened to me, I bet we could have already fixed this.”
“If I listened to every whelp with a ‘bad feeling’ I would never get any work done. There are as many of you as stars in the sky, and you all see dangers in every shadow.”
Allie watched as two beings strolled casually by her and the others. One was smaller, wearing a short tunic colored like the night sky. She had a wealth of rainbow colored hair that trailed behind her like it was suspended in water. The other was tall and lean. He wore an all gray suit, and his head was bald. Allie couldn’t get a proper view of either of their faces.
As the pair neared the platform, the smaller one skipped forward like an excited child, pointing at Dell.
“There it is! I can make it out hiding inside this human.” The female said.
“So it is. So it is.” The male said.
“These humans beat it,” The female said as she looked around, her head falling back on her shoulders. “It looks like they won fairly. That cheating flower feeder undid their work.”
“That would mean it hasn’t finished what it was trying to do. It’s got to be close though. Why else risk showing itself?”
“I bet it got bold because you don’t trust us. Everyone is a hatchling to you.”
The male rumbled something indecipherable.
The female hopped easily onto the dais, unaffected by its protective wardings. She looked at Dell and then down at Lucian.
“Its pet was going to kill this human whelp,” the female said. She leaned in closer, and her rainbow tresses floated to rest around Lucian’s body for a moment before she snapped upright. “Old Scales! Old Scales! A progression!”
“What?” Old Scales said as he looked up towards the female.
“It’s an actual progression! This cheater was trying to kill a progression!”
Old Scales rumbled something else. He rubbed his head. “This was almost bad. Thank you for working so hard.”
“I’m a good girl, Old Scales. I’m your best!”
“Well, your world has a progression in it, and you caught the cheater before he could kill it. No one else in your clutch could claim that.”
The female twirled delightedly and suddenly froze. She lept down and walked over to Allie’s group. She was pretty in an alien sort of way. Her mouth seemed a bit wide, her teeth all points, and her eyes a bit too big. For their size, they had no whites, just a gold colored Iris and strikingly large pupils. Allie tried to freeze but the gaze of the unsettling female was too much to bear, and she blinked away.
“Hello, Human!” The female said in the same soothing tone a person would use with a puppy they just met. “You shouldn’t be aware of this.”
“Leave her be,” Old Scales said, having approached without Allie noticing. “And step away from her. They scare easy, and this one would already have to be quite mad to see us.”
“I smell the cheaters taint in it. She was fine a moment or so ago.”
“I’ll handle that then. As a reward for your hard work, why don’t you use the progression on the cheater?”
“I can use the progression?” The female clapped her hands.
“Don’t go crazy with it. It’s clearly a whelp, and you know what happens if you burn it out.”
“Right!” The female spun and bounded towards the dais. She mounted it with a single, graceful leap before diving into Lucian like a swimming pool.
I’ll be borrowing your body for a moment, Old Scales’ voice echoed inside Allie’s head. I can’t interact with humans outside of this space, and you guys have had a rough enough time. Also, if you want, I can fix your burgeoning insanity, but I need all of you. Stop hiding a part of yourself in that other human so I can work.
His presence in Allie’s mind was comforting. He felt safe and warm. If this Being was trying to trick her, she couldn’t see his end game. She chose to play along and pulled herself fully back into her own mind. As she did, the raw terror she’d felt was held at bay by Old Scales.
Time returned to normal with Dell in mid-rant.
“-complete! All of you will kneel before me!” Dell finished as he thrust his knife down towards Lucian’s body.
“Stop!” Jack shouted as his body hit the platform’s wards, slowing him to a crawl.
“That’s quite enough of that,” Lucian said as he caught Dell’s wrist.
Dell stared at the boy incredulously.
Lucian waved his other hand and the wards on the platform peeled off like stickers before shattering into dust. Jack dropped to the platform no longer stuck but frozen in place anyway due to Lucian’s strange behavior.
Lucian pushed Dell’s arm away and without rising from his prone position, backhanded Dell hard enough to send the Mage flying off the platform. Tumbling in the air like a rag doll, Dell hit the wall of the warehouse before dropping to the floor. Lucian then sat up, turned and raised a hand to the hole in the ceiling. A town breaker bolt dropped through, and in an instant, the remaining homunculi were as chaff in the wind.
“Hey!” Allie heard herself snap in irritation.
“What?” Lucian replied.
“Did I not just tell you not to get crazy in there?”
“This is nothing, though.”
“Not to you, but it is to that body. Now calm down. Pick one thing to play with and get rid of the Cheater.”
“Fine,” Lucian grumbled.
“You aren’t Allie,” Don said, fear and anger coloring her voice.
“I’m borrowing her body, thank you. She’s fine with it. In exchange, I’m repairing the insanity she was about to suffer,” Allie’s voice came again. “No need for thanks. I would recommend you all retreat a few dozen yards, however. I’m not in the habit of such kindness towards your kind and being too close to this fight will do some unpleasant things to your minds.” Allie clapped twice. “Come now, chop chop, or however that expression goes.”