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  1. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 81: Virtual Apotheosis?

    The feedback loop kicked in, and Keija experienced a massive surge in her integrated strength, and the domain responded in kind, propelling her spiritual strength like a rocket to new heights.

    Teyna also experienced a soul smashing breakthrough in regards to the bottleneck she was experiencing. The spiritual strength that Keija started to send to Teyna was overwhelming, and Teyna's own self-defense reflex kicked in to greatly limit the surge of spiritual strength Teyna could receive from outside sources. Even with such self-defensive reflexes, a massive amount of spiritual strength now had to be resolved in Teyna's soul realm and she gasped for breath as she realized that Keija was continuing to integrate at mind boggling speed.

    Keija noticed that Teyna was unable to keep up with this massive build up of spiritual strength, and cut her outpouring to her friend to a bare trickle. Even a trickle, however, at this speed of integration, was enough to push Teyna through her bottleneck and race upwards toward the the pinnacle of the 4th rank. She again gasped in surprise as she hit the bottleneck for the 4th rank.

    Too much power acquired quickly was bad for one's spiritual foundation, Teyna now understood why. The amount of spiritual power within her made her giddy, but she still had no proper basis for utilizing that strength. She immediately stopped cultivating from the domain in order to consolidate her soul realm.

    Teyna opened her eyes, and stared dumbfounded at Keija as the Swartalfheimer continued to experience this massive feedback loop with the domain.

    She was glowing!

    Unlike mortal cultivation, a spirit could enhance their eidos' spiritual strength without fundamentally changing it's state. It was a question of magnitude or image size. Using a digital image as an example, the same picture could be resized or have it's density of pixels increased without fundamentally changing the image that picture represented.

    The resolution and clarity of the image would improve with more and more pixels, and the image could be resized at will depending on the amount of memory available to render the image. This massive amount of spiritual strength in Keija, was like having several terabytes of RAM added to a digital camera's image memory. Her eidos gained refinement and clarity as her spiritual strength soared.

    And she did not stop! Keija was gaining complete control over the domain as the feedback loop coursed throughout the domain! The domain was, in effect, becoming her personal artifact. The level of control over the nature and attributes of the domain was such that Keija began to understand innately where each and every artifact and guardian creature within the domain was located. She began to feel as if she could restrict or enhance the domain's influence on these artifacts and their guardians as well.

    It was then, after realizing that her akashic recording crystal was flaring and about to shatter, that Keija decided to suddenly end her integration. This all occurred within the space of minutes, and Keija had pushed through to the pinnacle of the 5th rank of spiritual strength.

    She could probably have continued this integration indefinitely, at least until the limit of the domain was reached, but there would always be time for that later. Her connection to the domain was so solid, that she had complete control over all the access points in the domain. In spite of the present level of control she had attained, Keija still needed to consolidate all these gains in her eidos, so that they wouldn't fade over time though.

    The act of consolidating this massively dense eidos to ensure it's permanency would take days if not weeks. Her eidetic memory would greatly help in this regard, but it would still take time to fully comprehend the full import of this event.

    As Keija finally opened her eyes with a tremendous grin, she looked at the exhausted Teyna and smiled with a subtle but glorious expression on her face.

    “What a rocket ride that was!” Keija laughed euphorically, finally breaking the frozen expression on Teyna's face as she couldn't help but giggle in return.

    “I couldn't keep up with such a force!” Teyna stated with a harried look in her eyes.

    Rin and the other mages were also startled by the dramatic change in the domain once they returned to the safe zone. Rin himself was shocked to such an extent that he believed even if he wanted to attempt to force Keija out of the domain, it would be he who was forced out by her instead.

    “Miss Nighthawk,” Rin addressed Keija with a tinge of apprehension, “May I conclude that the domain is now under your control?”

    “You may indeed conclude that Mr. Sanada,” Keija replied without a pause. “This domain and I are now fully integrated. I can retrieve artifacts if you wish for the students, or seal the domain from any further intrusions. If there is any question of ownership of this domain however, I must admit, that I am unwilling to part with it.”

    “I'm not sure how the college will react to this change, but I can understand your position, given the effect on the domain and yourself,” Rin replied with some anxiety in his voice.

    “It's not really a matter of having a choice on their part, at this point,” Keija said with as much humility as she could muster, “The domain is part of me now, and I am a part of it. It might be best to consider this domain as the artifact that I chose from today's lesson.”

    “An interesting point, which I am sure the college will no doubt have to accept, even with some regrets.”

    “I wouldn't worry about it too much, Mr. Sanada,” Keija offered an olive branch, “There is no reason for me to deny access to the domain from the college students, nor to any of the faculty as well. It's just that the benefit of this domain to me is too great for me to sever my connection with it at this point.”

    Indeed, the benefit of the domain was akin to having an artifact that could grant a sort of virtual apotheosis to a spirit. Instant or near instant Godhood? Who would give up that power willingly? The only limit on Keija's advancement in spiritual strength at this point, was her desire to consolidate her current gains, as well as not wishing to test the limits of the domain itself. After all, who wanted to kill the goose that laid the golden egg? If the domain was damaged by too sudden a rise in spiritual strength, Keija would greatly suffer for it at this point.

    No, it was best to avoid that possibility, and to consolidate her current gains, as well as configure the domain towards a more friendly affinity for her elemental and spiritual attributes. Even this had some danger, but with Keija's level of control at this point, the danger of affecting the domain's core ability to adjust itself to a given spiritual strength would be quite small.

    “We have to remain on site in any case, to monitor your Astral Walker, Mr. Grey.” Rin sighed in conclusion. It was obvious to him that the matter had been settled the moment Keija began to integrate with the domain in such a startling manner. Although the administration of the college would have fits about the security of the domain and it's artifacts, there was no way to avoid Keija's control over the domain.
  2. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 82: Repercussions and a Dead End

    “My friends and I are students here, Mr. Sanada,” Keija reassured him, “Please don't change your routine due to this incident. I might be unsurpassed for the moment within this domain, but once we leave I will just be another spirit, and the domain will adjust itself accordingly.”

    “Most likely, the domain's status as an Artifact repository for the college will have to be altered,” Mr. Sanada responded after a moment of deep thinking.

    “It matters little to me at this point,” Keija said with her indigo eyes flashing with subtle temerity.

    Mr. Sanada quietly felt a chill run through his veins as Keija responded with overwhelming confidence. The fact was incontrovertible now, that she had completely wrested control of the domain away from it's standard operation, and was now the master of the realm. If only the college had been more aware of the potential of this realm in regard to spirit integration, they might have come up with a counter measure to prevent the occurrence from happening, but that was hindsight, and after the fact.

    He could only sigh in resignation that the domain had fallen under Keija's influence, and there was nothing that could be done to gainsay the matter at this point.

    It was then that he vaguely considered a spirit compulsion spell, but he quickly discarded that notion. The spell required some time to complete, and Keija would definitely not be sitting quietly in this domain while someone attempted to dominate her. No, that would only serve to put her in a foul mood and initiate a terrible flow of distrust between the college and the Shadow Hunters, not to mention the Synod as well.

    Heaving another sigh, he continued to sit nearby this extraordinary spirit and her friends, waiting for Daniel Grey to complete his task and return his consciousness to his body. With a nod of his head, he directed the remainder of his team back through the portal, to report to the administration concerning the changes within the domain and it's status in regard to the college.

    “Mr. Sanada,” Keija spoke up abruptly after a moment, “if you could be so kind as to teach my friend, Teyna, here some basic offensive and defensive magic spells while we wait, I could ensure the safe return of the domain's artifacts to the college. I only reserve the right to keep a few for our classmates, that we would have normally gotten during the class period.”

    “That sounds reasonable,” Rin replied after considering his limited options, “I don't think I could stop you from doing whatever you willed at this point, within the domain at least.”

    “I'm still the same spirit I was before entering the domain, just a bit stronger due to the special circumstances of my integration and the domain's attributes,” Keija shrugged, “Please don't make me feel as if I'm bullying you. I can't undo this integration without a lot of time, and if you were in my position, would you want to?”

    “Well, it's not as if we wanted to give up the domain to you in the first place, but I can see your point as well. 'No use crying over spilled milk', so to speak,” Rin finished with a wry glance at Keija.

    “I promise to work closely with the college to assuage any lingering concerns about this predicament,” Keija reassured him.

    “That is very thoughtful of you, I'm sure that will go a long way to diminish any suspicions on the part of the administration,” Rin felt Keija's overtures were necessary, and was quite relieved when she offered them up so quickly.

    His own thoughts of what Keija would do with the domain were complex, but as long as she would work with the college, and not utilize the domain to deny them access to the artifacts stored there, then his concerns would be allayed.

    “Miss Caulfield,” Rin turned towards Teyna, “If you are ready to learn some rudimentary magic, I would be happy to show you a few tricks.”

    Teyna glanced at Keija, who nodded affirmatively, and then replied to Mr. Sanada, “Of course! I hope Professor Halloran won't mind, though.”

    “As long as I'm not teaching you anything that he has yet to cover, I think it should be fine. I'm just a physical education teacher here, but everyone at the college is a mage, so I can at least show you the basics," He replied with a grimace.

    “I only know how to circulate my spiritual strength at this point, so the basics would be wonderful!” Teyna responded with anticipation.

    As Rin instructed Teyna, Keija continued to consolidate her eidos and improve her control over the domain, which responded by showing an increasing natural environment over time. The chill in the air was reduced to comfortable levels, and sparse vegetation began to bloom. The orange, purple and black sky took on hues that were more wintry, but brighter and welcoming.

    Several hours passed within the domain but Keija understood now, that there was a time shift between the domain and the mortal realm, which she could adjust. Teyna eventually exclaimed with delight as she cast her first wisp towards a large rock nearby. “I did it!” She yelled happily.

    “I just hope that whatever Daniel is doing can be concluded soon,” Keija mused aloud, “I'm not sure about the difference between the Astral Realm and this domain's time frame, but I am able to regulate the difference in time frames between the domain and the mortal realm. We should not miss anything important occurring in the mortal realm.”


    Daniel had dissolved his astral clone in the domain and began the arduous task of tracking the fading silver cord which was the only link they had to the malignant force which caused the dangerous incident earlier in the domain.

    He could sense that the domain was undergoing some very drastic changes behind him, but he couldn't stay to watch or else he'd lose the only clue he had to go on. Putting aside everything else, Daniel remained focused and concentrated on following the cord, being cautious of any potential traps or entities that might obstruct his discovery of the cord's origin point.

    After a time, his mind started to wander a bit. He was deep in contemplation at the moment. Just what was this entity that caused such a malignant reaction in the dimensional domain? And how did it cause the artifact guardian to mutate? Daniel would have bit his lip if he had been in his mortal body. Such was the worry that began to pervade his thoughts.

    As the Astral realm reacted to his mind, however, Daniel quickly quenched those indecisive feelings and continued to concentrate on tracking the silver cord, which trailed off into the misty distance. The Astral realm was definitely not a place where one could afford to have lingering doubts about one's purpose.

    The tedium of the task drew on, and while Daniel encountered a few astral beasts now and then, he had to make a few detours against some of the larger and more powerful leviathans. Thankfully, his only purpose here was to track the silver cord and not worry about rescuing anyone, or exploring.

    Letting the sleeping beasts lie, Daniel maneuvered his consciousness around these huge obstacles, and continued until he started noticing the silver cord getting brighter and brighter. He was close to the origin point!

    As he approached the terminal point of the silver cord, he noticed several prominent magical defenses that prevented him from advancing further. This indicated to Daniel, that wherever the silver cord finally led, it wouldn't be welcoming to unwanted guests or casual observers.

    Without Uzume here to recite a norito, the only method available to Daniel, of determining the physical location that corresponded to this point in the Astral realm, was to create a clone. Normally, in the mortal realm at least, it would be impossible to create a clone in the same dimension as one's physical body. The silver cord of an astral entity or traveller had to return to it's original body if it were present in the same dimension, and therefore no clone could form except under the rarest of circumstances.

    The concept of bi-location was a very rare occurrence for this reason. Throughout history, the instances of such occurrences could be counted on one's hands. Daniel had studied one famous case, of a catholic saint who was said to be able to bi-locate: Padre Pio was a very interesting person.

    Yet Daniel suddenly realized that was not the case for the dimensional domain he had departed from. His ability to create a clone to speak with the Mage team's leader, Mr. Sanada must have been due to some fluke regarding the so-called “safe zone” within that domain. Otherwise how could he have formed the clone when his physical body was only about half a kilometer away?

    Nonetheless, Daniel was currently obstructed from creating a clone near the terminus of the silver cord he had tracked, and unless the Shadow Hunter organization organized a full dive team, it would be unlikely that Daniel could breach the defenses, even with his natural ability. The best Daniel could hope for at this point, would be to record the magical defenses, and have someone like Melissa, Elijah or Sam analyze the recording.

    Luckily for Daniel, he still had the akashic recording crystal that Professor Halloran had given to each student prior to entering the dimensional domain. The amazing attribute of these crystals was to be able to record events in any dimension. As long as the crystal was in contact with a person's body, no matter what they were able to perceive with their consciousness, it would be recorded.

    Daniel mused that there must be some sort of quantum entanglement phenomenon which allowed these crystals to record in the Astral realm, but he didn't ponder the question for too long, for fear of altering the astral "landscape."

    After taking time to ensure no leviathans or other astral entities were in the vicinity, Daniel began to record as much as he could about the magical defense of this location. He dared not leave any marker, however, for fear of it being discovered. This location had the subtle impression of being well utilized, unlike the area from which the previous attack was launched in Singapore.

    After giving the crystal sufficient time to record his perceptions, Daniel withdrew, and after a long journey re-tracing his own cord, he once again reconnected his consciousness with his body. Frustration for not being able to find out more was etched into Daniel's face when he finally awoke and became aware of Keija and Teyna staring at him with concerned looks on their faces.

    (Author's note: As it is heading towards the Holiday season in the US, I will be taking a short hiatus from posting my story in order to focus more on family gatherings and matters relating to the holidays. Also, this will give me time to sort out a few story lines I wish to pursue. I hope you all have been enjoying the story so far. Please leave any comments or criticisms in the discussion forum! I will continue the story in a few weeks from now.)
  3. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    (Author's note: I'm back from Thanksgiving. I'll be able to post chapters until we get closer to Christmas, then I'll take another small break. In the meantime....)

    Chapter 83: An Impasse and a Flight to London

    “What took you so long, Daniel?” Keija was the first to speak up, as she crossed her arms and gave him a wry grimace.

    “There were daunting defenses near the origin of the cord, and there wasn't any possible way to breach them,” Daniel sighed as he began to notice the stark changes to the domain from the time he began his walk.

    “Well, as you can see, the situation here has changed quite a bit,” Teyna added, as she lobbed another practice wisp towards a large boulder, which glowed slightly upon impact.

    Daniel blinked several times as he stared at all the changes around him, the least of which was Teyna's ability to summon and cast wisps of spiritual strength.

    “What happened here?” He finally asked the burning question.

    “It seems I was able to acquire an artifact after all,” Keija smiled with a suppressed giggle.

    “Oh? What did you get?” Daniel asked with intense curiosity.

    Before Keija could respond, Teyna and Mr. Sanada stopped their training for a moment and just shook their heads in anticipation of Keija's answer.

    “A gift,” Keija replied cryptically as she stood contentedly looking over Daniel as he managed to sit upright, wiping some dust from his eyes.

    Teyna couldn't hold herself from laughing at her answer, and summoned a small wisp which she tossed at Keija teasingly, “Tell him the truth, or I will!” She laughed.

    “Obviously, it was something good,” Daniel smiled back.

    “You could say that! But I'll keep you in suspense for a bit longer,” She winked, and then turned to Teyna, “Let's wait until we get back back to the compound, before we tell him the good news.”

    “Fine! Fine!” Teyna surrendered with a pleased look on her face.

    Mr. Sanada just shook his head in a pitiable manner, and let the so-called “younger generation” deal with it's own devices. He still had more than enough issues on his plate than to explain to the young man what happened. And seeing that Daniel had returned from his walk in good health, Mr. Sanada turned towards the young man and asked, “So what did you discover on your end, Mr. Grey?”

    Daniel explained the situation that he encountered near the origin point of the tainted attack on the domain. After which, he expressed his frustration deeply, that he couldn't penetrate the defenses that had been erected there within the Astral realm.

    Keija turned towards Daniel, extending a hand to lift him up, and consoled him, “You did what you could, Daniel. No one could expect to breach those defenses as you've described them.”

    “I'm still rather angry that I couldn't get a clone to penetrate and discover the location of our attacker. But I'm hoping that someone back at the compound can figure things out on their end. Maybe Richard Lowen, or Melissa, or perhaps even Elijah might be more familiar with such things.”

    “When you do have any more information, Mr. Grey, the college would be most appreciative of your forwarding that information to the administration. Speaking on their behalf, I know that none of us was expecting such an attack, and I find it very disturbing that it happened on the day that you were attending your first day of classes. It leads me to suspect there might be a spy amongst our ranks.”

    “I'd prefer not too speculate on that too much. We have recently had our own issues with the Illuminati, and it could well be they have been scrying our movements since we returned from Singapore,” Daniel raised an alternative motive and theory for what was responsible for the attack.

    Rin Sanada nodded as he took this information to heart, “That is quite plausible, but we had no warning from Mr. Mallory, or Uzume in regards to this possibility, so I'm not sure how much credence we should lend to that scenario.”

    “Regardless of who is responsible for the attack, I suggest that the college increase security for all it's endeavors for the time being,” Daniel replied, and both Keija and Teyna nodded in agreement.

    “Well, we've done what we can here for now. With your permission, Miss Nighthawk? Shall we depart?” Rin asked without so much of a hint of her newfound control over the domain. He said it in a manner which suggested simple courtesy rather than anything that might tip Daniel's awareness of the situation.

    “I suppose it's time to head back home,” Keija nodded and waited for everyone to return to the safe zone portal back to the mortal realm. She took a moment to completely seal all other access locations, before she slipped through herself and closed the seam behind her.


    The flight to London was quiet and calm and Anthony Mallory was able to stretch out in his first class seat in considerable comfort. For the next few hours, he could enjoy not having to deal with the myriad problems that faced his organization on a day to day basis. The situation in Singapore was concerning, but there was nothing to be done until this meeting with the London main branch of the college was concluded to everyone's satisfaction.

    Uzume sat next to him, staring out of the window into the deep azure twilight sky. It quickly turned into a dark canvas that sparkled with the glitter of shining stars as the jet sped eastwards towards London. Sensing Anthony's gaze upon her, she demurely turned her head and gave him a soft smile, before returning her gaze towards the night sky.

    Venka sat on the aisle seat opposite the center lane, and quietly began to plan contingencies should any emergency occur. She was nervous about commercial flights where she had no control nor knew the pilot in charge, but with the Old Man and Uzume with her, that helped her cope considerably.

    Seeing her two companions across the aisle acting so relaxed helped her calm her nerves and focus on preparing the the agenda for the upcoming meeting. There would be much to discuss concerning the nexus gates and the Illuminati interference with them.

    Several hours into the otherwise peaceful flight, An announcement came over the cabin speakers, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to inform you all of a situation developing at Heathrow International Airport. Due to this situation, we are diverting our route to Gatwick. We regret any inconvenience this may cause to any travel arrangements you may have. Agents will be standing by at our arrival gate to coordinate alternative arrangements should you require them. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we hope that you will continue to consider us for your travel needs in the future.”

    The groans and angry exclamations resounded throughout the cabin. Several passengers complained loudly to the nearest stewardess about their situation, but the helpless attendants could only reassure them that agents would be available to coordinate transportation to their final destinations.

    Anthony gazed at Uzume and turned to Venka next with the same expression. The two agents both nodded and understood that this situation most likely had something to do with their recent troubles. For now, however, there wasn't much to do but wait until the aircraft landed at Gatwick. Unfortunately, this would put them on the other side of London far from where they needed to be.

    The Old Man considered how long of a delay being diverted would cost them, and concluded that the cost would be more than several hours of time. Whatever was happening at Heathrow, it was yet another distraction from the purpose of coordinating with the College of Magi in London.

    Fearing some other situations might develop, Anthony Mallory decided to call his contact in London and inform him of this change in plans.

    “Simon? Yes, It's Anthony. I'm sure you are aware of the situation developing at Heathrow? We've been diverted to Gatwick. But the reason I'm calling to warn you, is that there may be more to this than meets the eye.”

    The voice on the other end muttered something which Venka couldn't overhear. She glanced at Uzume, who was eagerly attempting to discern some tidbit of the conversation, but couldn't do ought but shake her head wryly and raise her hands in a gesture of bewilderment. Even with her exceptional fox spirit hearing, she was unable to understand what the other voice was saying.

    As Anthony and his contact on the other end of the phone spoke, A stewardess walked by and noting the phone conversation, instructed that Federal Aviation Administration rules did not allow for cell phones to be in use during the flight.

    Anthony quickly complied, ending the phone conversation with, “I'll meet you at Gatwick.”

    The stewardess looked perturbed by the cell phone usage, but seeing that the gentleman quickly ended the call and did not need further assistance, continued to assist the other first class passengers with arranging for their needs due to the change of destination.

    “Uzume, Venka, When we arrive at Gatwick, we'll meet with Simon and then gate to the college immediately. I don't want to be delayed anymore than has already occurred.”

    “We could have gated from Salem, Anthony,” Uzume gently chided.

    “But at what cost? There are several other projects currently tapping into my spiritual strength. Should I compromise those projects just to get to London a few hours sooner? Notwithstanding that some outside forces are most likely delaying me on purpose with this course change, I can afford a few hours of relatively quiet flight time with the added benefit that I get to spend them with you.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke these words.

    “You old softie,” Uzume giggled in reply. Venka, in the seat across the aisle, just rolled her eyes, and chuckled softly.

    “No, the delay on the ground is what will be irksome. London traffic can be quite bothersome. Hence we can afford a short distance gate from the airport to the college,” The Old Man replied with a determined sigh, “Still, be ready for anything once we arrive.”
  4. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 84: Burying the Hatchet

    In an unknown location on the mainland of China, several thudding rumbles could be heard as a Daedalus mining drone continued to bore through a sand blasted cliffside in the hot desert sun. The mechanical robot looked like a spider with a speargun that ejected a boring drill bit. One small bit of mysterious equipment on the robot, however, served a different purpose. Several hundred meters away in a small tent encampment, Edward Daedalus was discussing operations in Salem and London with Dr. Faustus.

    “Did Phaetheon manage to disrupt the college of magi campus in Salem?” Dr. Faustus inquired with a cool, chiseled resolve in this eyes.

    “He says he managed to corrupt the college's repository of artifacts, but when he went back to confirm the results after the students and faculty had left the repository, he noticed their pocket domain had mutated and his access had been sealed off,” Edward Daedalus replied with a hint of concern.

    “Mutated?” Dr. Faustus knitted his eyebrows in frustration.

    “That's how he described it. It seems there was a reaction to his contaminant. Either that, or some other entity caused the domain's attributes to shift, sealing the domain in such a way that his solar attribute was rendered useless in attempting another breach.”

    “So, the self declared “lord of light”, ended up left out in the cold? How pathetic!” Dr. Faustus scoffed.

    “Nonetheless, the distraction caused by his attack has caused a nice delay for us, and the college will most likely be searching for answers in the Astral realm,” Edward ignored the contempt in Dr. Faustus' voice and shrugged as he finished his report.

    “He utilized our portal from Rome, I assume?” The Doctor glanced over his shoulder back at Edward for a moment, then returned his view of the mining drone continuing to bore deeply into the cliff side.

    “That is my understanding as well. I wonder if he and Caligula are planning something to undermine this plot.....” Edward trailed off and then shook his head.

    “Caligula!” The doctor again scoffed at the mention of that name, “He just wants to rule his little city. The man styles himself an emperor of Rome, but he lacks vision!”

    Edward didn't underestimate Caligula like Dr. Faustus seemed eager to do. His power base in Rome was similar to his own in Singapore. Rome, however, had a much deeper history, and many more secrets hidden within it's locale.

    “How about Moriarty's plans in London? Has he done his part for our little operation?” Doctor Faustus turned his attention once again back fully towards Edward.

    “He has yet to fill me in on the details or results of his operation, but did state that he had gone 'operational' within the last few hours. Apparently, he's closed down Heathrow for some reason,” Edward glanced at the printed report in his hand as he spoke.

    “Very good,” Dr. Faustus breathed deeply of the hot desert air, and let out a deep sigh of relaxation, “Once your drone uncovers the nexus gate, we can begin to decode the glyphs and begin our real search for the Chaos gate.”

    The boring and rumbling thuds of the mining drone continued to sound in the distance, as Dr. Faustus raised the corners of his mouth into a wicked grin. Unbeknownst to Dr. Faustus and Edward Daedalus, however, was the fact that the small piece of unknown equipment on the mining drone was sending GPS data to a computer in the hands of a Synod agent in the vicinity.


    While Keija, Teyna and Daniel returned to Midgaard (As Keija would refer to the normal world from time to time), they realized that not much time had passed since the tremendous changes occurred in the pocket domain, and that other than the minor drama of having a few students injured during the class, the day continued to proceed in an otherwise routine manner.

    Professor Halloran greeted the three, as well as Sanada Rin as they emerged from the pocket domain, “Class has ended for the day. The injured students are being attended, so there is no need to worry about them. The administration will need to review what occurred, and Mr. Sanada will need to update me on his efforts as well. However, that said, classes have not been canceled. Please attend to your schedules and review the syllabus for what is required over the next few weeks.”

    As Keija, Teyna and Daniel gathered their belongings and left the lecture hall, Professor Halloran glanced over at Rin who looked very puzzled, “I take it something profound happened in there?”

    Rin let a big sigh escape from his mouth as he furrowed his brows to try and come up with an explanation of the events, “Well, you see it's like this....”

    As Mr. Sanada was briefing Professor Halloran, the three young Shadow Hunter agents headed out of the lecture hall and into the bright midday sun. “Let's head back to the compound,” Keija quickly said as she stretched like a contented cat soaking in the sun's heat amidst the autumn chill of the air.

    “I'm looking forward to what this 'gift' you receive actually is,” Daniel mused as he looked suspiciously between Teyna and Keija's smirks, “Or on second thought, do I really want to know?” he raised his eyebrows wryly.

    “Come on, let's call a driver, and get on home!” Teyna pulled at both Keija's and Daniel's arms as they headed for the campus entrance.

    As they passed another nearby lecture hall, they encountered a crowd of students exiting their classes as well, and bumped into Wesley and Jessica, as well as Liahna and Jake, the third year students they met the evening they scouted the campus.

    Keija scowled at Wesley, but deferred from any overt action due to Jessica's presence as well as the other students. Narrowing her eyes, she coldly asked, “There's not going to be any more trouble with you, will there?”

    Wesley was about to respond when Jessica held up her hand, “No. Supposedly, he's learned his lesson. Say, how about you three join us at the student union for lunch? My treat. I want you to get to know each other in order to bury the hatchet.” (Author's note: A saying meaning to let go of any grudges against each other.)

    Daniel shrugged, “We're not really that busy, are we?” He turned to Keija and Teyna for confirmation.

    Keija sighed, “I suppose we aren't at the moment. Teyna, do you have any objections to a free lunch?”

    Teyna pondered the present company for the moment. The only objectionable person in this lunch group would be Wesley, but since Jessica offered this lunch for the sole purpose of trying to get Wesley to reign in his arrogant behavior she accepted, “Ok. Let's head there now!”

    The two groups merged into one as they headed towards the student union. Jessica placed herself firmly between Wesley and the Shadow Hunters, and kept order with Liahna and Jake on the flanks of the group.

    Wesley himself looked perturbed as he rolled his eyes in disdain, but he couldn't gainsay his sister due both to her strength, and her position within the family and the college. He grumbled to himself as the seven of them continued on their way. Keija, Daniel and Teyna chatted with Jake, Liahna and Jessica.

    “I heard you were all on a field trip? How did that go?” Keija inquired to break the ice.

    Liahna quickly took the opportunity to respond, “Oh that? It went fine. We took a nexus portal to the gobi desert, and were studying ancient Chinese Taoist trigrams. The class we're taking right now deals with the 'Book of Changes', and these trigrams are part of a system of prophecy and divination that many who follow Eastern cosmology techniques use even today.”

    Keija nodded in understanding, “I'm aware of the 'Book of Changes' the I Ching is even used by the Synod from time to time. It's very profound. And you got to see examples of trigrams and hexagrams from Taoist shrines and temples? Wonderful! Now I'm eager to take that class as well!”

    Teyna nodded as well. As a young girl in Singapore, she had dabbled with friends in various divination tools and games, such as Ouija and I Ching. Unaware of spiritual strength at that time, however, she only took them to be parlor games or entertaining diversions. She could only imagine what type of results could be obtained by infusing spiritual strength or intent into the creation of a trigram or hexagram.

    “Perhaps we can convince Professor Hawthorne and Professor Halloran to conduct a joint class at some point,” Jessica added to the conversation.

    “That would be an interesting mix of students,” Jake mused in an off-handed manner. “But would Professor Halloran's class be able to get much out of such a field trip without the background information we received in our class?”

    “Education is never a waste,” Jessica replied knowingly, “A small introduction prior to such a class could stimulate a lot of interest, and maybe a few students might find a new focus for their studies. It's also fun to break out of the routine of normal studies as well from time to time.”

    The group arrived at the Student Union, and entered into the building, heading for the cafe and deli.

    “Ah! It's Mr. Hawthorne!” Teyna recognized the man from the library several nights ago as they approached the cafe, “Good to see you again!”

    “Ms. Caulfield,” Corey replied, “Indeed it's good to see you as well. Please, just call me Corey. So take a seat anywhere in the cafe, I'll get some menus for you to browse.”

    Jessica led the group over to a corner booth, and arranged the seating so that Wesley would be on the opposite end of the table from Keija and her companions. Liahna, Jake and Jessica then filled in the remaining open places.

    Daniel was still curious about the so-called “gift” that Keija received during his astral walk earlier, but he had to submerge his curiosity in the presence of someone like Wesley. Turning towards Jessica, he asked about their field trip in more detail.

    “Well, truth be told, I managed to have Wesley pulled from your class today in order for him to help me in maintaining a temporary portal between our class and the desert shrine that Professor Hawthorne's class was studying.”

    Corey managed to overhear this last part of Jessica's response as he arrived to distribute menus, and politely inquired, “Oh? You're taking my father's class? How is he as a teacher? I can never tell since he never lets me watch him at work.”

    “You're professor Hawthorne's son?” Jessica was somewhat surprised by Corey's admission.

    “That's right. I only recently came here to be with him after I'd been living with my mother overseas, because she has to travel a lot now due to work.”

    “Do you take classes here?” Jessica raised her eyebrows, uncertain as to how knowledgeable Corey was with the Secret World.

    “I'm familiar with the courses taught,” Corey winked as he replied. “Anyways, what will you be having for lunch? I recommend the soup and sandwich combo platter. Today's soup is a nice New England Clam Chowder.”

    After Jessica ordered, Wesley grumbled quite a bit towards Jessica before placing his order and the rest of the students followed quickly with their own preferences. The group had a momentary pause of awkward silence before Jessica began to ask Daniel all sorts of questions concerning the Shadow Hunters' roles and responsibilities. Corey headed back to the kitchen to gather the orders up.

    “And just how did you get involved with the Shadow Hunter organization in the first place?” Jake interjected when Jessica had finished her line of questioning.

    “I kind of just fell into the orbit of the Shadow Hunters as I became more aware of the Secret World,” Daniel confided truthfully, “I had been becoming more and more proficient as an Astral Walker, and Mr. Mallory noticed.”

    Keija smirked at Daniel's explanation, “The Synod noticed you as well!” She poked him teasingly.

    “How about you and Wesley?” Teyna added her own questions to the conversation directed at Jessica, “How did you and your family get involved in all of this Secret World stuff?”

    Wesley scowled and glanced at his sister with a knowing look, as if to say, don't tell them!

    Jessica held up her hand to silence her younger brother, as she sighed towards Teyna, “That would involve a very long family history, which unfortunately I can't recall off the top of my head at the moment. Unlike spirits, most of us aren't blessed with eidetic memories. However, I promise I will relate what I know once I review the family records.”

    Wesley sneered at his sister's explanation, and Jessica once again rolled her eyes as she retorted, “Brother, must I explain once again why arrogance only gets one into trouble?”

    “No need, no need,” Wesley retreated when he saw flames in his sister's eyes.

    “Wesley, you need to face the reality that you are NOT the most important person on this planet. Now will you just please apologize to these people for your earlier behavior?”

    “Why should I have to apologize to a bunch of gate guards?” Wesley retorted as he glared with maliciousness at Keija, Daniel and Teyna.

    “Because if you don't,” Jessica replied with an iciness in her voice that made Wesley shiver, “you can forget about graduating. You'll be stuck guarding the family manor gate yourself.”

    While Liahna and Jake were a bit stunned by this exchange between siblings out in the open, the three Shadow Hunters could only suppress laughter at how dominate Jessica was in this family relation.

    “Fine!” Wesley huffed in defeat, “I'm sorry I caused you all problems,” He said without a hint of sincerity towards everyone at the table, “It won't happen again.”

    “There! That settles that,” Jessica said with a voice that was tinged with her iron will.

    As the surprising conversation tapered off into an awkward silence, Corey arrived back at the table with everyone's order, and then moved to turn on the cafe's television for the benefit of distracting all those present.
  5. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 85: Revealing A Secret

    After turning the channel to the local news, Corey headed back to the kitchen to tidy up.

    “This is really good clam chowder!” Keija exclaimed with exuberance, “I have to admit, the food here is really good!”

    The group enjoyed the cafe meal and even Wesley became less annoying as he concentrated on finishing his sandwich. As Keija turned her attention towards the television, she immediate felt a cold shiver down her spine, as read the words scrolling down at the bottom of the screen, “Heathrow International Airport shut down due to terrorist threat.”

    “Daniel, Teyna!” Keija immediately raised her voice in alarm, “Something's happening in London at the moment!”

    Teyna finished the bite of her sandwich and quickly looked up at the television as Keija's voice carried a tone of concern, “Shouldn't Mr. Mallory and the others be flying into Heathrow right about now?” She asked rhetorically.

    “We need to get back to the compound and find out if anyone has more information about this incident,” Daniel grimaced as he replied grimly.

    Jessica, Liahna and Jake glanced at each other in a bit of surprise at the reaction of the three to this news, “Is there something that we can do to help?” Liahna offered somewhat lamely.

    Keija quickly calmed herself, and instantly realized that she had overreacted to the news. With her spirit's instinct of being able to foresee how unintended consequences tend to mushroom from rash action, she quickly pulled herself back from her overreaction.

    “Hold on a moment, everyone,” Keija took a deep breath and sighed before continuing, “This is Mr. Mallory, Uzume and Venka we are talking about here. If they cannot handle whatever is going on in London, what can we expect to do about it?”

    “That's a very good point,” Daniel quickly felt relief at Keija's words, “Perhaps we should concentrate on the matters that Mr. Mallory left for us here, to improve our training along with Teyna.”

    “Thank you for the offer, Liahna, but I think we just got a bit jumpy from the news. Unless we hear from the compound, we can assume that the situation isn't out of control. But speaking of help, is there anything we can do to help you guys out? Our remaining classes were canceled for the day due to an incident we had in the artifact repository, so we're free for the rest of the day,” Keija turned towards Liahna and Jake, and returned her words with graciousness.

    Daniel still had the lingering suspicion of what Keija's “gift” was, and knew that it was directly related to the earlier incident, but with these words from Keija he had found another opening to ask her about it directly.

    “About that incident, Keija, What happened in there while I was walking in the Astral realm?”

    Teyna looked somewhat alarmed at the possibility that Keija would explain this in front of the other students, but Keija looked at her and calmed her fears, “As I told you before, I will explain everything once we get back home. Suffice to say, that whatever caused the disruption hadn't calculated the possibility that a benefit could have arisen from it.”

    Jake, Liahna and Jessica all looked suspiciously at Keija, and Jessica spoke up first, “Now you've got our curiosity aroused, Keija. You can keep your secrets for a while, but I suspect we'll find out from the college about what happened soon enough.”

    “You're right....” Keija sighed, she was eager to tell Daniel anyways, but these people would all find out sooner or later that Keija now owned the pocket domain. “Very well, let me tell you all what happened, but before I do, I'd like Jessica to put up an isolation domain around us. This secret shouldn't be broadcast wildly.”

    As Keija began to explain the events leading up to her control of the pocket domain, the faces of the mages began to become more and more distorted with surprise. Wesley, of course, was trembling with jealousy and rage, “You! You took control of the artifact repository!?!?!” he shouted with astonishment.

    Were it not for the the isolation domain that Jessica had conjured, the entire town of Salem might have heard Wesley's shout.

    Keija and the others winced at his shout, and everyone gave him a glare of contempt, “Stuff it, Wesley!” Jessica commanded him icily, her patience worn extremely thin by his constant contempt.

    Still, even without Wesley's coarse and hostile manner, everyone at the table, except for Teyna and Keija herself, was shocked at this revelation.

    “So wait...” Liahna furrowed her brows as she contemplated the immensity of Keija's revelation, “What you're saying is that the repository domain gives you a feedback effect? As you increase in strength it increases in strength and this continues on indefinitely?”

    Keija shook her head, “Theoretically that might be the case, but such easy power is always seductive but seldom pans out. Although there is indeed a feedback effect, the capacity of the domain is unknown, and if I exceed the domain's potential to store spiritual strength, I may shatter it. Thus, it is in everyone's best interest, especially my own, that I do not integrate with the domain without regard to this issue. Rather, I intend to slowly strengthen the domain as I progress in strength, so that the domain remains capable of providing a strong training environment.”

    “I understand. The temptation of limitless power has always ended badly for those who seek it haphazardly,” Jessica added as she looked pointedly at her brother.

    Wesley grumbled and muttered under his breath as he turned to avoid his sister's gaze.

    Daniel looked at Keija with a deep respect that had slowly been developing between them, “That's a very wise stance to take, Keija. But is it possible for you to utilize this domain to help train others to a high level of spiritual strength?”

    “Of course!” Keija smiled at glanced at everyone around the table with a big grin on her face. “If I hadn't decided to share this information for your benefit as well as mine, I wouldn't have shared it in the first place!”

    “Even Wesley?” Jessica mused with her eyebrows raised up in skepticism.

    “That depends on Wesley,” Keija replied deadpan.

    “Hey now!” The younger brother started grousing loudly, “I'm right here you know! And who made you the arbiter of what can or cannot happen in the artifact domain!? You can't just waltz in and take over college property on a whim!”

    “Three words, Wesley,” Keija chided him with little concern for giving him face, “Ex Post Facto.”

    “What's that?” Wesley sneered, “After the fact?”

    “Indeed, It's a done deal,” Keija nodded condescendingly in his face, “The college already knows about it, and I've offered to move all the remaining artifacts and their guardians to a new repository if the college requests it.”

    “Wait, so you have control of all the artifacts in the repository as well?” I've still not been given my chance to get an artifact yet!” Wesley grumbled as he became increasing more despondent.

    “You're more than welcome to try and get one right now, I suppose. I can open up the domain here if you like,” Keija smiled wickedly.

    Jessica held up her hand, “That's a kind offer, Keija, but we'll have to coordinate with the college first. Also, Wesley isn't prepared mentally after holding open Professor Hawthorne's portal for so long during our field trip.”

    “But I would like to do it, still,” Wesley couldn't turn down such a tempting offer, even if it meant humiliating himself in front of these Shadow Hunters. He swallowed his pride for the moment, but inwardly he still seethed with hatred for these contemptible Shadow Hunters.

    “If you let me know what type of artifact you might need, I can bring a few near the entrance with their guardians, and eliminate the need to search for them. Just let me know when you'd like to make the attempt,” Keija could afford to be magnanimous, she was in complete control of the domain, after all.

    Jake and Liahna also voiced a desire to obtain better artifacts than what they currently possessed. With Keija's control over the domain, they could really get artifacts that more directly suited their potential, rather than relying on the ones they obtained last year by chance and circumstance.

    Jessica once again reiterated that any such visits to Keija's domain, would probably have to be cleared through the college administration, at least until all artifacts still remaining had been cataloged and found a new home.

    The atmosphere in the cafe became less awkward once Wesley calmed down and Jessica was able to remove the isolation domain from the booth where they were all seated.

    Corey came out from the Kitchen and totaled up the lunch check, “Let's see, four soup and sandwich combos and a house salad, that'll be $32.00!”

    Keia looked painfully at Daniel and Teyna since she hadn't brought any money with her, until Jessica once again reiterated, “Remember, it was to be my treat!” She remarked casually as she handed Corey her credit card.

    Sighing gratefully, Keija and the others thanked Jessica. Afterwards, Keija then turned to Daniel and Teyna, “Let's get home and I'll show you more of this domain!”

    Jessica nodded as Daniel, Keija and Teyna left the cafe and headed for the campus entrance where they would call a diver to head back to the compound. Turning to her brother, Jake and Liahna, she remarked, “This could prove very useful to keep those three friendly with the college, and especially ourselves! Don't mess it up Wesley!”

    They all nodded in agreement, and Wesley just bit his tongue to suppress the hatred and jealousy he felt for Keija at the moment.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
  6. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 86: A Little Experiment After Dinner

    Later in the evening, after dinner, Keija had a number of Shadow Hunter agents gathered around her dorm room.

    The details of the afternoon incident at the college had been leaked to the other Shadow Hunters, and the college of magi administration had also delivered a few packages addressed to Mr. Mallory, so rumors of what had transpired in Professor Halloran's class had spread rapidly.

    Melissa, Martin, Elijah, Thomas, Lars and Astrid all crowded into Keija's room along with Daniel and Teyna, after they had secured Keija's promise during dinner to show them this pocket dimension over which she had gained control.

    “I've not been in there at all since the early afternoon, when class was dismissed,” Keija apologized, but she quickly focused her spiritual strength into opening an entrance into the pocket domain, “But we can all explore it together now in more depth.”

    “What's left to explore?” Daniel asked knowing that the domain had pretty much been mapped out by successive groups of students at the college for many years.

    “Well, it's potential as a training area for one thing,” Keija remarked dryly, “While I already have a good understanding of it's basic attributes, and have been modifying those to be more in line with my own, there is still the question of how much potential spiritual strength can be utilized within the domain without damaging it. Also, we know that since someone or something was able to attack the domain from an outside source, it has the potential of being utilized as a portal as well.”

    “What about the artifacts still inside the domain?” Teyna wondered out loud.

    Daniel nodded and added, “Shouldn't we get Sam to come along as well? He's probably our best agent in regards to analyzing unknown artifacts, or maybe Richard is?”

    Teyna laughed, “I've only been here a few days, but I've never seen Mr. Lowen leave the library. So Sam is probably the better choice.”

    Elijah smiled easily as this was discussed, “Already got you covered on that account. I stopped by Sam's workbench at the armory before heading here! He'll be arriving shortly.”

    As everyone nodded at this pronouncement, Keija continued to concentrate on expanding the ever growing extrusion of dimensional space that seemed to emerge from a rip in the fabric of reality, “It'll be a while before I can do this easily,” she explained, “I don't have the same strength outside of the domain as I do inside of it, so it's rather lucky that I'm doing it here at the compound where I've already integrated a lot, or it'd probably take an hour or more to open this entrance.”

    As all of the gathered people around watched with anticipation, Sam quietly knocked on Keija's door, and carefully let himself in without causing a disturbance in Keija's rhythm, “So what's all this about, Elijah?” He whispered in a a hushed tone since Elijah was unable to give him any concrete information earlier.

    Elijah tilted his head closer towards Sam and whispered back in a similar hushed tone, “Apparently Keija gained control of an artifact repository that had been used by the mages' college. She's going to take us there, and we're going to explore the domain as she solidifies her control.”

    Sam visibly brightened when he heard the word 'artifact' come from Elijah's lips, he quickly joined the others in watching Keija's conjuring the entrance portal with enthusiasm.

    Keija's dorm room was quite crowded at this point, but everyone hugged the wall, giving her enough room to manipulate her spiritual strength in order to summon the temporary portal.

    After 10 minutes of conjuring her domain entrance, she nodded to the others to enter the domain, but asked them to remain within several meters of the entrance until she arrived to explain what was known about the domain to this point.

    Veteran Shadow Hunter agents such as Elijah, Melissa, Thomas and the others gathered in the domain were quite familiar with pocket domains and other realms existing outside of the norm of daily existence.

    Noting Keija's admonition to stay near the entrance until everyone was safely within the domain, they all experienced a perceptual shift as they stepped through the glowing entrance portal, and took a deep breath as they entered the alien environment.

    Since Keija had taken control, the orange and purple sky had turned a more natural azure blue, although the amount light within the domain was considered minimal for natural sight at the moment. Also, the domain was quite chilly, so Melissa and Martin all handed out several heat generating talismans to the participants of the group.

    “Should I return to grab some jackets?” Sam asked as he shivered in the dim twilight air.

    “Once you activate the talismans, you'll feel a comfortable temperature according to your mind's preference,” Melissa replied after shaking her head, “just keep it on your person, and you should be fine.”

    "I'm fine," Thomas remarked with a toothy grin. His ability to endure the elements was legendary among all the Shadow Hunters present.

    "That figures," Lars scoffed lightly back with a bemused look on his face.

    After everyone activated their talismans, they pocketed the devices and indeed felt a lot more comfortable than before.

    “How long will these heat talismans last?” Lars asked directly.

    “They were infused with enough spiritual strength to last for several hours,” Martin chimed in, “although the ones Melissa worked on will last longer than my own,” He said somewhat apologetically.

    “Hey, little brother,” Melissa smiled at Martin, “Don't get down on your own work. Just remember, that practice makes perfect.”

    “Right!” Martin smiled back at her encouragement.

    Keija then emerged from the portal as the last of the group completed transitioning into the domain, “Where we are located now is known as the “safety zone”. Within about 10 meters of the entrance portal to this location, the spiritual strength of the pocket domain remains stable. However, whoever has the highest spiritual strength who leaves this area, will begin to affect the domain's ambient spiritual strength. For myself, this phenomenon causes a feedback loop, since I've integrated with the domain.”

    “So you need to stay within the safety zone,” Elijah deduced quickly.

    “Correct. At least for now, I don't want to potentially exceed the domain's ability to withstand the rapid increase in spiritual strength,” Keija explained, then continued, “But with all of you here, you could potentially cultivate and withdraw spiritual strength from the domain. Thus I could leave the safety zone, and although I would be temporarily weakened with all of you cultivating, such a situation would allow me to continuously integrate without exceeding the domain's capacity to store spiritual strength.”

    “So you could find a balance between the cultivators withdrawing spiritual energy from the environment while infusing it with your feedback effect at the same time!” Elijah and Astrid remarked almost at the same time, looking at each other with surprise at their simultaneous conclusion.

    “Shall we try a little experiment?” Keija nodded as she swept her gaze across everyone present, her indigo eyes flashing brightly for the time being.

    “Astrid, if you could figure out the calculations based on everyone's current spiritual strength, we could set up an array to balance out any excess energy and store it in a capacitor device for the time being,” Melissa began to confer with Martin on the construction of such an array.

    Astrid began to query every member of the group for their spiritual strength ranking, and took out a small notebook to scribble calculations within.

    With Keija providing additional information based on her knowledge of the domain's attributes, every person was positioned in a particular spot to create a temporary array. When the array was ready, Keija let everyone know that it was safe to begin cultivating, as she gingerly stepped outside of the safe zone radius and began to gently and slowly integrate with the domain.

    As the cultivators began to delve into their own personal spirit realms, Keija felt the drain of spiritual strength from the domain as each person began to absorb the energy from their surroundings. As Keija was not the highest spiritual strength person in the group, Elijah volunteered to remain in the safe zone for the time being, and he focused his spiritual sight on maintaining the harmonic convergences of the array.

    Keija immediately began to increase the pace of her integration of the realm until she felt her spiritual strength rebounding in a slightly positive direction, “I've achieved a slight positive balance in our total array strength,” She murmured out loud to Elijah, who was monitoring the array.

    Everyone was astounded at the rich depth of spiritual strength that began to infuse the domain, and everyone kept their cultivation pace at the direction of Elijah's advice, in order to maintain the array's balance. Any minor fluctuations that exceeded Astrid's calculations were funneled into a capacitor device that Melissa and Martin had constructed.

    A true harmony was being achieved between Keija's integration with it's full feedback effect and the Shadow Hunter agents who were enjoying a rich cultivation environment much like Teyna had experienced during the first incident in the pocket dimension.

    Everyone kept pace for several hours until Elijah finally announced that the capacitor device was full of spiritual strength, and could absorb no more.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
  7. Sturmritter

    Sturmritter Member

    May 27, 2017
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    Chapter 87: An Unexpected Meddler? Or Something Worse?

    (Author's note: This chapter is another extra long one. I'll be taking time off for Christmas, and won't post again until after the New Year. Please enjoy the holidays, and stay safe everyone!)

    “That was truly amazing!” Keija exclaimed happily as everyone returned to the safety zone, “I was able to integrate to such an extent without worrying if I might damage the realm!”

    “So how did you focus your integration?” Daniel asked curiously.

    “I concentrated on strengthening the structural integrity of this pocket dimension. I believe my own stamina has benefited greatly from this experiment as well,” Keija replied with a sigh of relief.

    “Will Uzume be able to benefit from this when she returns?” Sam suddenly asked.

    “I'm not sure,” Keija replied earnestly, “Since she's a member of the eastern cosmology, I'm not quite sure if her integration is exactly the same as ours in the northern cosmology. Still, we're both considered tricksters, so there may be a possibility to meld integration on those terms...”

    At the mention of tricksters, a sudden force swept across the domain, and everyone felt an immense pressure bear down upon them. For a what seemed an interminable amount of time, everyone stood in the safety zone of the domain, unable to move until a loud voice boomed across the azure sky.

    “WHO HAS MEDDLED WITH THIS DOMAIN!” the voice shouted out with a fearful presence.

    “Who is asking?” Keija was able to barely reply. Given her deep integration with the domain, she felt less constricted by this sudden, alien presence.

    “HAHAHAHA!” the voice quickly retorted with gales of laughter, “Oh ho! We have a kid with spunk in our midst! Fine, brat, I'll enlighten you. I'm Coyote, the guardian spirit and creator of this realm!”

    Keija and the others were stunned into momentary silence by the revelation of this presence.

    “Co-yo-te?” Keija somewhat stammered. This was a great celestial spirit worshiped as a god by many native American tribes!

    “Did the cat catch your tongue, brat? That's who I am!” the presence remarked with a casual disregard for any potential decorum, “Don't tell me, you've never heard of me before! Oh ho! Wouldn't that be something?”

    With a loud poof sound, and a billow of cloudy smoke, a figure suddenly appeared in the center of the domain's safe zone. The figure looked muscular and vigorous, but had a furry head with fox-like ears and face, and penetrating deep golden-yellow eyes.

    “I know! I know what you're all thinking! 'Gee! It's a good thing Coyote appeared in the safe zone, or the domain would have exploded due to his spiritual strength!' Yep. I tend to enjoy explosions, to be sure, but not really a pleasant feeling when you're in the middle of one,” He began to rattle on.

    Everyone stood and stared, still under the effect of his commanding presence, unable to move.

    “You agree right? Explosions, good. But not when you're in the middle of them, that's what I always say! And I should know! I've been in a few enough to know the gory details. Ugh, thank you not to remind me of such things.” Coyote continued to chatter away.

    He quickly strode around the group, eyeing each one in their present state of awe, and casually moved among them, tousling hair, and altering poses of these frozen figures, making snide comments as he did so, until he finally ended up in front of Keija, who was the least affected of the group.

    “Ok, brat!” Coyote stopped as he noticed Keija able to turn her head towards him, “Let's settle this stuff concerning my domain with you right now.”

    “Why should I believe you?” Keija hit Coyote with a question he was all too familiar with.

    “You're a dark elf, oh, excuse me, a Swartalfheimer, are you not?” He sighed with exasperation, then continued before Keija could answer, “You're a trickster, I'm a trickster, wouldn't these people like to be tricksters too?” he gestured at all the Shadow Hunter agents, “Haven't you heard of honor among thieves? Trust between fellow professionals? Believing me, because otherwise I might accidentally squish everyone here on a whim?”

    “Fine,” Keija feigned resignation for herself as she quickly sent a mental summons to the Kirin beast which they had fought earlier in the day. After Keija had gained control of the domain, she was able to communicate with all of the artifact guardians with a empathetic bond.

    Coyote seemed completely oblivious to this and looked pointedly at Keija as she seemed resigned to her fate.

    “Oh, don't give up so easily! You had enough spunk to talk back to me earlier!” Coyote shook his head with disappointment, “You're supposed to be a trickster! Say, “Hey look! Over there! A squirrel!' then I'd be like, 'Oh? Where?' and shift my attention while you pickpocketed the deed to this realm from my pants pocket!”

    “Oh, Look! A Kirin!” Keija suddenly shouted.

    “Oh? HAHAHAHA! Nope, not buying it. I just gave you the idea!” He laughed before taking a whiff of the air, and sensing a strange animal scent in the air, and hearing a stampeding gallop arriving quickly behind him, he furrowed his eyebrows and stared at Keija with his deep golden-yellow eyes, piercing her eidos to it's core. Still, her integration with the domain was such that she could still react and move. If only there was momentary distraction....

    The snort of air from the Kirin as it stamped it's feet gave even the mighty Coyote a momentary pause as he turned to face the Kirin, freezing it in place with a glance of those deep yellow eyes. Then noticing a quick brush against his leg from a blurry figure, he turned back immediately towards the Swartalfheimer.

    “Oh my! You're good!” he complimented her with a wink. Keija grinned back, stuffing a piece of paper that she had snatched from Coyote's pocket into her undergarments, “Shunpo? Yep. Those eastern cosmology techniques are really quite amazing. And to think you could execute such a move with my aura pressing you.....Really, I'm amazed! Seems you have integrated pretty deeply with this realm already,” Coyote nodded and stroked his chin as he considered the situation as if he were a judge.

    “Fine, fine!” Coyote smiled a toothy grin, “I'll give you your little victory for now. But you're only borrowing the realm for the time being. I reserve the right to take it back at any time! Toodles!” Coyote finished as he vanished in a puff of smoke, almost faster than he had arrived.

    The immense pressure from Coyote disappeared and immediately all of the Shadow Hunters from Thomas to Teyna were released from the effect.

    "Oh my God!” Teyna was awe struck, “Did I just encounter a god?” Everyone was as stunned as Teyna, as they struggled to comprehend the significance of a visit from a great celestial being.

    “I've seen a lot of crazy shit in my time as a Shadow Hunter, but I haven't ever encountered something like that before!” Elijah said slack-jawed as he quickly scanned the array capacitor for damage. Although he was still a bit dazed by the effect of Coyote's lingering aura, his deep training allowed him to react quickly once the aura released him. Luckily, it seemed the safety zone of the domain even applied to celestial level auras.

    The other agents all murmured and gaped at the astounding event that had just taken place.

    Keija glanced at the piece of paper that she had removed from Coyote's pocket, and read the scribbled words on it and smirked, 'HAHA! You really thought this was going to be the deed to the realm? I'm going to be keeping an eye on you, brat!' it read.

    Of course she wouldn't think that. Although she understood Coyote on an instinctual level, his strength was far beyond her understanding. He obviously let her do those things to him, and the Kirin she summoned was also frozen by Coyote's aura, so how could she not understand he was powerful enough to have stopped her, rather than allowing her some leeway to enjoy this pocket domain for a while. Coyote might be unpredictable, but he had a roguish sense of honor even as he flaunted everyone's sense of fair play.

    The Kirin being released from Coyote's aura snorted and looked at Keija with a confused look on it's face. Keija shrugged at it, and bid it farewell as it trotted off into the distance.

    Daniel recovered his wits quickly, and immediately questioned Keija, “Does the college know about Coyote's involvement with this domain? If not, I don't think it's something we should tell them. If they already know, that's one thing, but if they've been played by Coyote all this time, perhaps it's something we best not interfere with. It's never a good idea to draw the ire of such a being!”

    “I'm as astonished as everyone else here, Daniel,” Keija replied evenly, “I agree with your words, though. Something tells me there is a lot more to this situation than meets the eye.”

    “If the artifacts stored in this domain, and this feedback effect are all due to Coyote, doesn't that mean we should be extremely careful of the possibility of a curse or a Trojan horse style gift?” Sam asked Keija with concern in his eyes.

    “The college had been utilizing this domain for a long time it seems. If Coyote had malice in his plans, it hasn't revealed itself these past many years. Many students have graduated and kept the artifacts they received from the domain, so I don't think that's an issue,” Keija replied after considering the possibility.

    “But what about the domain itself?” Sam asked with even more concern for Keija showing, “If you've integrated to it so deeply, doesn't this mean you could be compelled to do something against your will”

    Keija frowned at this possibility, “It's true that I am deeply integrated with this pocket dimension as of now, but I haven't felt the least bit of foreign influence from the domain itself. Perhaps, though, that is due to Coyote's nature and my own being similar. Notwithstanding that, if Coyote wanted to compel anyone, I think he wouldn't have to go to such lengths, even as a trickster.”

    Thomas grunted with displeasure that even with his immense strength, he had been unable to move under Coyote's aura. “Whatever Coyote has in store for this domain, also concerns us now, since you've integrated so deeply, Keija.”

    Keija nodded seriously, “The benefits of this domain are immeasurable, and it's potential seems to be limited only by my creativity in utilizing it. However, it seems all power comes with a price, doesn't it,” She ended with a sigh.

    “Let's head back,” Teyna spoke up quickly, “I'm suddenly feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of this. We can consolidate our cultivation back at the compound, right?”

    Everyone nodded in agreement. This event would be deeply etched into the minds of everyone present for a long time to come. Although the experiment was a success, and the group improved their overall cultivation tremendously, Keija felt a bit cheated at her long term hopes for the uses of the domain.

    As Keija opened a portal back to Midgaard, into her dorm room, she noted the ease at which she was able to accomplish this, and felt that compared to opening the portal from the other side it was like night and day. “All power has a price,” she reminded herself, and slowly shaking her head as the last of the group stepped through, followed back and closed the portal behind her as well.

    For the next two weeks, Keija and the others attended class, sorted out their differences with the college, and learned what it was that mages did. Teyna grew much more proficient and Daniel was able to become a bit more versatile in respect to non-astral travel related skills and magic.

    Still, no one had heard from Mr. Mallory, Uzume or Venka for these past weeks. The news on the situation in London had quieted down after a few days, but there was a sense of anxiety permeating throughout the compound the longer they went without word from London.

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