Notes: Written for Self Insert Week 2016, which explains the gratuitous OC (she's my elementsona, right? Right? That's totally a thing ahaha). This is my first venture into the Sapphire and Steel world, so please don't hurt me. I mentioned a lot of other elements, too, so it's worth mentioning that Sapphire and Steel (and Lead, who's briefly mentioned!) belong to P. J. Hammond, not me. Unfortunately.
Warning for suicide.
Notes From the Past
The sound of two people walking down the empty street, their shoes tapping sharply against the cobblestones, echoed in the cold air. It was the middle of the night, with only the flickering illumination of a single wavering lamp lighting up their figures, casting long, winding shadows down the street. A thin mist of rain was falling, not enough to soak them, but enough to make the dew shimmer lightly on their hair and clothes.
"Isn't it interesting?" Sapphire said casually.
"The way the cobblestones have formed. Every one of these cobblestones has a history and story all to its own- the way it was made, the person that made it. There's love and death and life tied into each and every one."
"Is this relevant to our assignment?" Steel asked shortly, pausing.
"Not especially, but it's quite intriguing to study." Sapphire paused too, and a look of fascination crossed her face. "Someone died here."
"Relevance?" he snapped again, not even bothering to stop this time.
"None," she replied, and pointed towards the large, looming house at the end of the street. "But that is. It's where we're meant to be."
"Any signals from it?"
Her eyes shimmered brightest blue for a moment, and she frowned. "No, nothing."
"That's good, I suppose," Steel said doubtfully.
"No, I don't think you understand," Sapphire said, staring at the house. "There are no signals coming from that house, none at all. No feelings and no traces of human life or anything besides." She frowned. "It's simply… empty."
"Time is fine," she said. "For the moment. There's nothing wrong, except for a lingering sense of… well, emptiness."
They both stood in the light rain, staring at the house, which seemed slightly more imposing than before.
Upon entering the house, it became very apparent indeed that something was wrong. It was a very large, very grand two-story house with wide, striking windows in almost every room, stretching from ceiling to floor. It was an obviously well-kept dwelling- the golden rails of the staircase were polished so brightly that you could see your reflection in the metal, and there was barely a speck of dust anywhere.
It would have been a perfectly lovely house, if it weren't for one fact: there was almost nothing at all inside it. No furniture, no animals, and no people. The rooms were completely bare, as if everything had simply vanished.
In fact, the only thing of note was the fact that the first room on the right of the second-floor hallway was, quite firmly locked, and no matter how many times Sapphire shook and twisted the handle; it didn't seem to be budging.
[Steel, I need you upstairs.]
[What is it?] came the curt reply.
[There's a room, and it's locked,] she explained, jiggling at the handle again. [I can't quite tell, but I think there might be something important behind it.]
Within minutes, he had arrived, and was frowning at the door alongside her. He tapped on the handle, raised his hand over the wood, and twisted it.
Sapphire tried the door again, and it rattled once more. "It didn't work. Try again."
"It did work," said Steel. "The only problem is that there isn't a lock on this door. Something doesn't want us getting into this room. Stand back."
Sapphire raised her eyebrows, but carefully stepped backwards to stand on the stairs. Steel gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, and rammed his entire body into the wooden obstruction. It shuddered under his weight, and he slammed into it again. It groaned, this time. One last thump was enough to bring it off its hinges to lie in fragments on the other side of the doorframe.
"Well done," said Sapphire. "Although I didn't think senseless destruction was quite your modus operandi."
"It usually isn't," Steel said, picking a single splinter out from under his fingernail. "But needs must." He leaned around the wreckage of the door, and peered into the room. "You were right."
"Was I?" Sapphire moved to stand next to him again. "Ah, it seems I was."
Neat stacks of white notebook paper lined the room from wall to wall, placed so there was only barely enough room for somebody to walk around. They practically glowed in the half-twilight of the darkened room.
"Paper," Steel said, kneeling down to pick up a loose sheet from the ground. He examined it for a second, and offered it to Sapphire. "Blank paper, no less."
She took it, and frowned. "Somebody's written on it in the past." She held it up to the dim light of the streetlamp, shining in from the window. "But it's perfectly pristine; untouched. How strange." She furrowed her brow, concentrating. "There's a feeling of great regret and sadness attached to it. No, to every sheet in this room. They're all identical," she added to Steel, who was looking at the tallest stack, piled up in the centre of the room, and then corrected herself. "No, that's not quite right. They're all identical in the emotional and physical sense, but… they're all subtly different. I couldn't tell you why."
Steel considered this for a second, and slowly nodded. "How long ago were they placed here?"
"A few hours, at most," Sapphire said after a second of consideration. "I could easily take Time back that far."
"Do it," Steel said, and Sapphire was about to comply when the sound of someone loudly banging on the door echoed loudly through the house.
Both of them stopped.
"Let me in!" called a young-sounding voice, only just audible over the distance and rain. "My skin's peeling out here!" After a moment, the same voice echoed through both of their minds, albeit a bit clearer. [You are here, aren't you? Seriously, I'm standing in the pouring rain, about to disintegrate or something stupid like that; and you two are all cozy and dry inside. It's really not fair.]
They exchanged a quick glance.
[It's her, isn't it?] Steel asked with a barely-noticeable tightening around the area his mouth. [Why is she here?]
[I'll go let her in,] Sapphire offered, and Steel nodded. She exited the room, and descended the stairs, heading straight to the door. She opened it a crack. "Hello?"
A teenage girl stood on the steps outside, grey hoodie pulled up over her head and half-hunched over in the now-pouring rain. She glanced up at Sapphire and waved in greeting, jerking her hand back under the cover of her clothing when it started to bubble at the contact with the rain. "I'm actually starting to break apart. No exaggeration. Can I come in?"
Sapphire stood back hurriedly, and the girl stepped quickly inside, pulling off her hoodie over her head, brown hair going everywhere. She dropped it to the ground, and inspected her arms, wincing- they had started to bubble up too. "Ooh, that's going to sting tomorrow. I was assigned to this house for some reason- oh, hi, Steel!"
"Hello, Magnesium," Steel said dryly, who had followed Sapphire downstairs. "You know, I might be wrong, but I rather thought you were a Technician."
"So did I," she said, tugging a scrunchie from her pocket and fixing her hair back. She spoke with a strange accent that was vaguely American, but not quite. "But apparently I've been promoted for the moment because you two need me, or something like that."
"Why would we need you?" Steel asked with a frown, standing. "We seem to be doing fine for ourselves."
"If you don't like it, take it up with Them," Magnesium retorted, "since They seem to know what's going on and I, a humble ex-Technician, really have no idea." She turned to Sapphire. "So, what is going on?"
"Time seems to have broken out already," said the older woman, shutting the door. "We thought that we might be here before the disturbance started, but everything in the house has been taken out of Time, including its inhabitants. The only thing that has been left behind are piles of paper in one of the upper rooms."
"Piles of paper?" Magnesium wrinkled her nose. "What sort of paper?"
"Blank paper," Sapphire clarified. "A scan of them confirmed that somebody had written on them in the past, but we couldn't figure out what it could have been."
"Well, that's… strange," she said. "Any way I can help?"
"Not at the moment," Steel said. "Sapphire was about to take time back upstairs before you interrupted, and I believe we will resume attempting that."
"Sounds great," Magnesium said, bounding up the stairs cheerfully. She turned, about halfway up, and beamed at them. "Let's do it, then!"
When they reached the room, it became apparent that it had changed in the short few minutes that Sapphire and Steel had been downstairs. It was only subtle, but Sapphire noticed it right away.
"The paper," she said, striding over to the stack nearest to the door. "There's more of it." She passed her hand over the stack. "It's the same as the rest."
"How much more?" Steel asked.
"About forty more sheets," she said.
Magnesium entered, and stared around with interest at the darkened room. "Wow, you really weren't kidding about the paper, were you? What do you think it means?"
"It means that we need to take Time back," Steel said, swivelling around to face Sapphire. "Do it. Now."
"Give me a second," she said, and stepped into the middle of the room, flexing her fingers. She breathed out, and braced herself. "All right."
Sapphire's eyes blazed stunningly blue, and everything in the room, including the stacks of paper, went grey and fuzzy for a moment, before Time began to rewind. The two indistinct figures of Sapphire and Steel exiting the room and entering it shot past, and Magnesium raised her eyebrows when she saw Steel breaking down the door in reverse.
[Nice. I thought that was more Lead's area than yours, though.]
[Shush!] Steel snapped.
A few minutes passed in which absolutely nothing happened except the light shining through the window changing subtly, and then a body suddenly appeared on the floor. Magnesium's eyes widened, and Sapphire kept unwinding Time. They watched as the body unshot itself, got up, and walked backwards to sit at a desk that didn't exist.
[Stop,] Steel ordered, and Sapphire obliged, eyes fading to a slightly more subdued shade of blue. The three of them stepped back towards the wall, and waited.
For a second, they observed the tall, sallow-skinned man sitting in midair, scribbling madly at an invisible table with a pen that didn't exist. It made for a very strange picture- indeed, the only thing that did exist was the single, white sheet of paper before him.
[It's roughly three hours ago,] Sapphire supplied. [The man's name is Avery Pritchard. His wife has just left him.]
[So why is he in this house?] Magnesium asked, leaning forwards curiously.
Sapphire turned to look at her. [Why do you think?]
[He's about to commit suicide,] Steel surmised flatly.
[I'd assume that what he's writing is his suicide note,] Sapphire put in.
Magnesium sucked in a quick, whistling breath through her teeth. [Jesus Christ. You two don't have to be so… bland about it. This guy's about to kill himself, and all you're doing is commenting on it like it's a game of football.]
Steel looked at her oddly. [What's football?]
[Never mind.] Magnesium rolled her eyes.
Sapphire was watching Pritchard quite intently. [Of course, you know the question that begs to be asked here.]
[Yeah.] Magnesium nodded. [What's he sitting on?]
[And why is the paper the only visible thing in the room?] Steel added with a frown.
Avery Pritchard stood up, pushing back his invisible chair with one hand and picking up his finished note with the other. He stared at it for a second, before digging in his pocket and pulling out an old, weathered gun.
[Oh no.] Magnesium looked slightly horrified.
[We can't do anything about it,] Sapphire reminded her. [Time must take its course.]
[Yeah, I know,] Magnesium sighed. [It's just… sometimes I really hate this job.] She shrugged. [I'd be a terrible Operator, really. It's more Neon's area than mine. I leave the working up to her. I just come in every day and blow stuff up.]
Pritchard had raised the gun up to his head, and was now hesitating, glancing between it and his letter.
Sapphire suddenly gasped aloud, arching her back and looking like she was in extreme pain. Pritchard didn't seem to notice, and kept regarding the gun, but the two other elements glanced over in alarm.
[What is it?] Steel snapped, grasping at her arm.
[It doesn't want us here,] she forced out. [It's trying to send us back before we see what comes next. I can't do anything about it, Steel, I-]
[Try, Sapphire,] he insisted. [Keep us here. We need to see what comes next.]
[I can't!] she groaned, clenching her fists.
Steel cast a quick glance towards Pritchard, whose fingers were tightening, ever so slowly on the trigger. [Sapphire, you must!]
"I'm sorry," she breathed, and with a swirling, chaotic tug, Time swept forwards, taking the three of them with it and leaving only the echoing sound of a single gunshot behind. Colors and light swirled past, until all that was left was them, standing in the room, surrounded by stacks of paper.
"Damn!" Steel hissed, and strode forwards, swiping at the nearest stack. "There's more of it!"
There was indeed more- about two more small stacks were next to the door, blocking the way out of the room.
"So, what do we have to go on?" Magnesium asked, staring at the new additions. "We know that a suicide was committed in this house a few hours ago, and that this paper is the only furniture in this house… anything about the history of this place?"
"Sapphire?" Steel asked, turning to her.
She licked her lips, and cast her eyes to the ceiling. "It's very old," she admitted. "Several hundred years, in fact. But nobody's lived in it for a very long time- only visitors." She frowned. "It seems to attract quite a lot of visitors for such an out-of-the-way dwelling."
"How many?" Magnesium asked, looking interested. "In the last month, I mean."
"Fifteen… no, sixteen," she said, correcting herself. "All alone, and not a single one of them has left the house alive."
"That can't be a coincidence," Steel said. "How many people have died in this house, in total?"
Sapphire's eyes widened. "I- I can't tell- there's too many-"
"Fine, how many in this room?"
"Everyone who has died in this house died in this room!" she blurted out, looking surprised at herself as she did so. Her eyes flared such a bright blue that they were almost white, and she gasped. "It's gone! I can't read the room anymore!"
"What do you mean, you can't read the room?" Steel asked, eyes narrowing.
"I mean, I can't hear anything!" She looked up at him, the slightest trace of panic flitting across her face. "I can usually hear vague echoes of the past wherever I go, but in here, everything's just- blank!"
"It's cutting off our means of attack, one by one," Steel said grimly.
"Not quite," Magnesium said. "I think it's left itself wide open, whatever it is."
"What makes you say that?" Sapphire asked.
Magnesium grinned, and gestured widely towards the room at large. "These papers seem pretty important to it, right? And paper's pretty flammable. I wonder what would happen if they just… burnt up?"
The other two exchanged glances.
"It's worth a try," admitted Sapphire.
"Great," said Magnesium, and flapped her hand vaguely at Steel. "Give me a boost up, then."
He stared blankly at her. "What?"
"It'll be better if I'm higher up," she explained, and raised her eyebrows. "And you're easily the strongest here."
He grunted, but spread his hands out to make a platform for her to stand on. She stepped up, and bounced from there to land easily on top of a pile of papers.
"You're extraordinarily light," he said, straightening up.
"Well, my density is lower than yours," she said, wiggling around to get comfortable. "Here we go, then." She paused. "How exactly to you intend to go about setting fire to me? I mean, I'm pretty sure Sapphire can't do anything like that, and, well, we haven't exactly got Flint here-"
"I can cause a few sparks on my own," Steel said, cutting across her. "It just takes considerably more effort."
Magnesium eyed him dubiously. "Right." She raised her right index finger in the air and grimaced. "Let's get this over with."
Steel closed his eyes, and adopted an expression of extreme concentration before very quickly and precisely touching his own finger to hers, drawing it away as soon as it brushed. A single, bright spark passed between them, and Magnesium stiffened for a second, biting her lip.
[Are you okay?] Sapphire asked when nothing happened.
[I'm fine,] Magnesium said crossly, frowning at her finger. [I just-] She broke off, and grinned triumphantly. "Okay, here we go!"
Her finger burst into a blinding white blaze of sparks and energy, and she let out a small whoop of triumph. "Whoo! It's been a while since I did that! Last time was, what, when I had to get Sulphur off you, wasn't that right, Steel?"
"I remember," Sapphire said with a small smile. "That was during the Stonehenge incident, wasn't it?"
"I know!" Magnesium laughed, feet bouncing against the stack of paper. It wobbled precariously. "Heh, she wouldn't let go of him! You still having problems with the ladies, Steel? Neon wouldn't stop complaining about you on our last assignment, and you know how she gets-"
"Focus," Steel snapped, and Magnesium instantly looked guilty.
"Sorry," she said. "Being set on fire makes you a bit giddy. Hang on." Her face narrowed in concentration, and the blazing light on her finger expanded to engulf her whole hand. It lit up the entire room, and was almost impossible to look at. She waved it around in the air a bit, sending sparks flying everywhere, skittering off the tops of stacks of paper. "God, this tickles. Is there anything yet?"
Sapphire's eyes shone blue for a second. "Nothing. Try making it a bit bigger."
"Right." With her free hand, Magnesium pulled up her sleeve, and the light inched along her arm, enveloping it completely. "Should I threaten whatever it is?"
"It could help," Steel allowed after a quick glance at his partner.
Magnesium grinned, and held up her burning arm in a vaguely menacing gesture. "Hey, Time disturbance, or whatever the hell you are! If you don't show yourself right now, I'll burn down all your precious papers so fast you won't have time to make any more!" She paused, glancing down at the two Operators. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"
Sapphire stiffened, and grabbed hold of Steel's arm, eyes flashing again. "I think it may have done the trick," she gasped. "It's attempting to manifest itself."
"Is it malicious?" Steel asked quickly, hand shooting up to cover hers.
"Should I actually go and burn the papers?" Magnesium asked just as quickly, looking slightly too eager for the situation.
"No," Sapphire forced out through gritted teeth, "don't- it's attempting to force itself into the present through me-"
"And are you telling me that burning the papers won't help? They're clearly the trigger point, right? Remove the cause and we get rid of the problem!"
"They might not be the trigger!" Steel argued. "We need to be sure! Sapphire, let it happen! Let us speak to the entity!"
She gave him an incredulous look, but visibly forced herself to relax. For a moment, nothing appeared to happen, and then a film fell across her eyes, turning them a sickly, greenish color.
"What do you want… with me," she snapped, the words twisted and distorted. Her fists clenched and unclenched.
"We want to know what you're here for," Steel said levelly. "What is your purpose?"
The thing that had possessed Sapphire flickered back and forth, refusing to make eye contact with either of the other occupants of the room. "So… hungry…"
"Hungry for what?" Magnesium called from atop her stack of papers.
Sapphire's hands shook slightly, only barely noticeable. "Why… should I tell you? You'll only… banish me… again…"
"Tell us!" Steel barked.
Sapphire's lips twisted upwards into a disgusting mimicry of a smile. "No," she said flatly. "Never."
[…it's been feeding off life.]
Magnesium looked up, frowning. [Sapphire?]
[I'm still here. Just, very… muffled. Listen quickly; this is what I've been able to find out. This house attracts death in the same way that a magnet attracts metal. It's been attracting it for as long as it's been here. It's not the cause of the deaths. People seeking death simply come here to die, not knowing quite why. The papers are the only residue left behind, because Time can't take care of everything.]
[Get to the point, Sapphire,] Steel interrupted. [Is there a way to get rid of it?]
[Oh, that's simple,] Sapphire replied. [You need to dispose of the paper.]
Steel looked over at Magnesium. [Magnesium.]
[Now would be an excellent time to set fire to the paper.]
Magnesium grinned, and raised her burning arm, which had since died down to a faint glow. [Got it.]
With a narrowing of her eyes, the glow intensified and grew to envelop half of her body. With a broad smile crossing her face, she pressed it to the top of the stack she was sitting on, holding it until it caught alight. She jumped from that pile with a slight gasp of effort, spilling the burning paper across the floor as she did so. The stacks of paper collided and started to fall across each other like dominoes, trailing sparks behind them as they went.
"No!" screamed Sapphire, eyes flashing a furious green.
"Yes!" Magnesium crowed, quickly glancing upwards to see that her hair was on fire too. Her face quickly gained an oops sort of expression, and she furiously batted at it with her free hand until it went out.
[That's it, keep going,] Steel called, kicking over the nearest stacks.
Magnesium laughed, and spun around, letting the sparks fly from her outstretched hand to leap onto the paper stacks spilling around the room. Curiously enough, the wooden floorboards of the house didn't seem to catch fire at all- the paper was the only part of it affected.
The flames burned higher and higher, strange images forming in them- laughing children, weeping woman, animals howling in pain. Burning paper was flying everywhere, and it was hard to see anything that was going on
[It's working,] forced out Sapphire, who seemed to have regained some modicum of control over herself. [You're doing an excellent job, Magnesium.]
[Oh, good. I would have hated to find out that I set my own hair on fire for nothing.]
[Your hair's valiant sacrifice will not have been in vain,] Sapphire replied, who had apparently regained her sense of humor along with everything else. [Just one more boost of power- here, give me your hand-]
[My non-burning one?] Magnesium asked, struggling across the room to where she stood.
[Yes, of course.]
Magnesium thrust out her left hand in Sapphire's direction, and Sapphire grasped it firmly, fingers wrapping around the smaller girl's own.
[Get ready,] she warned. [Three… two… one… contact!]
Magnesium stiffened, and the blaze of her other hand escalated into a roaring furnace.
The room went white.
There was silence for a while, and then Steel looked up, blinking in the now-daylight streaming in from the window. "Did it work?"
Sapphire's eyes unfocused for a second, and then she nodded. "The breach is sealed."
"Good job, team," Magnesium said, throwing her fist up into the air in mock-victory. "I think I burnt my shirt," she added, examining her sleeve.
"Tragic," said Steel humourlessly, standing up from where he had been knocked to the ground.
"In that case, I'll be off," Magnesium said in a final sort-of way, brushing the last traces of ashes off her hands and standing up. "You two have got it from here, right?"
"There's not much to do," Sapphire admitted.
"There, you see?" Magnesium turned to the door, which was now unblocked by paper. "No need to wait up, I'll walk back. See you two whenever you need my magnificent skills of being set on fire again."
And with a swish of brown ponytail, she was gone.
[She's gone,] Sapphire stated after a moment.
[Good,] Steel answered, and glanced around the room, scowling. [Why must she walk around in that ridiculously primitive human form?]
[Magnesium has various reasons for manifesting as a teenager,] Sapphire replied, crossing to the window and staring out. [Not least of which is the fact that she's less likely to become unstable in it. However, there are two other motives behind her appearance. Humans are more likely to trust a child, or else let things slip that they wouldn't otherwise do to another adult.]
[And the other?] Steel asked after a moment of silence.
Sapphire turned, and smiled. [She does it because she knows it annoys you.]
Another beat of silence passed.
[That's ridiculously petty.]
[I said that she was less likely to become unstable. I never said that it didn't occur occasionally.]
"I believe our job here is done," Sapphire said, and looked at Steel, who nodded.
They left the room together.
For a second, the sound of two pairs of footsteps, descending the stairs, echoed through the empty house.
And then they, too, faded off into nothing.
All of the properties that Magnesium has in this fic (well, most of them anyway) are properties of the element itself, including:
-Bubbles in contact with water
-Used in removing sulphur from steel
-Highly flammable, burns bright white.
I took some liberties, of course, but that's to be expected. :) I tried my best to make this interesting, and I'm not sure how well I went, so feedback would be nice!