When the Clock Strikes Thirteen
By Commentaholic, Lord Lithos Maitreya and SimplySupreme
Commentaholic: This one is brought to you courtesy of SimplySupreme! And I believe it was supreme!
SimplySupreme: Yep, this one's mine. Hello everyone! *waves happily* I'll see you at the bottom of the page!
Lithos: Comment and I made some additions near the end, largely because we understood those bits better. I personally prefer Soup's part over my own.
Chapter Two: Home in time for Dinner
The light blasting onto the pages of Cali's book from overhead was functional, but far too bright in her opinion. But then again, everything about Headquarters was bright. The polished metallic floor, the clean white walls, the glass tabletops, the mirrored doors, the crisp, starchy texture of the cushions lining the sitting areas, the domed ceiling glittering with white, luminescent bulbs that were scattered here and there about its surface; everything in the common room was all quite futuristic and impressive. Even Cali's clothing was a bright, stainless white tank top with billowing cotton capri pants of the same color.
Now, Cali didn't really like white, but white was important here in Headquarters. She had been told so the very first day that she had been taken from her home and apprenticed to BUDDHA Running a hand over the severe plait that her golden brown hair was pulled into, and leaning back into her crisp cushion, Cali closed her eyes and took a moment to remember her first questions for her new Master.
"Lithos… Why is every bit of this room white?" she had asked. "Why does everyone here wear nothing but white?"
"Well, Alacalia…" He had answered in a tone of voice that had indicated that Cali should listen and remember well what he was about to say. "We are the Brotherhood of Universally Diverse Dimension-Hopping Authors. Our Headquarters needs easy access to every dimension there is. Hence, it is not a dimension by itself, but rather a resident of all of them. We wear white to symbolize that we are not citizens of any one dimension, but rather all of them. Does that make sense to you?"
It hadn't really. Not at the time. But Cali had dutifully erased her blank stare and nodded.
Now, of course, she understood. Almost two years had passed since she had been singled out as an authoress with the Gift and taken in by BUDDHA as a new apprentice under her Master, Lithos Maitreya, shedding both her original name and her pen name, SimplySupreme, and choosing another. Almost two years she had spent learning about what constitutes reality, and how petty laws of dimensional space could be circumvented and twisted to her own advantage. It was enough to make her head hurt. When she had first come to join the Brotherhood, she had had no shortage of mentors and friends to help her along and keep her company—the common room, so desolate, bright, and empty as it was at the moment, had been loud and bustling—but now, only Lithos and herself remained. The halls beyond the common room that were lined with heavy doors to each Hopper's personal quarters no longer echoed with jovial shouts and footfalls, chants of meditation, nor the pained groans of studying apprentices.
There were many causes for this. Eventually, all Hoppers would retire to a life of peaceful one-dimensionality, but there had always been a fresh string of young apprentices eager to be initiated and to fill their shoes. But fewer and fewer young writers were being recruited to be Hoppers each year, and the remaining Hoppers were finding that they had to shoulder more and more responsibilities as their numbers dwindled. At the moment, all remaining Hoppers were on missions. Cali's Master had confessed that it was his greatest fear that BUDDHA would eventually cease to exist. If that happened, who would protect reality from those who sought to destroy it?
Cali knew the answer to this all too well. No one would.
Footsteps started her out of her reverie, and Cali jerked her head up just in time to see Maitreya walking smoothly across the room towards her, dark brown hair immaculately groomed, as always. "You're up early, Master." She commented brightly, forcing a smile onto her drawn features.
"Yes, but for a good reason." He murmured sleepily, snagging a glass from a set of cabinets in a corner and filling it with water from the spigot at its side, his biomechanical right arm whirring softly as he did so. He took a deep, long draught from the glass and eyed her oddly. "A Starstorm showed up on the monitors today."
Instantly, Cali sat up a little straighter and folded her book in her lap, tawny eyes wide as she gazed at the man across the room. "A Starstorm? Really?" she exclaimed excitedly, "Was a universe split?"
Wordlessly, Lithos nodded, and Cali let loose genuine grin. She was doing a report on Starstorms, and the readings off the monitors would be wonderful fodder to interpret in the essay.
"There was something else."
Slowly, Cali's grin faded, and she just stared at Maitreya, waiting for him to elaborate. She had learned early on that he divulged information when he wanted to, and not when Cali begged for hours on end.
"I picked up an unauthorized Hopper."
Involuntarily, Cali gasped. An unauthorized Hopper hadn't been identified for years. A Jump into another dimension rarely went unnoticed, and those authors with the Gift of inter-dimensional travel were generally easily identified, like she herself had been. BUDDHA had known of her potential as a Hopper long before she did. So how had BUDDHA missed this untrained Hopper until the Starstorm? "Are you going to find them?" she breathed excitedly, eyes brightening in her rosy face.
"Yes, we are," Lithos sighed in slight exasperation, massaging his temples in response to his apprentice's antics. "Now, prepare yourself. We depart in an hour." Stretching out his arm, he offered her a slip of paper with information on their mission printed on its smooth surface.
Nodding happily, Cali sprang from her position curled up on the cushion, bare feet making little noise on the polished floor, and snatched the slip up. "As you will, Master Yoda."
Seemingly involuntarily, the corner of Maitreya's mouth twitched up in a slight grin, and his icy blue eyes sparked with merriment. "Excitable, you are." He croaked in a passable imitation of the squat green Jedi, whom they had met on a previous escapade. "Much to learn, you still have."
Cali raised an eyebrow at him, and flounced off in a false huff to the room dubbed "the Hollywood" by a few of the younger apprentices, closing the mirrored door carefully behind her, muffling his laughter. Now, the Hollywood room was unofficially named the Hollywood for a very good reason. It was where one went if one was preparing for a Jump to another dimension and wanted to be prepared for it, logging in the data that would serve to stabilize one's form in another universe. (Alterations could range from small makeovers to full species-changes, and did so often, depending on the mission.) But just from a glance inside the room, you wouldn't know it. Unlike the common room, the interior of the Hollywood was bare of furnishings, but like the common room, it was almost entirely white, and very well lit. But the far wall, instead of smooth, unbroken surface, was a flickering luminescence of every color imaginable, lazily swirling here and there over the screen. (For that's what it was; a massive computer screen.)
Almost reverently, Cali walked right up to the computer and reached out with her hands straight into the center of the glowing screen, pink fingertips sinking through its surface a bit as if it was insubstantial. Instantly, it responded, depicting several three-dimensional displays of numerical data. She then began to type at the keyboard made of softly pulsating light that had materialized beneath her hands. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed as she entered data from the slip of paper Lithos had given her into the machine. It wouldn't do to make a mistake, and Cali knew that. Still, she couldn't help but rush a little in her excitement, and she was well practiced in such things. The information that she was logging here would be critical in their mission. After she and her Master made the Jump to their destination (coordinates 777-17-4, known to the indigenous population as Alagaësia, which Cali vividly recalled studying about in first-year-third-month of her apprenticeship) they would reform with the equipment that she specified here, among other nuances that she didn't have time to think about.
With a final flourish, Cali's weary fingers slowed their pace, and she withdrew her hands from the wall/computer with a little sigh of relief. She loathed the menial task of logging. But it was necessary.
Glancing at the wide silver band on her wrist, Cali took note of the analog clock set into it and realized that she only had a few minutes until the Jump. Cursing elaborately, the teen tore off back through the common room and down an adjoining hall, at the end of which stood Maitreya, tapping his foot, which was also bare, impatiently.
"Still… have… two minutes…" Cali gasped, panting and gesturing wildly at the analog on her wrist. Maitreya snorted in disbelief, but turned through an open door, disappearing from view. Still slightly breathless, the girl followed.
This room looked very much like the Hollywood. But instead of Cali, it was Maitreya who began tapping into the computer. While her Master made the final preparations, the apprentice settled herself cross-legged on the chilly floor of the room, directly over one of the large black circles marring its bright surface. When Lithos had finished, he too found a circle and seated himself there.
"Are you ready, Alacalia?" he asked softly, in that cold, but not unkind way that he had.
"Yes, Lithos." She responded, closing her tawny eyes.
A breath in…
A breath out…
Clearing her mind of everything except that little nugget of power buried deep in her head…
A bright flash, visible even beneath her eyelids, burst into being, and Cali felt a sensation as if fire suddenly shot through every vein in her small body, burning and charring her from the inside out with racing pain that seemed to stretch and pull into eternity. She wasn't Alacalia anymore. She was nothing, and everything. And then… the fires abruptly snuffed out, and the girl allowed her conscious to drift into a temporary oblivion, following the familiar pattern that she just couldn't seem to get used to.
With a flash, the world before Cali's nose came into acute focus. And the first thing that she noticed was that she didn't have a nose.
Or, perhaps she did. But it was more of a snout than anything. And it was, of all colors, purple.
Cali sighed. Master Lithos was going to kill her.
Glaurung... existed. He had no idea where he was, how he'd gotten there, or why this was happening. And he was having difficulty remembering his name.
Was he Glaurung? Alagaësian dragon, gold-scaled, in love with Saphira?
...Or was he Brand? Human teen, indigenous to the planet Earth?
He couldn't seem to remember...
Suddenly, the gray void-that-wasn't-there was filled with a creature-that-wasn't there. It was just a wisp of purple cloud, with glowing red gems that the nameless watcher assumed were the nearest thing it had to eyes.
Then the world seemed to exist again, and the watcher, along with the mist creature, were in a cave - no, a cavern - stretching wide underground. The mist-being seemed superimposed over a black-armored bipebal shape, as though it were within the body. And before it knelt a man; brown-haired, in black, loose clothing, a strange, semi-mechanical right arm, and blades in both hands. The man was breathing heavily, and had clearly just been forced to his knees by the creature in black armor. Behind him, suspended in the air by a strange, visible, blue magic, hovered three dragons and a couple smaller figures who looked like humans.
Suddenly, the mist-being spoke. "Maitreya..." it hissed, its voice sadistic. "Time to die..."
The world shifted, and the watcher found himself facing the same man, now in long, white robes, looking up at him. The man spoke to him quietly. "What is your FanFiction PenName?"
The world changed again, and Glaurung saw the violet mist-being from before, and it was with another, similar being, this one black with ice-blue eyes.
"Wait!" cries the red-eyed one, "One final query. What is that name of this world? Where will it be said that Maitreya died?"
The blue eyes shine as their owner whispers, "Alagaësia, my Lord."
Shifting colors revealed a new location. A silver-scaled humanoid knelt down in front of him, "Are you alright?" he asked. He could feel the bulk of Saphira lying next to him. Around them was the inner walls of a strange tower, moving parts high above them and a magical tingle in the air.
Stone tower turned to scorched sky. A city lay in ruins before them. Before its gates stood shape, a silhouette against the red clouds.
An obsidian arch stood before them, orange flames flicking within its barrier. "Ladies first," he said to Saphira. She grinned back at him before she retorted.
Fiery gate turned to dark dungeon. Nothing could be seen other than by the faint illumination granted by an unseen fire lit behind him. Glaurung craned his neck to see a ritual bonfire, robed figures dancing before it.
A massive red-skinned demon loomed over Glaurung, bringing a double-bladed axe swinging down towards his neck. "Die!" it cried out in a gravelly voice.
The axe and the demon faded into smoke, green forest replacing it, resolving into a misty grove of trees. Glaurung lay on the ground, a wound spewing blood from his side. Where was Saphira? Glaurung thrashed around, trying to find the sapphire dragoness. Was she hurt? Motion blurred beside him as a dark shape landed beside him rapidly.
A black cat with startlingly green eyes shifted before him, turning into a strange, hairy man. "Relax, this will only hurt for a moment. Saphira is waiting, so you'd better not die on me."
Then, quite suddenly, everything was gone. There was a roar of anger, and then...
Glaurung's eyes snapped open. There was a man with brown hair and blue eyes, wearing long, white robes, and possessing a right arm that seemed to be half-robotic. Glaurung's eyes widened, and his gut twisted strangely. This man was the one he'd seen in his dreams.
Maitreya... he whispered. Then he started to blink rapidly. He felt very... odd...
"Calm down," advised the man. "You're suffering from what they call in Shandalar 'Summoning Sickness'. It'll wear off in a few minutes. Just lie still."
Glaurung did as he was bidden, but that didn't stop him from speaking. What's going on? What happened?
The man sighed. "You were hit by a bolt from a Starstorm. I'll go into the physics some other time. I just managed to -"
Here he was abruptly cut off by a mass of cobalt scales which thrust him aside and started nuzzling Glaurung all over. Saphira entered his mind and immediately started speaking, unable, in her flood of emotion, to speak solely to him; instead projecting her thoughts all around. You're all right! Oh Glaurung... I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost you... Your heart wasn't beating! I thought the lightning had killed you! And then him... here she looked at the man, Maitreya, He hit you! Quite hard! And his fist was glowing!
"Of course I hit him, you overgrown lizard!" growled the man, who was only now getting to his feet after Saphira knocked him down. "He was in the Starsleep! The only cure is what I did! And now, if you don't mind, I need to talk to him."
Saphira glared at him, but Glaurung intervened. Saphira, we can trust him. I had... strange dreams while I was... asleep, and he was prominently featured amid my visions. Don't worry, he said, nuzzling her. He then projected his thoughts to the man. Who are you, anyway?
I've had many names, said the man mysteriously. Call me Lithos.
You appeared in my dreams, Glaurung told him bluntly, unperturbed about the man's sudden change to mindspeak.
I'm not surprised in the least, the man replied. I think I'll wind up having a fair bit of significance to you from here on out. Now, I need to ask you a couple questions. First, how long have you been in this world?
Glaurung's blinked, and his shock radiated from him. How did this man know he wasn't native? More importantly... what else did he know? Four or five months.
I see, the man said. And what did you dream about?
Lots of stuff, the golden dragon told him. Mostly you and some things that looked like living mist. The other images... were rather confusing and I'm not quite sure what they were.
The man stiffened; his eyes narrowed. "Interesting. And now, most importantly of all." He stepped towards Glaurung, completely ignoring Saphira's warning growl. "What is your FanFiction PenName?"
Glaurung stared at him for a moment, but he'd seen this coming from the time of his awakening. Commentaholic, he said, getting past his initial shock, I was Commentaholic.
Lithos: We like long chapters. I thought my parts were a bit off, but if Comment gives his quality assurance, I'm happy.
Commentaholic: Apart from some misspellings (fixed now) and some italicizing issues, as well as... well... stuff, it wasn't bad.
Lithos: That last bit doesn't really inspire much confidence.
Commentaholic: Oh relax. It wasn't anything huge. It was good. It's a good chapter. I just didn't have much to do with it, which is not usually how I roll. I usually have a large part of the chapters I co-write, and as such, I get excited. But this was Soup's chapter, for the most part. And I'm a bit... I have misgivings about the last bit. That's all.
Lithos: I say again: not inspiring confidence. But what can I do? We'll just see what Soup has to say.
Commentaholic: . . . You take my words too seriously... I'm not an infallable force of nature. I'm not awesome, however people think I am. People seem to have an epic view of how good I am... I don't see it.
SimplySupreme: I told you I'd see you at the bottom! :D (Had to let them have their fun up there, arguing about quality.) This was pretty hard to write actually. You'd be surprised at how difficult it is to make sense. And now Cali is a giant lizard! *facepalm* Newbie mistake. *winks* But lizard powers will come in handy. You'll see. ¡Adios, amigos! :)
Please review! The review gods will shower awesome upon you if you do!