A research hub in central Espqary-Mobia, founded in 3106 as a joint and peaceful project between on again, off again enemies, the Sigemili and Kelirians, to further the field of magic-powered technology, Hamiga-Kailock is the most advanced city on Saiussuo. Between the magical Pole around which the city was built, and the MP Tech which it powers, the city has from time to time found itself the object of jealousy, envy, greed, and covet...
Such as right now, when an explosion rattles through the levels of Hamiga-Kailock like an earthquake, bringing everyday life to a halt.
Somewhere, a girl looks up from her math lesson, imagination running wild.
Somewhere, a young woman pauses, goalball in hand, exchanging glances with her teammates.
Somewhere, a boy turns to look for a companion who is not there.
Somewhere, another boy fights the urge to run.
Somewhere, another girl's hard eyes barely move.
27 Swans Productions presents
"Stay there; don't move," the Good Teacher Jonar Ketus said cautiously, setting his book down on his chair and quickly walking through the circle of desks to the door to stick his head into the hallway.
There was a general murmur from the class which Chime Sandwing ignored, but when the lights went out, even she gave a tiny, involuntary gasp.
(This is it! They won't take the city from me!) she thought excitedly, while the din from her classmates intensified.
"Alright, alright," Ketus said from the doorway. "I'll be right back; no one leave this time! Alright? Alright."
Any semblance of discipline left with the teacher, and kids were up and walking around, talking, and not necessarily about the noise and failure of the lighting system.
"So what, it's time to save the world now?" said the girl sitting to Chime's left, her gray eyes betraying no emotion.
"Yeah~!" Chime blurted out, her own face contrasting her friend's, with wide, violet eyes and an open-mouthed smile. "You wanna join me?"
"No, I uh, have to... bake some bread, or something," her friend responded, with a hint of a twinkle in her eyes.
Chime scoffed. "Oh, come on. You'll never get any experience if you don't fight any bad guys, Ussea."
"That's not true; bread is full of experience," Ussea retorted without expression, prompting a laugh from Chime.
"Wait, bread is full of experience?" Chime said, realizing what Ussea had said. "I need to get some. What about magic? Does it restore your magic, too? I could use it in my fight."
"Yeah, your Master Magic?" Ussea said with a smile beginning to form on her lips.
"No, it's Extreme Magic," Chime corrected, knowing Ussea was joking, and ran a hand through her pale purple hair, the source of her power, to remind her friend of that "fact."
From another part of the room, a number of students laughed, apparently at something one of two standing boys had said.
"Ugh, shut up," Chime muttered, not having even heard what had been so funny. She could tell Ussea was deliberately ignoring the comedian, and did not blame her; Matea Blumann was not at the top of their list of favorite people.
Further commotion was cut short by the return of the teacher, who brought an announcement.
"Alright, go back to your seats, please. We're going to continue the lesson," he said, hurrying back to collect his book from the chair, followed by a chorus of disappointed groans.
"Guess you have to wait," Ussea whispered to her friend as students filed back to where they had previously been sitting.
But Chime was impatient, and the disruption in the lesson was enough of a distraction that she was already deep in imagination.
In her mind, she stood in the middle of an empty street, facing down some indeterminable creature of evil standing four stories tall and letting out a ground-shaking roar. Once it has finished, Chime grinned and began reciting a spell while the beast charged. Unfazed, she finished and sent forth a blast of pure energy which impacted her enemy and caused it to explode dramatically while she stood by, looking cool.
"Heh heh heh," she chuckled quietly. Chime looked up, realizing she was lost to what the teacher was going over, after even just a few moments of inattention. She was not alone, though, as some of the the other students had given up with the loss of power; probably the same ones who had complained when the teacher had returned to class. She considered asking Ussea for her notes, but everything was interrupted by a knock on the door. Almost as one, the class turned to look.
Wordlessly, the teacher walked over to open it, but the person on the other side beat him to it.
"Pardon the intrusion," a man said, entering.
Chime, along with everyone else in the room, recognized him as Cineras Gearan, the school's Head Administrator, and gave more or less crisp salutes.
The Head Administrator saluted back as he walked to Teacher Ketus, and had a few whispered words with him before addressing the class. Whatever it was, Ketus was surprised to hear it, and his emotion was visible on his face.
"Because of this blackout, we've made the decision to close down for today-"
Cheers erupted from the class, and the Head Administrator waited with a mildly irritated expression for them to die down before continuing.
"Please, let's be serious for a moment. We don't know the extent of the blackout, but it's fairly serious in this area; Communication is down and the tram system is inoperable, so we're not letting anyone leave at this time."
Just as they had celebrated before, the class joined their voices in protest of this new revelation, but this time the Head Administrator called for silence rather than wait it out.
"I understand that this is not the outcome you would prefer," he said with a strained voice, "but it's not without careful consideration that we came to this decision. It's our responsibility not just to see to your education, but to your care while you are here. With the tram system out of service, many of you would have quite a long walk home, and we don't feel comfortable letting you go to that. There's already a growing number of people in the streets, and they're only going to become increasingly crowded as others leave work."
While the news left Chime with some discomfort, there was also a glowing spark of excitement inside her over the fact that this was turning into a real adventure.
"We'll be sure to let you know when it's safe for you to leave and return home, but for now, please remain in your room so as to keep order. I must continue on to the other classes to pass the message onto them, but I'll send someone around later to see if you need anything."
The last sentence was addressed more to the teacher than the students, and the Head Administrator had already turned towards the door before he finished speaking.
The class wasted no time in breaking into conversation once it shut, while Ketus shut his book and lowered himself stiffly into his chair with a sigh.
"Talk amongst yourselves," he said to no one in particular, appearing to be relieved at the early end to the day.
"We're stuck in here!" Chime exclaimed to Ussea, her hair bouncing around her chin with the energetic delivery.
"I'm not sure that's the right response…" Ussea said, straight-faced.
"No, see, we have to escape! It'll be slick, like, we'll have to sneak around and, and break out of here...!"
Ussea was familiar with Chime's personality, but there were still times when she was unsure of her intent, and she regarded her friend's sparkling eyes with suspicion. "Are you being serious? I can't tell."
"Ugh, I'm always serious."
"No, like, are you actually going to try to sneak out?"
Chime paused for a moment, at first unwilling to accept that she never truly planned to flee, but ultimately giving in to reality. "No," she said, a hint of dejection in her voice.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to ruin your fun," Ussea said, partially apologetic, but Chime had already bounced back.
"Nah, you didn't do anything. But isn't it weird? Like, what was that explosion?" Ussea shrugged while Chime continued. "I mean, it made the lights go out, right? Like, that makes sense: Explosion, then the lights go out."
"You think it was at the power plant? Idunno, but that's on the ground. Like, that'd have to be a big explosion? Since it's so far away?"
"I don't know about power stuff."
"Yeah…" Chime said, trailing off while she brainstormed what else it could be. "Maybe, you think monsters attacked?"
Ussea pondered the question for a moment. "Nah."
"Well, they coulda got in," Chime said, looking to the window as she spoke. "It's not like the sh-" She stopped, and her expression turned to worry.
Ussea turned to see what Chime was looking at, and in turn, her mouth fell open in disbelief. The two girls looked at each other silently, sure of what they had both seen; a brief shimmer that passed across the sky, distorting what few clouds hung in the distance, and they knew what it meant.
(Oh my 7Gods, the shield is up…)
Everyone was familiar with the shield; the city guard activated it and other emergency systems on the first Qalinday of every month as both a test of the mechanics, and an emergency training exercise, but today was Astretday.
"Oh my 7Gods!" Ussea whispered, leaning in closer, her gray eyes open wide.
"Are we under attack?" Chime whispered back, equally alarmed.
"I don't know, but like, I hope it was just an accident."
"Whaddya mean? What kinda accident would make them raise the shield?"
The two girls' whispered conversation lulled, unheard as it was in the noisy room.
"You think we should tell someone?" Ussea offered.
The idea might have been a sound one, but as Chime considered it, she realized that without others having seen it, people might not believe her, and by extension, her friend Ussea. "I don't know," she said, looking away, and Ussea knew what she meant.
"They'll find out. Not like anyone we tell could do anything about it."
"Yeah," Chime replied, grateful for her friend's understanding.
"I wanna go home," Ussea said, then added, "Well, I wanna see how Surany's doing, and then go home."
"You think he saw the shield?"
"Idunno, probably not. But I just want to meet up."
Chime felt the need to be home, too, but could see that Ussea's need to check on her younger sibling was stronger than that, and looked forward to when they were released, and could go with Ussea to meet him. Not that she would have left without Ussea anyway.
They sat awhile in silence, until the class was interrupted again, this time by the crackling of a speaker mounted in the upper corner in the front of the room.
"Attention please. Attention please," came a male voice.
With the exception of two or three, the students immediately complied with the voice's request, with the stragglers following close behind.
"Attention please. Attention please," it repeated. "An event at the power plant has caused severe damage to its power harnessing capabilities, and brought about the current blackout. Maintenance crews are preparing to assess the damage and carry out repairs, though there is no estimate as to when they may be complete. In the interim, Primary Administrator Dourid is enacting an emergency status for the entire city and requesting that all citizens please stay where they are-"
At that, the class erupted in a chorus of disbelieving outcries, almost drowning out the announcement.
"-and inside for now-"
"Come on, listen!" Teacher Ketus' insistence subdued the students enough that the voice could be heard again.
"-unless travel is absolutely necessary. All Civil Order Assistants and City Guard are ordered to report to the headquarters on their current level to await further instruction. Updates will be broadcast over this emergency announcement system and on channel zero of the Visual Broadcast Service, if the capacity to do so exists. Please allow emergency workers space to do their job, and follow the directions of Civil Order Assistants and City Guard as necessary so that we may restore all services to the city, and return to a normal state as soon as possible."
There was a moment's pause, then the voice repeated the message a second and third time, though by that point, everyone was talking again, and the teacher made no effort to stop them.
Chime and Ussea were not the only ones upset by the announcement, not just annoyed they were not going home as with the others, but as far as they knew, they were the only ones who had noticed the shield. That concern showed itself on Chime's face while they looked at one another amidst the din. Ussea's expression was, as usual, more subtle, but with the way Chime knew her friend, she could tell that worry was there, too.
"Do you think that we're really under attack?" Chime asked again, but Ussea only shook her head and shrugged.
Chime knew Ussea was probably not going to talk much more, and while Chime would have liked to, just being next to her friend would suffice, for both of them.
Minutes ticked on; one hour passed, then another, and there were no further announcements from the broadcast system. Someone had come to their room on behalf of the Head Administrator, as he had said, but had no news to speak of.
"Ugh." Ussea stood and walked to the row of windows and began to pace back and forth in a small open space before them.
Seeing this, Chime was struck with the urge to run.
(I gotta get outta here,) she thought, looking around and knowing she meant both herself and Ussea, and walked over to her friend. "Let's sneak out," she whispered.
"What?" Ussea replied, not quite as soft.
Chime leaned closer to Ussea's ear and repeated her statement. Ussea did not immediately reply, so Chime continued. "We'll go get Surany, too."
Chime was silent. "I don't know." Half a moment passed, and she said, "But we've gotta try something!" with a new attitude.
In her mind, an adventure was forming; a quest to rescue Surany for Ussea's sake.
"We'll tell Ketus we're gonna go to the washroom, then go!"
"I hope you're not thinking he'll fall for that," Ussea breathed back.
"Uh," she had been thinking he would, but a thought came to her. "But… Wait! You, wait, if you know that he'll know, then... he'll know that we know…" Chime tried to piece her thought together while Ussea looked on. "And he won't expect it! Because it's too simple! Like, no one would actually ask to go to the washroom and then try to escape, right?"
Ussea thought about Chime's non-plan for a second before accepting it with a shrug. "You said we've gotta try something, so, yeah, why not?"
"Yeah!" Chime said, slightly louder than she had intended. "Alright, let's go ask, and then go!"
Ussea stood slowly, casting an anxious glance around the room, eyes partially hidden by a curtain of gently waving, dusty tan hair, but no one appeared to be watching them specifically.
Chime was already standing, her heart beating quickly at the thought of their escape, but Ussea chastised her.
"You totally look like you're up to something."
"What? No," Chime said, blushing.
"I'll talk to him," Ussea said with a neigh imperceivable change in her expression.
"No, I'll do it!" Chime hissed, insistently.
"No, you're already making a scene."
Chime fought back the urge to look around to see if anyone was watching them, but she knew Ussea was right, and only bowed her head to master her own expression. "Alright," she said, more business-like. (Focus. This is just part of the quest.)
They began towards the teacher's workstation in the back of the room, side by side, but Chime hung back a step to let Ussea approach the teacher first.
"Good Teacher," Ussea started.
Disturbed from his reading, he looked up, almost surprised to see the two girls standing before him.
"Yes, Goodwoman Kiraly?"
"Can we go to the washroom?"
Jonar Ketus looked at Ussea, then Chime, who gave him an odd, lopsided smile which he luckily interpreted as really having to go.
"Don't take too long," he said, and went back to his book.
"Thanks," Ussea said casually, and they turned to leave.
Chime could barely contain her excitement over their successful bluff against the teacher while they walked out, and once in the hall, she congratulated Ussea.
"That was ace! You did that so well!"
"I didn't do anything differently," Ussea replied, less humbly and more matter-of-factly.
"No, you two-handed it. Now leave it to me."
Silently, in her head, Chime recited a hiding "spell" which would help them avoid teach- uh, I mean, guards.
"Let's go," she whispered, and led Ussea down the corridor of a long-forgotten ruin, undoubtedly filled with ancient treasures, with her trusty sword at her side, though she never had to use it, as her magic was more than enough. At an intersection, Chime stopped Ussea and peered around the corner. Down the adjacent hall, there was a wom- uh, monster, three mir tall monster with wings and stuff, patrolling the passage.
(We gotta get past it, but how? If I use my magic now, other monsters might hear, and it'd give us away, but there isn't another way through. Oh well, we just have to do it!)
"Alright, let's sneak past her."
The corridor was dimly lit, leading deep underground, so Chime thought they had a chance, but as they approached the sentry, it turned and saw them!
"Hey, you need to go back to your class!"
"We're just going to the washroom," Ussea said, quickly.
"Well what are you doing out here? There's one in your hall," the monster challenged.
The monster could not argue with that, and let them past, saying, "Well, just go back to your class when you're done, alright?"
Chime could have squealed at another bluff, but contained herself until they reached the wash- er, treasure room.
"We did it! Ah, I really gotta go now, haha!" she said, upon their entrance, and ran over to one of the empty stalls, while Ussea waited near the entrance.
"So we made it this far," Chime said, afterwards. "What room is Surany in?"
"It's like the third one on the left, down the next hall, I think. I'll know it when I see it."
"That's not bad. We can do that."
"Yeah, but, so we get there. How do we send a message?"
"Hmm," Chime thought. (I can't use a spell; that'll be too obvious. What else is there? Throw a note? Knock on the door?) "If we throw a note, do you think whoever gets it will give it to him?"
"No," Ussea said, frankly.
"See, this is where a code word would be useful, you know," Chime chastised. They had talked about this before.
Ussea just glared back. They had talked about this before.
"We don't have a lot of time." Chime was growing anxious. "Maybe we should just go. Something will happen, I'm sure."
"That's a great plan," Ussea quipped, but she had no other ideas, so she followed Chime back into the labyrinth.
"Whatever. Come on."
The hall was clear, so they made their way towards where Surany was being held.
Even though she had no real plan, Chime knew she had to help Ussea rescue her brother from... the… bad guys.
Ussea pointed out the door, third one on the left, and they approached quietly, though the noise from each class was more than enough to mask their steps.
"Now what?" Ussea asked, but before Chime could respond, overhead speakers crackled again.
"Attention please. Attention please."
Ussea startled and grabbed Chime's sleeve with a high-pitched yelp, but Chime grappled back to keep her from bolting.
"No, wait! We won't get another chance!"
"Alright, alright, fine," Ussea said breathing deeply and releasing her friend's shirt.
"Attention please. Attention please. Power has been restored to some essential services, though widespread blackouts still remain. Some lifters and moving staircases are now currently operational, however the tram system remains out of service. Primary Administrator Dourid has rescinded the travel restrictions, and would like all citizens to prepare to return to their homes. Due to the lack of trams, this will be done in sections to avoid congestion. Civil Order Assistants will be on hand to supervise the release and provide assistance where necessary. We apologize for the inconvenience, and thank you for your understanding and cooperation in helping to make this a safe and orderly event."
The message was again repeated twice more.
"We need to get back to the room," Ussea said after the first iteration.
"But we're right here. We made it all this way."
"It's fine. They're letting us go, and I don't want anything to delay that, like getting caught," Ussea said, and began to jog back in the direction of their classroom, her long hair bouncing around behind her.
"Alright…" Chime followed, disappointed at the outcome. (This isn't what I meant when I said 'something would happen.')
When they returned, Ussea waited for Chime, and they re-entered the room together, where Teacher Ketus was standing at the center of the class.
"Come on, sit down. I was just saying that I'm not going to assign any homework tonight, because I don't know if school will be open tomorrow."
(Yesss!) Chime thought, smiling at Ussea, as they took their seats.
"If they don't get the power back up, the school might be closed for a few days."
An energetic cheer went up from the class.
"Yeah," he sighed. "We still have to wait here until dismissal, though."
The cheer turned to a moan.
"Just a little bit longer, please."
For the third time, a knock came from the door and everyone watched while it opened.
"All the students are to gather in the main hall so we can get ready for dismissal," a woman said, only sticking her head through a crack in the door and staying just long enough to receive Teacher Ketus' acknowledgement before ducking out to deliver her message to the next room.
Jonar took a slow, deep breath. "Well, you heard her. Let's head over to the main hall. Take your stuff."
He did not even try to keep order as the class coalesced into a mob, swarming the door.
"Finally! And you get to see Surany, too!"
"'Finally' is right."
"It's gonna wreck to have to walk home, but we can walk together at least."
"Yeah, I'm glad for that."
"This is turning out to be interesting!"
"Chime," Ussea said. "You're all over the place."
"Um, is that a bad thing?" Chime asked, sensing some irritation from her friend.
"No, sorry, I, I'm just worried about Surany."
"He's ten, though. He can handle himself. Remember when we were ten? That was when we met."
Ussea shook her head. "Surany's…" she paused as she searched for the right words. "Idunno. Delicate… I guess. Like, you? You're strong," Ussea said as the class began to exit.
"Ha ha, thanks, so are you."
"Yeah, but Surany isn't. I need to be there, I feel."
"I… I mean, I kinda knew that," Chime said.
They continued with the flow of students down the hallway, bumping into each other and others' bags, and when they arrived at the main hall, staff members were directing them to divide up into groups based on which level they lived on. Chime, Ussea, and Surany were all inhabitants of the fifth level below ground, so they would all be together; in fact, Surany was already there when the two girls arrived.
"Surany," Ussea said, greeting her younger sibling, and setting her bag down. "Are you alright?"
"Hi Ussea, yeah, I'm fine. A little scared."
Chime was reminded of a younger Ussea when she saw Surany, because of the similarities in their hair. The dusty waves were only chin-length so far, but Chime imagined someday they would be as long as Ussea's.
"There's nothing to be scared of," Ussea said, taking Surany into an embrace. "They'll get everything fixed and sorted out."
"Yeah," Surany responded, still sounding uncertain.
Chime looked away, feeling a little awkward, when her eyes landed on another familiar figure.
"Oh," she uttered, involuntarily, and turning away from the Kiralys, she called out. "Lukira!"
The girl raised her head up at the sound of her name, looking over top of the other students, and found Chime. She smiled and raised her hand, much lower than Chime's was, and walked over at Chime's beckoning.
"Want to walk home with us?
Ussea shrugged her blessing on the invitation, while Surany said nothing.
"I'd like that," Lukira said, her soft voice all but lost to the noise of the student body.
"Yay! Now, will they just let us go?" Chime said with mock exasperation. "Anyway, how are you doing, Lukira?"
"I'm fine," was her response.
(Not like she'd say more with other people around.) "Good. This blackout is pretty weird, huh? I guess there was an accident at the power plant."
Chime was almost regretting inviting Lukira to join them. She did not want to leave any of her friends out, but Lukira was quiet, and Surany was quiet, and in the rare instances when those two came together, the silence was nearly physical.
"Did you see anything strange?" Chime ventured without subtlety, receiving a sharp glance from Ussea.
"No, like what?"
"Oh, uh, Idunno, anything that seemed… out of place. I guess."
"Related to the blackout?"
"Uh, you know, just anything, haha."
Lukira appeared thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Now that you mention it, holy grass bread was on sale for two leycs at Nel's Bakery this morning, but they usually sell out of it. And then the vending machine at Holito South Station was out of Apple Crispies™. That's unusual, isn't it?"
Having not receive the answer she expected, Chime looked at her with a surprised, yet uncertain expression "Yeah."
In response, Lukira blushed and looked down. "Sorry, I don't know what else you mean."
"Hey Chime, let me borrow two leycs for holy grass bread," Ussea said, preempting a period of awkward silence.
"To buy holy grass bread," Ussea repeated, without expression.
"Uh, alright," Chime said, puzzled over Ussea's request, but she dug into the pockets on her pants, and dress, and light jacket, pulling out and replacing a sewing kit, a spool of twine, a small roll of heavy adhesive tape, scissors, three small chunks of rock, a hand-drawn map of the fifth level below, a splinter of wood, a…
"I thought you had all this organized," Ussea said, watching the proceedings.
"So where's your money pocket?"
"I don't- I don't have one just for money!"
"Chime…" Ussea said, shaking her head with mock disappointment.
Chime stopped looking through her many pockets to give Ussea a look of shock, and said, "Do you want the money or not?"
With twinkling eyes, Ussea gave an open-mouth laugh, and lightly slapped Chime's shoulder.
Chime sighed, but she was smiling. "Here, hold this," she said, handing the sewing kit to her friend.
"Thanks, if you can't find the money, I'll just eat this," Ussea joked.
Chime tried to look annoyed as she held out one coin. "Here's one."
Chime eventually produced a second coin, which Ussea also accepted, and returned the sewing kit.
"I'll give you some."
Someone whistled, and they directed their attention towards the sound.
"Listen up!" a staff member shouted, and slowly, the students quieted down. "We're going to begin releasing you now-" but the volume ramped tight back up again. "Hey! No one's going anywhere until you quiet down!" they shouted. Students shushed one another, and eventually the room was almost quiet. "Alright, we're going to begin releasing you, from the bottom up. "Sixth level below? Where are you?" A group of kids raised their hands and shouted. "Alright, come over here and line up."
"Well, we won't have to wait long," Chime said, looking at Lukira and Ussea on either side of her.
Several more minutes passed slowly, during which Chime kept looking over at the queue to get out of the hall, diminishing just as slowly, but eventually the call was made for students living on the fifth level to assemble. The staff member who had initially gathered them together lead the group to the entrance of the hall, where they were also instructed to line up.
"Here we go!" Chime said with a large smile on her face, inwardly preparing for another adventure. In her mind, she was alone, and had to make it home while avoiding whatever horrors lurked in the darkness.
"We're going to leave in just a second, but I need to go over some things, first," their assigned staff member said. "I'm going to be accompanying you down to the fifth level, so I need everyone to stay together. It's busy out there, and we don't know if there are lights underground yet, so please don't wander off."
"Aww." (I don't want to be with everyone else,) Chime thought, not including her friends in the general 'everyone else.'
"At least we're going," Ussea said in response to Chime's groan.
"Yeah." (Then I'll be guarding them from the horrors that lurk in the darkness, I guess.)
"Follow me, please."
The students filled out the large doorway, through the short hallway which connected the main hall with the the exit to the building, and out into the street.
Chime was surprised by how busy it was, despite having been told so beforehand, and some of her fantasy was lost to the mass of humanity.
"I haven't seen a crowd like this since I went to see Sapphire Dusk," Ussea said, straight faced, and Surany snorted a small laugh, since they knew she had never been to one of the band's concerts.
"Stick with me," the staff member called out as they joined the flow of bodies.
Chime felt a tug at her sleeve and almost jumped, but she saw that the one grabbing onto her was Lukira, who, despite seeing nearly eye to eye with many adults, looked frightened at their situation.
(Well, it is kinda…) Chime agreed internally, but with a knot in her stomach, did not choose an adjective to finish the thought.
"I gotcha. Don't worry," she said instead, and believed it, even as she looked to the staff member for guidance.
The crowd moved slowly but deliberately through the narrow street until it came to a halt, still a block away from the pillar.
"Why are we stopping? Can you see anything?"
Lukira craned her neck, but there was nothing to see besides the heads of the others milling about in close quarters, and she shook her head.
"Everyone's gotta cram down one moving staircase and one not moving staircase," Ussea said.
"Oh, yeah, I know. I guess it'll take a while," Chime responded.
And take a while it did.
Shadows had grown long when they reached the ground, and by the time they had descended the eight levels to the one on which they lived, through stairwells that would have been darker than Chime could have imagined, had many of the travelers not lit light globes or cast illumination spells, Chime's feet and back hurt, and she was tired of this adventure.
"I should have just cast a teleport spell," she grumbled. The air had grown much warmer the further underground they traveled, and though an underlying hum told Chime that the emergency fans were on, circulating air into, through, and out of the lower levels of the city, the background sounds of the trams were conspicuously missing.
Ussea gave her a sideways glance but said nothing.
The crowd had thinned out considerably, still thicker than usual at that time of day, but no longer the near-crush it was when they left school.
"Alright everyone!" the staff member said loudly, trying to keep the group's attention for just a moment longer. "Come this way, please." They herded the students off to the side of the road and out of the way of other commuters. "We made it, finally, so you're free to go. Hold on! Listen for announcements about if school is open, alright? Fine, alright, go," they said, giving up and looking exhausted as the kids began to scatter.
"I'm so tired," Ussea said. "I hope they fix the trams soon. And the climate things."
Though the long walk had also worn Chime out, she felt a little like she had accomplished something. "It's nothing. This is what adventurers have to do all the time."
"How bout that teleport spell?" Ussea said.
"Heh, maybe next time."
Ussea gave Chime another side glance, a strand of long hair sticking to the sweat on her forehead, but once again declined to comment further.
Even without words, Chime sensed Ussea's irritation, and felt guilty for having caused it.
"Um, let's go, then," she said, more subdued.
The four of them began to continue to walk towards their homes in silence.
(It's weird to see all the shops closed. It's like it's night.) The emergency lighting made the familiar streets and buildings seem strange, adding to the impression of nighttime, which Chime found really cool, in spite of all the discomforts.
The group stopped off to the side of one intersection and looked around.
"Alright, see you tomorrow," Ussea said, turning with Surany to go.
"Yeah, even if there's no school, right?" Chime asked, still feeling bad for bothering Ussea.
"Yeah, especially if there's no school," her friend replied, with the slightest softening of features.
Lukira and Surany did not speak.
Chime watched the siblings as they started off, then turned to Lukira. "I'm so glad we're almost home."
"I know. It's so hot; I feel gross."
"Ugh, by the time we get back, I'll be drenched," Chime said as she removed her jacket, and they began to walk in the direction of their apartment complex. "You gonna play anything?"
"I don't think so."
"What? A day without Lukira practicing? I don't believe it."
Lukira sighed as she fanned herself with her hand. "It's not that I don't want to, but the heat will mess up the tuning… oh, well it probably already has, ha. Nevermind. I guess I will practice. Anything you want to hear?"
Chime thought for a minute. "Something cool, that will make us forget about all this heat."
Lukira laughed lightly. "Alright. Hmm, I wonder what that would be." They continued for a bit, then Lukira said, "Oh!"
"This one's out of Apple Crispies™, too."
Lukira had stopped in front of a vending machine and was pointing to the empty space where the Apple Crispies™ usually sat.
"That's not the only thing that's out," Chime observed. A number of other compartments were similarly empty.
"Maybe people are hungry."
"Yeah, I guess. All the cold drinks are gone, too." Chime put her hand on the glass to find it warm. "I wonder if they were cold when people bought them, you know?"
"Well, we should keep going. I wanna get home before tomorrow."
The closer the two girls got to their apartments, the fewer people that were seen on the street, which was fine with Chime. Eventually they came to a point where their paths diverged.
"I'll hear ya when you get home?" Chime said, with a smile.
"I might eat something first."
They parted ways, each going to their own building and ascending several more flights of stairs to finally reach their homes.
Fishing through one of the right side pockets of her pants, Chime removed her key and slid it into the lock with a series of small clicks, but before she could finish turning it, it was yanked from her hand when the door was suddenly pulled open.
"Oh Chime, thank Uril! Sorry, did I scare you?" her mother said, seeing the look of surprise on her daughter's face, illuminated by unfamiliar sources.
"No, hi Mom," Chime said, breathing deeply to slow her heart.
"In glad you're home; I was worried."
"Me too. I mean, I'm glad I'm home."
"Your father isn't back yet, but I'm sure he'll be here soon, so... How was the trip home? Long?"
"Yeah, I'm tired."
"Well, we've still got cold water, so you could take a shower if you wanted."
"Alright. Maybe I will."
"It's already so late. Sorry if it ruined your day."
"It's not your fault, mom. Why are you apologizing?"
"You should get to live everyday to the fullest…"
"I know, mom," Chime said with mock exasperation.
"Go take a shower," her mom replied, playfully giving her daughter a light slap on the back. "Eww, you're all sweaty!"
But her mother just laughed and walked off, while Chime set her bag down and sat under the manually lit light globes (giving Chime an idea) to remove her shoes, which pulled her socks half off as well, so she took them off the rest of the way. She brought her socks with her into her room, set the bag next to the desk, and tossed the socks near the door, then pulled open a cabinet in her desk and pushed some things aside in order to reach a lantern that was in the back.
(I finally get to use this!)
With a simple word of Meopsemmeo, she illuminated the lantern, which came alive in a flash, causing Chime to turn away and shut her eyes tightly, though the image of the light still shone brightly behind her eyelids.
(Ah, I forgot how bright it was.)
Shielding her eyes, she picked the lantern up and set it on the desk, then walked over and shut the door.
(Phew, I- we made it out of the dungeon alive! But we didn't get any loot because of that dumb emergency,) she thought, imagining herself the glorious victor in some conquest, regardless of spoils. As she undressed and donned her bathing robe, her imagination carried her into another battle, flinging magic everywhere in what would be a tale for the ages, were it real. She made her way to the washroom and proceeded to bathe while the battle raged on, finally emerging victorious as she emerged from the shower.
"Ha ha haaa." Smiling and pleased with her superior magical skill, Chime flipped the bathing robe inside out and wrapped herself in it before returning to her room to dress. She opened the small window, even though it was no cooler outside than in, but that was not her reason for doing so. Through the window came an airy, serene melody, emanating from three floors below, and one apartment to the right, where Lukira played in her room.
She stood near the window while she clothed herself in a light shirt and shorts to combat the heat, then combed out her hair.
Lukira paused in her playing, and went over one section several times before restarting the piece. While the music would not be as easy to hear if she was not in her room, Chime still needed to eat, so she left her bedroom door open while she relocated to the kitchen.
"How was school?" her mother asked, as Chime sat at the table.
"It was fine. We got to go home early," Chime said with a grin.
"I did, too! Haha!"
Chime knew her mother was even more excited about that than she was, since she often worked long hours and came home tired.
They chatted a bit about Chime's day, at least the real portion of it, while they ate some of what was left in the freezing chest, as her mother pointed out that without magic, the food inside would likely spoil quickly.
When she returned to her room, the music was entirely different: A fast strumming in a low register had replaced the meandering, breathy tune which had filled the air earlier. The sound was at one uncomfortable, yet catchy to Chime; nothing like the music played on any of the Audio Broadcast System channels.
(Lukira's experimenting again,) Chime thought, with a shiver running up her spine. (I wonder what… it's supposed to be.)
The oncoming night was just as hot as the day, and Chime flapped her shirt to cool herself off. (Ugh, it's too hot to do anything. And my video games won't work…) She did not quite feel tired yet, but also had no motivation to do anything else, so she sat on the blanket heaped up on the floor against the wall. (Heat rises, right? If I sleep on the floor, I should be cooler, right?) she thought, but she was not convinced. (I'll just…) Chime laid down, feeling the cool floor through the blanket and let her eyes shut, just a little.