Chapter 19 – Nightmare System
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Announcement
Alright! I made it. 50,000 words, not counting announcements (I plugged ANs/announcements into LibreOffice and checked the word count myself. Thank you so much for being here with me, and I appreciate the readers (Partiucularly InversePenguin, mhutch, RandomPerson404 and Sheepish, looking at my reader stats. You all are awesome, and Sheepish that oneshot was amazing and I want to see more. (I checked your profiles for pieces to read).

I will be slowing my writing pace to about one chapter per week. I want to be able to space out my writing and editing phases by a couple days or so, to give me an even fresher perspective to make even better chapters going forward. Chapter length will be about the same, and if I feel deliciously inspired, I'll write more, space out for editing, edit, and release them throughout a week. I intend to release on weekends.

[Emmett]

So maybe I overreacted when I thought I burned a giant hole in the ceiling. Maybe it was just a small hole in the ceiling.

Grace was huddled up in a corner, sobbing and whimpering.

Samael had ducked under the table and was looking to me. "Emmett take cover or you're dead!"

Another unnatural warble whistled through the air.

I looked to the door, frozen, "It wasn't religious..."

Jacqueline had always screamed at me to NEVER cast on Endays, to never even think of casting during Respite. She'd even yelled at Patrick too: one of the few times she ever did.

"What wasn't-" Samael grunted, "Just get the fuck down!"

I rushed over to Grace. Being in that front corner had to be unsafe. "I always thought the Respite was just a religious convention. Come on Grace: we need you away from whatever's causing all this." I picked her up slowly and waddled over toward the opposite corner of the room.

"How did I not..." I heard her mutter, "Emmett... How... could you... No.... I should have.... Fuck..."

"Yeah I fucked up too, even more tha-" The front wall of the conference room burst open, and I threw myself down over Grace. The screech once again reverberated everything in the room.

I slid her under the table as gently and quietly as I could. After everything was stable again I glanced toward the area formerly known as the entrance.

A pitch-black tendril slithered behind where the door was. No, not pitch-black as in totally-dark. Pitch-black as in black, like tar, that shone with unnatural colored lights. Pinks, bright blues, some greens, all pulsed through it like veins, but reduced to sharp angles instead of flowing naturally like ours would.

My breaths grew short. What the fuck is that? My fingers twitched without rhythm. My stance wavered. I developed an understanding that I created this threat in a selfish pursuit of an answer, and the regret iced my dying heart.

The arcane whistle resounded, not quite as loud as before, but my heart fluttered nonetheless. it pulled back and curled its tip to point straight at me.

I did not move.

"Emmett, what the fuck are you doing?!" Grace hissed.

"Emmett, don't just stand there!" Samael whisper-screamed.

I shook my head. I absolutely had to stand there, to get its attention.

No. Better. I moved one foot forward.

The unidentified fucking organism pulled back its tip like a scorpion stinger.

I moved my other foot forward.

The dread howl returned, piercing my ears.

I shook in place.

The tendril lurched as if to strike.

A boulder slammed hard into it from the right.

"Who's there," I muttered, my legs kicking off the ground in a sprint. The moment I was outside the ruined room an invisible hand threw me toward a far older man in a black cloak decorated with medals and green trim.

It was the Headmaster. He punched out toward the abomination with his fist.

The tendril whipped forth faster than I could see.

By the time I started moving, it had slammed into a green cyclonic shield of solid wind.

"Get to the Library!" Clarent barked.

"My Squad's in the meeting room!" I shouted, "I can still-"

A lattice of azure lines formed up in an instant and sliced the heavy debris into smaller shards in a cascade. A Spell Circle illuminated at Clarent's back, with a rune I hadn't seen before at the center. A diagonal four-point star expanded into the thin outer ring, underneath two tapering chakram blades separated by Hagalaz on the right and Othala on the left. I noticed openings in the outer ring pointing to the two prominent runes.

What I had not noticed was how the legion of debris-shards were all lifted from the ground and slammed back and forth into the enemy. Or, that's what I assumed they were doing: they were all blurs to my eyes.

"Yeah kid, I'm doing nothing to it. Go to the damned Library!"

Didn't need to tell me twice. If he had the whatever the fuck's attention, then Samael and Grace were safer than they'd be if I went back for them.

Shaking, and cursing at how much of a coward I'd become, I turned, and walked. I didn't want to make it think I was fleeing prey or anything.

My thoughts wandered to my Squad. What would they think? I was quite literally abandoning them to save my own skin.

I couldn't accept that. I shook my head. I was already a failure. I couldn't cast a single spell, and now I was responsible for getting Grace and Samael in danger.

I stepped sideways and swiveled around.

"What are you doing?!"

I ignored the Headmaster. If I ducked into Conference Room 1, I could punch through to Room 3, then get to Room 5 and get them out without worry.

I shook, shivered, swallowed. And I screamed, running for the room.

"You retard your life in the face of puerile glory hounding?!" Clarent tilted his head back, and I was thrown back again.

"Ha, good instinct Emmett!" A hand sleeved in orange caught me and a warm body pushed me forward, chucking me into the door of Room 1.

The wind kicked out of my chest and would not return. My chest and limbs stung. I wanted to cry out, but couldn't.

"Don't reward the jackass, Lienne!" Clarent scolded.

"Tell me you saved a piece for me!" The woman, Ser Lienne, replied, before fading into a blur of flame.

Streams of rock and fire pelleted the alien monster from all directions. Headmaster Clarent maintained the Spell Circle. Lienne was moving too fast to track, striking and flying in all directions, sometimes wreathed in flame, sometimes not.

I forced myself to my feet, and pushed the door open. Professors here were monsters. Was every staff member that many leagues above us student mortals? And even they couldn't...

If everything they had wasn't enough to even scratch the incomprehensible talon of pitch despair, then... then what?

Not now, Emmett: time to engage the plan. I finally got some air into me, and walked into the empty conference room. I made my way to the back corner, and pulled my fist back, slamming into the wall-

"Ah, fuck!" That was a support beam in the wall I just punched into. Ow ow ow ow. Okay. Move a little bit more to the left. Thank heavens this room was made to look pretty; the walls here used the wood-stud-and-plaster model.

I pulled back, let out a grunt, focused on my destination, and punched. I felt my fist go through, and to my surprise, a small plume of Magick bursting out and ripping the hole further. It certainly dug into the plaster. I had some more punches to make so i took my breath and struck again, and again. Each punch made slightly more of a dent, but scratched my fists up something fierce, but those times when Magick would surge out, even a little, took out at least ten punches' worth of material.

"Wh-what are you doing!" A student I'd never met shouted from the other side.

I dove in through the hole I had made, crawling in, and pressing down on the insulation around me. "Trying to get to Room 5 to save my Squad!"

"Are you insane?!" he shouted back.

Dried plaster kicked into my face, I closed my eyes and ducked, but the initial impact stung them pretty badly. "I am very serious! There's some sort of pitch tar creature outside!

"Um yeah," I heard a more familiar voice. "You're Emmett, right? The playboy?"

"No time for that." I pulled myself through and dropped into the next room. "I just need to get through that wall."

"I'm going to go ahead and guess you also fucked this up." The woman, who I recognized to be Elaine, gestured toward the door.

"Yeah, no one taught me Respite meant anything," I said, "Just yelled at not to practice Magick on Enday. Clarent and Lienne are fighting the thing out there. If you clear that wall, you can get out through Room 1."

"Fuck, just jizz over everyone's day why don't you," Elaine spat.

I ignored her and charged through, punching the wall directly across from me to dig at it. Elaine's remarks got to me though; Magick wasn't coming through, and my knuckles were red with blood at this point.

I didn't care. I kept going. Presumably the other classmates started excavating or already escaped: I didn't hear anything else in the way of insults.

Punch. Punch. Bleed. Punch. Ow. Bleed. Punch. Punch. Ow. Punch. Bleed. Bleed. Punch. Ow. Bleed. Ow. Punch.

I raised my fist to punch again when a burst of wind kicked through, blasting bits of wall at me and throwing me back into the wall I just spent a while digging through.

"I'm not going down without a fucking fight, whatever you- Emmett?! What the fuck are you doing!" Samael yelled.

"Hey." I wheezed, and staggered out of the other wall struggling to breathe.

"Grace!" called Samael, "We're outta here! Emmett, step aside!" He pulled his hand back, gripping into the air as he went.

I did, and a burst of wind stormed through and tore up enough plaster in the other wall for us to step over.

"You're a right idiot, but thanks for the idea!" Samael ran past and jumped through. Grace jogged behind.

I gestured for her to go first. "You get out. I'm sorry. I fucked up."

"You certainly did," Grace hissed, "What were you thinking...." She followed Samael out.

Mission... complete. Reward: the knowledge my Squad will be okay.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

My legs gave out on me. The pain surged in, on my back, on my hands, in my head. The pain was everywhere. I groaned. Being slammed into a door, then a wall, hurt like hells.

I knew I needed to get up and get out, but I just couldn't bring myself to: everything hurt too much. And, well, I put the entire building at risk, didn't I?

I shook my head. I'll get up later. Right now I needed rest, and the floor seemed awfully comfortable. Well, it wasn't, but it was more comfortable than getting up.

I lay there, writhing for a few more... whatever the time unit was, and eventually the impossible screaming died completely.

The sound of combat had ceased. I stayed where I was for a few more moments. Then I heard footsteps.

"Battle frenzy's a bitch, huh?" Ser Lienne said from above me.

I groaned in pain and gave out a soft yawn. "Huh?"

The Provost of Combat bellowed in laughter. "I'm going to go on a limb here and guess no one taught you about Nightmares?"

I shook my head. "N-No... Ser..."

She nodded. "Well. Do you know who broke the rule on casting during Respite?"

I nodded. "M.Me... It was me...."

She smiled. "I commend your willingness to admit your fault before me. But I feel you're hiding someone."

I shook my head.

"Don't lie."

"No. Not that," I muttered, "I asked... a favor. I caused this. She's innocent."

Ser Lienne's dark lips curled into a smile. "You realize your bargaining power is shit, right? You're too hurt to stand, yet you deign to order me around?"

I glared at her, too weak to do anything else, but too stubborn to yield.

She snapped her fingers, then nodded. "Miss Gardner's use of sight will not be punished. I appreciate your loyalty, but don't try to hide something from me unless you're prepared to die for it. And before you ask, yes I did just use Mind Magick to pull your thoughts. The snap was misdirection so you didn't notice the Æther."

I'd have been a lot more impressed if I was in less pain. I felt a little better now, but I wanted about a couple more hours before I dragged myself back home for the night. PT was gonna suck tomorrow.

"I'll handle the disciplinary actions. I said at the Entrance Exam that the Colleges' Fourth Pillar was Character. You showed me an admirable one. You will not be expelled."

I smiled, and exhaled sweet relief.

"However, you personally will accrue the debt incurred for repairs, which I imagine will come to around a thousand platinum, if not more. It will not come due until you leave the Colleges, so take as many expeditions as you can."

Platinum? Was that, like, more than gold? And I only managed to scrape six silver from the last mission.

That would be tomorrow's problem, though. Today I'd focus on recovery. "Under..stood... Ser..."

"And now you know that we honor Respite for a fucking reason," Lienne added with the most sickening cheer I've ever heard. "Keep up your marks. Dismissed." Despite her dismissing me, she was the one who turned and left.

I took the time to rest before being kicked out by Earth Magi coming in to work on the debris. Then I shambled on home and slept.

Announcement
I included a poll; it's completely optional and only lasts a week. I'm using it to gather information. I make no promises that I will follow The Will Of The People, but if everyone wants a rewrite, for example, it's probably for a reason. Again, it's totally optional. I want to thank you again for making it this far with me.
To you lovely readers: What would you like to see most with respect to this piece?
  • Revising (especially earlier chapters) to polish up the beginning content
  • A rewrite of Solstice, with improved experience, and some actual planning.
  • Press On And Keep Writing! (maybe I can rewrite after or get a beta.)
  • Do something new? I did have some ideas for a more futuristic plot...
  • Look into a cover image?
Total voters: 5 · This poll was closed on Dec 2, 2021 07:56 AM.
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