Ascent, Ch. 6
Dizzy. Faint. Adrift.
On top of that, her eyelids felt heavy. She could hear things—faint things—but she couldn’t identify what they were at first. A hum? Yes, a hum was one of them. And farther away, metal. Bending metal. None of that told her where she was. But she remembered a battle. The battle. Five on one. Falling—
Ten snapped awake, her eyes flying open and herself straightening. As she caught her breath, she began to register everything around her. Blue backup lights revealed steel walls that appeared almost green the farther from the light source they were. The tiled floor might as well have been paper with the way it was crumpled everywhere, and several smaller chunks lay here and there like islands around a mainland. She spied M1-11, his back turned to her as he tended to someone in front of him. Near him lay L-7, who was sitting against some debris. To Ten’s right was Nine, lying face up but otherwise unmoving. The wall nearest to him had collapsed in all but the bottom corners, and the edges of the opening was lined by crooked beams. Not far from Nine was SEL-4, who was on her side and just as still as the former.
After observing all that, Ten realized two things: Though aching all over, she didn’t feel like any part of her had been cut open or was missing outright, and a quick check confirmed for her that she was in one piece. The other thing was the person M1-11 was tending to. Who was it?
Is he with who I think he’s with?
Ten moved to stand, wincing as pain swelled a bit in her left ankle, before she resorted to crawling her way over to the automaton. As she moved closer, she spotted the sight of hair belonging to someone on the floor. M1-11 and his charge were closest to a small blue light that was bright enough to look blue-white, which allowed Ten to see a hint of color in the hair of the unknown person. Specifically, a hint of red.
Oh, dear… it’s Are Six. Is he alive? Whether he was or not, Ten noticed that icy aura was gone from him now. He’s back to normal then, right?
M1-11 must’ve heard her approach because he looked over his shoulder before shuffling around to face her. “Ten! Phew, I’m glad you’re awake now! Everyone’s a little injured here, and I need a recharge soon.”
The girl in white gave her other teammates another quick glance. “I noticed. We fell a long way, didn’t we? I’m surprised we’re all in one piece.”
“That’s because the barrier I generated absorbed most of the impact. It sent my system on the fritz for a bit, but yeah… we just barely managed to avoid any permanent injuries.”
“Thank you for that. So… what about Nine and Are Six? They fell first.”
“They did. They were just out of range of my barrier, too. But I checked on them along with the rest of you… and they’re alive. Those magical auras must’ve protected them from the fall. Anyway, the point is that everyone’s alive but a little worse for wear. We have some broken bones to deal with, and I’m not sure Nine and Are Six’s conditions are completely stable, but at least we’re all breathing. We need to get everyone to a medical room.”
“Okay. Where’s the nearest one?” Ten suddenly jerked still. “Wait… where are we, anyway? What floor are we on?”
“I’m… not sure. Hold on a second.”
The automaton stood, his movements slower than before, and looked straight up through the ceiling. Following his line of sight, Ten saw the gaping hole above them. Its shape reminded her of the mouth of that worm-like critter they had fought before, except the teeth were just protruding beams and hanging sheets of metal. She could see lights flickering far above, but how far exactly was beyond her. For a brief second, she wondered if she could see some sign of the training room in which they had fought R-6. It didn’t take her long to realize she wouldn’t be able to.
“Oh, man,” said M1-11, bring her attention back to him. “I think we may have fallen eight floors from B Sixteen… which puts us on B Twenty-Four.”
Ten blanched, and she nearly fell onto her side. “Eight floors…?”
“Yeah. That sets us back a lot.” Suddenly, his tone grew more cheery. “There’s a bright side to this, though.”
She looked up, then back at the automaton, utterly puzzled. “What is it?”
“B Twenty-Four is one of several floors in the lab that have medical rooms. I don’t think we’re too far from it, actually.”
“Then… once everyone’s treated, we can start going up again, right?”
“You got it! Just, we’re the only ones awake right now. Can you stand? Walk? Run?”
“Erm….” Ten moved her left foot slightly, and a quick shot of pain shot through her ankle. She pointed this out to the automaton immediately.
M1-11 was quick to kneel beside her and help her to a sitting position. After examining it, he determined, “It’s sprained.”
“Oh… oh, I think I can heal that. One of the spells I learned said it could heal everything from little scratches to broken bones.” Pointing to her ankle, she concluded, “I just need a few minutes to take care of this, and then I’ll help you look for the medical room.”
“Okay, then. I’m going to make sure your ankle’s healed first, though, all right? I’ll scan it and keep track of how you’re doing.”
Ten nodded to him and smiled, then began to channel magic into her hands. She supposed it was the strain of the battle, but she could feel a slightly uncomfortable tingling under her skin as she focused on performing the spell. The sensation only exacerbated the aches she’d been feeling throughout her body since she woke up. However, it was manageable and didn’t disrupt her spell. Neither did reflecting on how much ground they’d have to cover again, though that sinking feeling was just as painful as the sprain.
“I can’t believe we fell eight whole floors,” she murmured. “There are other ways up besides the stairs and the elevators, right?”
“Not really. I think as long as Are Six stays unconscious, though, we can use the elevators without risk of him destroying them.”
“Stays unconscious? What do you mean? Isn’t he coming with us?”
“Look, Ten… I got to be level with you. Just because Are Six is out cold now doesn’t mean he won’t suddenly go berserk on us the second he wakes up.”
“Em, he was terrified. I know it. The berserk state must’ve been something artificial.”
“But he was in it when he awoke. The doctors may have very well induced it before they sealed him away.”
“’Induced it,’ you say. Which still means it was artificial. He isn’t normally a berserker, then.”
“I can’t argue that… but we need to minimize the risks. You saw how powerful he can be. If he wakes up while we’re all injured like this, there’d be no way for us to survive. Even a single critter would be bad right now, never mind him!”
“There has to be something we can do.”
“You still want to save Are Six?”
“Of course. He is like us, isn’t he?”
The automaton glanced back at R-6, then to Ten. “I guess I can’t blame you for making that connection. Now that I think about it, all of you seemed to be designed to fight. Still… we need to be cautious.”
“And we will. We’re, uh, going to need more help on that front, though.”
By then, Ten felt the pain in her ankle had just about faded to nothing. She waited a few more seconds before finally stopping the spell, and then—inspired by an all fixed from M1-11—she moved her foot in a slow, circular motion. Nothing hurt. “Okay, I can move now. Where’s the medical room?”
“I think it might be a few rooms down.”
“Good. Now, how are we going to carry everyone?”
Ten was smaller than everyone else in the group, and the only two who were close to her size was SEL-4 and R-6. Even then, carrying anyone else would slow her down, which would be bad if a critter or two suddenly ambushed them. She also couldn’t see how she’d keep everyone’s injuries from growing while on the move. However, M1-11 solved the issue by using his barrier generation to form a stretcher that he could slide underneath the others. He started with R-6.
“He’s the worst off out of everyone, but we can save him if we’re quick,” he reasoned. “Take point. You’re the only one in good enough shape to defend us right now. I’ll guide you as we go, okay?”
Ten drew in a deep breath, then let it out. “All right, let’s go.”
They had to leap down from the piles of floor that had collected from the fall, and they left through a short hall that led into a more spacious one. The lights were out closest to them, but a few dotted the walls ahead and thus bathed everything in shades of blue, green, and black. The presence of chairs and couches suggested to Ten that they were walking through a rest area. Nothing sprung to attack them along the way, much to her relief. It soon turned out that the automaton’s estimation hadn’t been wrong because the medical room was only five rooms away.
M1-11 tapped a few buttons on the control panel to open the doors, then flipped on the lights as he moved inside. Ten stayed by the entrance long enough to do a quick scan before she followed him into a room of white. According to the automaton, the various computers she was seeing all focused on maintaining things like life support. “In all honesty,” he added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the only room that functions normally on this floor is this one. The doctors would’ve wanted all the medical rooms to stay online through any and all disasters—like magically powered titans falling through eight floors of lab.”
“That would make a lot of sense,” said Ten. “They wouldn’t want any of their patience dying on them.” However, she doubted anyone could’ve planned for their battle with R-6 and how it had ended.
She watched as M1-11 set down R-6 on a white bed and attached to him some nearby wires that ended in circle pads. Beside them, a small computer console flickered awake and displayed a heart meter. The redhead’s pulse was slow and oddly quiet until M1-11 tapped a few buttons and adjusted a few dials on the console. R-6 jerked once and then again, and the heart meter went a bit sporadic each time he gasped for breath. A beam of faint blue light then appeared at the head of the bed before it moved to the foot. It turned out to be the first of many, and once that whole setup was going, Ten noticed the heart meter was displaying a more normal rhythm. Not once did the redhead awaken; all that changed was his breathing going from faint and sporadic to steady.
The automaton stepped away and wiped his forehead. “Phew! Okay. The healing process is going now and should take care of most of the injuries. I don’t know how long he’ll stay unconscious; he’s really exhausted right now. But anyway, he should be fine for the time being. Let’s grab everyone else.”
Ten nodded to him, and the next person they transported to the medical room was Nine. He, too, was exhausted from whatever he’d done at the end of the battle; his condition wasn’t too dissimilar from R-6’s, in fact. M1-11 assessed that Nine was generally better off despite some cracked ribs, though, but dawdling was still out of the question. He placed Nine in a bed on the other side of the room and put together for him the same machine setup he’d made for R-6. The automaton and the girl in white continued the pattern twice more, starting with SEL-4 and then finally ending with L-7. The former’s right arm was broken, and everyone had their fair of cuts from those icy burst attacks and whatever might’ve caught them on the way down. M1-11 placed both of them on the same side of the room as Nine.
Only after everyone was situated in the healing beds did Ten finally ask, “Why did you split them up like that?”
“I don’t want them waking up shocked to see Are Six right next to them, is all. Might be bad for their recovery,” M1-11 explained while he set the bones in SEL-4’s arm. “But I’m pretty sure things will work out. We have a sturdy group here, you know? I just want to minimize the risk. Plus, it should help Are Six to wake up without too many people around him.”
“I see. What else can we do in the meantime?”
“Well, once I finish up with Sel Four, you can probably use your spells to speed up the healing process. You can do the same for the others, and then we wait for them to wake up. You’ll have to do patrols in the meantime. I told you before I need a recharge, right?”
“Um… yeah.” Right then, a sinking feeling punched Ten in the gut again.
“I could keep going if I pushed it, but that would mean more time I’d need to spend recharging later. It’ll a lot faster if I plug myself into a computer, like the big one there.” He pointed to a computer on the back wall for emphasis. “Beats shutting myself down for days on end. Plus, I have to have energy reserves for any barrier generation we might need later. I just want to be safe instead of sorry.”
“But if you start recharging while everyone’s healing… I’ll be alone.”
“Oh… yeah. Yeah, you will be. I’ll still be able to talk to you, but I’ll be stuck in one place… but we should be safe in here for the time being. I didn’t lock the doors, so you can go in and out as much as you like. And if we do need to lock them down quickly, there’s a big red button for it right on the control panel on this side.”
“How am I supposed to keep an eye on everyone and watch out for critters all on my own?”
“I’m…not sure… but there’s probably a way. Things have been real quiet here—plenty of time to read up on stuff, right?”
“Assuming there are spells that’ll help me out.”
“Well, try not to worry too much. Fear paralyzes people, or so the psychology reports would say. All that said… sorry I have to leave you alone for a while.”
“It’s… okay. I’ll manage. If I don’t, we’re all in trouble anyway.”
M1-11 nodded in agreement. Over the next half hour, he went to set the bones for Nine and L-7 while Ten used the stronger Sacred Palm spell to better fix up SEL-4’s arm. She was able to let the healing wave from the bed take care of the rest after a while, slow a process as it was. She next moved on to Nine and then L-7, essentially following M1-11’s path around the room. To her relief, the strain didn’t tire her out completely, but she welcomed the break once it came to her at last.
When he’d done what he could, the automaton took off the lab shirt he’d been wearing, exposing a plastic and near-featureless torso. He opened up a chassis in his chest and stuck a few wires from the large computer into the control panel-like surface of his mechanical insides before his head fell forward. All of him went still, and then the whole room was quiet save for the hum of magic surging through the surrounding machinery.
“Are you all set?” Ten asked him.
When he replied, only his mouth moved. “Yeah. It’s all on you now.”
She nodded to that, then slipped the tablet out of her pouch. Much to her surprise and delight, the tablet had suffered minimal damage; the screen bared a single crack, and barely visible scratches made the back feel rougher than before. So either the pouch’s cushioning or Em’s barrier kept this in one piece, she surmised, though she also realized it was entirely possible that the device was just much tougher than its slim proportions suggested. Deciding not to question this stroke of good fortune, Ten proceeded to search through the tablet’s archives for anything that could act like another set of eyes and ears for her.
The Book of Saints had a slew of healing spells but nothing related to what she was looking for. Titles like The Way of the Four Winds and The Voice of the Sea didn’t sound like the ones, either. Scrolling down the list revealed several titles related to air, water, earth, and fire in addition to those similar to The Book of Saints. Despite the sheer number of books, the one title that managed to catch her attention was something called The Watchful Eye. Unsure of its contents, Ten opened it up.
Her heart leaped into her throat upon seeing the illustrations. They depicted a hand creating a sphere that contained a view of a building. The next couple of illustrations showed the sphere splitting into two, then three, until the center sphere was surrounded by six others. Hoping that she was interpreting the pictures right, she scrolled down and read the instructions at breakneck speed—
—and when she was done, she bounced off the floor several times. “I think I got it I think I got it!”
“Whoa, there!” said M1-11. “What’s gotten into you?”
“No, I do have it! I know what to do now!”
“Is it me, or are you jumping up and down like crazy? Oh, and our patients are still sleeping.”
Once she heard that, Ten settled down and breathed deep, letting the elation flow out of her. “I just read up on a surveillance spell. I won’t have to leave this room more than once to set it up, and then I’ll be able to keep an eye on everything that happens in here and out there!”
“Oh! Well, that is good news.”
Ten was already heading for the door when she told him, “I’ll get started on it right away! And don’t worry; I’ll be back soon!”
Then she was out in the hall again, where she immediately began to channel some magic through her hands. The spell didn’t need a whole lot of magic to start or maintain, which was good for her and her tired body. Her excitement kept her mind off that, though, and she moved her hands as if to shape a ball like in the pictures. A sphere appeared bearing a blue-white coloring, and she let it hover over the palm of her left hand. She made a loop around the sphere with her other hand, starting from the bottom, and then moved it aside and thought, Now, split.
Which was exactly what happened when she separated her hands. Another sphere popped out of the first, and their once blank insides began to reflect the scenery around them. Whatever the second sphere saw, the first one could see as well. Ten gave the second a slight push upwards and watched it float to hover right above her, putting it in the perfect spot to watch the entrance to the medical room. Her will alone forced it to stay put.
She went on to follow the path of the hallway, creating a sphere to watch each corner, the middle of the longer halls, the elevators, the stairs, and even the ruined room they had all landed in. While on her way back to the medical room, Ten looked at the main sphere and watched as the views from the others passed through like a camera whose footage switched every five seconds. What was more, she found she could use her own mind to control where exactly the sphere was without having to keep one of her hands nearby all the time. All she had to do was look at it and think follow me to make it happen.
Doing all of this allowed her to keep her mind off the other matters at hand. She had no idea where or when the next critter or two would start prowling on B24. The group would have to spend an unknown amount of time recovering in the medical room, and afterwards, they’d have to figure out how to ascend back to at least B16, where they’d been before. She also had no idea how the rest of the group would react to seeing that R-6 was alive and on the road to recovery.
Maybe it won’t be so bad, she thought. I know what I felt from him was real. I’ll say it as many times as it takes for the others to understand. And everything else? We’ll figure it out.
Her spirits remained high as she returned to the medical room, allowing her a clear head as she began to check on each of her teammates. She had no idea how long everyone would remain asleep, but she’d wait as long as necessary for them. In the meantime, she brought out the tablet and began looking through the books again. One reason for that, of course, was to see what other spells she could use. The other was to learn more about that berserk state—and specifically, how to turn it off.
There’s no better way to ensure we’ll all be safe than to learn the ins and outs to this thing. And with that thought in mind, Ten threw herself into her search.