The Rift

Welcome to the prequel shorts before The Obsession!

Each short story is from a different characters point of view as they find themselves in the mysterious rift and meet the strange agents of O.U.R.S.

Listen to the episodes from AbsconderMedia or read below!

Enjoy!

Part 1: Quinn the Dreamer

Part 2: Ruger the Inquisitive

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Part 1 – Quinn the Dreamer

I only had my eyes open for a second before I had to shut them again. The strain from the light I witnessed hurt and forced me to look away. In that small jolt however I felt a weight on my limbs and a strange chill in the air.

“What’s going on…” I murmured out, squinting in the white light. I couldn’t see well enough, my eyes squeezing shut now and then.

There was a small clatter of something close by and a chirp of surprise. Someone was there- wherever I was. I knew I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t in my bed with my tussled sheets and comforter, decorated with images of outer space, rockets and the sweeping nebula’s. No, for one, whatever I was lying on was rigid, metal or something like it.

And my other reason for knowing I wasn’t even at home was the fact that I was tied down.

Naturally I started to scream.

Whoever was in the room with me flew into a frenzy, making strange chirping noises and knocking things over. In the small commotion I was causing, my panic mind tried to recall my day before this. It was a school day. I got up, on routine with my alarm clock radio drowning out my older siblings argument. The favorite bathroom was in the hall, two doors down from my room. Every morning started like this. I dressed in my schools’ uniform and pulled on my headphones to start my day with whatever tune I felt I needed. Rushing to the kitchen, I tried to make myself breakfast before my siblings would take the best quick meals.

This is where it was somewhat different. I couldn’t get a ride to school – my parents were fast asleep from working long hours. My brother was planning to skip school entirely and my sister left on the back of her girlfriends’ shiny new motorcycle. All in all, however, it’s not like I haven’t walked to school before…

There were no other special events I could recall.

I settled with the thought – obviously I had been kidnapped.

Thrashing to no use, shapes slowly began to emerge with blurred edges. My heart thumped wildly, especially when a hand came into focus overhead. It shielded my eyes from the light then landed against my forehead. Warm and oddly comforting, I stopped moving, thinking even, I just breathed. The person with the red hand began to speak, a language like tweeting birds. Another voice talked back, higher pitched. It was the one from earlier, I realized. The two spoke that twittering noise for a moment until the person touching my forehead began to speak to me.

“Do you understand me?” She asked, a distinct female voice and young sounding. This person was a kid like me.

“Y-yes…” I mumbled again, feeling it hard to talk after all that screaming.

There was a small pause before she continued,

“Confirm that these are true. If you will.”

Another pause and then the other voice spoke,

“Your name is Quinn Hunter. Human. Female. Thirteen years old. Earth inhabitant of your year twenty twenty five?”

“Yes… That’s right,” I responded without my own pause and thoughts that should be springing into place after a question like that. My mind feels like it’s silent, empty of anything I was worried over before. I listen to the two women return to that chirping language, rapid and apparently heated. Suddenly the girl over me removed her hand and I felt the rush of emotions hit me. My body convulsed and I was shaking, eyes starting to glisten. I still couldn’t see and my emerging tears made it harder. My mind raced with thoughts about my siblings – how I looked up to my brother for his activism and how I wished my sister would know that she deserved much better than Lucy… I thought of my parents, working long hours to get me into private school, sacrificing their very sanity for their children’s’ sake! The blinding light shut off and my vision returned.

I started to laugh. Probably hysterical but it was unintentional.

I was dreaming. Had to be. Lucidly and possibly aware of my sleep paralysis. Lifting my head slowly, I looked to my new surroundings and captors at last. Whatever this room was, it was simple, sterile and practically empty. Besides the table I was on, there were three waist high counters, each with gadgets I’d expect to see in some cheesy sci-fi show.

And I laughed harder at the two perplexed stares, at the women standing a short distance away. One of the girls was taller than the other, abnormally pale skin with a strange violet glow that matched the lavender puff of hair on her head. I called her an elf, based on the length of her pointed ears. The other girl had red skin – her hand was what I saw earlier – she had large body length webbed wings and horns curling up from a mass of jet-black hair on her head. The two wore nearly matching bright neon coats with glowing green gems at the center of their chests. They looked like cos-players – science fiction LARPers with pretty decent make-up effects. I had always wanted to go to those conventions, although I never had anybody to go with…

My acceptance to this very weird illusion shifted again when an explosion shook the ground from outside. Another moment and suddenly the gadgets slid off the counters and the girls struggled for balance. I felt the force of gravity, of the table I was on tilt and slam me down side-ways on the floor. The girl with the wings took action, rushing forward to remove the clasps binding my wrists. She managed to set me free before everything began to spin. We were tumbling down something, with us flying through the air periodically and slamming into the walls and against each other. We weren’t rolling for long luckily and ended up landing in a pile, table and gadgets under us. My body was scratched and undoubtedly bruised as I struggled to my feet in the now Topsy-turvy room. The counters were on the ceiling and as I realized looking around, there was no door. I slipped slightly, head still spinning and that winged girl caught my arm. Her skin was hot, seeming feverish and as I looked up to her golden eyes, I knew they weren’t cos-players. I knew it because this wasn’t a dream. There was blood on my skin, little cuts seemingly insignificant but really, they were just an ultimate pinch. The lavender haired girl grumbled something to herself, apparent scowl and dainty fingers tapping against the gem on her suit. The building seemed to buzz and suddenly a door appeared as if from nowhere.

I didn’t think twice, taking the opportunity and made for the exit. Shoving the elf girl out of the way, her shrill voice call out irritated,

“Rude!”

The chill just outside was worse than in the room. I gazed in shattering awe at the night sky above me, a deep purple black that was empty except for two different sized moons. One was waning and the other was a sliver, a winking face. I looked toward the hill we had undoubtedly rolled down from, the emerald grass pulled up revealing dirt and rocks in a shaky path.

“Quinn!” A voice called. It was from the girl with the wings. She stood next to the violet-haired girl who was busy gesturing at light in front of her. The elf girl chirped something at her friend and the other glowered and spat something back.

I didn’t wait to see what she wanted, running away from the hill and the fallen building. Entering the forest that surrounded us, I noted the foreign air and scent of the plants growing around me. Running didn’t lessen my anxiety, that growing fear of the unknown. All of this was an enigma and I didn’t understand how I got here. How could all this be real?

There were further explosions to my left. I jumped over fallen logs, moving automatically towards the opposite direction of all that noise. I just kept running until the cold in my lungs started to ache and I had to stop, collapsing against a mossy boulder. I buried my face in my arms as I leaned against the stone, blood thumping in my ears. I tried to find reason, to doubt those two girls, this weird place, and the very sky itself!

Until a low rumble of a growl echoed to me from further ahead. My head whipped toward the sound, looking into a blanket of shadows among the trees. The deepest shade moved, liquid almost with a crunching of dirt underfoot. A single eye opened, shinning a bright yellow and peering at me from a least three times my height above me.

It reminded me of my alarm clocks glow on my nightstand at home. Looming but most definitely there. Everything in me wanted for this to be a dream, to open my eyes and see it’s numerical face. I wanted to wish this all away. Instead, there was fire.

A ball of flames, the size of my head, flew and landed just beyond the threshold of the trees further on. As it landed it scorched the ground and surrounding barks. It was quick but I saw the creature it scared away.

It had teeth probably as long as my arm, and more than I could count…

Whatever it was, it was driven off fortunately enough, leaving behind my pyromancer savior at my back.

“What-what was that?” I asked, my eyes unable to close.

“’And out come the wolves’”, The girl responds as I turn my head to her approach.

“Most things I’ve met,” She resumed with a hand in flames extended and a wide toothy grin, “Don’t like to be set on fire.”

“You’re just showing off,” I breathed out bluntly, and see the fire fizzle out, her expression a little irked.

“A little, yeah… So?” She pouted with a glower.

“I’m impressed,” I complimented and see the girl smirk, pulling out something from her sleeve – a beret-like hat, that same ridiculous color as her coat with a large patch at the front. A quick gesture followed, of her index finger moving up to point at her eye before falling back down to her side.

“You have no memory of getting here, do you?” The girl asked next and eyebrow raised that lowers when I shake my head. No matter what I tried to recall before this, nothing so surreal or bizarre even came to mind.

“Not so strange… Lost things end up here all the time,” She explains frankly, possibly trying to be reassuring. Her head slowly turns to look behind her just as an explosion erupts from back the way we had came.

“Wha- what’s going on?” I stumbled through my question and see the girl’s expression change to something suspicious. As if she didn’t like my asking. Regardless, with slightly narrowed eyes, she answers simply,

“Exploration.”

I don’t know whether she read my anxiety or felt bad for me but she softened her stare, pressing a small smile. She took a few steps forward and put out her hand, offering it to meet mine.

“You can call me Mink,” The girl spoke while we shook hands and she went on to explain,

“You’re very lucky we found you. Terrible things can happen here. You could’ve been lost forever or mutated into something like those ‘things’ out there.”

“Mutated…? Wait… Where is ‘here’?” I asked, thoroughly curious and see the girls mouth widen into a startling grin.

“We call it ‘The Rift’ but you can call it whatever you like. Astral plane. Emptiness. Void.”

Mink let my hand go and gestured to the world around us,

“This place is the place between worlds, time, dimension. Between life and death. Darkness and light. It is everything and nothing. Mysterious and incomprehensible. We haven’t seen sentient creatures like yourself out here – mostly uncategorized beings. Probably a twisted evolution from living here.”

I watched with wide unblinking eyes as the girl spoke and I could tell she was excited to tell me all of this. But then that smile fell, as did her eyes, falling to the side. For just a moment. Something crossed her mind.

“That’s what we’re out here for – to study the Rift, map it or whatever we can do,” Mink resumed at last, grin returning once more,

“We’re O.U.R.S. The Organiza-”

She suddenly stopped, wings lifting and face turning serious. It felt instant, the way she lurched forward, warm hands pulling my body to hers. Her arms encircled my chest, holding to me tightly as the force sank my stomach. We were flying; Mink carrying me into the air, my legs dangling dumbly below as I clung to her arms. I looked down to the place where we once stood and see the large mass of one of those razor teeth-lined creatures landing on that very spot. It snarled to us, making a plea to catch us, no matter where we fled. Before we broke through the canopy, I saw other ominous shades slide into formation. It was a pack, of whatever things they were or had been, and it was clear they wouldn’t be discouraged simply by fire.

The sky seemed brighter out of the cover of the forest. And with everything illuminated I could see the trees seemingly never ending. The land under us was a sea of green sprawling limbs. Some were darker and other light. There were twisted branches and some with large trunks like living mountains. And in between these masses of foliage were the hills, expanses of fields and great jagged rocks. What caught my breath the most were the buildings, old structures, temples, sky scrappers even, and strange looming architecture doting the landscape haphazardly. It’s like they were ruins of old civilizations, brought here and then tossed down wherever.

This was real. Confusing but very real.

I was shivering as Mink finally landed. We were back at the encampment I had run from, only now there were three others. The lavender haired elf girl was gathering those gadgets I had seen in the building before while another orange suited girl marched to Mink with a very large device in her hands. This girl had wide ears sticking upwards from the sides of her head, red hair, and dark freckles beneath violet eyes. She spoke in growl sounds, shouting actually and handed the device to Mink, who took off into the air without another word. Although Mink was taller than me by a little, this girl was more my height, but stocky, older than she seemed. She also had a long furred tail swishing behind her, offsetting the furious scowl she wore stomping towards me.

“You, with the others,” She demanded in my own language, herding me backwards and next to two not-dressed-in-uniforms persons. They were older, different shades of sienna and had similar pointed ears as the elf girl. One guy had smooth orange hair hanging over a pouting face. He was tied up and gagged for some reason. And the other had short spikey black hair, a small mass of facial hair on his chin and creases under his eyes. He was busy tinkering with a machine – or rather a strange robot with only three limbs. He looked up from his robot and passed me a warm smile. I took my place on the floor next to him as further explosions rumbled through the treeline, so close I could feel the vibrations beneath me.

The elf girl moved to the red-headed girl, giving a device that resembled something like a stun-gun. With a few quick button-mashing movements across whatever screen was on there, the tailed girl marched toward the tied-up guy and pressed it to his forehead. There was a small whirring noise and suddenly he exclaimed in muffled pain. The girl moved away and to the next guy, pressing another button. This guy was eager and stayed very still, wincing slightly after the whirring noise. It was my turn next and as the girl set up the device, I could see the symbol on her hat more clear. It was something like an hourglass.

“Ow!” I cried, expecting the pain but was still surprised by it. The spot where the device had touched my head felt warm pretty instantly and made my vision shake for a moment. All of that subsided as the tailed-girl handed off the device and stood facing us, hands on her hips.

Another volley of explosions went off in the forest before the girl spoke at last in a very strange yet oddly coherent language,

“Congrats, welcome to O.U.R.S. own language. I know it, now you all know it. So now that we can understand one another, here’s how this is going to go. You work with us, we’ll find your homes and respective places and then we’ll send you back.”

The violet-haired girl walked up to the tailed-girls’ side, a pack being dragged behind her. She grumbles something to the other in that bird-like language, dropping the strap dramatically then crosses her arms.

“All right fine! Ruger, come carry this,” The tailed-girl responds with a roll of her eyes. The man with the robot happily complies, jumping forward and swings the pack to his shoulder.

“We’re heading for a place west of here, a place we can successfully fortify from those things out there. So you better run; don’t dawdle,” The girl resumed talking, already moving ahead when the bound man shouts a muffle, agitated.

“Follow or get eaten, see if I care!” The tailed girl huffs, cat-like eyes narrowing for a second. The guy next to Ruger muffled nothing else, annoyed but defeated. He got to his feet and followed after the others.

And then we were all running through the forest. Those explosions were always behind us, close but still far enough away. I wanted to see where Mink was, a speck no doubt somewhere in the sky above us, holding off those creatures. But it was hard to see through the trees and shadows. We weren’t running for long, a clearing ahead broke through. It was a large expanse of grass, stretching towards something I could only describe as a castle. I had seen it when I had flown with Mink and it was massive. It had towers and rooftop area, over grown with moss-like plants spilling over rusted iron fencing. There were large mosaic window panes, decorated edges, gargoyles and pointed peaks. All things considered, it was pretty intact and could’ve been built here the way the surrounding land seemed to have been tailored to it.

We reached a stone path way, mostly hidden when Mink descended from the sky panting and handing off that strange weapon device to the tailed girl. She looked like she was about to speak when her head jolted and she spun around on her heel. I looked on in horror as those creatures emerged from the forest, all teeth and gleaming eyes. They moved on four limbs but had something like elongated arms stemming from their backs, with reaching claws. It was a stampede of them, rushing and roaring over the distance.

My lungs were hurting from the cold as I ran, annoyed by my short legs. I couldn’t keep up with Ruger or even the bound guy. Fear kept me from giving up, from coughing or losing balance. There was nothing in my mind but the image of the double doors ahead, opened now by another person in that bright orange uniform. The elf girl and the bound man had already disappeared into the darkness within. Ruger and the tailed girl were next. I lifted my foot to leap over the short few steps to the main door and swung around to find Mink. Although I didn’t know her, she had come after me when, apparently, she didn’t have to. I was afraid for her.

But I didn’t have to be.

Mink was already at my side, hand grasping around my wrist to pull me into the building, a strange amused smile on her face. The new uniformed girl shut the door behind us and shouted for assistance. She held a marker in her hand and began drawing over the double doors.

“Shut the hell up with that high and mighty talk!” The tailed girl screeched to the elf who chirped back in anger.

“I told you we shouldn’t set up on a hills-edge but you just wanted a view!” She went into a shout, raising her hands exasperatedly. Even more so when the elf girl retorted back with more shrieking bird-talk. As the two bickered back and forth, I looked back to Mink and saw her helping the new girl with the door. It was a symbol of some-sort, a great ward encompassing both panels of wood. I stumbled back at the sound of the window cracking. The doors rattled and I could hear snarling and scratching just at the other side. But Mink and the new girl were calm, chanting something in unison. Each of them bit their finger then pressed them into the doors. The symbol began to glow then disappeared into the wood. Even though the doors still shook and moved, they wouldn’t budge.

I turned back to the others not in uniform, probably like me. Lost. Ruger was already busying himself with the pack he had carried in, rummaging through the contents inside. The orange haired guy was nowhere to be found, the rope that had bound him were on the ground from where I had seen him last. Looking around the lobby ahead I noted the dust over everything – across eerie statues, on an overturned couch, and over the rugs and marble floors. There was a chandelier above us, covered in cobwebs. That led my eyes to a second story landing. I could only see three routes from here, one straight ahead, beneath the stairwell and above, on the second floor. There were another set of double doors to my left. It was a mansion within, abandoned with peeling wallpaper under the dim light from the windows.

I felt anxious towards these new surroundings – to the castle and the people here. The two girls were still shouting, a half conversation understood and I swooned. Dizzy, their argument was reminiscent to my siblings fighting. It happened every morning, waking up for school. Clockwork.

Was I really awake? This could still be a dream.

“It isn’t,” Responded a smooth voice at my back, the cold grip of a hand on my neck suddenly dawning on me. I hadn’t noticed him, pale skin and black hair morphing as if from the shadows. His orange pupil-less eyes bore into mine, transfixed.

I remember thinking, asking inwardly since I couldn’t talk for some reason, ‘are you sure?’

“Yes, because this is my nightmare…” He responded quickly, apologetic, and latched onto me, embracing. It was unsettling but I couldn’t move. My hair stood on end as a frigid air spread across my neck.

I felt pain, different than that shot of some-sort that the tailed-girl gave me. It was alarming, waking me for just a second. I knew I wasn’t dreaming now, hands up, my will to fight. Somehow I managed to pull myself away, staggering backwards. Landing on the floor, I could see the others in the room, all eyes on me. Mink and Ruger seemed to be the only ones concerned. But, it didn’t matter. Everything swirled, distorted and then there was nothing.

-Quinn

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Part 2: Ruger the Inquisitive

It was amazing. From the cold air I breathed to the dark grey stone flooring I walked across, my boots making a soft tap with each of my steps. The castle was something I never knew could be built, massive and strange – and not just when the hallways would randomly dead-end or when the rooms disappeared and then reappeared elsewhere. This place, in it’s entirety, was phenomenal. I wished I could have documented everything I had witnessed from the moment I woke up in this bizarre place, the Rift.

Not even the sound of Cal dragging his feet could remove the awe I felt. He grumbled and complained but it wouldn’t bring me down.

There was just too much to see!

And yet the corridor we traveled through finally reached an end. It continued to the right, further into the darkness. There were no windows there but there were against the left wall. I fished into the small pouch I was given for the final device and placed it below the unlit sconce at the far wall. It was a disk-shaped device that would beep three times when I turned it’s top half, securing it in place. Next a light would flash before turning bright blue and would remain ON. That meant it was synced to all the others.

I was told they would stabilize the castle; make sure the rift wouldn’t warp our temporary home anymore than it has been. I asked how did it work exactly but my question was laughed off with a quick assurance that they are ‘for the best.’

Circuitry was never my strong suit but I knew enough. However those devices worked, they’re far more advanced than anything I had seen in my travels back home.

“Ugh… Are we done now?” Caliber groaned, finally knocking me from my thoughts. I twisted the devices top and saw the light turn blue before fully turning to the orange-haired man.

“That was the last one I had. What about you?” I asked, trying to remember if I had even seen him place any. He stood, slightly slouched, a hand on his hip and waved exasperatedly at the nearest wall. Stuck in a haphazard pattern were about ten of the devices, all activated and glowing blue.

“You know these things are meant to help us, right?” I struggled out with a pressed grin,

“They’re meant to protect us from the mutations out there and prevent us from getting lost – we didn’t find you for what? Three weeks? When we first got here?”

“I wasn’t lost,” He countered scowling now then darted his narrow eyes to the nearest window,

“I was running away from those psychos holding us hostage.”

“Cal, they’re not holding us hostage,” Trying to reason with the grumbling other wasn’t working no matter how I tried.

“Then how did we get here? And why can’t they send us home?!” Caliber was almost shouting but jumped when suddenly the sconces lit down the corridor, ending the rant he was undoubtedly moving toward. It took him a moment to recompose, eyes moving back towards the window again and a hand twirling a lock of his hair embarrassed,

“Why are you helping them anyways?”

To that I couldn’t help but smile. Walking toward him, I placed my hand on his shoulder and guided him to fully face the window.

“You told me you were a machinist back on our home world, right?” Starting out, I spoke tenderly, the way my daughter loved to hear me recount all the tales I had uncovered for her,

“So, you probably never left your village, it’s understandable – you remember the mountains of red stone and sand. For distances, in all directions. It is horrible to travel, trust me.”

I let out a humored chuckle, still enraptured by the strange world I stumbled into. With a finger I pointed to the sky, the moons, the distant darkness, the trees and down to the fields below us.

“There are stories of places like this. Tomes and pictures I’ve seen – from our home world! Our own history! And to see it real, to know they weren’t just folktales…”

Pausing, I let my hand fall, surprised by the blood racing beneath my skin,

“That’s my reason.”

I jolted my head towards Caliber, wondering about his response and see him flounder for words. Silent for another moment, his lips press thin and his glower returns.

“Fiiiine…. Let’s see what else they want us to do…” He gives in with a great rolling of his eyes and stalks back down the hallway we had come from.

Our trek back to the laboratory was empty of scoffs and moans at last. I did my best to squelch my victory smirk until we crossed the threshold into the cluttered room. Despite the mess it was actually quite clean and gleaming with white lights and different sorts of screens. Only three of the agents were here. Anabelle wasn’t.

Not that I was always aware that she was, popping up a lot of times from various shadows and silence. Even with her own teammates not noticing. I was happy about her absence. Something about her very presence set my nerves on end.

I moved toward the large-eared girl, Fen, and set down the empty sacks on the cluttered table she was working over.

“Finished then Ruger? Perfect, hopefully this will keep the castle at a single point for easy navigation,” Fen explained without looking up from the screen. Her eyes were red rimmed with dark shadows beneath them. I don’t think she had slept much in the short time I knew her. Fen was the most direct one of the group and didn’t like joking around.

And I was about to ask what she meant by ‘navigation’ when Mink chimed in from the other side of the room,

“It will. Even traveler portals can hone in on this location with no error.”

The winged girl was busy attaching cables and hoisting objects three times her size with ease. She was the most chipper one of the four although frightening when mad. I had seen her plenty of times too, arguing with the others in her team and involuntarily conjured embers around her.

It took me a moment to gather that they were clearing the center of the room, setting up a circular platform with a crystal on a pedestal in the middle of it.

Lily, the violet girl, was the only one wearing her uniforms coat and hat here. She moved from one end of the room to the other, a hand-held screen in her gloved hands. The violet girl was prissy and didn’t like talking to any of us that weren’t on her team.

“Quit moving so much! The signal is fine!” Mink snarled out, tossing a large metal box to the side with a narrowed glance.

“Precision is key for this, reptile,” The violet girl matched the others stare. Having been around these girls for nearly a month now, the hierarchy had become clear. Fen was their head leader with Lily at the second. The winged girl would pout some but ultimately give in.

This time she didn’t.

Everything is perfect now get the hell out of the way!”

At the outburst, flames erupted from Mink’s skin, dissipating quickly. It was enough of an effect for Lily to not sneer back, large eyes unblinking for a moment and mouth shut into an emotionless line. She moved out of the center of the room, joining Fen at her side. She was stunned and probably a little bit annoyed. Still she remained silent.

“All right, we’re just about ready,” Fen spoke, breaking the tension and finally looking up from her screen. Her tired eyes drifted to Cal and I, a disapproving stare before she lifted a hand to wave us away,

“You guys are done for now.”

“Oh, thank the cosmos…” Caliber heaved a sigh of relief and left.

I wasn’t easily warded off.

“What about my robot? You said if I set up the third floor with those stabilizers you’d-”

“Can’t you see we’re a little busy here?” Fen snapped, attention back to the glowing screen. A final metal crate was moved and tossed against the wall with a heavy thud. Mink cheerfully cried out before I could retaliate,

“Cleared! Let’s start!”

Fen’s fingers danced over the screen and instantly the lights dimmed. There was a strange humming, growing into a steady pulse. The lights began to flicker as the platform and pedestal were engulfed in a white light, all power being drawn to that very spot. Mink took a place by Lily, looking over the girls shoulder to the other contraption in her hand. I jumped backwards when the lights around us shut off, a great hiss in the wake of a crack of energy. The pedestal remained illuminated with the gem reflecting a myriad of colors across the room. A pressure in the air began to form as well, reminiscent of a rising powerful wind. It felt like if you could leap into the air, you would remain there, suspended for a moment or two. I wasn’t floating however and neither were the girls, or anything else in the laboratory. The gem was the only thing that seemed to be affected by the pull of power, seemingly to lift from that pedestal. But it wasn’t actually. It was crumbling away. Soon a glittering cloud hovered above the platform.

I stood mouth agape at the sight, wishing I could record the spectacle. Instead I shivered, suddenly aware of the chill building in the room. Puffs of my heated breath hung in the air.

There was another strong pulse of energy, enough to deafen. Sensation alarming, I clamped my hands over my ears and saw Lily and Fen do the same. Mink didn’t, expression determined as she shoved Fen from the control panel.

The red-head shouted something along the lines of ‘energy becoming dangerous’ but Mink ignored her, typing away until the cloud above the pedestal burst. A ball of light now, it flew at us. All three girls hit the floor, evading successfully. It zipped upward, circled around, power emanating from it enough to knock all the clutter off the desks. It tossed pieces of cords, metal and all kinds of high-tech trinkets into the air. Zooming around the room for another moment, it seemed to finally settle on a path and jolted toward me. I dove to the floor, it missing me entirely but collided into the wall, dissipating.

The lights flickered on as we remained crouched on the floor, looking to the space the ball of light ran into.

“You lizard brained tailed refuse!” Lily shrieked, getting to her feet just to stomp. Mink growled and stood as well, hands in fists,

“The crystal was weak! I told you that to ground one of them you need something stronger!”

“That is why I was against this! You’re a reckless monster!” The violet girl fumed.

“Stop calling me a monster! Inbred!” The winged-girl shook violently, heat rising in a radius around her. Lily’s expression twisted from shock to abhorred rage. But instead of yelling at Mink she switched targets.

“Fen! I demand you return this creature to headquarters! Insubordinate!” She cried, attention fully to the red-headed girl, arms crossed and lips pursed small. Fen took a heavy breath, hand to her temple and irritation across her features.

“It’s looking for a stronger container so luckily for us, our volunteer Ruger here set up the Rift stabilizers,” She explained with a partial clenched jaw,

“It won’t be able to leave the castle.”

Without object and rebuttal, Mink ran from the room.

“Damn it Mink!” Fen grumbled and was about to go after her when she stopped, turning an incredulous glower toward Lily. The violet girl was still cross and held her head up in the air.

“I refuse!” She simply put and the red-head had no choice but to look to me. Fen offered a subtle smirk beneath her agitation, knowing she didn’t have to ask.

“What is that thing exactly?”I inquired instead and see her toss her hands up in exasperation,

“This isn’t the time for this!”

Fen took off out of the room, taking the same path after Mink. I wavered a moment and ran after them. Inwardly, I mused knowing I wouldn’t want to miss this anyways but a little bothered at not being able to document every part of this. A journal entry could work fine but a video could show the unbelievable truth more clear.

Sunny’s eyes would shine the brightest I had ever known…

It wasn’t difficult to follow after the orb of energy, lights flickering in it’s wake. We ran to a cross road, looking right and left for the blinking signal. Both directions were still. Mink was running back to us from the left corridor and didn’t stop to talk. Rushing ahead she explained all the way,

“It can pass through walls; it must have gone into one of these rooms!”

With a hand already turning the knob on the nearest door, she flung it open and practically launched herself into the room.

And then she fell.

The light in the hall barely illuminated the rooms threshold. The rest however was pure emptiness. A blank void. There were no sounds.

I peered into that hollowness, eyebrows furrowing.

“She can fly, right?” I asked, looking to Fen for some kind of reasonable answer. Instead she tilted her head, an ear twitching and lips pursed to one side,

“Eh, I’m sure she’s fine…”

The red-haired girl turned away, moving quickly to the other rooms in the corridor. One by one we opened them but found nothing notable. There were no clues that the powerful energy orb had been anywhere here. For something that vaguely seemed dangerous, I wondered what this experiment meant to prove. What I gathered about O.U.R.S. itself was that they were primarily scholars. Information gatherers… Someone like me.

“Is there an O.U.R.S. division on every planet?” I let slip my inquiry, shutting a rooms door that only held discarded garments. To my surprise, Fen responded,

“Some do. Not many.”

She opened the last door in the corridor, peering in then jumped wide-eyed. Something began to crash down behind the door and I ran to help her close it.

“So this castle is the Rift’s headquarters establishment?” I further asked with a soft pant, back to the door and using all my strength to shut it while things crashed through. Pieces of glass shattered across the floor. Another burst of strength we managed to shut the door and took a small moment to breathe. Fen slowly turned her narrowed eyes to me and scoffed lightly,

“What? You planning on joining?”

She kicked off from the door, seeming more perturbed than she was letting on. I followed after her, spouting,

“Well yeah? If I could. I’d like to see other worlds out there! Learn their lore! Like what you guys do!”

“It’s not that fascinating,” Fen explained simply with a shrug, walking still and eyes ahead,

“And you’re not qualified.”

W-what?” I stuttered, taken aback and halting in my tracks, “Why am I not qualified?”

Fen stopped walking, turning slightly, hands in her pockets while she held back a yawn. There was an even greater expression of annoyance on her exhausted face. Still she went further with a deep sigh,

“Did you know of O.U.R.S.’ existence before finding yourself here?”

“No…” I trailed, heart sinking suddenly.

“Then you’re not qualified,” Fen dead-panned, shifting again to lead the way, adding,

“Now, hurry up. If it didn’t go into one of these rooms, it must have traveled to the room above.”

I asked nothing else as we trekked upstairs, still shaken by the news somewhat. Fen had said I could be a volunteer for O.U.R.S. Still the quick and callow delivery the red-head gave was noted. I wondered if all of O.U.R.S. operated this way… Or if it was just Fen.

“This should be the room directly above the hallways,” She grumbled, waving a hand to the double doors in front of us.

“I’ve been in this room,” I said, wondering it’s significance, “I don’t remember seeing something that could attract the orb here…”

As I made to open the rooms door, hand reaching for the metal knob, stumbling footfalls reached our ears. Fen and I turned to find Mink, out of breath, ripping vines from her limbs and pulling leaves from her clothing. She shook and smoothed her black hair down but still looked haggard from wherever she had come from. My best guess was that something probably tried to eat her. And I didn’t have time to ask.

“For something like this, a Tether can be anything – an item resembling something important to the ‘used to be’,” The winged girl explained, preening still but steadfast. Fen glowered but said nothing, moving forward to push me out of the way. She tossed open the doors, a hand from her lab-coat pocket pulling out a green gem. It illuminated the darkroom beyond the doorway in a green hue with a simple press of her finger. As I had said, I had been in that room before – undisturbed and relatively vacant. Shelves great and small lined walls, extended over rugs that lead to a few tables, chairs and a sofa. Scattered around this room were tomes. Old books in foreign languages remained here, forgotten. I had eagerly scanned through them once and hoped to come back here once my robot was fixed. It was something I was in awe over and wanted to understand, completely. But until then, I wanted to understand the man standing in that darkness.

Mink moved slowly, walking beyond the light in Fen’s hand. She disappeared into the shadows, making only a small ruffle of movement as she reached the curtains and threw them open. White light beamed in, landing across the stranger and disturbed the dust. The mans’ figure glinted as his hands cautiously moved to his face. Head tilting back and forth, he was confused by his existence. Fen turned her gems light off, hands sinking into her pockets as she studied the stranger. Mink and her exchanged a few glances, wondering who should talk.

“This isn’t the afterlife I had expected,” The stranger spoke instead. It was an unfamiliar accent; the language too. I wondered how I could understand him when he jolted around to face us. Eyes wide behind thin rimmed glasses, he scowled accusingly,

“No, this isn’t the afterlife… You called me here… You ‘woke’ me up…”

The man flickered and for a moment I could see through him. I opened my mouth in amazement, seeing my breath rise. The cold pin-pricked at my skin.

“What’s your name?” Mink asked, standing by the window still.

With another glower from his violet eyes, the man nearly hissed, “You know this…”

“Where are you from?” The winged-girl continued her instigation and the man flickered again. He watched her from the distance, fury evident in his features. But it quickly turned to a smirk,

“You know that too.”

Fen let out a heavy breath, switching her stance with an agitated click of her tongue,

“All right Isaac… What do you remember of the afterlife?”

The man flickered once more, smirk melting into a dazed expression. He moved his hollow eyes from Mink, to me, and then Fen.

“It was…” He started, fading in and out more rapidly now, “It was my home…”

With a shimmering hand, he gripped at something in front of his chest. Isaac shuddered, mouth opening wide in a ghastly scream but no noise rang out. The look set my hair on end, ominous. It was his death. And then he disappeared.

Mink and Fen shifted in silence while I couldn’t move at all. Finally the winged girl took initiative, moving forward to pick something up from the floor, where the specter had stood. It was a small metal cylinder with a pointed end – a writing tool. Mink looked the object over, eyebrows furrowed until she noticed Fen glaring across the distance. The red-haired girl put out her hand expectantly,

“We’ll send it to headquarters for further examination.”

She continued in a placid tone, “Congratulations Mink, the experiment was a success.”

“But I still had questions…” The winged girl began but stopped, remembering her place. Mink nodded her head sullenly and handed the object over. Fen then jumped her sharp eyes to me, making me flinch from their ferocity.

“Your continued efforts are noted Ruger. So you’ll get your bot back soon enough but unfortunately any and all files contained are property of O.U.R.S. now,” The girl spoke, nonchalant for the most part but I could tell she was hiding a small sneer.

“What? But you said I’d get it back, repaired even,” I stumbled out and the girl clicked her tongue again.

“Look, that robot normally would’ve been property of O.U.R.S. too but luckily they don’t have use for such out-dated tech so just be grateful you’ll even have that rust-bot,” Fen growled with a shake of her head turning to leave.

“That isn’t right! You can’t just take something that doesn’t belong to you!” I shouted, taking a step forward as a burning rage surfaced in my torso. It was unacceptable, baffling. Yet as my voice rose Fen didn’t even twitch, a vacant stare to me and my outburst.

Is this who O.U.R.S. was? I couldn’t believe it however my reeling mind recalled all I saw of the ghost and of myself even. Hadn’t I traveled the dunes of my home-world and stole just the same? Stories, history – I took them. And even though I’d share them with my daughter, I hoarded them all for myself. It was all for my own enjoyment after all. That’s why I traveled. And this was an organization – a whole group dedicated to a cause. A mass collector.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“If you wish to continue volunteering you can. Perhaps one day you could become qualified?” Fen spouted with her narrowed violet eyes and taunting smirk. It faded quickly though, morphed into a yawn and another mild irritation. The smug girl left, a wake of bitterness in the air after her. I was stuck in stunned silence, going over the words Cal had said before, about us being hostages or some-sort. It didn’t fit right but I couldn’t help wondering what we were to O.U.R.S. They had promised to send us home hadn’t they?

Mink drew near, knocking my thoughts away. Her yellow eyes darted to the still open doors of the library, an anxiousness in her features. She pulled something out from a pocket in her skirt, hand stretching out carefully concealing whatever item she had. I took it, a small metal cube, a red gem in one side, attached to a cord.

“It’s a copy of your files and although I know your robot can’t read it, I’m sure there’s something in this castle you can use,” Mink explained, a compassionate smile breaking from her pensive stare. She then backed away, a finger held up to her lips, meaning silence as she nodded to the door.

I was stunned once more, smiling too but concerned in a way. Just before she was about to leave, I muttered out, “Why?”

Mink stalled in her steps, the finger on her lips turning into a nail being bitten. She looked away, through the doorway and then back to the opened window in the room.

“I suppose,” The winged girl started, eyebrows knotted when she looked to me fully, “I suppose it’s because they found me here too.”

“Oh… wait, how did you end up in O.U.R.S. then?” I asked with a shake of my head, the understanding coming through with more unrelenting questions. But that wasn’t something she would answer, a grin on her face and eyes dancing across the room.

“You should clean this place up,” Mink ignored me, leaning forward in the doorway, ready to flee,

“I’ll ask Quinn to give you a hand!” She spouted, a hand smacking against the frame and she left without another word.

I stared at the spot she had stood, then down to the metal cube in the palm of my hand. Slowly I drifted my eyes to the opened window, back out to that mysterious forest, the strange moons. The dust swirled in the light as did the questions through my mind. There was still awe of course. I still wanted to understand.

I sighed.

-Ruger