SHIT! IT'S CHAPTER 8? AFTER ALL THIS TIME?

Yes, I realize I took FOREVER to write this. I got major writers' block for a while, plus an increasingly dissatisfying work life (fed up almost to the point where I wrote a resignation letter) and an increasingly wacky election season (I work in politics… Until the election… NEVER working in politics again).

Fringe fans! Keep an eye out for a rather amusing scene from the show I decided to incorporate (reminder that this story draws on several themes from Fringe without actually being a crossover)

Review time:

Reishin Amara: Yeah, honestly, as far as this story is concerned, the Church was actually starting to get it right, and then Sforza had come in and ruin everything

Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Miller: That they do, although, cryptic hint, they'll eventually have bigger problems than that (hehehehehe)

Pinkpower: Thank you for pointing that out. The FSB has been changed to GRU. As for them being tough to take down, oh, I have no doubt. But SWORD aren't exactly slackers either. They constitute the best of the best from all the countries that are part of SWORD. Plus they got lucky in this case. I'll explain in this chapter just how SWORD Spec-Ops managed to catch him.

MayAnny: Oh don't worry, Victor and the other passengers will eventually set them straight on how shitty our world can be

Gak237: Thanks for pointing that out. Like I mentioned in my PM, I went ahead and fixed that. As for the agents, they'll get a bit more depth this chapter, but not much. I realize it wasn't my best chapter (serves me right for writing on and off for three months)

Bob the Turtle: We'll see what happens

Ridli Scott: Lol not quite… We'll get to Mundalfr eventually… And yes, by the time I'm done, Saito, Louise, and Tiffania will be missing the days where it was just them against a giant Void-eating dragon.

Chris4th: Thanks! I'd watched The Borgias when I started rewriting the story and I figured using Borgia would be too obvious

Ospery: Eh, I'm not sure if I can describe the interrogation since these guys are NATO, hence they can't get too extreme. They have other tricks up their sleeve though. But the main focus of this story is Halkeginia.

Otaku Prince: Thank you! Glad I inspired you

On with the story!


Brussels

SWORD HQ

The Next Morning

2 Days After Arrival

Morning broke over Brussels as the wave of analysts, agents, and researchers flooded into the SWORD HQ deep under NATO's Headquarters in Brussel. However, one agent was already there.

Reynolds rubbed the bridge of his nose, as if to stave off the inevitable headache of what he had to deal with today.

He'd stayed in all night, sleeping in his office and keeping tabs on the… situation with the foreign agent they'd somehow captured.

They'd lucked out… The guy was an older fellow, most likely a GRU liaison attached to the Russian Embassy in Brussels, though he have to wait to confirm that until Owens came in.

Damn Russians he thought.

He was anxious to find out how much they knew, if anything. He had his theories.

The most likely scenario was that the Russians were aware of the Anomalies, but did not know what they were or where they were coming from. They had likely connected the dots between Anomalies in Europe and the immediate deployment of SWORD agents to the site and were trying to find out more.

Thinking of the Anomalies, Reynolds sighed. They were getting worse. Two reports from the previous day alone. A damaging lightning storm in Copenhagen and a 5 minute snow storm in Rio de Janeiro had both been attributed to Anomalies. Of course, SWORD had taken control of the PR game and even now, news outlets around the world continued to attribute the strange weather activity to an unseasonably strong El Niño. Still, that made 12 confirmed events this month alone, up from an average of 3 per month the year before. And he had another problem. The Anomalies weren't the only thing sending his agents scurrying around the continent.

In the early days, long before SWORD even existed, the very thing that ultimately led to the discovery of Avalon was the persistent reports of people developing supernatural abilities such as pyrokinesis and electrokinesis during solar eclipses. Although the US Army Intelligence Task Force that had investigated these cases had ultimately refocused its efforts once Avalon was discovered, they continued to persist nonetheless.

Now there were, with increasing frequency, cases where people would develop these powers and retain them long past the end of the eclipses. They would still lose their "powers" eventually and the events could be passed off as a loose wire, minor gas leak, or freak accident. However, the time these individuals retained their "powers" was increasing. During the last eclipse, three months prior, one individual had been reported to retain his powers for four days.

SWORD had tried time and time again to have these individuals to come in to answer some questions and run some tests but by the time contact was made, their powers were gone. Regardless, one would have to be blind not to see the connection between the increasing Anomalies and the uptick in reports of people with paranormal abilities after eclipses.

Which led to a difficult decision he'd made the night before regarding the very man responsible for SWORD's existence:

Dr Dreyfus.

The disappearance of Dr. Scott in 1998 had a profound and detrimental effect on Dr. Dreyfus. The man was already known as being a bit eccentric and odd prior to the event. Afterwards, it seemed like something snapped in him. He became nearly impossible to work with before abruptly disappearing into civilian life. Last he'd heard, the man had been recently released from a mental institution, having been committed after nearly killing an assistant in a lab explosion.

And now, he was likely the only one on Earth who could possibly piece everything together, from the increasing Anomalies to the paranormal abilities popping up. SWORD had its theories, but that's all they were.

His thoughts were interrupted as Agent Owens walked into his office followed by Agent Anna Carlisle. Carlisle was a relatively new transfer from the States, but she had proven herself an exemplary agent. She'd been part of the team that gnabbed the GRU agent the night before and Owens. However, he'd called her into his office for a different reason.

"Agents" he greeted them. "Thank you for coming. Carlisle, I have something for you after I'm done with Owens, but feel free to stay for this since it concerns you as well."

"Yes sir" she replied, nodding.

"Concerning last night, your report Owens."

Owens took a moment to relax before he began.

"Per your orders last night, we formed two quick action teams and had one deploy to Schoden's apartment while we searched for him in the city. Once we determined he was on the move, we had them tail him while the apartment team prepared the warehouse for questioning. As we suspected, Schoden was indeed in contact with an employee of the Russian Embassy in Brussels. One of their senior security attachés, now confirmed to be a former GRU agent. This individual offered Schoden protection from a local loan shark in exchange for information. At least that's what we picked up from when the deal was happening."

Reynolds' mind churned as he absorbed Owens report. GRU agents were notoriously difficult to catch in the act, let alone question.

"You caught them in the act? How did we get so lucky?" he asked.

"I saw a deal taking place so I stopped it before it happened…" replied Owens vaguely.

Carlisle gave Owens a "really" look, eyebrow raised.

"You rear-ended their car in the middle of the Mont des Arts" she said, always trying to find an excuse to give her CO a hard time.

"You rear-ended the car…" said Reynolds, deadpan.

Owens merely shrugged while Carlisle merely rolled her eyes, giggling internally.

"You know, when I gave you full operational discretion, this wasn't what I meant Owens… Still, I can't argue with results" said Reynolds. His expression getting serious, he continued. "What did you get out of them?"

"Schoden sang like a bloody canary once the proper leverage was applied" continued Owens. "Said the Russian had approached him after 'hearing of his debt problems'. Offered him a deal: Information on why NATO teams were being sent out across the continent so frequently and anything else that might prove useful. We caught them just in time too. That USB drive contained files on Avalon and the Anomalies."

Reynolds felt a chill go down his spine as he listened. So I was right after all. They knew something was up but not what. This was too close of a call though.

"What about the Russian? Get anything out of him?"

Owens shook his head. "He's good, even for an older gent. Definitely ex-GRU, maybe even former Spetsnaz. We haven't gotten anything out of him. Despite that, he's said absolutely nothing. My agents are getting frustrated."

Reynolds leaned forward, sighing.

"Owens, try to get him to talk. Look into his records, any family, anything we can use to put pressure on him. Find a carrot that'll get him to talk. Otherwise, I'll have to have you use… other methods."

Owens nodded, immediately understanding what Reynolds meant.

"Yes sir."

"Alright Owens, get back to it. Dismissed."

Owens nodded as he moved to leave the office.

Reynolds now turned to Agent Carlisle, who had remained standing throughout the discussion.

"Thanks for waiting, Carlisle. Please sit down."

Reynolds tried to think of the best way to explain his plan as Carlisle moved to sit down.

"There's a reason I asked for you specifically, Carlisle" he began. "Owens tells me you're one of the best agents under his command."

Carlisle smiled at the praise. Seeing no objection, Reynolds continued.

"I'm putting together a hybrid science/field team. And I want you to head it."

Carlisle practically giggled, though she maintained her composure. My own team? She'd been head of her team back in the States before being brought to SWORD. Unfortunately, that meant she'd been bumped back down to grunt status and had struggled to get back up to where she'd been before.

"Umm wow that's… Thank you sir… I won't let you down."

"Good. First, I need you Stateside to pick up your chief scientist and a potential advisor to the team."

"Who am I picking up?" she asked.

"Take a look" he said passing the first file to Carlisle. "Alexander Dreyfus. Degrees in Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering. Taught at Princeton for 2 years. Now he works as a Federal Contractor in Virginia."

Carlisle let out a whistle at the guy's impressive credentials. Though the name rang a bell for some reason.

"But the real prize is his father, one Dr. Robert Dreyfus" continued Reynolds, passing along Robert's file. "Doctorates in Biochemistry, Physics, and Biology, the man is a certifiable genius with an IQ of 196."

Carlisle immediately recognized where she'd heard the name before. Robert Dreyfus had been a well known researcher and one of the smartest minds in past 30 years, though much of his work had been shrouded in secrecy until Carlisle had come to work for SWORD.

"Dr. Robert Dreyfus, one of the men who discovered Avalon? Isn't he locked up in the loony bin?"

"The very same" replied Reynolds. "He was released recently into the care of his son, Alexander. Though from what I hear, their relationship is rather frosty to say the least."

"I don't know about this one boss. He was locked up for a reason."

"Look Carlisle, we're poking around in the dark here with these anomalies. This whole thing is one big puzzle and we're missing most of the pieces. And Dreyfus is the only one I know of that might know what those pieces look like."

Carlisle wasn't fully convinced. If she was going to head a team, she needed everyone on their A game. 10 years in the slam changes a person.

"While I can't argue with his intellect, the man blew up a lab and nearly killed an assistant. He spent ten years in the loony bin. There's no telling what kind of mental state he's in or even if he'll be able or want to help."

"Dreyfus is the only person who might give us some answers. Dr. Nathan Scott is gone. Disappeared. Either hiding out in Costa Rica or dead… Probably both" he explained. "I have enough on my plate with all these goddamn Anomalies AND people getting goddamned superpowers AND the goddamned Russians snooping around. Find a way to convince him and his son. I need someone with the scientific background to put this puzzle together. A puzzle Dreyfus helped discover in the first place" finished Reynolds.

"With all due respect sir, no need for any more puzzle analogies. I understand" replied Carlisle.

"Good. Pack your bags and report to the airport at 1400 hours. There'll be a plane waiting for you. Wheels up at 1430."

"Yes sir!"

"Dismissed."


Tristain Academy of Magic

2 Days After Arrival

Victor rubbed his head as he stared at the mirror in his bathroom. There had been no strange dreams the night before, but he had once more woken up feeling hot, almost as if he was on fire.

And the headache…

Fuck me sideways, someone get me some Advil and a coffee he thought, clutching his head.

It felt like a combination hangover/caffeine headache but it throbbed constantly. Looking back into the mirror, he gazed at the eerily glowing runes on his chest. He could feel both sets of runes pulsing, almost in tandem with his headache.

These things have done nothing but glow and give me a mega headache…

As he thought that, he thought he heard a whisper, barely audible.

... submit….

You must resist...

The whispers came from behind him and yet it almost felt like they were inside his head. It almost sounded like two distinct voices.

Poking his head back out into his room, he saw no one. Weird… he thought. The runes still shined, bright as ever as he slipped on his shirt and headed downstairs.

His thoughts drifted back to his conversation with Tiffania, feeling his chest runes pulse at the thought.

In hindsight, he felt alright taking the high road and not holding a grudge for what happened but at the same time, he felt like he should have still been angry.

Why'd she have to be blonde AND cute? Reminds me too much of Erin…

Erin… Damn… Where did I go wrong there? he wondered, faintly feeling his chest burn.

Erin Hayes had, for a time at least, been the one bright spot in his life in recent months. After sulking for months following his parents' death, he'd been dragged out to the bars where he'd met a quirky graduate with a taste for random road trips and a penchant for saying whatever was on her mind.

Needless to say, Victor and Erin had hit it off right away. Right away meaning they'd woken up naked in bed together after a night of drunken shenanigans around the city.

Over the next two months, he'd finally gotten over his parents and back on his feet as he hung out with Erin more and more. Despite both their busy schedules, they both made time to see each other.

All that had come to a screeching halt after Erin had gone home to Colorado for two weeks. He'd planned on telling her he felt like they might be going somewhere when she returned.

Only she hadn't exactly felt the same way.

He vaguely remembered a quote from a movie that had summed up his situation.

"Funny how they always want to be friends after they rip your guts out."

Ain't that the truth.

Victor let his thoughts wander as he made his way down to the Dining Hall. Despite the downsides, there was one positive of being stuck in Halkeginia:

No early mornings for work he thought. His job as an associate consultant, although rewarding, often meant he had to work his ass off doing mostly grunt work. Or as his colleagues affectionately called it, "bitch work".

Whether I keep that job when I get back is another thing though.

Coming down the spiral staircase, he ran into none other than Agent Hansen, who looked like a man on a mission.

"Victor" greeted the Australian agent.

"Jim. You look like hell" replied Victor.

"You could say that mate. Didn't sleep too well last night."

"That sucks" said Victor as they walked down the stairs. "Cup of coffee will fix you right… Oh…" he stopped himself, immediately remembering the lack of coffee.

"Yep. I can already feel a caffeine headache coming" said Hansen, rolling his eyes.

"Believe me, I feel you" replied Victor, remembering his own pulsing headache. "So… What's going on today?"

"We find out what Earth has to say about our situation. Then, hopefully get some sort of organization between us passengers. You know, present a united front and all that."

"Like some sort of group meeting?"

"Yea… Just to be on the same page and all that. We need to be sure our needs are represented to the locals."

The conversation continued before Hansen split off from Victor as he walked into the dining hall. He had to find Captain Rollins.


Colbert sat at the head table in the dining hall watching everyone file in for breakfast. He had barely touched his own plate, his thoughts stirring.

Marteau had just delivered some concerning news: with the addition of 120+ people to feed, they might have to dig into their winter stores to feed everyone comfortably. Depending on how long the passengers were here, he would have to requisition more frequent resupplies from the Crown and that of course would take a bite into the Academy's allotted budget for the following year. Not to mention, it would upset the surrounding fiefdoms from which the supplies came. Unless the Crown dug into its reserves, something it would certainly not do without good reason.

Looking over the dining room, he looked for Agent Hansen in order to meet with him and deliver the news. He quickly found the Australian sitting next to the plane's captain, engaged in a rather animated conversation.

Regarding the food situation, it would all depend on how long they needed to sustain their increased levels of consumption. They could handle a month without digging too much into the Academy's stores. Anything beyond that would be hard to sustain, and would most likely result in rationing for the passengers.

Colbert hated this dilemma. On the one hand, he wanted to do the right thing and help. However, he had a responsibility to his students and staff first.

Steeling his resolve, he made his way over to the two Earthlings in question.

He could hear the conversation as he approached the table.

"...still don't think I would be the best person to be the 'leader' of our merry band" commented Rollins.

"You got us through the mess that was the transition, the landing, and the first day, mate. I think you have the most leadership experience of any of us" replied Hansen.

"I still say you're the best qualified. You know more about this place than any of us" said Rollins.

"I think the best bet would be to put it to a vote" finished Hansen.

"Right. Now, all we need is a lecture room big enough to hold all of us. I figure it's better to tell everyone rather than letting the rumor mill make its rounds once we know how long we're stuck here. Where are you on that, by the way?"

"Contact's at 1100 Zulu, little more than an hour. We'll know then…" finished Hansen, noticing Colbert walking towards them. "Headmaster. What brings you to our humble little corner?"

"Good morning gentlemen. I'm afraid I'm here for less than a cordial visit. But I feel our business may be better discussed in the privacy of my office" said Colbert. A serious look came over the two Australians' faces. "I could not help but overhear that you will be taking charge of the passengers, Captain Rollins. This will help in our business, as this news may sound better coming from you."

"Not sure about that bit yet. We're planning on putting it to a vote between the passengers. Speaking of which, is there an empty lecture hall we may use to hold a meeting between all of us?"

"I can arrange for your people to use one this afternoon" replied Colbert.

"Sounds good" said Hansen. "Shall we then?"

The three men left the dining room, heading for the Headmaster's office.

The walk to the Headmaster's office was filled mostly with small-talk. Once the doors closed however, Colbert steeled himself and put on his Headmaster's facade.

"Gentlemen, I've received some rather troubling news from our Head Chef, Marteau" he began. "He tells me with the addition of more than one-hundred people to feed, our food supplies are being stretched thin."

The two Australians looked at each other with concern. Rollins was the first to speak.

"How thin?" he asked.

"At the current rate, we'll be forced to introduce rationing within a month. I intend to ask the surrounding fiefdoms for more but with Winter coming, they will be hesitant to send much more. The Crown may not be a better answer either as we are over-budget this year."

Hansen looked at his watch, then leaned back. "Well, we'll know for sure how long we'll be stuck here in about half an hour. We'll open the portal here so you're the first to know."

Rollins stood up and walked to the window. Looking out, he could see some of the passengers milling about. Suddenly, an idea came to him.

"You say your Queen is not willing to send more food because you're over budget, yes?"

Colbert nodded.

"What if we were to provide something to your Queen?" asked Rollins.

"What did you have in mind, Captain?" retorted Colbert.

"Scientific knowledge from our world."

Colbert's eyebrows shot up. This could be the break he'd been looking for! His own research into the technologies from Earth had stalled with the loss of contact. He'd been on the verge of a breakthrough into combustion engines, although his priority had been to expand on the rudimentary steam engines he'd designed for the Ostland. The team that had designed the legendary ship was back in Germania, and with his current responsibilities as the Headmaster, he'd had no time to coordinate his next big project with them.

"Yes, yes! That might work! If I can demonstrate significant progress with some of my inventions, I could possibly renegotiate more food from the Capital!" he said excitedly.

Hansen's reaction on the other hand was not so positive.. "Hold on there mate! Have you lost your mind?"

"What choice do we have? You heard him, if we're here for more than a month, we'll be starving by the time we can leave. We don't have to give them much, just enough to point them in the right direction?" replied Rollins.

Hansen remained adamant, shaking his head as Colbert stood by, watching the two men argue.

"This is not your call to make, nor mine. I have to run this by SWORD. If we start meddling too much with these people, who knows what will happen!"

"Hansen, again, it can just be a suggestion here or there. Hell, there are doctors on the passenger list. We can stick to just medical advice like 'wash your hands before doing anything' or 'sterilize your medical tools'."

Hansen seemed to back down, but remained steadfast.

"I can't argue with that angle Captain, but our own history has proven that advancing technology without letting society catch up can be disastrous" he explained. "If you doubt that, you need look no further than the Conquest of the Americas, or the First World War."

Rollins had no retort as he remembered his lessons on history. Colbert on the other hand had an expression of mixed confusion, shock, and horror at that statement.

First World War? Is such a thing possible? And use of the word First… Can such a thing happen more than once?

"First World War?" he asked timidly.

The question drew the gaze of the Australians. Hansen sighed before he began explaining.

"Yes, Headmaster. The First World War. A large-scale conflict on our world fought mostly on the continent analogous to Halkeginia nearly a hundred years ago at a time of political turmoil and tumultuous alliances. The perfect example of what happens when battlefield tactics do not keep pace with advancements in technology ."

Racking his brain for the statistics, he continued.

"You remember the machine guns on the Zero fighter right? How fast they can fire?"

Colbert nodded.

"Well, at the start of the First World War, those had just been introduced. But the battlefield tactics remained the same from a hundred years prior. As a result, you had massive infantry charges of tens of thousands of men running into machine guns that literally tore them to pieces by the battalion" continued Hansen. "Obviously, there's a lot more to the war than just that but I rest my case. I don't remember the exact casualty figures for the War but it was somewhere over 17 million people dead."

Colbert felt a chill go down his spine in horror.

17 million?!

"Second World War was even worse" added Rollins, begrudgingly. "That one was truly a world war, spanning nearly every continent and ocean of the world. Over 60 million dead… Truly the war to end all wars. There hasn't been one since that comes close the that kind of devastation."

Colbert's knees grew weak.

60 million… That's more than the twice the population of Halkeginia… How? How can one war be so deadly?

"Lord Hiraga told me when he first came here that his world was at peace. That there had been wars in the past but that you all lived in relatively peaceful times" said Colbert, desperately coming to terms with this new information.

"Well he's not wrong. Second World War was over 70 years ago. Hell, our own Australia fought against his Japan in the Pacific Ocean" explained Hansen. "There have been wars since but nothing on the scale of those two. Make no mistake Headmaster, our world is no picnic. There are smaller scale wars raging all over to this day, people dying every day. But the majority of the population lives in peace."

"But back to my argument, I feel that any sort of technology or knowledge that we give you must be discussed with both my superiors back home and with experts on that sort of thing. Just to be sure your people have time to adapt. Captain, you know the passenger manifest… You know anyone with any special expertise that might be useful? You mentioned doctors."

Captain Rollins nodded.

"Yes, I know for a fact there are a few doctors on board. There's bound to be more people with specialized knowledge among the passengers."

"Any sort of knowledge or expertise would go a long way to convincing the Crown to send more supplies. And of course, I would be eternally grateful. I have wanted to study the wonders of your world ever since Lord Hiraga arrived" said Colbert.

"We'll see what we can do" retorted Hansen. "In the meantime, it's almost time Headmaster. Could we get Louise and Tiffania up here? If we want an answer today, we'll have to portal more than just once today."


Elsewhere in the Academy, Louise, Tiffania, and their respective familiars Saito and Victor, walked up the stairs through the main tower. The two Void mages had just been summoned to the Headmaster's office, presumably to open the portal to Earth once more.

As they walked, two different conversations were taking place.

"I'm not sure I can do this, Louise" admitted Tiffania.

"You'll do fine! Just like we practiced. You've seen the room I open the portal to. Just focus on the destination and chant" replied Louise.

The two Void mages had been, for the past few months been teaching each other their respective Void spells whenever they saw each other. Tiffania had made great progress in casting Explosion, Dispel, and Haste. Louise on the other hand pretty much had Haste and Scrying down, but was struggling with Tiffania's signature spell, Mind Wipe. Teleport was the one spell that eluded them both, despite how hard they both struggled to focus.

Tiffania still struggled with World Door. She still had concerns about the sheer amount of power required to cast World Door. Louise had previously only been able to cast it with Saito's help when he was Lífþrasir but could now cast it effortlessly with plenty of willpower to spare. Tiffania's willpower reserves, on the other hand, were not nearly as high. She could cast it however it left her severely drained afterwards. The incident with the summoning that had left her nearly completely drained had also traumatized her.

"I know how to do it Louise… I'm worried I don't have enough power to do it though"

Louise shrugged her shoulders. "You could always ask Victor to give you a hand" she said, gesturing to the two familiars who followed behind them, engaged in their own conversation.

Tiffania glanced at her familiar. She felt guilty asking him to give her some extra willpower but it would be a good chance to solidify their partnership as summoner and Lífþrasir . Looking back at him, she couldn't quite figure out what they were talking about, even with her enhanced Elven hearing.

"...been a few months since I've heard anything from home" Saito told Victor, the two following behind their summoners on the way to Colbert's office.

"Yeah, well not much has changed" replied Victor. "Ice caps are still melting. Wars in the Middle-East are getting worse. I don't know man, rich are getting richer, poor are getting poorer… China's thinking they're the biggest kids in your neighborhood, North Korea's getting crazier, you know… Same shit as last year…"

"That sounds…"

"It sucks, I know" finished Victor.

The four reached Colbert's office and made their way in, noticing the Headmaster chatting with Agent Hansen and Captain Rollins.

"Ah, you're here. You're just in time" greeted Colbert. "Agent Hansen tells me it's almost time to make contact with Earth."

"Well, we're ready for it" replied Louise. "Although I feel like we should give Tiffania a chance to open the portal this time" she said, nudging Tiffania, who stepped up, nervous but determined.

"Appreciate it. Although this time is a bit different. Because of some troubling news that the Headmaster has brought up, we'll need to portal a few times. We need these answers today" explained Hansen. "Are you two up to it?"

Tiffania and Louise both nodded.

"I have enough in me to open a portal, maybe two if I still have enough willpower left" said Louise.

"Unfortunately I will likely only be able to open one portal" added Tiffania, reluctantly.

Hansen seemed to ponder this, before turning to Victor.

"Victor, you ready to put those new powers of yours to the test?" he asked the Spaniard.

"Wait you mean use the Lífþrasir?" asked Victor. Hansen nodded in response. "I mean, sure if you really need it. But I'm not even sure I know how to do that. I must have slept through that lecture" replied Victor sheepishly.

Saito gave him a playful nudge on the his shoulder. "Just put your arm on Tiffa's shoulder as she's chanting and focus on the runes."

"Good. Because our situation is this" Hansen explained. "The Academy does not have enough food to sustain us for more than a month. Now, a possible solution being floated is to exchange scientific knowledge from Earth for additional food. But… This is something that needs to be cleared with Earth. One of our Prime Directives is non-involvement in Halkeginia. So we can't be introducing knowledge and technology that affects the locals here too much."

As Hansen finished his explanation, his watch went off, signaling that it was almost 1100 Zulu.

"Alright, it's almost time. Louise, you're up first" he said.

Louise nodded and prepared herself.

The instant Hansen's watch read 1100 Zulu, Louise began chanting.

Victor watched as the same unstable portal from the day before began forming just off Louise's wand.

Finally, it stabilized into the gray basement of the transport room for two seconds, before the location shown inside began jumping around Brussels. All the while, Hansen focused on his phone, waiting for the familiar notification of a new email to ring.

A minute passed and the portal continued to spark and flash with each new location, the dangerous energies present in the void between worlds sending sparks into the Headmaster's Office. A few hit a chair in front of the desk, shattering it and sending splinters flying everywhere.

(Ding)

"Got it!" yelled Hansen, glancing at Louise who cut the spell immediately. She wavered a bit as the continued use of willpower made its toll known.

"Let's see…"

Having already established a secure line of communication, the email was already decrypted. The message was brief, so as to decrease the file size.

Well done. Continue cooperation. Next eclipse in 65 days. Will get eclipse location on Avalon ASAP. Working on better comms. Try to respond to this ASAP. If not, expect contact at 1100 Zulu tomorrow. Find source of Anomalies. Stay safe.

Hansen sighed heavily.

"Two months. The next eclipse is in little over two months" said Hansen, breaking the silence that had built up.

Colbert sighed as well.

"That could be a problem" he commented.


SWORD HQ

Brussels

Reynolds looked at the white-coats and department heads gathered before him. While Comms upstairs was busy sending the message through the portal, he'd called together a meeting to discuss a means to communicate with the passengers without having to rely on the unstable portals. The head of logistics had mentioned they might have a solution.

"Alright folks. What do you have?" he barked.

"Well, boss, it's better than nothing. But basically, you can't send anything too delicate through because the portals are unstable, right? There's exotic energies and crazy particles we can't even identify flowing between the two. Plus you don't know if they'll stay in place for 3, 5, or 10 seconds?"

"Yes, I'm well aware, Dr. Bayh."

"If we can find a way to get a Window Generator through the portal the instant it opens, before it destabilizes, we could communicate via written messages viewed from each others' sides."

"Run that by me again. Slowly" ordered Reynolds.

"Mobile 1 is already in position at the Academy's location on Earth, right? All we have to do is get a Window Generator to the other side, so they can see Mobile 1. Then if we have a message to get to them, get Mobile 1 to write it somewhere they can see it from their side! And if they have a message, they do the same so we can see it from our side!"

"That could work…" added another scientist.

"The trick would be getting the Window Generator and a power supply over to them through the brief moment the portal is stable" replied Dr. Bayh.

"I could rig up some sort of launcher set up in the Transport Room, ready to launch the rig the instant the portal opens" said yet another scientist in charge of logistics.

"So…" interrupted Reynolds, silencing the room. "The portal opens, we launch the Window Generator through the portal before it closes and hope they can set it up, yes?"

"That's pretty much it boss" replied Dr. Bayh.

Reynolds took a deep breath, thinking of any other options.

"It's the best we've got right now. Make it happen. Dismissed."

As the staff moved to leave, an aide ran up to Reynolds.

"Director! We've got another portal forming."

That quick? thought Reynolds.


Tristain Academy

Headmaster's Office

Tiffania focused as she channeled her willpower into forming the portal. She could feel her core exerting itself.

The portal began to form at the tip of her wand as she focused all her attention on that same, gray room that Louise always sent her portals to.

The portal finally materialized, sparking all the way. Tiffa struggled to maintain the connection though as the portal began jumping.

"Hurry!" she shouted at Hansen, who was waiting for confirmation that his message had been sent.

(SWOOSH)

"Done!"

Tiffania groaned as she cut the connection, nearly stumbling into the desk had it not been for someone catching her.

Looking up, she saw Victor, obviously concerned.

"You ok?" he asked.

Recomposing herself, she wavered a bit got back on her own two feet.

"Yes, I am now. Thank you. I just need to sit down."


Brussels

SWORD HQ

Reynolds re-read the message he'd just received from Hansen, trying to come up with an easy answer.

Message received. Food shortage imminent in 1 month. Willing to exchange scientific and medical knowledge on basics for additional food and resources. Please advise. Will portal in 1 hour.

If there really was an impending food shortage, Reynolds had to make sure the passengers weren't left behind. Colbert was a good man, sure, but he was loyal to his students, his staff, and his country first. And that scared Reynolds.

On the other hand, he had an ethical dilemma.

Reynolds knew with so many passengers, there were bound to be those with specialized knowledge on board, such as doctors, engineers, scientists, etc…

SWORD had, for lack of a better term, a prime directive not to interfere with Halkeginia or it's development. The policy, more of a guideline at first, had become a guiding principle after a nearly three-year study on Halkeginian conflicts over the past 200 years had definitively proven that gunpowder weapons, transported from Earth through the portals, had led to the discovery of gunpowder and successive proliferation of firearms in Halkeginia.

After that discovery, any further tampering with Halkeginian society had been prohibited. Reynold's dilemma now was if there were really concerns about food that could be solved by exchanging scientific knowledge, the problem was figuring out what could be disclosed that would not affect Halkeginia too dramatically.

On his desk were the recommendations made by the experts during the emergency meeting following the latest message. It was fairly conservative in terms of what could be offered without severely affecting Halkeginian society. The recommendations were mainly knowledge and topics that the Halkeginians would eventually discover within a few decades, in addition to some medical knowledge.

It would be up to Hansen to find passengers with knowledge on what he was approving and find a way to exchange that knowledge for additional supplies.

Reynolds glanced at the photographs he'd received from Mobile 1. These were the first recon photos of the Academy since Oceanic 29's arrival.

Despite the slight blurriness due to the way the errant photons from the other side were captured by the Window Generators, he could clearly see the plane intact on the Academy's runway. More pictures revealed the passengers in good health, no injuries visible.

Reynolds was glad Hansen had decided to be open with the passengers, rather than maintain SWORD's usual level of secrecy. He could see that despite all that had happened to them, the passengers were in good spirits. He even saw a game of soccer (football, he had to keep reminding himself he was in Europe) being played between some of the younger passengers.

Of course, the revelations made by Hansen to the passengers meant that when they did eventually return, it would be a veritable nightmare ensuring all 122 of them kept their mouths shut about SWORD, Avalon, and magic. At least until Public Disclosure was in the realm of possibility.

Reynolds looked forward to that happy day when SWORD wouldn't have to be so hush-hush. Until then, every little thing they did had to be backed up with a plausible, non-magic, non-paranormal explanation, something that drove him nuts.

Picking up the phone, he dialed his Comms Director on exactly what to say for the next outgoing message.


Tristain Academy

Headmaster's Office

Back in the Headmaster's Office, Tiffania and Louise sat, resting and eating to replenish their reserves.

Hansen's watch beeped, showing it was almost time for the next portal.

"Ladies" he asked the Void mages. "Think one of you can open up another portal? This should be the last one today."

Tiffania shook her head mid-bite. "I don't have much left. I don't think I can" she admitted, looking at Louise who was faring slightly better.

The pinkette stood, looking at Victor.

"I can do it. But I'll need help from Mr. De La Fuente" she said.

Victor said nothing but nodded.

Moving to stand next to Louise, he put his arm on her shoulder. "Alright, now what?" he asked.

"Once I begin chanting, just focus on the runes and let them do the rest" replied Louise.

Hansen's watch beeped again. "Alright, go!"

Louise began chanting and Victor focused on the runes. Almost immediately, he felt a tingle from his chest to his right arm. A slight pressure built up in his chest as he focused on the runes.

Louise's wand glowed with power as the portal formed rather quickly with the large supply of magic flowing to it. The unstable orb sparked violently, prompting the others to move behind Louise.

Though it was no more than a minute, the wait seemed to last an eternity as nothing indicated the message had come through. Victor felt himself getting winded and he felt Louise shaking from exertion.

If they don't find a way to maintain contact without relying on these portals, we're screwed. I don't think I can do this every day he thought.

(DING)

"Alright I got it!"

Louise cut the spell and Victor took his arm off her, feeling slightly light-headed. He moved to sit down as Hansen reviewed the message.

Message received. Topics approved for dissemination to Tristain:

- Printing Press :Instructions on recommended assembly will be forthcoming tomorrow

- Medical Knowledge

- Steam and Combustion Engine Technology (ensure Colbert is aware of consequences of unrestricted CO2 emissions)

- UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO DISSEMINATE WEAPONS TECHNOLOGY OF ANY SORT

- Further recommendations may be forthcoming after reliable communications have been established.

Solution has been found to communications issue. Portal tomorrow at 1100 Zulu in an open clearing. Expect a pod with Window Generator and portable power source at that time. END

Hansen smiled at this news, prompting Colbert's eyes to light up.

"Well, I've got good news Professor. Earth is allowing us to share some of our knowledge in exchange for food" he told him.

The bald Headmaster smiled at this. "That is excellent news! I look forward to seeing what wonders we can accomplish together."

"Though it's not much for now, I feel it will be enough to pique the Crown's interest. They've approved three things that we may share for now: the printing press, recommendations in steam and combustion engines, and our medical knowledge."

Colbert's eyebrow shot up. He recognized the latter recommendations but the first one eluded him. "Printing press?" he asked

"Yes, that's something I'm surprised has yet to be discovered here" answered Hansen. "The printing press allows for books to be printed by the dozen instead of having to hand-write each one. This is arguably what allowed the widespread dissemination of knowledge on Earth. It led to many more people becoming literate and studying, thus leading to more discoveries and more advancements."

Colbert was practically drooling at this point. This would let us make enough copies of books to ensure everyone had one! This could revolutionize learning in Halkeginia!

"Be warned however, the printing press is a dangerous thing. Just as easily as the truth can be disseminated, so can lies."

"I understand" said Colbert, nodding. "Truth and knowledge can indeed be dangerous to those who hold power over others."

"You don't know the half of it. Back when the press was invented, monarchs and the nobility still ruled over much of Europe. Fast-forward 400 years later, with literacy widespread and a growing middle class, the nobility died out and the monarchies were in their death throes, being relegated to figureheads, symbolic heads of states, or replaced altogether with democratic governments" explained Hansen.

"Yes, I recall Lord Hiraga's explanation of how in your world, the nobility had all but died out save for a few ceremonial monarchs such as his Emperor" replied Colbert.

While Colbert, Rollins, and Hansen continued their discussions, Victor sat still recovering from using his power for the first time.

Then he heard it again.

You hold great power within you Lífþrasir. Power that will be well suited to serving your Master…

Shaking his head, he tried to figure out where the deep, authoritative voice was coming from before realizing the runes of the Lífþrasir were pulsing.

Looking at Tiffania, he felt drawn to her.

She's cute… Whoa… Where did that come from? But really though…

It was then that he felt his back warm, right where the other set of runes was. And then he heard the other voice, the gentler, warmer voice.

You must resist Lífþrasir. Focus on yourself. Know yourself.

The two voices seemed to overlap with each other, almost as if they were fighting against one another.

"Victor?"

Hearing his name brought him back to reality.

"Victor" asked Tiffania. "Are you alright?"

The sensations from both sets of runes faded as did the voices.

"Yeah… I'm fine" he replied after a few moments.


Later That Night

Tiffania glared at the assignments in front of her.

This is the part of teaching I don't quite enjoy she thought to herself as she graded yet another mediocre assignment.

Her focus was shattered when someone banged on the door.

"Tiffania! It's Victor. We need to talk."

"Come in" she said, recomposing herself.

Victor strode in, closing the door behind him. He figured he'd cut right to the chase.

"The familiar runes. What exactly do they do? Besides being a magic reserve?"

Tiffania was puzzled by his question briefly before answering.

"I am almost certain that's all they are. Why?"

Victor shook his head, moving to sit down on Tiffa's bed.

"There's these voices… In my head… I thought it was just my imagination but they're definitely there. They just be whispers: 'submit', 'resist', 'give yourself to master' but they're there. God, it's like an annoying salesman, trying to get you to buy something."

Tiffania's blood grew cold.

No, this wasn't supposed to happen! Louise assured me that was only speculation! That it only applied to non-sentient familiars!

"Tiffania?"

She was snapped out of her thoughts by Victor.

"This wasn't supposed to happen" she began, trying to diffuse any tension before she explained herself. "Normally, summoned familiars are wild animals, and thus when the contract is sealed, the runes bind the familiar to the mage's will."

"So they're basically slaves?" asked Victor, not liking where this was going.

"From a certain point a view, yes."

Victor took a deep breath before continuing.

"What does this have to do with the voices in my head?" he asked, dreading the answer.

Tiffa let out a sharp exhale, despairing at what she was about to say.

"I had assurances from Louise that this didn't happen to human familiars. I fear however, based on what you're telling me this may not be the case." She steeled herself for what she had to say.

"The runes essentially brainwash familiars to be loyal only to their summoners"

Victor felt a chill go down his spine. Brainwashing?

"So you're telling me these voices are trying to brainwash me?"

"I'm not certain. What exactly are you hearing?"

Taking a deep breath, Victor explained.

"After I used the power of the Lífþrasir on Louise, I heard a voice whispering in my head. It said: 'You hold great power within you Lífþrasir. Power that will be well suited to serving your Master'."

Tiffania pondered this for a moment before Victor continued.

"Then I heard another voice… It was different from the first. Sounded like a woman. She said 'You must resist Lífþrasir. Focus on yourself. Know yourself.' To be honest, it felt like it came from the Mundalfr runes."

Tiffania took a moment before answering.

"I honestly do not know what is going on, Victor. But I promise, I'm going to find out. I'll not have my familiar brainwashed nor his memories tampered with" she said resolutely.

Victor smiled a bit at his summoner's enthusiasm.

"I appreciate it" he told her.

Tiffa smiled before her teacher's voice kicked in. "Please come see me immediately if these voices start up again."


3 days after Arrival

Earth

Arlington, Virginia, USA

"...effects from the unusually strong El Niño continue to affect the West Coast, as the region enters its third year of drought. More on that coming up in the next half-hour. But first, some breaking news…"

Alexander Dreyfus tuned out the news as he looked for his father, the ever eccentric Robert Dreyfus. With Robert having been in and out of his life growing up and later ending up locked up in the loony bin, it had been up to his late mother to raise the young Alex, something he held against his father. Having been forced to take his father in, as the man was unable to be independent while readjusting to life outside the madhouse, only added to Alex's contempt, to the point where he referred to him as Robert, rather than dad.

Still, he had to be sure the old man didn't blow himself up along with the entire house in yet another one of his experiments. Having taken over the family home when Robert had been locked away, the basement had still been set up with Robert's lab. As a result, when Robert had come back home to live with him, he'd immediately gotten back to using his lab.

Which was where Alex found himself heading as he descended the stairs to the basement.

Turning the corner from the stairs, he saw his father engaged in whatever it was that he was doing now.

"Brought you coffee, Robert" he told his father, setting the coffee down next to him. Robert paid him no mind as he focused on whatever he was working on.

Looking around the lab, Alex saw an uneaten omelette.

It was then that Robert turned around to see his son about to take a bite out of said omelette.

"Alex no!"

"Robert, we talked about sharing, remember?" said Alex, still cutting into the omelet.

"That's not to eat… Oh you've ruined it!"

"It's an omelette..."

"It's not an omelette!" replied Dreyfus, frustrated. Using the fork, he flipped the omelet open to reveal… what looked like a human ear growing in the omelet.

"Oh, my-ugh!" exclaimed Alex, nearly throwing up. "Robert, why is there an ear in the omelet?" he asked, recomposing himself.

"It was an experiment. It was a protein-rich incubator. It was growing" explained Dreyfus, as if stating the obvious.

Alex looked at his irritating father. "It was growing? That's perfect."

"No, it's not perfect. You just ruined it. And you could have died, had you eaten it."

Alex rolled his eyes, frustrated. Yey another day of dealing with Robert's eccentricities and borderline aversion to social norms.

"Really? You know, maybe in the future you could do me a favor and just put up a sign warning me not to confuse your toxic playthings with breakfast!" he said frustrated, butting heads with father.

"Maybe you should get your own breakfast and not poach mine!" retorted Dreyfus.

"That is hardly the point. Remember yesterday when I nearly washed my face in a sink full of acid? Or three days ago, you hooked the dog up to the solar panels and I nearly electrocuted myself!"

"This is my laboratory! You're the one who should be careful. I trust you look both ways when you cross the street!" said Dreyfus, trying to get a leg up on his son.

"Yeah, but the difference is that if I don't, I'm the only one who gets flattened!" yelled Alex. "You, Robert, you live in a society with other people! Also-"

Their argument was interrupted by the doorbell ringing from upstairs. Both men looked up before Alex moved towards the stairs.

"This conversation isn't over, Robert" he shouted as he ran upstairs.

Opening the front door, he came face to face with two people, whose outfits and demeanor screamed FBI.

"Alexander Dreyfus?" asked the blonde woman.

"Yeah that's me" replied Alex hesitantly.

"Anna Carlisle, Charlie Rosenthal, CIA. May we come in?"

Make that CIA thought Alex. Remembering his rights, he was hesitant to let in an CIA agent.

"Hold on. What's this about? Did Robert do something?"

Agent Carlisle smiled. "No… This is about a potential opportunity for you and your father, though it's something better discussed in private."

Alex pondered this. Robert had spent a great deal of time all over the world doing all kinds of secretive projects for the government. This could be related to one of them. Nodding, he motioned the agents inside.

"Make yourselves at home. I'll go get the old man."

A few minutes passed before Alex returned with Robert in tow and Carlisle got her first look at the man who had helped discover Avalon. Her concerns about the man still being affected by having been locked up for 10 years were definitely met. Dr. Dreyfus seemed aloof, as if his mind was in three different places at once.

"Alex, who are these people?" he asked.

"Anna Carlisle and Charlie Rosenthal, CIA. Good to finally meet you Dr. Dreyfus" said Agent Carlisle, shaking Robert's hand.

"So what's all this about" interrupted Alex.

"Now Alex, don't be rude. These young people are our guests" said Robert. "Would you two like some pudding?"

The two agents looked at each other as Alex rolled his eyes.

"Um, no thanks Doctor. We're actually here on official business" replied Carlisle, pulling out a folder. With the four of them sitting down in the living room, she removed a form from the folder and placed it in front of Alex.

"What's this?" he asked.

"The reason for our visit concerns information your father already possesses. In your case, this information is classified at the highest level. So, we'll need you to sign this non-disclosure agreement."

Alex, being a Federal contractor, was familiar with these agreements, but disliked them nonetheless.

"And if I say no?" he asked.

"Trust us, you'll want to say yes. But we can't say much more until you sign. We'll respect your decision on whether to accept our proposal but we need to ensure your discretion regardless" replied Rosenthal.

"What CAN you tell me then?"

"That this'll be worth your while. That this is the kind of work that can change the world. And that this opportunity comes with significant benefits" continued Rosenthal.

"The pay is good" added Carlisle.

"Very good."

Alex took a moment to read through the non-disclosure agreement. It was thorough… Very thorough he thought, reading a particular paragraph.

"Alright… I see what you mean then" said Alex, thumbing through the agreement. "I listen to what you have to say, I say yes, perfect. I say no and blab, you have enough on me to bury me."

"Glad we understand each other Mr. Dreyfus" replied Rosenthal.

"Why not then" said Alex, signing the document.

"Excellent" said Carlisle. Putting the folder away and pulling out another. "Now, what do the two of you know of the Avalon Initiative?"

Alex was confused but Robert's eyebrows immediately shot up.

"Never heard of it" said Alex.

Robert on the other hand, looked at the table, deep in thought, closing his eyes as he spoke.

"That's because it was a project run at the utmost levels of discretion between several NATO countries" he said.

"Glad to see you haven't lost your touch Doctor" commented Carlisle.

"So what was it?" asked Alex.

"The Avalon Initiative and it's successor, the Sentient World Observation and Research Division, SWORD for short, is the international organization charged with observing and researching the parallel world of Avalon and its associated paranormal phenomena on Earth" said Carlisle, passing the second set of folders across the table.

"Parallel world?" asked Alex, picking up one of the folders.

Alex and Robert both spent the next several minutes thumbing through the folders the CIA agents had provided.

"My God… This is truly remarkable" said Robert. "You've actually made contact! This Saito Hiraga character sounds like he'd have quite the tale to tell."

"I'm still not convinced" added Alex. "I mean, another world, full of wizards and flying ships? It sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book."

"I can assure you Alex, I was equally stunned when Scotty and I discovered it. Quite astounding really."

"Scotty?" asked Agent Rosenthal.

"Dr. Nathan Scott" whispered Carlisle. "The other scientist who discovered Avalon."

"Back to the matter at hand" interrupted Alex. "You're here bringing this all up again why exactly?"

"Because over the past few years, we've had a dramatic increase in anomalies tied directly to Avalon. Freak lightning storms, massive die-offs, droughts, unexplained migrations, people developing magic powers, the works. All of these tied to Avalon. And we don't know why" explained Agent Rosenthal, gesturing to the TV and the news channel currently covering a freak lightning storm over Helsinki.

"You're the closest the world has to an expert on Avalon, Dr. Dreyfus" added Agent Carlisle. "We need your help to find out why these things keep happening. And Alex, you have expertise that would be well suited to our organization."

Father and son looked at each other in a rare moment of agreement before Alex spoke.

"What exactly would we be doing?" he asked.

"I'm putting together a special team: a hybrid science and field team. The two of you will work primarily in the SWORD research labs but will be deployed to the field when needed" replied Carlisle.

After a few more minutes of discussing specifics, the agents circled back to their proposal.

"So, gentlemen. What do you say?" asked Agent Rosenthal.

Alex took a moment before nodding.

"Well, this sounds infinitely more interesting than what I'm doing right now. I'm in."

Carlisle nodded then turned to Robert.

"Dr. Dreyfus?"

The elder Dreyfus looked away for a moment, then stood up and walked to the window, deep in thought.

"I left the Avalon Initiative after Scotty…" he tapered off. "Well, in any regard, I left it all behind because we were always a team, him and I. Always looking for the next challenge, the next riddle to solve. But now after ten years… I've realized that he would have wanted me to continue our work. And now, this new riddle comes along."

"So this means?" asked Agent Carlisle, hopeful.

"I'll accept your offer, Agent Carlisle" said Robert. "With some conditions."

"I'm sure we can find some come to some sort of understanding."


3 Days After Arrival

Tristain Academy of Magic

Morning

Colbert took in the two Earthers who had gathered in his office. The passengers had met the night before and chosen Captain Rollins as their leader, along with Agent Hansen as a sort of advisor on Halkeginia.

The duo had immediately provided a list of passengers and their occupations. Doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, the list went on with professions that might prove useful to his research.

And now, two of those passengers, a doctor and a professor of mechanical engineering were gathered in his office.

Clearing his throat, he began. "Professor Keyes, Doctor Brant, I thank you for coming. I cannot emphasize how excited I am to speak with you. I suppose we should begin then."

"Thank you for having us Professor" replied Keyes smiling. "It's not every day you get the chance to help a civilization move into the future."

"Professor" nodded Doctor Brant.

"Why don't we get started by going over what your people do have that we might be familiar with. Technologies you've been trying to understand or improve" began Professor Keyes.

"Yes, well, as you may have seen outside, we have created steam engines for the Ostland but we have been having trouble modifying the design for smaller use. The engines on the Ostland are simply too heavy to mount on many of Tristain's existing airships. Additionally, the process of building the engines is quite complex and takes rather long to complete."

"I have also experimented with what Lord Hiraga has called a combustion engine, and modified it based on what I saw on the Zero fighter we found three years ago. I have had limited success in replicating the combustion reaction, however I have been unable to scale the design up."

"Hmmm… Well you've already taken the first steps, creating a steam engine" said Professor Keyes. "Steam engines eventually sparked the first major industrialization period on Earth. This ultimately led to internal combustion, which you have already experimented with. That ultimately led to the continuous development of transport technologies, trains, cars, airplanes and such. Fast forward 100 years later and you get…" he gestured out the window towards the parked airliner.

"As for your dilemma of beginning production of steam engines on a larger scale than what you've got now, you need two things: standardization and an assembly line. Those two will let you mass produce the engines. I'll see if I can come up with a working design for a first-gen steam engine, I'm fairly certain there's one or two more engineers among the passengers that can help with the math. You're more than welcome to sit in and learn a bit yourself."

Colbert was ecstatic. The meeting was going better than he could have imagined.

"That would be most appreciated Professor. Thank you" he said. He turned to Doctor Brant. "Doctor, your medical expertise would be most appreciated as well. Our water mages are quite skilled but there are still far too many people in our country who succumb to disease."

"I do like a challenge Headmaster" replied Doctor Brant. "I'll be in the medical wing, taking observations. I will present my recommendations in a few days' time."

"Thank you both" said Colbert, beaming. "This will truly help our people."

"Just be sure you keep up your end of the bargain!" replied Brant as she stepped out of the office. "We are a hungry lot!"


3 Days After Arrival

Tristain Academy of Magic

Early Evening

Victor was quickly finding that electricity was a beautiful thing.

He'd lucked out on grabbing one of the emergency hand-crank radios when they'd cracked open the plane's cargo hold.

But that still meant he had to spend about an hour a day hand-cranking to charge his phone and shaver.

Worth it he thought, as he listened to some music on his way from dinner.

As he climbed the stairs up the tower to his room, he heard it again. The sinister voice in his head.

Seek out Master. She grows lonely and weary. She longs for companionship.

Here we go again he thought. Can't wait to leave this place and it's creepy voices behind. Shaking his head, as if to shake the voice loose, he took his headphones off and and spoke.

"Who are you? Where are you?"

Silence greeted him for a moment before the voice spoke again.

Your thoughts betray you Lífþrasir. This is your home now. You belong here with Master.

Victor decided to humor whatever this was.

Hmmm, no thanks random voice in my head. In two months, I'll be flying home, far away from this medieval fantasy land.

Your arrogance blinds you Lífþrasir. Your ties to your homeworld are irrelevant. Your preferences are irrelevant. All you hold dear is irrelevant. You will serve your Master.

As the voice spoke, Victor was suddenly blinded by a searing headache, ten times worse than the ones he'd been experiencing in the morning.

Struggling to maintain his composure, he stumbled up the stairs to his room, holding the wall and groaning in pain.

What the hell is this?! What are you doing to me?! It's… You're in the runes, aren't you?!

You will learn Lífþrasir.

Son of a bitch. Get out. Get out!

The voice stopped but the pain didn't as he stumbled into his room, forgetting Tiffania's advice as the runes of the Mundalfr began to glow.


Earth

Somewhere Over the Atlantic

Far above the Atlantic Ocean, a US Government Gulfstream GS650 en route to Brussels cruised along at Mach .90, heading into the night and the skies above Europe.

"...our eggheads can't quite figure this one out, Doctor. The best they can come up with is that the magic in Avalon is somehow making its way over here, giving these people powers" explained Carlisle, as she sat facing Dr. Dreyfus. Alex, meanwhile had dozed off in his seat.

"Yes, I can see from this that your people are on the right track" spoke the elder Dreyfus, looking over the files on the abnormals and some of their reported abilities. "You see, back in the old days, Scotty and I theorized that when the eclipse portals form, the exotic energy that permeates Avalon and allows its residents to perform these extraordinary feats… We theorized that this energy, this magic, for lack of a better term, bleeds through to our world through the eclipse portals."

"Alright, but that doesn't explain why only some people are affected" argued Carlisle.

"No, but our next theory might. Scotty and I believed that there are certain genetic markers that allow humans to tap into this energy when exposed to it, and thus manipulate their surroundings" replied Dreyfus. "Hence, why only some individuals in Avalon are able to use magic."

"So when it comes to our abnormals, what you're saying is that only people with these markers can use magic, and only when the Eclipse portals are open?"

"When it comes to magic here on Earth, yes. We were, unfortunately, unable to prove this theory but we did manage to track down a few individuals and take DNA samples. Our research into this stalled rather quickly, as there was no way to realistically sift through that many genetic markers to find a specific set. Though I suspect that technology has improved over the past ten years to the point where this may be feasible."

"We've managed to get DNA samples from some of the more recent cases. We can easily search through thousands of markers a day, but it's still time consuming" admitted Carlisle. "If we can get the samples from 10 years ago and compare them, we might find the common link though."

"Yes, doubtless one of the many projects I'll be pursuing once we arrive. The more samples I have, the easier it will be to find a common marker. Regardless, I'll need my old case files, and any research material you may have held from my previous tenure."

"You'll get everything you need Doctor. I can't say how glad I am you agreed to help us."

Dreyfus nodded.

Still curious, Carlisle pressed him for more.

"So say someone is directly exposed to magic. How do you determine what kind of power they develop?"

Dreyfus shrugged his shoulders.

"Bear in mind, my dear, this is entire subject is entirely hypothetical. Ascertaining the genetic nature of magic is impossible without direct study. It may have something to do with personality, or perhaps familial genetics, or it may be completely random what kind of abilities an individual may develop."


Tristain Academy of Magic

Leaning against the wall of his bedroom, Victor struggled to stay sane, one hand clutching his head.

"GAH!"

Would it not be better to submit Lífþrasir?

That same, annoying voice continued to taunt him.

Shut the fuck up!

As he fought with the voice, he felt warmth emanate from the runes on his back. He could hear the second voice that had tormented him.

NO! I WILL NOT LET YOU TWIST ANOTHER!

The conflicting sensations emanating from both sets of runes made it feel like his chest was on fire.

Victor struggled to breathe as the voices continued their verbal joust.

Fight all you want, it makes no difference. You WILL submit!

Another flare in his headache. The pain was like no migraine he'd ever felt.

Maybe I should submit... Just make it stop...

His back warmed, and the gentle feeling emanating from the Mundalfr runes spread throughout his body to his hands, eliciting a response from the Lífþrasir runes.

This went on several times as both runes struggled to overcome each other.

You must resist, Lífþrasir. The power I give you will unlock your potential. Use it and fight!

Finally, the constant barrage of sensations and pain proved too much for Victor.

"RRRRAAAAAGGGGHHHHH! HIJO DE SATANÁS! BOTH OF YOU! GET OUT!"

What happened next came in a blur. Victor punched the wall…

(BOOM!)

...and it promptly exploded, throwing Victor across the room. He hit the back wall hard before falling face first onto the stone floor.

Groaning, Victor picked himself up and stared at the flaming hole in the wall in disbelief. Through it, he could see a dumbfounded Tiffania standing in her room, staring back at him. Looking down at his hand, flames danced between his fingers, though he felt only a mild heat, not the burning one would expect when one's hand was on freaking fire. The pain in his head and the sensations from the runes had all stopped as well.

At that strange, surreal moment, only one thought came to Victor.

"What the fuck just happened?!"


You'll probably hate me for stopping here. Fret not, next chapter is being worked on by myself and an army of tiny, fanfiction writing dwarves.

The printing press idea is originally from the fanfiction "Storms Overhead" by Lione 'Tabuukilla' Fortuna. Please go check it out.

Read and review!