An Alchemist Goes To War
rating: +75+x

JAN 1 2018 01:17:33 AM UTC, Toronto, Canada

Ruslav Diaghilev took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the universe around him. That, and the chatter of the radios on his companions' vests. The eight members of his personal Departmental MTF sat in the back of a standard Foundation transport.

“Sir, are you sure about this?” Agent DuMourne said. “I have no objections to storming this place, but I’d rather not put you in danger.” Agent DuMourne lifted his rifle, checking it for the fifth time, since they left the site.

“I am sure. Do not worry about me, Agent. I am able to handle myself,” Ruslav said, with a quiet smile.

Agent DuMourne squinted his eyes for a moment, before shaking his head, and looking at the other members of the assembled Mobile Task Force. “Alright then. Oathkeepers, sound off ready status.”

Around the transport vehicle, murmured assent was given, one by one. The various clacking of military doodads was their constant companion as the men and women in the Mobile Task Force readied themselves for combat.

Ruslav adjusted his own gear, hand slipping over the pouches and pockets of his vest. Gone were the flowing bottle green robes of Elder Mastery, replaced instead by sensible mottled grey fatigues.

“You requested this from the armory, right?” Agent DuMourne said, offering a semi-automatic pistol to Ruslav. The captain looked hesitant to be handing the weapon to Ruslav, but relinquished it to his hands.

Da, thank you captain. I didn’t have time to sign out a weapon myself.” Ruslav ejected the magazine, checking for ammunition, before retracting the slide a quarter inch to check for a round. He nodded at the empty chamber, and racked the slide, chambering a round, placing the semi automatic in the holster at his hip. “Spare magazines?”

Agent DuMourne handed over the three spare magazines that Ruslav had requested, which disappeared into the pouches on his belt. “We’re two klicks out. Let’s go over the plan one more time,” Agent DuMourne said, leaning forward over the central console. Displayed on the touch screen was a three dimensional map of 2732 Maple Garden Way, the secondary headquarters of Ledenoff Technologies.

“According to intel, this is where the assholes who made 3622 are holed up. The Director requested we accompany him on a little sight-seeing. Our orders are to cover the Director as he ascends to the 13th floor, and disables any potential threats from his department. Assuming everything is clear, we storm the 13th floor together, and neutralize the threat.” Agent DuMourne tapped on the loading dock, and the image zoomed in. “This is our only viable entrance. Amnestics are approved if necessary, but you’re all aware of the level this is restricted to. Director, what kind of threats are we facing, exactly?”

Ruslav leaned forward, and gestured, invoking the Fulminous aether to manipulate the image slightly. He gestured to the entrances around the stairs, “If this is who I think it is, there will be wards of water and earth here, and here.” Ruslav gestured to the windows of the thirteenth floor. “I suggest you do not look out the windows once we arrive on the floor. They are most likely warded as well.”

A knock came from the driver’s cabin, “One minute.”

Ruslav nodded, and drew forth the crozier to his right hand. “If you encounter anything you feel is anomalous, do not hesitate to call me. Most likely, there are alchemic constructs within the building. I would…not suggest fighting them. Bullets may slow them down, if they are corporeal. Aim center mass.”

The transport van pulled to a hard stop, and the back door opened with a jolt. Agent DuMourne flipped the tablet off, and pulled the balaclava up and over his mouth, gesturing. The rearmost two agents slid into the darkness surrounding the office building, sweeping the area, and gesturing to the rest of the team.

Agent DuMourne, Ruslav, and the others disembarked into a loose formation, striding with confidence towards the door, weapons ready but not leveled. Ruslav drew the pistol from his left hip with a practiced motion, and checked the safety, approaching the rear service entrance.

Agent DuMourne gestured at the nearest Agent, who knelt in front of the door, fitting a small device up against the lock of the service door. A few moments later, a soft click permitted them into the building.

Overhead lighting bathed the lobby in a soft yellow glow. The floors were a neutral white linoleum, the walls covered in marble-patterned green stone. The lights were low, the building mostly shut down for the night, except for a few people burning the midnight oil.

Two security guards sat at the nearby desk, looking bored. Neither of them had noticed the group of heavily armed agents slide in the back entrance, and Agent DuMourne held a raised fist.

With practiced ease, the MTF slid to their knees, and Ruslav heard Agent DuMourne’s voice in his earpiece, “Your call Director. What do we do?” His voice was a barely-perceptible growl picked up from his throat mic.

Ruslav took two steps forward, and gestured with his right hand, holding his crozier. The aequeous and aeronous aethers swirled around the two guards, lulling them to an easy, and deep sleep. “We let them get a good night’s rest. My knees are not what they were. Elevators?”

Suppressed chuckles emanated from the gathered agents, as Agent DuMourne took the lead, fanning the men and women of the task force out over the lobby. Ruslav jabbed the up button with the end of his crozier, humming quietly to himself.

“So, what exactly are we expecting up there?“ Agent DuMourne said, rechecking the various bits of havoc strapped to his frame.

“I do not know. Probably something completely and needlessly dramatic. That’s how these things always seem to go,” Ruslav said, smiling slightly as the dull chime of the elevator car announced its arrival.

The agents shuffled into the car, two members staying on the ground level to cover their exit. Ruslav jabbed the button marked 13, and the soft Muzak of the elevator encompassed them.

A tense few seconds passed, before the door chimed again at the 13th floor, opening to reveal a solid steel security door, directly in front of the elevator shaft. The doors to the elevator made a quiet grinding noise, and stuck open.

Ruslav raised an eyebrow, as Agent DuMourne reached out to probe at the door in front of them.

“I’m not sure why this is here, but it doesn’t seem anomalous. Is this your area, director?” Agent DuMourne asked politely, stepping back.

Ruslav stepped up to the door, and extended his senses, sensing nothing beyond the usual Ferrous aether escaping the metal surface. “No, but I can help either way. Stand back please?”

The agents quickly pressed themselves against the back of the elevator, as Ruslav took a breath. His hands circled up and down, until he ended with a quick rushing motion, dragging both the Aeronous and Igneous aethers with him, combining sharply on the other side of the door, causing a heavy backdraft, sucking the door out with his shoulder charge.

The heavy metal door careened into the far wall, neatly cleaving the waiting Terronous Aetherial construct in half. The heavy stone body of the entity fell in half with a heavy thud on the carpeted floor. Ruslav blinked a few times, and laughed quietly to himself, “Well, that’s convenient I suppose. Agent DuMourne, you and one with me. The rest sweep.” The team stepped forward into the green and grey marble elevator portico.

Agent DuMourne nodded, and split the team up, flanking the Director along with two other agents, as they approached the heavy glass doors to the office. Stenciled into the glass was the logo of the company, and the words ‘Caveat Alchemitos’ hastily scrawled in sharpie. Agent DuMourne pointed at the writing, “Is that latin?”

“Beware Alchemists. Like I said, needlessly dramatic,” Ruslav said, placing his hands on the door, which practically reverberated with the aethers contained within them. “Illusion….misdirection…” He turned his head, and grimaced. “I believe I know who is here. On the other side of this door will be several jiangshi, I would imagine. Have you been briefed on them?”

Agent DuMourne shook his head, “Jianshi? Cliffs notes.”

Ruslav rolled his hand, “Chinese vampire. Well….zombie might be more accurate. They hop to move around. Do not let them touch you, bullets do not work very well, unless you completely destroy them, or shoot their brain. If you have them, I would suggest shotguns, or grenades. I believe at least one will be an alchemist.”

“Not the strangest thing I’ve ever had to deal with I suppose. How do we do this? Can we just walk in?” Agent DuMourne activated his microphone, and radioed to the other members of the team. Two of them trotted back over, and exchanged weapons with Agent DuMourne and the other, swapping the large caliber rifles with semi automatic shotguns.

Ruslav shook his head, and laid his hands on the door, “A moment. I will deactivate his wards. As soon as I do, he will know we are here. Be ready.” Ruslav concentrated, and pressed his senses deep into the glass, feeling the swirling and somehow sickly aethers trapped inside.

If the flows could make noise, these would be screaming, as he gently tugged on the loose flows, undoing the ward. After several moments, he’d loosened it enough for them to be nothing more than a warning, and he stepped back. “Ready?”

Agent DuMourne nodded, “Ready.”

Ruslav pushed both hands out with a swift draw of the aethers of air, water, and fire. A microscopic layer of ice formed inside the glass, immediately followed by a flash of fire, causing the glass to shatter spectacularly, directed downwards and back by a gust of wind, blowing the shards of glass into the office.

Ruslav gestured forward, and the four Foundation members crossed the threshold.

The moment they crossed the doorway, everything changed. The air grew thicker in an instant, and the sky visible behind the windows changed from a black cityscape to a red and silver mass of stars and torchlight. In the distance buildings teemed with beings from all over the universe, as Ruslav’s senses immediately told him where they were.

The office building itself hadn’t changed, the desks in front of him still festooned with post-its, monitors, computer equipment. Except for the alien skies and change of dimension, it was the same as it was before.

“Alagadda. This…is worse than I expected.” Ruslav slipped the handle of his crozier back into his belt, and took a step forward, his handgun in both hands, as the task force members tenatively followed him.

“What are you talking about, Director?” Agent DuMourne said, his eyes widened slightly by the change of scenery, and his body language tense.

“We are no longer on Earth, and I’m not sure that—” Ruslav was cut off by a shrieking form hopping from behind a desk, hands outstretched yellowed fingernails extended towards his face.

In the blink of an eye, Ruslav’s hands blurred up, sending two rounds through the creature’s chest, putting a third through its head, as he stepped forward, panting slightly. “Bozhe Moi. That certainly woke me up a little. Everyone alright?”

Agent DuMourne stood slack jawed at the reaction speed of the Director, checking the body for movement before gesturing one of the agents to cover their exit. “I have to admit, I didn't expect you to use the gun, over alchemy.”

Ruslav grinned, and snapped his fingers, setting the body of the jiangshi at their feet aflame. “Six of one, half a dozen of another. Whatever works.” Ruslav strode into the office, gun raised. “Cover my back, please.”

The agents and Ruslav cautiously walked forward, turning the corner to the main floor of the office. The lead agent dropped to one knee, and let out a roar of a blast from her shotgun, as another of the jiangshi leaped towards her face. She dropped prone as the creature continued its vector, now dead, and landed behind her.

They repeated much of the same, encountering two more jiangshi as they approached the wood paneled door leading to an office, at the back of the cubicles. “I believe, this is my department, ladies and gentlemen. Behind that door is our target. Please cover my back while I inquire.” Ruslav said, placing the handgun back in his holster, drawing the crozier once more.

Agent DuMourne nodded, and took up position near the door, as Ruslav walked up, placing both hands on the door, and pushing them open with just his own strength.

The doors opened smoothly, to reveal an elderly chinese man sitting behind a desk, his hands twitching slightly, mostly extended in front of him. Behind his eyes were the weight of eons, as his face curved into a snarl of recognition. “Diaghilev. I should have known you would never be satisfied with simply ruining my existence forever.”

Ruslav sighed heavily, and fixed his heavy lidded gaze upon the withered half-jiangshi in front of him, “Zhang Guolao. I did not expect to find you here, but your misdirection was unmistakable. What brings you here, ghost?”

The ancient creature in front of him rose, the joints of his elbows and knees cracking as he got to his feet, “Freedom. The first greedy peasant who dug up my tomb put the ring on.” On Guolao’s left hand, a deep green jade ring glimmered under the lights. “From there, it was only a few weeks before I wrested control enough from He Qinshi to pull enough energy together to create a portal to Alagadda.”

Ruslav nodded slightly, “So far, all of this makes sense. You get free, and immediately do the most obvious and cowardly thing, run to Alagadda. Did you immediately request the Scarlet King’s aid? Offer him power, an agent, perhaps an introduction to the Leviathan?” Ruslav’s voice grew progressively harsher as memories of the past surfaced in his mind.

Zhang Guolao’s dry throat rasped with some horrid approximation of laughter. “My master will no doubt be overjoyed when I return to earth, and present myself at its service once more, but no. An old…mutual acquaintance of ours contacted me once I was here.”

Ruslav spun his crozier in a slow vertical circle, the baffled cold iron making quiet whistling noises as it moved. “Well. That confirms what I was suspecting at least. By the way, I sealed your master on the bottom of the ocean almost one hundred years ago. The Leviathan is effectively dead. I’m sure you noticed the lack of aethers flowing through the cosmos.”

Guolao froze, his eyes narrowing, as the baleful jade fire within the pupils guttered to a spark. “You are lying.”

Ruslav shrugged, and spun his crozier in a circle again. “Come find out. You cannot exactly feel the flows from here, I would imagine. Even sealed, the Scarlet King is putting off enough aether to blind anyone other than an Elder. In fact, I’d be surprised if you could even form a portal at this point. Not that you were ever a particularly gifted alchemist, Zhang. Relying more on your reputation and skills with herbs than anything else.”

Guolao growled, and his fingers moved with involuntary spasms. “I will kill you for this, return to earth, and destroy whatever remains of the so-called ‘college’,” Guolao said, gathering the aethers around him.

Ruslav’s eyes hardened, his mouth contorting into a tight line, “There is no college, Guolao. Your schemes saw to that. I am here to help you, regardless of that.” Ruslav raised his crozier, and pointed the heavy head at the wizened jiangshi in front of him. “I made a mistake in the past. What we did to you was…wrong. But now you need to come with me, for containment.”

Guolao’s face contorted, as the spirit of He Qinshi took over his body, flying through the air towards Ruslav. The director contorted his body, letting the ancient half vampire fly past him, swinging the heavy metal of his crozier down on the creature’s back, eliciting a shriek of pain. As he struck, the stored fulminous aether inside the heavy mace tore its way free, streaking through Guolao’s body, and leaving it smoldering on the floor in a shivering heap.

“Well, I suppose we could do that instead.” Ruslav said, as the two task force members trained their guns on the prone form of the maleficent alchemist. Agent DuMourne gestured, and the other agent closed in, prodding the body with the toe of her boot.

Guolao twisted like a serpent, drawing the agent in, and pinning her against a desk, eliciting a shriek of protest from the trapped agent. He screamed aloud in middle chinese, as He Qinshi forced him to draw out the life force of the MTF member in his grasp.

Ruslav strode forward, and drew together the aeronous aether, delivering a hard kick into the ribs of the agent, sending her careening down the hall in a gust of wind. Qinshi hopped after her for one preternaturally quick hop, before turning, and streaking towards Agent DuMourne.

A roar of chemical fire streaked out of Agent DuMourne's shotgun, as the buckshot tore into the flying form of Zhang Guolao. Alchemy and supernaturally strong muscles meant little in the face of physics, and the lightweight alchemist hit the ground hard, pouring blood from a ruined knee. He tried to rise to his feet, putting his weight on his good knee, as he rounded on Agent DuMourne who was chambering the next round.

Ruslav took two bounding steps, and gathered together every flow he could. The aethers of fire, air, water, earth, metal and electricity came willing to his call. He reached inward to the luminous spirit that dwelled inside him, and called for aid, Master Al-Hayyan. Help me. A quiet voice spoke back, in an amused lilt, Always.

The aethers of space, and time, gravity and magnetism came to their call, drawing the energies of the fabric of the universe together. A miniature sun formed in the hands of the furious director of the Foundation’s Alchemy Department, as he slammed his hands together in a calamitous detonation. Guolao’s head, shoulders, and upper body simply drifted away, the very forces holding him together drawn into the microtear in reality that Ruslav had formed. Even sound itself couldn’t escape the tear, and everything in the office went silent for several moments.

Agent DuMourne kept his gun level, watching Ruslav pant in the aftermath of the rapid combat. “Swathi, are you alright? Director, status?”

Ruslav nodded, swallowing hard, as he caught his breath, “I am fine. Do you have a containment box?” He reached out a hand, picking up his discarded crozier.

Agent DuMourne slapped a collapsible cube into Ruslav’s hand from the pack on his belt. He gingerly folded it around his fingers, and drew the jade ring off of Guolao’s finger, snapping the box closed, with an electronic hiss of vacuum. A quiet woosh sound could be heard, as chemically inert foam filled the interior. The containment foam would dissolve on contact with the chemicals back at the lab. Ruslav snatched the small wooden box hanging from a string on the corpse's belt, and wound the snapped thread through the small ring in one corner of the cube. He handed the device to Agent DuMourne, who clipped the entire assembly to the back of his belt, snugging it tight with a bit of nylon webbing.

“Let’s go, Director. We’ve already got at least one agent down. I’d rather not stick around.” Agent DuMourne stalked forward to the prone form of his team member, checking for a pulse, and letting out a sigh of relief. “Scratch that. One agent injured. Let’s go.”

Ruslav stepped forward, and nodded, pulling a heavy cylinder off his belt, and handing it to Agent DuMourne. “We shouldn’t leave this place intact.”

Agent DuMourne nodded, slipping the tiny explosive disks out of the sleeve, and tossing them to the corners of the office. He lifted the downed agent to one shoulder, and spoke quickly into his radio. A third agent came jogging up the center aisle, and took the remaining charges, distributing them without preamble.

They made their way back to the entrance, and Ruslav held up a hand, “A moment.” He moved his hands in a complicated weaving pattern, his fingertips moving as if making a cat’s cradle. His eyes closed, and he drew in the fulminous aethers collected in the electronics around him. He took in a breath, the flows nearly overwhelming him as he gathered together a storm in and around himself. His eyes flew open, and forked lightning manifested from the drawn aethers a few inches above his hands. He punched his right arm forward, hurling forked lightning into the office, frying all of the servers and computers in the office. The fulminous aether greedily leaped from machine to machine, as Ruslav’s will and mastery guided the flows.

Ruslav nodded, and turned to the agents who stood wide eyed at the display of alchemic might. “As I said, Agent. Whatever works. We should go.”

Agent DuMourne snapped out of his trance, and nodded, flicking the switch on the top of the cylinder until the display said “0:15”. He turned the top a full 360 degrees, as the safety seal clicked. He tossed the device forward, and waved them back through the doors, “Move people, let’s go.”

The three Foundation personnel slipped back through the portal to Earth. The five of them ran down the hallway, sprinting for the far side of the building.

Agent DuMourne waved at his people in the hallway, one bleeding from a wound on his arm. Several stony bodies had joined the first, and the other agent was nowhere to be found. “Move! Sliders going off in Ten!”

The agent broke into a limping run, as he cleared the far side and took shelter behind the columns leading to a side corridor. The rest of the agents ducked around the corner, and huddled together. The agents ducked and covered, as Ruslav stood, condensing the aethers around the gathered personnel in a near impenetrable shield of air, and gravity.

Several seconds ticked by, and the building was rocked by a shockwave as the tiny ultra-compact plastic explosives detonated on the far side of the portal. The explosion raced along the office towards the assembled team. The moment it touched the threshold the portal collapsed leaving nothing but a smoking set of shattered glass doors leading to an empty and unoccupied office space.

Ruslav dropped the shield, and relaxed, cocking his head to one side. “Well. Anticlimactic, but I’ll take it. Captain, if you could radio our exit?” Ruslav walked over to the panel and clicked the elevator call button.

Agent DuMourne blinked a few times, and shook his head, radioing to the team downstairs to prepare for extraction. “Director, one question?”

Ruslav nodded, “Mmmm? What is it?”

Agent DuMourne thumbed back at the assembled agents, “That shield could have protected us, why did we break for cover?”

Ruslav shrugged, and smiled slightly, “Oh, it wouldn’t have. We would probably have been smeared to paste.”

Agent DuMourne’s mouth fell open, and he leaned in, “Then why the hell did you even put up the shield to begin with?”

Ruslav walked past Agent DuMourne and into the elevator, waving for him and the team to get in, “It made you feel better, yes?”

Captain Agent DuMourne stared for a moment, unsure if he should be angry or amused. Alchemists are weird. He thought to himself, as he boarded the elevator, descending towards their extraction vehicle on the street below.

“Tell me again, where you found this thing?” Dr. de la Vega held up the containment cube in the intake wing at Site-72.

“Flea market. I got lucky. Walked past a stall, wearing a thaumic ring. I think I had it on after the mission in Java. Started buzzing like crazy, and I picked it up immediately. “ Agent DuMourne steepled his fingers, and rested his chin on the intertwined digits.

Dr. de la Vega frowned, and placed the cube back down on the table, “And where did the seller claim he got it?”

Agent DuMourne shrugged, “As I said before, he claims his grandfather found it in some tomb in China. He was just hawking it for extra cash. I didn’t ask too many questions, I figured that’s more I&A’s shtick. I slapped it in a cube, and brought it back to the Site. The only thing he told me was ‘don’t wear it’.”

Dr. de la Vega looked Captain Agent DuMourne in the eye, and shook his head. “Fine, fine. We’ll do a proper investigation once we figure out what it is.”

Agent DuMourne nodded, and stood, exiting the intake lab, and heading towards the barracks. He tapped a few buttons on his watch, and made a call. “Director? Yessir. Level 4, as requested. Yessir. Thank you sir.”

…Sometimes, the information we redact has nothing to do with need to know, or protecting the world, or something so grand. Sometimes we’re just covering up the mistakes of the past. Guolao was a mistake. I shouldn’t have let Flamel do that to him and Qinshi. Maybe they were evil, but even evil deserves mercy eventually….

-Excerpt, Personal log of Director Diaghilev, January 2018

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