William A. Hainline: Reality Engineer

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ANOTHER Excerpt From "Technowizards!"

Annnnd here we go again! I’m posting a second excerpt here, just to see if you like it! This comes from earlier in the book, and concerns the “Dreamworld” that Gadget visits whenever he falls unconscious with the Mind-Weirding Helm on his head. Let me know what you think of it in the comments section!

Gadget—or as he was known in this world, the world of Fantazmagoria, Zanorak Prime—blinked the sun out of his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck as he sat high on the cliff on the back of his fusion-powered, clockwork horse, overlooking the Valley of Doom. Sunburn there on his neck. Damn. How long had he zoned out for this time? No matter. The sunburn was a grim reminder that daylight burned, so he’d better get a move on. Unlike the Wizards, he didn’t have any Magic to defend himself from the many and varied mutant creatures that ran amok in these lands after nightfall; and, he had a Quest to get on with, a Mission for the Sorceress. And of course, there were far worse things than night-creatures waiting for him in that Castle down there, in the valley, where he knew he needed to go in order to complete said quest. His damned fool “hero’s” quest. Heh. There were no more heroes in this world. The world had “moved on” from heroes. He admired the Sorceress for her nobility, her valor, but Fantazmagoria was a ruined world, a world beyond saving.

(Is this world even real? How do I know?) 

His Traveling was a recent thing. He didn’t understand it. He knew there were other worlds; everyone knew that. The Wizards had told of it for Ages now . . . but no one but them—and he—had ever seen these other worlds. And some said not even they had seen them, that it was all just a story that the Wizards had made up. Zanorak now knew it was no story. It would happen at the oddest times, too: One minute he would be here, in the “real” world . . . and the next minute, he would be waking up as . . . someone else . . . this world forgotten for a time, as though it were just a dream. It would feel like just a dream. As though it were nothing but a fanciful tale he had been told. And he would go about his business as this “otherself” in this “Otherworld” . . . Live their life, do their duties, attend a school in that world, accord with its customs . . . as though he had lived there all his life, and knew its ways as intimately as he did his own world’s . . . and then, without warning, he would “snap back” to this world. And then, that would would seem as though it were “just a dream,” a fleeting glimpse into a faery tale. It got confusing. He liked that world better. It hadn’t been ruined, like this one had.

Even the Wizards had lost their way. They didn’t even know how Magic worked anymore. No. That knowledge had been lost millennia ago, when the Great Burn had seared the World, and the power of Magic had arisen once more from the mutated ashes; the ability to enforce one’s paradigm of reality onto the physical world, heedless of the damage and destruction it caused. Now Wizards—Hedge-Mages and Dark Archmages alike—dueled over burned-out stretches of wasteland and claimed mastery of those upon them, places where farmers tried in desperation to get their crops to grow and where the people dreaded roaming bands of road warriors, diesel-fueled barbarians of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Clockwork animals like the one he rode upon plowed fields that saw sparser and sparser crops grow each cycle. Water was becoming somewhat scarce, too. Ancient fusion generators provided power, but for how long? And everywhere, virtual reality and the remains of the Great Network provided an easy escape for the weak-minded . . .

(Like me? Am I losing my mind?)

He shook his head. Yes, Fantazmagoria was a ruined world; a world beyond saving. Heroes here were hard to come by, and the Sorceress, though he admired her greatly, was probably wasting her time in trying to take back the Realm from the forces of Evil that now held it in their grasp. And she was starting by aiming for the heart of the corruption, the source from which all Dark Magic flowed—the evil Dragon, Schyzarchon, who haunted the Northlands of Cerebria.

(But is the Dragon even real? Or is it something I—he—imagined?)

But. To even try to take out the Dragon, the Sorceress needed the legendary Crystal Sword, Dràchynthýr . . . “Dragon Slayer,” in the Olden Tongue. And so she had sent Zanorak on a mission to retrieve it for her, and the Quest had led him here, to Castle Grayskull. Heh. Castle Grayskull. What a name for the place . . . though it had a ring of familiarity to it. Perhaps he had seen or heard the name in that place he called “the Otherworld.” In a show—or perhaps . . . a cartoon? Yes, a cartoon, he thought, most likely a cartoon. He sometimes dreamed of that world whenever he “zoned out” for periods of time; whenever he would feel his body growing thin, as though it weren’t really “here” in this world. The Otherworld was a place where there was no such thing as Magic, a world far into the past. A world where he was a simple “college student” named “Gadget” and where all of this—the real world where he lived and fought and survived—was the “dream.”

(Or is this the “real” world? How do I know?)

His lack of understanding frustrated him. The Wizards had gifted him with their arcane knowledge of techno-thaumaturgy—he knew, for instance, how to repair the fusion-powered, clockwork steed he rode upon; he possessed a roadmap of its innards, a schematic of its guts, in his head . . . and he had the tools and wisdom with which to fix it if it broke down, and the knowledge to know the difference between its various circuits. But still, he possessed no defensive or offensive Magic. Yes, frustrating as hell. All he had was the Multifunction Ray Gun he wore on his hip, and he was running out of charge pellets for that. Shit, that reminded him—he would need to find more soon. He also did not know how the Magical mechanics of his Travels to the Otherworld worked (and he was convinced it had to be Magical in nature). There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to his departures from the shores of this reality and his entrance into that one. But when he was there, he was not himself. He was someone else. He had vague memories of his life here when he was there, but it felt as though it were all just a half-remembered dream . . . As did that world when he came back here. He possessed fragments of “Gadget’s” memories, pieces of his life. But that was not who he was. It couldn’t be, could it? He had tried to tell the Sorceress that he suffered from this condition—this Traveling sickness, wherein he would simply “vanish” for a time now and then—but she had been adamant that he was the one to do this, to journey here, to retrieve the sword. And so, he had obeyed.

(Yes, like a fool. But how do I know that this is real?)

Momentarily, he gazed down into the Valley of Doom, and looked upon Castle Grayskull. What vexed—and worried him—now was that against all reason, part of it was somehow a replica of a place he knew from his Travels to the Otherworld. But how? Castle Grayskull—the place he had come so far to find; crossed the breadth of Fantazmagoria to face; that had been written of in the Legends—bore a striking resemblance to a very real place he knew from his life as “Gadget” the “college student.” Impossible as it seemed, the lower four levels of the Castle were identical—sort of—to those of a place marked as 459 Broadway Ave, Cambridge Massachusetts, also known as “Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.” He shook his head to clear it, disbelieving his eyes. But there the Castle remained—unavailingly real, impossible but extant. And come to think of it, yes, he had heard of a place called Castle Grayskull, as a child in that Otherworld: A show, and yes, a cartoon. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, it had been called. Goddamn it . . . How? How could an ostensibly “real” place from the Otherworld be here? And part of a structure a thousand years old? And how could it share a name with something from a children’s show in the Otherworld? It made no sense. None of it made any gods-damned sense. Especially the way the school was built . . .

The “high school” portion of the Castle—for there was far more to it than just that—was not made of sensible concrete, stately steel, and other building materials one might find in abundance in the Otherworld. Though it shared the same basic architectural design, here it had been fashioned from blackened stone, and had crimson, glowing lava running between the cracks of its mortar, the iridescent blood that might flow through the veins of some rock monster stirring to life after centuries of slumber. The building’s main wings branched off diagonally in front, their square walls, made of crisp, black stone  and marked at intervals by dungeon windows with a slight arch situated over their tops. Smaller, needle-like castle-towers extended upward, erupting out of the structure like stalagmites—or fangs. Twin spines of stone on either side of the entrance held a roof aloft, and big letters spelled-out the name of the place in a suitably-gothic typeface. The entrance itself was two giant, steel-riveted double doors. And shooting up out of the “high school” was the rest of Castle Grayskull: A spiraling, miles-high, cankerous structure of charred concrete, charcoal, steel, onyx, agate, jasper, jade, silver, iron, and obsidian, a dark rip in the fabric of daylight that reached high into the sky, reaching toward the heavens like an enormous finger of smoldering stone, an endlessly-rising monolith of staircases, balconies, swooping arches, and shadowy windows that stared like empty eye-sockets at all they surveyed. It rose upward like an infinite spear aimed at the eye of God Himself. Its tall, sooty spires soared into the air, like the skeletal spinal columns of fallen giants who had long-since turned to stone, blossoming into gruesome parapets that pierced the clouds as they ascended beyond sight, dwindling as they approached the stars themselves at their invisible apex.

And goddamn it, I’m not a scholar, I don’t belong here trying to figure this out. I’m also not a hero, so why did I let myself get talked into doing this? I’m just a man, struggling to survive, like everybody else in this world, and trying to do the most good I can while I’m here. But that was it. Doing “the most good he could” meant doing things like this. He knew that in his gut, and his conscience bit him for even pondering the thought of considering backing out. But he couldn’t be blamed for being human, could he? There were times he wondered if it still mattered that anyone chose to do good at all. The powers of Evil and their twisted offspring, Malice and Cruelty, practically owned these lands now, and beacons of hope were few in number. The Childlike Empress had long ago fallen into the Odinsleep. Rule over these lands had been handed over to the Noble Sorceress, Lady Amalphia Gizmo Discordia, and though the Sorceress tried her damnedest to fend off the swelling hordes of Tyrannen-Orcs, and challenges from Dark Wizards, it was an ongoing battle with no end in sight. And now she had sent him here, into the heart of Fantazmagoria, to Castle Grayskull itself, to do the impossible . . . to retrieve the legendary Crystal Sword Dràchynthýr. Well, shit. Trying to do the most good I can. There was nothing for it, then. Even if it meant certain death, by gods, he was going into that Castle and he was going to retrieve that sword. Fuck everything else.

He gazed down at the Castle. Wraiths guarded the entrance. Wraiths were ethereal beings that wielded deadly phantasmal force. He could see their translucent, wispy forms as they glided back and forth before the steel-riveted doors. Who knew what else awaited him on the other side of those doors? Tyrannen-Orcs, certainly. Dark Wizards, too. And him, with no Magic. He only had his trusty Ray Gun with its many settings. That would help. But it wouldn’t be enough. And it would be useless against the Wraiths. He needed something more.

The sun’s light was almost gone. Zanorak looked to the sky, to the stars. Dràchynthýr could only be retrieved from the Castle’s hold on it when the stars were in the right alignment, and they would only remain in the right alignment for another twenty-six hours or so. He had been waylaid by those Mutants in Arcworld, and had gotten here two days later than he had wanted to. So he had to make his move soon.

 Zanorak sighed a deep sigh. So, this was it. This was where the Quest ended. Or perhaps began anew. Whatever. He breathed in deep breath through his nose; the wind carried with it the sage-like smell of the desert-growing creosote bush (a reassuring, restorative smell), what smelled maybe like some carrion off in the distance (yuck, gross), and the fresh, crisp odor of the ozone left behind after a lightning storm (always a good smell). He knew what came next. He needed to fashion a new weapon, something that could deal with those Wraiths on their own ethereal terms.

Thus decided, he dismounted with a nod. He patted the clockwork horse on its metallic neck, and quietly thanked the creature for the noble sacrifice it was about to unwittingly make. He went to his saddlebags, retrieved the extensive and rather elaborate portable toolkit he’d brought along. He reached up into the horse’s fiber-optic mane, found the master power-switch, and hesitated only a moment before he turned it off with a sigh.

 So sad. The pitiful creature. Its life of service was over. The horse’s head drooped, the light in its eye-orbs going out. It remained standing, though its posture slackened. He took a moment of silence to appreciate the fact that a living soul had passed from its circuits and into the afterworld, gone forever from this world into the next. Maybe. Really, he had no fucking clue what happened to the souls of sentient machines. He hoped for the best, though.

Then, high upon the cliff overlooking the arid valley and Castle Grayskull, in the light of the quickly setting sun, he set to work upon building his new weapon.

And when Twilight washed over the valley and the cliff three hours later, it found Zanorak with said weapon nearly finished. Its had a rectangular metal chassis made with backpack straps,. about three feet tall by one and a half feet wide, and eight inches deep. He had fashioned it from cobbled-together struts, gears, and metal pieces using his spot-welding kit. Shining coils of copper wire stuck out in places. Three exposed, glowing circuit-boards winked with LED lights or tiny flares of current. A translucent plasma globe sat at the bottom, with tubes and wires running to it. The upper corner featured a ring of glowing red lights attached to a long vacuum hose wrapped in a coil of wire, which ended in a mechanical “wand” that looked akin to a shotgun barrel attached to a motorcycle handlebar. Mounted toward the end, near a set of switches and dials, was another plasma globe. A small circuit board, wired to a glass nozzle sat at the end of the wand. The wand itself hung in a receptacle mounted to the side of the backpack, stowed when not in use, like a sword or a bow. This was some damn fine work, if he did say so himself.

“And there we go, by gods,” said Zanorak, wiping the grease off of his hands and onto his duster, and then clicking the final circuit board into place on the side of the main chassis and attaching the last of the wires. His Otherself Gadget, the one he was in his Travels to the Otherworld, would’ve been proud. He had seen something like this contraption in a “movie” once. Then, it had been called a “proton pack” and had been worn by a brave techno-thaumaturgical knight of the supernatural known as a “Ghostbuster.”

He lifted the machine up, put the straps over his shoulders, and hoisted the thing onto his back. Gods but it was heavy as fuck! But, no heavier than the back-load of books that Gadget had carried home every day from Cambridge Rindge and Latin. And if Gadget could survive that, he would survive this, by gods. He reached up over his right shoulder and grabbed the motorcycle handlebar, and pulled the wand free. Okay, pretty good; easy enough to access and quick enough to pull free. He aimed the wand at a nearby outcropping of rock, threw the power switch, and felt the machine on his back come surging to life, like one of the ancient generators buried beneath the earth. He dialed the power to 20 percent, twisted the handlebar grip, and a slithering serpent of brilliant, yellow-orange light erupted from the nozzle. Bright electrical arcs jerked around the beam as it slammed into the outcropping of rock. The rock glowed red, then white, and then exploded. 

Whoa!” cried Zanorak, and he ducked to avoid a large splinter that flew at him. He staggered back three or four yards as the shockwave hit him. Then he recovered, and looked at the smoking spot where the rock formation had previously existed. He turned the weapon off. He heard and felt it power-cycle down. He smirked savagely. “Successful test, I guess. Yeah. I dare those Wraiths to fuck with me now. Ahem. Now then. Onto phase two . . .

He sat back down— Gods but his legs and back hurt, and his arms were tired, but he kept  going anyway—and took off the Proton Weapon, and began work anew, this time on the second of his weapons. The first weapon would power the second. He wasn’t sure how he knew this; he just knew. He attached a long-length of cable to the fusion reactor on the backpack device—about forty feet or so—which he then wrapped onto a set of small, protruding hangars he screwed onto the side. The cable ran to a small cylindrical device that sat on wheels, and that had an iris-like opening on top, with a set of circuits soldered onto it that connected to the interior. He had outfitted it with electrodes and lined it with coils that would, when energized, create a powerful forcefield, situated just above a “nuclear magnet” capable of attracting individual, free-radical quarks en masse.

“If this actually works,” he muttered as he attached circuits and soldered connections, “Those damned Wizards back in Arcworld had better make me an honorary Mage, just out of fucking respect for my talents at this . . .”

This device took two additional hours to construct, the only light to work by that of the moon and the disconnected eye-orbs of the erstwhile clockwork horse. By the time he had finished, his arms had were aching and his hands were sore from working with so many fine-grained tools and doing so much delicate, small-scale work. He leaned back on the stunted grass and hard ground and closed his eyes, resting for a moment. He let out a breath and let the sweat cool his forehead, and let his aching arms, legs, and back take a much-needed break.

“Gods I am so sore,” he moaned. “My kingdom for some of that Otherworld . . . what’s it called . . . Tylenol. Or a Wizard with a health potion. One of the two.”

A compliment to the “Ghostbusters” proton pack, this new device was a “ghost trap,” designed to incarcerate phantasms. It looked nothing like its cinematic counterpart, and it operated entirely differently; this one could hold multiple ectoplasmic entities, and could hold them indefinitely. He got up from where he lay a half hour later, slid the trap onto two tiny rails on the side of the backpack, and connected a secondary cable to it, which he then connected to a foot-pedal unit. He clipped that just beneath it. Whenever he disengaged the trap from the Proton Weapon, the foot-pedal would fall to the ground, ready for use.

He stood up reluctantly and put the whole thing back on again. He turned around, walked to the edge of the cliff, and put his hands on his hips. He looked down into the valley, toward Castle Grayskull. The constellations above gazed down upon him, as the Realm’s overlarge moon, twice as big as Earth’s, gleamed in the sky. The borealis blanketed the sky in hues of deep purple, blue, and orange, as the far-off clouds draped the mountains in shadows.

He heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and centered himself, as his mentors had taught him to do before riding into battle. He retrieved the Proton Weapon’s wand from its receptacle, and held it in front of him. He flipped the “on” switch, and once more came the whir and the revving-up noises. He opened his eyes, steeled himself. Then he turned, and started down the dirt pathway that aeons of travelers on this very same road had traveled down ages before, and set himself on a path to the Castle.

Once the gate-guardians there saw him, there would be no turning back; he would have to commit to the fight, a battle to the death between he and the demons of the “High School” part of the Castle . . . just as it had once been a battle for Gadget, so long ago in his Travels to the Otherworld . . . but not so long ago that he could no longer smell the brimstone.

He soon enough reached the bottom of the cliff, the dirt path bottoming out onto the floor of the valley. The enormity of Castle Grayskull lay directly ahead of him, approximately an eighth of a mile away from his current position. The steel-riveted doors of Cambridge Rindge and Latin stood even with the ground, beckoning him closer with pangs of both Otherworldly nostalgia and immediate creeping dread. From this vantage point, he could see no other gatekeepers. But of course the Wraiths were on duty. They couldn’t be seen easily; they remained translucent until they struck out to wound or to kill; then, and only for just a moment, would they become semi-tangible phantasms, and thus, vulnerable to the weapons he’d constructed.

A number of rocky outcroppings and the scarred husks of long-dead trees dotted the dusty floor of the valley, giving him ample cover to run and hide behind as he approached the Castle in zig-zagging starts and stops. But just as began to dart from a tree only a hundred yards from the entrance, he caught something out of the corner of his eye—a quick blur of movement, floating past the doors. He squinted to get a better look. Then, from out of the corner of his other eye—another burst of movement and illumination, very similar to the first: Just a quick, blurry form, lit from the inside, that flitted across the doors.

Zanorak hunkered down behind a nearby boulder, and then carefully poked his head out over the top to have another look. He reached down beside his foot and picked up a rock, and weighed it in his hand.

Please, God, or gods, whoevers up there listening—he thought, thinking of his life as his Otherself—please let this be the one time I don’t suck at sports.

He threw the rock. One of the lower windows of the Castle smashed to bits. The Wraiths guarding the entrance fell for it. Two blurry, wispy shapes zipped away from the steel-riveted doors to go investigate; they obscured whatever background lay behind them, and illuminated the path that they took. Zanorak reached up and over and grabbed the wand of his Proton Weapon, took it in both hands, and stood up, watching where the Wraiths had gone. Checking one last time to make sure he saw no more blurry forms near the doors, he set off toward the doors.

Gods fucking dammit; heavy interconnecting bolts barred them; they were locked tight, their entire surfaces covered in interlocking gears, wheels, metal cogs, and pistons; the doors themselves were part of the steam-driven locks that held them shut.

Oh well . . . The stealthy approach had never had much hope of working, anyway. He positioned himself about thirty feet away from the doors, dialed the Proton Weapon’s wand up to 15% power, and turned the handlebar. A slithering, whip-like beam of incandescent, yellow-orange fire shot out of the wand’s nozzle, with bright blue electric arcs whirling around it, and slammed into the center of the twin metal doors. The beam began to melt the metal, turning it to white-hot sludge. White and yellow sparks flew. The air began to smell like ozone and burnt metal. He chanced another glance at his surroundings as he tried to hold the slithering beam steady on the melting doors. He would need to get back to his hiding spot before the Wraiths returned. He would wait there for a few minutes, until the molten metal of the gates had cooled, then make a run for it and—

GAAAH! FUCK!” he screamed, as burning, crippling shards of pain suddenly shot through his chest like stakes made of ice. He fell to his knees and cried out in agony. Something had torn holes in his lungs, or at least it felt like it had. He clutched at the place from which the pain had spread, and chanced a look down . . . and there was a blue-white, translucent hand—or the suggestion of a hand—reaching through him, penetrating his flesh and clothes. As it withdrew, the pain lessened. And then as the entire body of the Wraith passed through him, the pain returned full-force, even more excruciating than before. A stabbing, bitter dagger of pure cold, like a bolt of arctic ice shoved through him.

Zanorak managed to get to his feet and stumble, only to come face to face with the other Wraith. It reached out with ghostly arms. The sleeves of its cloak gave way to spectral, skeletal hands aglow with eldritch energy and translucency. It had no legs or feet . . . the bottom of its cloaked “body” simply faded to nothingness as it fluttered in the air. The hood of its cloak formed its “head,” draped over the place where a real head should have been. It might not have had eyes, but Zanorak could feel the cold weight of its glare; it had a look that could turn human blood into ice-water. Zanorak froze, its gaze holding him captive; he tried to move, but could do nothing. His arms and legs refused his commands.

He stumbled back a pace or two. Sweet gods . . . the horror! Pure panic squirted into his veins. He had been in gun fights, tight spots, even on blood-soaked battlefields . . . Nothing had prepared him for that icicle of pain he had just felt go ramming through his lungs. Nothing. And nothing had prepared him for what this was like, looking into this thing’s non-face, it’s emptiness . . . He wanted to look away, but couldn’t.

And then they attacked again, this time both at once. One flew through his stomach. He cried out and clutched his abdomen. Like a large jellyfish swiping its tendrils across his belly. He doubled over, vomited. The other one floated through his head. Vice-grips squeezed his skull, the  bone about to split from the pressure. Blood ran from his nostrils, the pain excruciating. Visions flooded his brain . . . Men and women eating one another’s entrails after slicing one another open with knives. Brutal scenes of torture, of himself being ripped in two by wild dogs that sank their fangs deep into his flesh—he felt their teeth sink into his skin—as they tried to tear him apart. He tried to get to his feet, but his legs didn’t want to work. He staggered and fell to his knees again, and vomited a second time.

The Wraiths circled him like sharks, preparing for another attack. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was about to die. Death. The inevitable end. Here it came. The end of his career as an adventurer. And if he died here, in this world, he world he had known and lived in all of his life, he knew on pure instinct that he would never make it back to that “Other” world, the world of cartoons and movies and schoolwork, where he knew a man named Gygax and a woman named Zoë. Even if he made it across the gulf that separated the two, he would not emerge the same person. No. The Wraith thing would shred his mind, rendering him insane . . .

Then it hit him: He still had the Proton Weapon! Duh! He felt like an idiot. He grabbed the wand and cranked the power to 100%. dropped to the ground, rolled onto his back, tightened his grip on it, and wrenched the mid-section handlebar. The yellow-orange beam exploded out of the wand’s nozzle, bright, blue-glowing lightning bolts arcing as it flew at its target.  It hit the Wraith, and the force of the collision echoed back through beam. He scrambled to his feet, and tried to keep the wand steady. He dug in his heels and pushed back hard against the force of the beam. The beam doubled back on itself and wrapped itself around the Wraith in a complex knot of energy, trapping the Wraith inside a “cage” of nuclear power. The other Wraith shrieked—a terrible noise that sounded like blunt steel knives or claws scraping slowly down a slab of slate—but it dared not get any closer. It floated above him, near to the other one, shrieking at him. Gods, did that sound ever give him and instant headache!

“Aw, what’s the matter?” he yelled, a grim smirk on his face. “Can dish it out but can’t take it? Yeah, I thought so. Well how do you like it, huh? How’s that taste? Ready for phase two? Because I sure as hell am!”

Moving the wand to the side, he dragged the energy-knot—and therefore the captive Wraith—toward its still-free companion. The second Wraith backed away, but Zanorak handled his captive and the energy-stream with renewed confidence . . . and whipped it through the air, intercepting the other Wraith as well. The moving energy-streams enclosing the first Wraith “opened up” just long enough to ensnare the other Wraith, as well. In a flash, the energetic flux-knot healed itself, and both Wraiths were at last his! Yes! Huzzah!

“Now then!” he yelled at them. “Phase three. And we’ll see how good I really am at repurposing a fusion-powered clockwork horse’s innards!”

Zanorak reached up and over his shoulder, and grabbed the Wraith Trap he had fashioned. He pressed a button to release the cable that connected it to the backpack unit. He sat the cylindrical device down on its four tiny wheels and—still holding the Wraiths steady in their electronuclear prison—gave it a firm push toward the action. It rolled out ahead of him and out underneath where the two Wraiths hovered. He took a step back to where—thankfully, it had worked!—the foot-pedal unit had fallen to the ground when he’d pulled the trap free. He stepped on the rightmost pedal, and the iris on top of the Trap spun open, revealing a coruscating purple and yellow light-show. He felt around for the other pedal. He found it, then stomped on it as he immediately cut the power to the wand, the holding-streams disappearing. The purple and yellow lights inside the trap exploded upward in a brilliant, upside-down cyclone of green sparks, a yawning vortex of purple incandescence, and blue-white lightning bolts that twisted around each other like entwining serpents dancing in a corkscrew helix. The lights ascended toward the heavens and swallowed the two Wraiths as they shrieked. Zanorak turned away, averting his gaze. A few seconds later, and the shrieks stopped dead—suddenly silenced—and the dazzling display of pyrotechnic fury ceased.

He opened one eye, then the other. Had it actually fucking worked? Had it? He turned around to look. The Trap sat there, about ten feet away on the ground, a tiny red light on the side of it blinking, indicating success. Two tiny green lights lit up beneath the blinking red one, indicating two trapped phantasms out of the Trap’s holding-capacity of five.

Ha! Gotcha!” said Zanorak, stowing the wand of the Proton Weapon and walking toward the Trap. His heart beat furiously in his chest as he smiled, panting for breath after all the excitement and the adrenaline rush. “Bet you won’t ever . . . screw with a guy . . . packing a Magical . . . positron collider . . . again . . . will you!”

Now then. How many other potential attackers were there? He looked left. Looked right. Amazingly, there didn’t appear to be any other guards of any kind. The fools in the Castle had put all their trust in these two Wraiths. Well, more fool them!

He stood for a moment and let his heart beat wildly, and tried to calm himself. He felt exposed, just standing here. The heat of battle faded only a little in the slowly ebbing moments. No, fuck this. He needed to get moving while the adrenaline still flowed, while he remained sharply focused.

He took off his Proton Weapon and wound up the twenty or so feet of cable that connected it to the Trap, and put the Trap back where it went on the side. Then he put the Pack back on and grabbed the wand again, and took one more look around for potential attackers lurking nearby. 

Then he sucked up the rest of his courage, wiped the blood from his face, and approached the main gates of Castle Grayskull—the giant metal doors that led into this version of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, one of which he had melted into goo—and stepped through them . . . and into a realm that his Otherself Gadget thought he had forgotten for good.

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