Chapter 8:

Splinter Steph

Your Soul!My Pen

“What do you mean I’m not allowed to pass this section!?” Aerith shouted. She struggled against the hand of the guard holding her back, but her lack of muscular form and sunlight proved fatal. She kicked and wailed, writhing around her only free muscles. Eventually, she took a deep breath and jolted her mouth on the guards arm. The guard, surprisingly, had no reaction to the force.

“Do you know who I am? I’ll cast spells, send curses, make potions. The gods themselves will rain hell upon your children, and your children’s children. And on the day of your eternal rest, you’ll rue the day you decided to block Aerith Greindsworthia Silvagies Trempor—“

Aerith yelped as she was hastily knocked down onto the floor. The hard surface of the tile not giving her any favors. She blinked a few times, her contact lenses out of order. She shot a dirty look at the guard as she readjusted it, and dragged herself far enough to be out of their sight. She nudged herself, still on the floor, past a few isles until she reached Stephanie. She was wearing sunglasses now, picking around a few various supplies. She quickly darted at Aerith in the corner of her eye.

“So are you gonna do that every time or..?” She sighed.

“It’s all in the act I’m a mage after all~” she winked to her with a smile. Stephanie held back any extreme reaction, and kneeled down to look at a different binders of various design.

“How many more floors until we get there?” Aerith muttered.

“Wait, I need to finish getting this months supplies, do you think stripes or polka-dots are better for mint-green?” Stephanie pondered mainly to herself, she eyed a few pencil cases and looked at the book back she had chosen. All of her supplies were fully decorated, and matched their own aesthetic. She frowned at each one, groaning as she put them both back.

“What are you shopping for?” Aerith stammered, “We don’t have time for aesthetic choices!”. She quickly lowered her voice, hoping none of the passerby would notice her. Stephanie kept looking for more items, stuffing a few in the book bag she had chosen.

“Actually..we do” She mummerd blankly, “I at the very least, need to keep up a natural appearance. I’ll head out in a few, the person we’re looking for is just past this level”

Aerith nodded, slithering of to the side and allowing Stephanie to stand. She carefully walked in front of the guards and presented her ID, a silver credit card. The guards let her pass by, with Aerith following suit as the guards broke away, still on the floor. In the deep reaches of her pockets, a bright gold rock glowed a bright green.

“Christ! That pendant really works..Normally I have to work on them for a while to get this far” Stephanie said mainly to herself. Aerith only smirked, a charm as great as Jake’s was too good to not be shared. She had taken a relatively large chunk out of it in the past, mostly out of anger. Though her luck had increased so much it was almost staggering, and she hadn’t parted with it since.

“I’ve been using this the whole time” She snickered, “We wouldn’t have gotten this far without it”. Stephanie scoffed and turned her head back, she gave off a grateful smile, then resumed her walking.

“Alright, we’re here…We’ll find someone with the right connections here, though it’s probably gonna be one of those shady-type of deals” Stephanie explained, “You can stand up now y’know”. Aerith quickly picked herself back up, muttering to herself and swiping the dust off her dress.

“Let me do the talking too, no spellcasting or whatever” Stephanie instructed. She took off her glasses and folded them in the collar of her shirt carefully. Stephanie picked at it and grunted, resting it on her hair instead.

“What kind of witch do you take me for? It’d take quite some time to prepare anything right here”. Stephanie only shook her head and continued to look around. Her eyes fell upon the large isles, much cleaner and more organized than the last levels. With the way the mall was structured different sections where made especially for specific types of people. Income, region, race, age, all of them were factors in where you were allowed to go, and where you were supposed to go.

Each section was restricted by it’s own credit card. Stephanie had enough to get halfway through the building, though she was at past her highest level now, the aristocrat district. Floors made of a royal red carpet and clean walls. The faint sound of classical music could be heard if you were quiet enough. Most of the items available were furniture or rare animal meat. Most people on this level, however, were here because of the literature section. Classics and modern texts alike were found here, along with shadier forms of information

Rather suddenly, a blaring alarm went off in every isle of the mall. A red light flashed on and off every few seconds, and the sprinklers went off. Stephanie looked at the camera’s in surprise, though none of them were looking at her. Every single camera in the room were focusing on a lone corner. Stephanie backed away from the water, getting close to one of the furniture display stands.

Aerith on the other hand came closer to the apparent danger. She innocently peeked from an isle, it wasn’t a fire, and it didn’t feel like an earthquake. Aerith moved further across the maze of isles, going further across each one. Stephanie had hardly noticed, but she quickly jumped for Aerith once she did. The alarms still blared on, but there was no announcement. In fact, it didn’t seem like there was anyone on the level at all, just from looking around. And it felt cold, extremely cold. The world around Aerith was going darker as she continued, each isle she passed by, consuming her more and more in the fog. Stephanie’s senses weren’t affected, and she only called out Aerith’s name with increasing desperation.

Aerith could no longer read the names of the items around her, they were all now consumed in the black fog. Though she didn’t care so long as she reached the end. She heard her name faintly off in the distance, but she didn’t care. She only kept going further and further into the darkness, until all that she could see was a few inches in front of her. The items names had all changed to illegible text, constantly shifting in different tongues. Aerith made the final stretch and got close enough to see what was causing the ruckus.

She found a large black blob resting in the corner, still as a statue as if there was a spotlight on it. Slowly, she reached a hand towards the object. Curious but gentle, she quietly let a lone finger towards the object. Just before she reached it, Stephanie took her hand and pulled it away. The light returned to her vision once again. Though just as it did Stephanie pulled her away, her feet were moving much too fast without her thinking.

She looked behind her for short moment. The thing she had nearly touched was a disgusting distorted mess of mass, corrupting everything it touched. Several mouths and eyes melted around the disgusting flesh, constantly crying out a putrid noise, as if it was crying. Aerith’s face twisted in fear,

“Wh-What...Is that? Oh god, I can still hear it!” Aerith cried. Stephanie didn’t respond and only continued to run. She heard it’s voice in the back of her head, tingling her back at every moment, it shifted it’s pitch constantly. The voice was so loud and distorted that it gave her a headache.

“Aerith...You’ve hid for too long Aerith...I’ll kill you, or maybe I’ll take away your magic...I’ll take away your magic because it’s the only thing you’re good at Aerith. Without magic life isn’t worth living is it Aerith? I’ll make it so you can’t even kill yourself, you’ll only sink further into depression. Deep...Deep...Down…” It teased, “I bet you don’t even remember you Aerith? You’ve probably gone insane down here haven’t you? You’ve been here so long, and your mother…”

Aerith stopped. Stephanie regretfully stopped soon after, out of breath. Aerith only looked at the hulking mass blankly, a violent aura began emanating from her. Wisps of purple and pink flew upwards, sparking a wind that made her hair flow up. She gave a dismissive glance, holding out a hand and grabbing the soon to be formed staff. An unbloomed flower circled the top, with an ivory handle with a curve that met at the handle. On the bottom half the staff formed an elegant blade carved with several outlines. Aerith held the staff in front of her, it felt almost like an old friend. Some childhood object that gave off a nostalgia to her. She stared at it in curiosity, but pointed it at the hulking mass. Stephanie stood back in amazement, her head in a swirl of utter confusion.

“Aer..ith?” She hesitated. Stephanie fumbled her words, defensively moving further behind her. Aerith looked behind herself with a reassuring smile, her hair still flowing from the sheer amount of energy. The staff itself glowed with a violent energy, shaking the ground beneath them. Slowly from under the carpets, blob after blob rose from the ground, bouncing cheerfully. Each one a different size, but all them had the same two black dots for eyes. They glowed with a faint light inside of them, each one going towards the hulking mass. Cheering as they attached themselves to every side they could.

“I don’t remember what or whoever you are” Aerith said, confidence radiating from her voice, “But, I know damn well you’re an enemy!”

Just as a few dozen off the orbs attached themselves onto the distorted mass, each of them erupted in a violent explosion. Stephanie covered her ears and turned away. She whimpered silently, feeling the incredible rush of wind blow past her. Slowly, Stephanie looked in front of Aerith to see the aftermath.

The walls, floor, and even the ceiling of the corner were...gone. The support structure of the building being shown off like bone and flesh. Aerith stared in shock, looking at the results of what she had done. The night sky was visible from the gaping hole inside the building. She turned around, hesitant even in herself as she slowly drew back.

Stephanie looked in awe, but not at Aerith. The mage’s eyes fell slowly onto Stephanie’s hand as it pointed directly behind her. Aerith neither had the strength or will to turn around, so the creature made the decision for her. A large tendril swiftly ripped it’s way through the wind and dug into Stephanie’s lower stomach. Her reaction morbidly froze in place as she held still, the disgusting noise it made being enough to send her into a state of shock. The tendril was mere centimeters away from Aerith, ridiculously precise in it’s strike.

“Don’” the mesh creaked in a loud and high pitched shrieking preach, there was no weight to any of the noise coming from was off in a way. The sentence was hardly legible through all the screams and distortions. Aerith still didn’t look back and only held her unsure smile on.

“I’ll kill this one too...I’ll destroy anything that means anything to you, Aerith...That’s what you get Aerith...for leaving me”

Aerith only stuttered on her first word over and over. Her memories were blank still, everything was.

“S-Stephanie...does it hurt? L-let me help with that” she finally got out. Her staff let off a faint green glow before orb after orb of green appeared from the ground. All of them formed a compact circle around Stephanie before they began to climb on top of her and make high pitched noises. Each one seemingly cheered for Stephanie, but the words were all unintelligible.

“N-No...that’s wrong, you’re supposed to be encouraging her” Aerith faintly murmured. Her head tilted to the side as she forced the orbs to made a different type of unintelligible noise instead, which only garnered a stronger reaction. The mesh only watched on as Aerith struggled to control her emotions. Trying in vain to get the orbs to follow her commands.

“Come back...Aerith, we need with us Aerith...Come back...Aerith”

Various words of encouragement and positivity all layered together into white noise. Only making the orbs become more and more wild and exhausting. They all began to pout and whine, a few of them even cried. The combined noises forced Aerith to cover her ears in pain, muttering to herself to keep their voices out. Though it was useless, the mesh’s voice was in her mind.

“Aerith..? Oh Aerith? I’ll release her if you go with me…if you pinky promise Aerith, just like old times”

The offer peaked her curiosity instantly. She cancelled out any spells and looked at the mesh. The mesh only melted in on itself while it waited for the concept to sink in,

“You came back...Aerith, we need’re important Aerith…”

The mage got closer, her staff expanding into material cubes and fading away as she got closer and closer. Once more, the world around her fell into darkness. Each step furthered the dense fog that formed around her. The text became jumbled and the world became black. Though the mesh had no mouth, you could clearly see it smiling. Aerith reached out her finger to touch it, then her hand, and then her whole body. Every sensation in her body was numb and fatigued, until everything faded away around her and collapsed as if she was in a dream. As if everything prior was just a dream and she was about to wake up.

“You’re the main protagonist…Aerith…”