17

You looked at the dark hole, pondering whether Doris might have survived the fall.

“Should we go down there?” you asked.

“No, it’s a bad idea. We can use magic to check on her” Vee responded. He then looked at Amanda. “Can you sense her?”

“If she is alive, she is off my power’s reach” she explained, after which she sipped a herbal tea that she had just produced out of nowhere.

“I mean, we’ve killed all of the other monsters that lived in these tunnels, even that Gruan’targ” you said. “Everyone at Fiery Creek should be thankful that giant moths and evil salamanders will not come to the surface to kill them already”.

“Absolutely” Amanda said.

“While you are right, the monsters are not a mayor concern right now. Everyone is thinking about the situation with the multiple Doris Waters because of those posts in the blog” Vee stated. “We need to take swift action, or else… The heatwave situation is bad enough already”.

“Liza and Mikloz said they were going to take care of that when we last met them on Wednesday” you pointed out. “Use some Scandinavian ritual or something to leverage the heat with the winter cold”.

“Yes, and both Laurel and Mamma Luca are going to help them” Amanda said.

“I know it will most likely work, it’s just that… I think I have a problem delegating responsibilities” he sighed. “Anyway, let’s see how we go about finding this Doris…”

Amanda’s posture got rigid, and her eyes concentrated on some object in the periphery of her vision. Her grip on her cup softened, and in a second it was falling down the hole, the liquid whirling in every direction, spreading in drops as the kinetic energy went over the hydrogen bonds that had kept the water as a single, consistent fluid. Vee noticed this and held you both with strength. He jumped into the hole, and took both of you with him.

The next few seconds were extremely confusing.

You were extremely surprised by the sudden movement, to the point you tried to jump back out of the hole. In that movement, you turned and saw a face that looked familiar for a fraction of a second, followed by a blast on the ground where you had just been standing. You had to close your eyes before the pieces of dirt hit your face, so you could not see any more of that woman’s face.

You then felt something burning your skin. The thing was that, as many physics professors would undoubtedly point out, in a vacuum, gravity affects every object in the same way, and thus the cup with the boiling hot herbal tea that Amanda had dropped barely a couple of seconds before would get to the bottom of the hole before you guys. This, however, is real life, not the fantasy world that physicists live in, and frictionless vacuums do not tend to exist (at least not where humans like to live), so it was much easier for the three of you to resist the air resistance than it was for the cup of herbal tea. The three of you were falling through that herbal tea – which, shall I remind the readers once again, it had just been brewed and was still quite hot -, which produced most of the injuries as you fell.

Your sudden movement also added some undesired energies and forces to the whole ‘drop the fuck out of this place before we get killed’ equation that Vee had built when he had noticed that Amanda had noticed a great danger. Balancing those forces while in a free fall is quite complicated, and you inevitable hit your head against a wall, which made you feel dizzy and lost.

The fall took long enough for Amanda to react and cast a spell that allowed the three of you to land safely in the very bottom of the hole. The Doris Waters that had fallen to the whole before was still there, its legs broken but still alive. It was number 8, the one that had attacked Amanda.

Feeling an ominous power approaching, Amanda pushed the three of you against the wall in a burst of raw energy. Your head hit against the wall and you lost consciousness, the last thing you remembered being a flash of black energy falling over number 8.

When you finally awoke, Amanda was taking care of both of you. Vee had also lost consciousness, and a shard of a rock had penetrated his lung when they had hit the wall. Amanda was trying to close the injury. You moved slowly and in pain, knowing what to do. You took hold of Vee’s magic and started to heal him, extracting the small pieces of rock.

“Anne, don’t overdo it…!” Amanda exclaimed, as you dropped to the floor.

Vee regained consciousness and looked around. “Anne…!”

They both started to take care of your injuries. “What has happened?” you asked.

“Doris number 8 got destroyed by some powerful force” Vee said. “It’s also the same thing that has almost killed us. Thank you for saving us, Amanda”.

“No, thank you, Vee. If you hadn’t jumped we wouldn’t be alive” Amanda said. She started to speak in a grave tone. “I just felt… a hidden power, a great one. As to its identity, I can only say that the only thing that came to my mind was Zero“.

“What does that mean?” you asked.

Amanda was still quite shocked. “It means that Zero is its identity. But I don’t know what that means. This has only happened once before. That time, the identity just said ∞, in its symbol form”.

Zero and ∞, hm? Sounds like opposites, everything and nothing at the same time. We are going to have to research this” Vee said.

There was no alternate escape route out of the hole, so you checked whether the ominous power had disappeared, and once you were sure that you safe and sound, you went back up. You looked at the place where you had been attacked and found a mark that looked like some sort of flower. You inspected everything, trying to find any clue that would be useful to identify the being that had attacked you, but there was quite little.

You started to ascend through the tunnels, noticing that the temperature was cooler than before, and thought that maybe the ritual had worked. As you reached the top level of the tunnels, a humanoid being approached the three of you. It was ‘wearing’ white robes – though it looked more like it had been contained into that suit -, and carried several instruments in its back. But the being was made of pure energy.

“A Quantitator” Vee explained.

The being looked at the three of you. “Vitor Vico and Amanda Alexander, I have been looking for you” it pronounced, in a voice that sounded softer than you had expected.

They both advanced towards the being and let it approach them with its instruments, as it took several measurements of their power. When it was done measuring them, it introduced all of the data in a computer-like instrument. It spent five minutes looking at some list in the name, and then at Anne.

“What’s wrong?” Anne asked.

The being looked conflicted – which is quite an interesting thing to see in a humanoid creature that is pure energy -, and finally spoke. “According to your power levels, you should be a person of interest for our ranking. But somehow, I have no data relating to you. It’s like you never existed”.

“Like I came from an alternate reality?” you asked.

“No. We Quantitators have access to all possible realities. It’s like you never existed in any reality” it explained.

“I’m conflicted by that” you said.

“I am, too” it responded.

“So…? What now?” you asked.

“I think I should leave” it said.

“OK…”

It went away, and disappeared behind a corner.

“That was weird” Amanda said, as the three of you went up into the light.

“It definitely was” you answered.

The reality you found outside was reassuring. The temperature had been regulated, and there was still some ice lying around in some places. The citizens of Fiery Creek were coming out of the underground. The heatwave had ended.

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