Stephen Orpheus White was a man of high standing. He had graduated third in his class at Harvard Medical School. The surgeon won great acclaim with his ‘miraculous’ operations. His face has graced the cover of TIME magazine more than any other man. Truly, there are few in the world who did not know of the great Doctor White.
One of his frequent appearances in TIME reported on the tragedy that had struck his Manhattan apartment. A fire had claimed the life of his fiancée, Elaine Browning, the grand-daughter of industry’s great captain Edward Browning, Esquire. Doctor White reclusively retreated from his life’s work, sinking further and further into alcoholism and even deeper into the abyss of depression.
That was… until Elaine came back to him.
Elaine burst through his vacation home in Myrtle Beach and shook the man out of his drunken stupor. Her ghost was panicked and screaming. Some unseen force was chasing her and gaining on her. Still, as quickly as her spectral image had appeared… she had disappeared as well.
Perhaps she truly had crossed over to seek her love’s help, or perhaps she was a manifestation of his intoxication. It was enough to see Doctor White spend everything he had traveling through the Orient and the Himalayas, desperate to find a way to reestablish that connection.
It was on this search that he learned he was part of the Aurelii gen. The blood that flowed in his veins was that of Aurelia Cotta, the mother of Julius Caesar; of Clemens Prudentius, the Christian poet; of Saint Aurelius, the fifth century Christian saint… To be of the Aurelii was to be one of “The Golden” and to be able to call evoke the birthright that went hand-in-hand with such a destiny.
Doctor White mastered the forces of the arcane world to become the Aurelius for a chance to save Elaine and speak once more with his love. She told him of a young girl destined for greatest… his unborn child.
Twenty-five years later he was all but ignoring his only daughter… Atlanta Jane White would be turning eighteen soon. It was her final year of schooling—her first at the New Vindicators Academy of America. Atlanta’s mother had left Stephen when his duties as Earth’s Master Mage took precedence over his duties as a husband and a father. He had put the training of his nephew, Coup, before all else. He had sacrificed everything to raise his sister’s son up as the next Aurelius…
…but he never would have begun training him if Atlanta hadn’t de6clined to become his apprentice.
It was a difficult thing for the man to do—to love his daughter as much as he did and to be so disappointed in her all at the same time. He saw her trying to make up for it; she came to stay with him during the summer months and during Christmas and Easter breaks. He had watched her easily carry in a staggering amount of medical textbooks. She was a simple girl from the south—she had inherited her naiveté from her mother. There wasn’t a hint of his intellect in her. Still, Atlanta pushed on with hard work and strong resolve. She could have been a great doctor one day… she could have stolen away his record for magazine covers—but he knew that she wasn’t destined to be a doctor.
“How can I live without you?” he had asked Elaine.
“You will. You must,” she told him. “Your child is destined for great things, Stephen. I’ve seen a glimpse of what she will do… and I wish I could have been her mother—if even for longer respite from the grave with you.”
The Aurelius shuddered as he thought on that omen. Elaine’s last words always echoed in his head whenever he set his eyes on his precious, only child…
“Wh—where are we?” Ben asked, breaking the magus from his stupor.
“The Astral Plane,” Atlanta answered calmly. Of those the Aurelius had transcended to the spiritual region, she was the only one who remained calm and collected. Deimos seemed almost panicked and Alexa was frozen on the spot. Drew came close to accepting their current status with ease, but spoiled it by screaming as an astral wind pierced through his stomach.
“It’s nice…” Lex said nervously, his hand phasing through his girlfriend’s head. “Very roomy…”
“Ah live here,” Atlanta said.
Drew laughed until he realized the southern belle was not.
“Atlanta stays with me during school breaks,” the Aurelius said, pronouncing each syllable dramatically. “My abode rests within the Astral Plane—accessible only by the very arcana I wield!”
“Guess that means you don’t get a lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses, huh?”
Drew’s joke went ignored as Atlanta stepped forward, gesturing to the surreal void encompassing them. “The Astral Plane is like a layer overtop our own. That’s why we can see the others—they just can’t see us.”
“I noticed,” Deimos growled, wrapping his body in his arms. “I don’t like it here.”
"I concur," grumbled Michuru, visibly shuddering.
The Aurelius turned and fixed the young man with a quizzical look. He studied Deimos, as if looking for a reason why the youth would be agitated standing in such a realm. Finally, noticing the typical reaction, he came across the answer: “You’re a Nephilim,” he said. “It’s no wonder you’re uncomfortable here. I could send him back-”
“He’ll have to endure it,” Lex said, slightly confused as to what a Nephilim was. “You said you could show us where Pete is holed up. I want to be able to plan this out. He’ll need to see the lay.”
“Then can we get to it?” grumbled Deimos. “I really don’t like this place…”
“What’s a Nephilim?” Drew asked.
Deimos groaned, realizing that explanations would only detain them here further.
“My boy,” the Aurelius intoned darkly, “there are wonders in this universe that you are better off not knowing—for the answers to some questions may very well shatter your psyche and leave you a hollow husk of a human!”
“Not more of that alliteration crap,” grumbled Deimos.
“Nah,” Drew offered. “I’ll be okay. I’ve died; it’s not like anything is going to beat that.”
The Aurelius threw another quizzical look Mister Bradshaw’s way. The educator only shrugged. “You get used to Drew’s special brand of thinking after a while.” Drew grinned brightly at what he perceived to be a compliment. “So… a layer?” Michuru asked Atlanta, seeking for a change of subject.
Atlanta nodded, her platinum-blonde pigtails flipping as she did so. “Basically, it’s like in A Christmas Carol… we’re in a world laid just overtop the real world. We can see and hear them, but they can’t see or hear us.”
Deimos laughed. “And just how is this supposed to find Lodestone’s Barbie doll?”
“While we’re in the Astral Plane, my daddy can fix in on certain things—like Neo-Sapiens. He just concentrates and before y’all know it, we’re gunna be lookin’ down on the closest Neo-Sapien.”
The Aurelius shut his eyes and the world blurred past them all. In an instant they were looking at Saffron Harris, Jacquelyn’s best-friend and Drew’s one-time date. Drew seemed not to recognize her, but Lex’s eyes widened as they blurred past, landing instead in a room where a man in his thirties slept peacefully. Once more they leaped and flashed into a Steak & Shake, watching as a waitress poured another cup of coffee for two chain smoking men who bared an uncanny resemblance to Ashton Kutcher and Matthew McConaughey.
They leapt past a man walking his dog and a young woman shaving her legs. Suddenly they found themselves in a dark room, illuminated only by the blue glow from a wall of monitors facing five young men- each playing a different MMORPG. “Q—Quinton?” Ben asked, his eyes widening at the sight. He turned to Michuru—the man genuinely seemed surprise to be staring at the backs of a friend they all thought to be dead. None of them could believe what they were seeing, but before they could make a move, they leapt once more.
“Go back!” Lex demanded. “Go back to the last one! That was Quinton!”
“This is it,” Michuru intoned sadly. Lex turned around and found himself standing in the lobby of an abandoned aquarium.
“Quinton can wait!” barked Michuru. “Saving Chienne is our top priority! I know it sounds cold but-”
“I understand,” Lex said, casting his eyes to the spectral floor they stood upon. “I may not like it but… I get it. So… anyone know where we’re at?”
“We’re in Battery Park,” Michuru intoned. “The New York Aquarium was here, until it moved to Coney Island after World War II.”
Deimos rolled his eyes. “Why would you know that?”
“In my younger days, I wanted to be a marine biologist… an ichthyologist, really. The aquarium was closed when… when a tunnel was proposed, connecting lower Manhattan to Brooklyn. The animals here were transferred to the Bronx Zoo until after the war.” Michuru’s spectral hands glided just over the surface of the glass, following the exotic fish that swam inside. “Tide must have used his powers to repopulate it again…”
The New Vindicators walked forward, heading towards a large glass cylinder in the middle of the room. The case rose up three stories and vanished into the levels below. As they proceeded forward, Drew let out a scream. Atlanta immediately began scanning their surroundings, looking for an intruder to the Astral Plane. Lex shifted into an offensive stance ready to attack any foolish enough to engage them at the moment. Deimos tried to summon his powers and was startled to find the black flames he commanded failed to respond to his summons.
“Sh—sh—sh—shark!” Drew exclaimed, pointing a trembling hand at the tank.
The group calmed down once more.
“It can’t hurt you… we’re not really here,” Alexa offered.
Michuru sighed. “Besides, that particular species is the megamouth shark; it’s a filter feeder so it only eats plankton and jellyfish. Still, there have only been about three dozen captured… Tide has one? Remarkable?”
“It’s still a shark!” exclaimed Drew nervously.
“What do you care?” asked Deimos. “You’ve died before…”
“He has an incredible collection—if anything…” Michuru mused to himself, admiring the different aquatic life forms the former New Vindicator had obtained— seemingly on his own. “Is he an ichthyologist as well?”
“Maybe,” Lex said. “After he graduated, he went off to med school.” Something stirred inside of Alexa and Atlanta—two others intent on beginning their careers in medicine come next year. For Alexa it was more disturbing; Tide’s powers were similar to her own and so were his ambitions. Would she repeat his mistakes? Would she one day be fighting off a squadron of New Vindicators herself some day?
“Ah’ve got the gal,” Atlanta said, pointing up the chamber. Near the surface hung a diving cage, a still figure held within; it was Chienne, but was she still breathing? Lex moved to rush up the metal worked spiral stairs two at a time and was startled to find himself able to float upwards to Chienne’s level.
“She’s alive,” he called down. “It looks like… a rebreather.” Lex put his hands to the glass and was startled to find his body phasing through the cylinder. “Doctor White?” he called down. “What happens if I pass through the glass?”
“The Astral Plane shows only a veil of what is on the other side. The waters pose none of the threats they would otherwise.”
With a nod, Lex pushed his face through to get a better look at Chienne’s surroundings. The current shifted through the water—a telltale sign of Tide’s presence. Were it not for the displaced image, he would not have known the man was there—concealed as he was. “I’ve got him!” he called, pulling himself back out of the aquarium. “He’s in the tank with her!”
“Going in after her would be suicide,” Michuru intoned.
“Pulling her out would be just as bad,” mused Alexa. “He’ll notice the second we start to haul her up.”
“Then there’s no way to avoid fighting, is there?” Ben asked. The young man sighed and his shoulders slumped down. “I was afraid of that.”
In no time, Lex had joined them once more; the Aurelius seemed impressed with how fast the young man acclimated himself to the Astral Plane. “If we can’t avoid fighting him then we need to make sure we strip him of any possible advantage. It’s like Mister Bradshaw said: going in is suicide. We can’t fight him inside.”
Deimos shrugged. “Then I say we bust a hole in the tank and drain this sucker.”
“No!” Alexa barked. “The ocean life inside-”
Deimos blinked at her interjection. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t want the little fishies to get hurt? Big freakn’ deal, okay? It’s either us or them!”
“He has some crocodiles or alligators or something up top,” Lex pointed out. “I can’t tell the difference between them.”
“It’s the snout,” Michuru intoned. He suddenly seemed embarrassed, further regressing into his love of marine biology. “Sorry.”
“Either way,” Lex said, “we may not be able to avoid fighting the animal life he’s recruited. I could handle the crocs up top. Thing is, Pete’s gunna notice me doin’ the tango in the reptile house. Drew… you’ll come with me, mimicking my powers to go stone. That’ll protect us from the ‘gators and give Pete more to deal with. We’ll act as a distraction for Alexa to get in the tank and haul Chienne out. After that, I want Atlanta and Deimos to get her out of there. At that point, Alexa and Drew should be able to keep Tide back.”
“What about me?” Ben asked.
“Pete’s slippery—we need to deny him an escape route. Ben, I want you coating every drain, plug, pipe or vent in ice—just start freezing the place over.”
The Aurelius smiled at the other former Vindicator. “I think they’re done here,” he said softly.
Mister Bradshaw smiled proudly at his students and nodded to them in turn. “Okay, team… let’s get back to the school and get suited up. You’ve got a job to do.”
To Be Continued... wrote:Breakout.