When Ryan stepped out of the door again, it wasn’t into a city at all. It now lead out the back of a highway gas station, a run-down one near a sign saying Kansas City – 180 mi. He didn’t know the Midwest well enough to know if he was on the Kansas or Missouri side of the city, but whichever it was the gas station was old and run down – not the complete run-down that comes from being abandoned, but the one that comes from low business, minimal visibility, and and an absolute lack of shits being given.
He glanced up, and instead of the stained glass sky of Cipher Nullity, there were clouds that loomed over the landscape, trying their best to hug the terrain. He glanced back to the planetarium ship. “You take me to the nicest places.”
Crystal smiled kindly and gave him an extended middle finger. “Look,” she said, lowering it. “We need to help you harness your power, yeah? Well, this was the best place to do that right now.” She pointed at the clouds. “What do you see?”
He stared at them as Crystal exited the doorway as well. “Clouds. They’re cumulous, I think.”
“Cumulous? It’s cumulus, love.”
Ryan shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “I…I only know the one word for clouds.” She raised her eyebrow at him. “Fine. I only kinda know the one word.”
“Look again. Harder this time.”
“What does that even mean? Just stare longer?”
Crystal shook her head. “No. Focus more on what you’re seeing.”
So he did. At first, he just felt silly, staring at the clouds, like a kid trying to find shapes in them. One was a bunny, that was a duck, that one looked horribly like one of the hands that had tried to crush Crystal earlier, and that one looked like a series of symbols and greek letters because it wasn’t a cloud, it was an equation being imposed on top of the clouds. It took a moment until the equation became clear – a mathematical model governing the formation of a vortex. Slowly the equation melted back into the clouds and the fact of what he was seeing crystallized in his mind.
“A tornado is forming,” he said, quietly. She nodded beside him.
“It’ll take some time, but eventually you’ll be able to do that with just a glance. But right now, the fact that you see it is enough, yeah?”
“Enough for what?”
“Enough for you to stop it.”
That broke his concentration and he looked at her, his eyes wide and round. “You want me to stop a tornado?”
She chuckled at his expression. “Pretty much, yeah. It’s a good starting point – natural forces bow most easily to us.”
“Okay. And…how do I stop it?”
“How do you move your arm, love?” She shrugged. “It’s just like that. There’s a science behind it, but that’ll just get in the way of things, and…”
“…and my brain isn’t ready to understand it, right?”
She beamed at him. “Glad you’re paying attention. So…go ahead. Focus, and try and stop it.”
Ryan looked at her, back to the clouds, and the back to her. She motioned for him to go ahead. “You’ve got another minute before it really gets going, I suggest you get a bloody move on.”
He turned back to the sky, pinpointing where would be the heart of the vortex. He extended his hand – it felt right – and spread his fingers in a claw gesture, like something from a movie. For a few moments, nothing happened…but then he began to feel a tingle in his fingertips. Like they had fallen asleep, but even more aggressive. That feeling began to grow further out of his fingers, like a phantom limb, but racing up to the sky.
Those phantom fingers began to plunge into the clouds, and Ryan felt a thrill run through him He was actually doing it! He was actually manipulating a forming tornado.
“See, love? Not hard at all.”
Her words undercut the effort. Sure, it was as natural as moving his arms, but it was as easy as moving them with half ton weights strapped to them. He could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead, and his knees trembling.
“Keep pushing. It’s like any other muscle – the harder you work it, the stronger it gets.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “And when you pass out, don’t worry, it’s expected.”
Slowly the natural forces began to obey him, the pocket of heat that was shooting upwards dispersing before it began to twist. “I got it! I’ve got it!”
Crystal clapped her hands in excitement. “Good show! Keep at-”
“I don’t got it!” The forces suddenly were pushing back against him. They were acting – and that word send a lance of panic coursing through him. Because they were acting. They had agency. Crystal frowned beside him.
“Ryan, stop! It’s not them, someone is pushing back.” She raised her own hand as she said it, twisting against the aggressive forces.
“Guess that’s my cue,” a voice said. A low, dull voice. From around the corner of the gas station stepped a huge brute of a man, one massive arm raised towards the sky. Tiny eyes peered out from beneath a jutting brow.
“Enki,” Crystal hissed, as Ryan felt his vision began to grow black.
“Crystal,” Enki responded, his voice low and angry. “Thought you learned your lesson back during the crusades. Thought you were going to stay the fuck out of my way.” He suddenly lowered his hand. The lack of resistance on Crystal caused her to overcorrect, like they’d been playing tug of war and he’d let go of his end. The vortex was dispersed with a clap of thunder that radiated outwards, forming a mile-long ring of clear sky in the middle of the stormclouds.
Crystal cried out and clutched her head in pain from the backlash. Ryan sank to one knee, trying to fight away the clouds of darkness that tickled the edges of his vision. Enki continued talking. “Thought you were going neutral, like the fucking Swiss. You should have. I’m going to kill this fucking Finder, this finder that decided to become a fuckingNascent, then I’m going to rip you apart every time you reform for one hundred years, you fucking whore. But for now…”
And he gestured. Equations that Ryan could barely comprehend leapt across his swirling vision, and massive iron chains shot up from the Earth, forged from the pipes that ran under the gas station. They stabbed into Crystal’s forearms and legs, and she screamed again in a combination of anger and pain as they burrowed in.
Ryan doubled over, needing his hands on the ground. He could feel tears forming in his eyes at the effort of keeping them open. He certainly didn’t feel the strength needed to fight off the slowly advancing brute. Enki reached down and grabbed the back of Ryan’s hair, pulling him to his feet. Enki still focused on Crystal, like Ryan was some trash Crystal had dropped.
“For now, I’m going to make you watch while I beat him to death.”