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Episode 1: New Beginnings

Shattered Rift

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Sunlight reflected against the stained glass window of the Sparkbomb Mansion. The octagonal piece featuring the wolf head glimmered a dozen colors at once. Rather than clashing with the contrast of so many colors, the prismatic design allowed them to blend together well, making the piece as majestic as the building displaying it.

The Mansion itself stood three stories tall, and towers rose even higher at each of its four corners. Sunlight reflected off of the towers' windows nearly as well as it did from the stained glass, hinting at the view offered from inside. Impressive views also appeared to be offered from the third floor where the windows were the most spacious. Similar windows were only found on the second floor, a third of the way in on each side. The remaining windows of the second floor were smaller, hinting at over a dozen rooms within, and the first floor's were similar to the second's.

Nebiros stopped her inward drooling, and she reached into her jacket to withdraw the camcorder she had brought with her. She wouldn't miss a moment of Sparkbomb's new age, and neither would the generations to follow. The camcorder, a relic from a generation past, captured both Mansion and grounds, taking in the manicured grass and gentle dirt path that led to the double doors. Satisfied with the shot she had gotten, she quickly strolled up the path.

As if on cue the doors opened to reveal the parlor within. It was incredibly spacious, filling the full three stories of the Mansion. A grand staircase filled the center of the room, leading up to the second story balcony, but even that fell short of the ceiling. Open doorways on either side led into familiar looking hallways, but it was the new couches that had been added along the walls that captured Nebiros' attention. Seated on one of those couches, Shattered Rift gave her a smirk.

Nebiros closed her jaw with an audible click. Rather than his usual blue hoodie, Rift was wearing a blue dress shirt featuring a dark blue tie with vibrant blue stripes. The Trinity knot stood out, forming a masterful triangle with the diagonal stripes of the tie meeting in the triangle's center. The camera promptly zoomed in.

“You're focusing on my tie, aren't you?” Rift said with a laugh, standing up and spreading his arms sheepishly.

“Duh,” Nebiros said, reluctantly zooming back out and resting the camcorder on her shoulder. She took the opportunity to look around the parlor with her own eyes. The balcony hung out over their heads, offering the possibility of shade if the light on the wall was turned off. The railing on the staircase, which had once been blocked off by panels, now had gaps that could be seen through, and the railing of the balcony had been changed in the same manner.

“I was thinking that we could bring in a few more couches and do a Karaoke Night in here,” Rift said, gesturing towards the top of the stairs. “This is the only room in the Mansion that's really set up for that kind of fanfare.”

“You didn't add a new forum or something?” Nebiros said.

“I started with the same blueprint as last time,” Rift said. “All that's really changed in the Mansion are the towers and the lounges.”

“Lounges?” Nebiros said.

“Let me take you on the tour,” Rift said, unable to keep from grinning as he led the way into the hallway to the left. Nebiros lifted her camcorder back into position and followed. The sheer length of the hallway hinted at the massive scope of the forum rooms, and where there had once been a corner at the end of the hall there was now an opening that appeared to lead into a new room. “Most of it's still blocked off for renovations,” he explained as they passed by a closed door on the right. Nebiros could still remember the forum that lay behind it. “The only forum that will be open to start with will be General Discussion, at the end to the right.” As they reached the end of the hallway, a new room opened up to their left, boasting couches and tables and spacious windows showing off the Mansion grounds outside. The design allocated as much space as possible to the windows, and at the outer edge of the room a staircase wove its way upstairs.

“The General Discussion Lounge, or maybe General Lounge for short,” Rift announced. He walked along the wall, leading Nebiros towards the staircase. “It's separate from the actual forum.” Gesturing through the open doorway, he motioned Nebiros to take a look inside. Where the lounge had couches the forum had booths, and the tables had a greater prominence in the forum than they did in the lounge. “I just kind of set up something basic and assumed you guys would figure out how you want both of them to look. The idea is that the lounge will be a bit more relaxed, and anything more serious could be done in the forum.” Nebiros nodded approvingly.

“There's a lounge on each floor,” Rift continued, starting again and climbing the stairs, “and all four corners of the Mansion could have their own style. I thought the ones on the ground floor should go with their forums, then the ones on the second floor could be like common rooms, and of course the towers... well, the towers are something special.”

Rift had reached the landing halfway up the staircase as he said this, and with an excited glimmer in his eyes he turned to glance back at Nebiros. As he did so, she saw past him to the flying metal shape above.

“Look out!” she shouted. Rift's head whipped around just in time to see the body that crashed into him, smashing him against the wall with a sickening crunch.

“Shattered Rift, Sparkbot is glad to have found you,” Sparkbot said in a steely monotone that contained none of the gladness he professed. He was apparently unconcerned with the awkwardness of his position as he pressed Rift against the wall. The robot's appearance bore a striking resemblance to Rift's, sharing the messy sandy brown hair and blue eyes of his creator. His face was a cool gray color, and the rest of his body was a combination of metallic blues and grays.

In spite of herself, Nebiros giggled. “How are you doing, Sparkbot?” she said. Rift finally managed to get enough leverage to push Sparkbot off, and Sparkbot took an unsteady step backwards as he regained his balance.

“Nebiros, Sparkbot is doing well,” Sparkbot said, turning briefly to face her, “but Sparkbot has no time to talk. Spambots are attempting to breach the Mansion gates.” He turned back to Rift, evidently waiting for instructions.

“How many have gotten through?” Rift said, resting his weight on the railing as he regained his composure.

“Thirteen,” Sparkbot said.

“Thirteen?” Rift echoed in disbelief. “How far into the Mansion have they gotten?”

“Automated defense systems have successfully disabled all thirteen upon entering the gate,” Sparkbot said. “All spambots are currently in holding.”

“That's something, at least,” Rift said, fully regaining his composure and reassuming his full height. “It looks like the new locks already need to be changed out.” He gave an apologetic look to Nebiros. “I hope you don't mind if we cut the tour short?”

“You've got work to do,” Nebiros said simply. “Where are my new quarters?”

“Up the stairs, head back towards the parlor, farthest room on the right,” Rift said, speaking quickly. “The staff quarters are still being redone.” He gave a parting nod to Nebiros, gestured Sparkbot to follow, and hurried back down the stairs. Nebiros' camcorder captured the scene as Sparkbot tripped again, tumbling down to the General Lounge and landing in a heap. Chuckling to herself—even in this time of change, Sparkbot was the same as ever—she let her gaze drift up the stairs.

At the top, she caught a glimpse of what she would have sworn was a small black cat. She spun the camcorder to face it, but the only thing she caught was a small shuriken spinning like a top where the cat had been. With a soft clink, the shuriken settled on the ground. It was the only evidence that Ninja Cat had ever been there.

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