Quinen didn’t have the best feeling in his stomach. He hopped off of the CRT, watched it zoom off into the weaving system of rails of Throne, and walked down the black steel stairs onto the curb. Once he had both feet on the bitumen, he grabbed another cig and lit it with a snap of a finger.
He walked on, dress shoes clacking against the concrete sidewalk, turned a corner, and moved up a steep road. At this time of the day, there weren’t a lot of people, much to Quinen’s relief. He walked, brooded, and scowled as he made his way up to his apartment.
The two-story brick building wasn’t much to look at. The paint chipped, the lightglobe poorly illuminated its porch and blinked in an irregular beat. Quinen walked up to the flickering lightglobe and touched it with the tip of his finger. The cigarette he had in his mouth flared up, burning up most of what was inside as the lightglobe glowed brightly, a steady luminescent hum scaring away the gray of the Ascending morning.
He opened the door and walked inside.
Running a dirty, gloved hand through his tousled hair, Quinen removed the cigarette from his mouth and scowled, opened the door and threw it outside.
Up the flight of stairs to the second floor, where his room was. He was still brooding. He liked doing that.
He made his way to the door at the end of the hallway. It was a simple door – nothing on it that would signify that it was his only home ever since he got kicked out of the Collegium, but he liked it all the same. He cracked his neck and then reached for the door but stopped a few inches from it.
A strange, dull throbbing nagged him from the nape of his neck. His eyes narrowed into slits.
Chrysanthemum bit her lip. The boy beside her looked out the window past her, with earbuds in his ears. She liked music, but only if it had voices.
Sighing, Chrys turned and looked out the window with a bored look. The bus turned a corner and she saw a familiar landmark that she and Quin had passed almost a hundred of times before. A tall, needle-like monument with a hairless man having six haloes floating about him was engraved onto the side of the needle. As the sun rose in the Ascending, one of the westernmost Haloes glowed, lighting up, as if to signify the movement of the Daystar across the sky.
She remembered the time Quinen had brought her to that place before. She hadn’t seen such a beautiful structure, and he told her the “secret” of the structure – that there was a device that tracked the movement of the Daystar and followed as the Daystar rose. It was a neat, though antiquated, way of telling the time. It sure beat looking at a timekeeper. It was beautiful and pleasant to the eyes.
“It’s Magic,” she’d said back then as Quinen explained to her.
Quinen had shrugged. “It’s Technology,” he’d said, stepping back.
He’d looked up at the monument and said, “A way to make Magick available to everyone.”
A cough snapped her out of her reverie. Chrys blinked. She saw her own hazel brown eyes staring back at her from the window. “Excuse me, miss?”
Chrys opened her mouth slightly and turned to the boy with the dark hair and sea green eyes. She narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. “Yes?” Chrys pouted. “What is it you want?”
The boy hesitated for a bit, lost in her eyes. When he found himself, he shook his head. “I’m sorry I…” he grimaced. “Can you tell me where the next station is?”
There was a beat. She narrowed her eyes again and said, “Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “I’m not too terribly well-versed with the Cathedra Ward,” he said. “I’m from the Collegium, you see, and-”
“West Cornerstone Stop.”
The boy blinked. “Ah,” he nodded. “Thank you. Much obliged.”
Chrys nodded, and then leaned her head unto the window once again. She did her best to concentrate on the passing landmarks Quinen had marked for her. Floating disc, shattered glass, tall tree…
“Where are you going?” she couldn’t help herself, and she hated herself for it. She turned around and asked the question to the boy with the dark hair and ocean eyes. “Why are you heading to West Cornerstone?”
The boy smiled. The dimples on the sides of his face created a great chiaroscuro of his features. “Um… to see an old friend.”
“An old friend?”
He nodded. “He’s a warlock now, but we studied in most of the same classes in the years in the Collegium.”
“What’s a Warlock…?”
Quinen’s Sense Magick Working would be the first spell he would cast for the day, during his morning rituals. A hodge-podge spell that was, surprisingly enough, not wholly from the Perfected Collegiate Theory. He had learned it from an old Wyckpath practitioner: the usage of purple crystals rubbed over the body to make one’s body react when there was some sort of magickal interference, as if to imply that something was upsetting the natural order of things. It could also be a way to sense the other Magickers.
And now his back was throbbing.
He was tired. He couldn’t fling any more spells until he could get sleep. Dissonance does that to you. And if you ignore Dissonance, well, you might suffer Transportation.
He’d done that before. He didn’t want to do it again. Once was enough.
Quinen sighed, stepped back, and patted the knife he had concealed in his back pocket. As long as you lived off those big buildings with the fancy metal detectors, nobody would ever catch you with lethal weapons on your body.
With a tense air about him, Quinen raised a hand, brought it back…
There was the sound of thumping, feet against a creaky and noisy wooden floor. Then, the sound that reminded Quin of a thousand nights between the highest of the Nightstar and the lowest of the Daystar. Where the entire night would be awake, speaking in silent tones that only those who listened could hear.
Quinen smiled as that silence spoke to him. “Yes?” came the voice of Chrysanthemum, muffled by the door in between them. He couldn’t help but smile wider. “What’s the password?”
“The earliest tibisen,” said Quinen, still smiling, “is the gift of the lune.”
“To his love, the sun,” she replied. The door unlatched, unlocked, and swung open.
Chrysanthemum, all wiry and thin and pale moonlight, stood on the other side. Her pink hair that curled around her cheeks in kisses of stars framed her dimples. “You may enter, Quinen.”
And he did. The dull throbbing turned into a hammering onto the back of his neck. He looked up at Chrysanthemum, who was wearing nothing but one of his too-big-for-her shirts. “Chrys?”
She raised a delicate eyebrow. “Yes?”
“Who’s with you?”
“Your friend,” she replied, grinning. Quinen scowled. Chrys saw him do that, and she copied his expression. “Quin, I told you to stop brooding.”
He scowled even more. “I’m not brooding.”
“You are!” she said, pointing a slender finger at him.
Behind the door, shoes thumped against the wooden floor. A boy in a deep blue jacket and hair as dark as the abyss looked up at him, sea-green eyes always catching Quinen somehow off-guard. He grinned as he looked up at Quin. “Argist Quinen,” he spoke, his voice just as melodious as his looks. “Good to see you again.”
The dull throbbing went away. Quinen pressed his lips together, but couldn’t help but give the slightest of smiles. “Roeser Oberen,” he said.
He smiled and shrugged. “The one and only, Quinen.” He turned to Chrysanthemum. “And your little girlfriend here’s right. You do brood a lot now.”
Quinen smiled, but it had no hint of humor within. He stepped through the door and went straight to the refrigerator, where he brought out a glass can of some fizzing liquid. He pressed the glass top downward, where it popped and tore apart. He took a huge gulp, inhaling abruptly when he finished. “With that out of the way,” he said, looking up at the newcomer. “What in Adon’s name are you doing here, Oberen?”
He shrugged. Chrys was still at the door, pondering, with a finger up at her lips. Oberen took one look at her, then walked over to a nearby chair. “How long have you had this place?”
Quinen shrugged. “About the same time I was branded Warlock.” The Warlock nodded at the backpack leaning against one of the posts of his bed – a gray backpack with way too many pockets for Quinen’s comfort. “So, what, like six years ago? How long have you had that backpack?”
Oberen shrugged. “I like this backpack.”
“Yeah,” he said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Because it was the only time you were able to cast that Timespace spell, yeah?”
The sea-eyed man grinned. “Hey, Timespace spells were never my thing.” Quinen rolled his eyes.
“I’ve never liked that Field.”
“What’s a ‘girlfriend’?” Chrysanthemum finally spoke after an eternity of pondering.
Quinen breathed out through his nostrils. “Ignore that term.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Oberen snorted. “You’re horrible and terrible, Quin.”
“Yeah? Guess who I picked it up from.” Oberen chuckled at that. “Now what in God’s name are you doing in here?”
Oberen sighed. “Can’t I just come here and talk with my good old friend Quinen?”
Quinen rolled his eyes even more, sighing. “Collegium-folk don’t just come down from their floating school to this Ward. You’ve come here for a reason, so just cut the fint*.” He inhaled, and then said, “Please.”
Oberen grinned. “Anger management’s doing wonders for you, huh?”
“Yeah. Thank Adon for actual people who want to help me, right?”
Oberen sighed. “Okay, so, here’s the deal.”
Quinen folded his arms in front of him and leaned against the cooler. Chrysanthemum jaunted over onto Quinen’s bed and sat. She brought out her palmnode and began tapping away, never raising her head from the information within the screen. “A Collegium girl’s been found dead.”
Quinen raised an eyebrow. “And what’s that have to do with me?” He briefly thought of money, but he wasn’t so sure on any case connected to the Collegium. He didn’t want to do anything with the Collegium anymore.
“Yeah,” Oberen shrugged. “It’s Lyn.”
A pin drop silence. Chrysanthemum read the atmosphere. She paused from tapping, and looked up at Quinen. When he kept staring at Oberen, she asked, “Who’s Lyn?”
Oberen sighed. Quinen was the one who responded. “An old friend.”
Oberen bit his lip, and then said, “It’s his step-sister.”
Quinen took another gulp of the can. Chrys looked up at him, eyebrow raised and head slightly tilted.
*fint is a common crass word meaning “nonsense”, coming from the old Language of Tondonian.