“You don’t think the Divata could be so stupid as to intrude upon the bounds of the Collegium, right?” Oberen sneered, but his eyebrows were furrowed.
Quinen raised an eyebrow, still looking down at his half-dead sister. The dark-haired detective began twirling a loose bang that sprouted from his messy bun. “Then what do you think it is?”
The other Magicker walked up beside him. “We’ve been thinking it’s an intricate Spell, but despite our best efforts we haven’t been able to detect any Magickal Semblance.”
Quinen raised an eyebrow. He scratched at his growing stubble. “Have you asked Ciera?”
The dark-haired Collegiate paused, and then looked up at him. “You still remember her?”
Oberen shrugged. “Well, she graduated now, but yes actually. We have asked for her expertise. No trace of Semblance.”
Quinen sighed. He dug his hands into the pockets of his leather long coat. “The Collegium is either getting lazy, or is looking for a reason to get me killed.”
Oberen raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
“This is obviously not the work of a Magicker, yeah?” Quinen said. A chill wind blew through the branches of the trees. “It’s obvious and easy. Far too vulgar. No Magickal Semblance, even with Ciera’s workings, means no Magick has been used. This is clearly the work of another entity entirely.”
“What entity do you propose?”
“The most likely candidates are the most obvious ones,” he said. “Daemon, an Anima, or a Divata.”
Oberen snorted, looked down at the dead step-sister, and his sneer faded away.
“Beg pardon sire,” Chrysanthemum said. The golden haired man smirked at that. “I am Chrysanthemum.”
“Okay, Chrysanthemum,” he said nodding. He glanced down at his palmnode, and then glanced back up. “If you’re not doing anything here, I’d suggest you leave the premises.”
“Oh!” she said, sounding and looking like someone had stepped on her foot. She turned to Quinen, who was too busy arguing with Oberen. “ Actually I’m…” She turned to him again, and his smile was that cute half smile that Quinen didn’t do too much, but which she absolutely adored. “Uh, what is you called?” She gesticulated to the golden-haired Magicker.
“Navarre Thackeray,” he said, bowing a bit. “Born of Algol. Now a First Magus of the Kifetic Order, elah Aurelius Magna.”
Chrysanthemum smiled at that. “That’s a long name, Navarre Thackeray, born of Algol, now a first Magus of–“
Thackeray laughed. “No, no. Please. Just call me Thackeray. That’s my given name.”
Chrysanthemum peered at him, imitating a conspicuous look. Then she broke into a smile. “I believe you. I shall leave.” She turned once more to Oberen and Quinen, and then turned and followed Thackeray out of the red fence. He waved a gold badge similar to Oberen’s and the red fence vanished.
When they stepped through, the red fence reappeared, and soon there was a dangerous boundary between her and Quinen.
Thackeray turned, his golden locks waving. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Oh, no wait please!” she said. Chrysanthemum didn’t know why she was saying this. But something tugged at her. He was awfully beautiful. “I’m awfully terrible with directions. Would you be so kind as to lead me to an exit?”
Thackeray bit his lip. He turned to the blocked off portion of East Park, and then turned back to Chrysanthemum. “But we must make it quick.”
Chrysanthemum grinned and nodded. Thackeray turned and led them out of the park. She followed suit, a little bit too eager. She followed the golden-maned man out of the park, through the paved walkway they had gone through before, and to the stone-walled room. There stood the starlit portal once again, guarded by the Celestial Lions. Thackeray bowed to her, and said, “Now I must leave.”
Chrysanthemum bit her lip, watching as the golden-haired lion of a man swung the door closed. She was suddenly alone, her feet against the stone. The crackle of torches filled the room. The unmoving, alien Celestial Lions watched vigilantly.
“Adon’s sake,” Quinen cursed, looking around. “Where in the Malach* is Chrysanthemum?!”
Oberen snorted, placing a hand on Quinen’s shoulder. Quinen roughly shook him off, stalking to the far side of the closed off area. “Relax,” Oberen said. “She probably went to the cafeteria or something.”
Quinen frowned. She doesn’t know what a cafeteria is. He pulled out his palmnode and tried to link to Chrysanthemum. “She’s not answering,” he said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
“What is she to you anyway?” Oberen walked over to the red fence and waved the golden badge again. The red lights faded away. “Why are you so troubled about her?”
Quinen breathed in through his teeth. “Let’s just say… she’s special.”
“Just…” Quinen shook his head. “She’s different, okay? She’s not like us.”
“What are you talking about?” Oberen said. “She looks just like any other human to me.”
“Okay, whatever.” Quinen shook his head. His gritted his teeth, balled his hands into fists and looked around the place. He should give Chrysanthemum some space. Some freedom. He couldn’t keep an iron grip on her all the time. The Collegium was a safe place anyway, for the most part. It was bound to be, when the walls literally have eyes.
He inhaled. Then he said, “Alright. Okay,” he said, shaking his mind off the amnesiac girl, “if I take this job, would I get paid for it?”
“Paid for it?” Oberen grinned. “Quin, you’ll get more than just being paid. Let’s get to the admin’s office.”
Oberen and Quinen walked at the same pace. They walked to the center of the Collegium once again, turned right, passed the Vedina and walked into a large structure, made with glass walls and ceilings, refracting light and keeping it in to keep warm during the cold Nymph nights. They walked across the glossy marble floor, past students and savants carrying booknodes, along with actual physical books. Librarians, studious guardians of knowledge, sat behind waxed wooden counters. Behind them were stacks of booknodes, and in front of them were lines of students.
Quinen snorted. “They still have their textbooks in encrypted nodes?”
Oberen nodded. “Yeah, well, since everything is in the Datascape these days, they need a way to keep the arcana secret.” He glanced at the Librarians. “The textbooks are just for mundane subjects.”
Quinen smiled. “Librarians.”
They reached a frosted glass door. A square lock kept it closed, with a little raised square. Oberen pressed his golden badge against that raised square, and the glass doors slid open.
“I haven’t been here since forever,” Quinen said. They walked into the Tasspaths, a glowing tube of pure energy and power, crafted by the most intuitive and intelligent of Magitechts. They made it so that Diwa, the creational particle of everything, was solidified into Tass, and turned into a bridge of pure arcane energy. Within these tubes of power, were timespace magicks that moved you forward in time and space by a few seconds. A Manipulate Timespace Working.
Quinen took a step and zoomed forward. When he put his foot down, he was twenty feet forward from his original position. He looked up, and saw the criss-crossing of other Tasspaths connecting and leading to different parts of the Collegium.
The tube had numerous people walking up and down within it. They all flash-stepped forward, for the gap between the Collegium’s two buildings was a few kilometers. Quinen walked across the golden tube and reached the other glass door on the other side in a matter of seconds.
Oberen was already there when Quinen arrived. He closed the door behind him. They stepped into a carpeted floor, walked across the room, and up to the highest floor of the building. As they stepped out of the lift it zoomed down, operating on the same principle as the Tasspaths instead of a system of lever and pulleys.
The only thing in the small room that they stepped into were wooden double doors. Quinen smirked. “It’s like being called to the Principal’s office.”
Oberen chuckled. He stepped forward and flung the wooden doors opened.
Another room welcomed them, carpeted, enclosed by a circular marble wall and its windows six feet tall. It had three floors, with a wooden staircase, its steps carpeted as well, that spiraled up into those floors. About the room were stacks and shelves of physical, leather-bound tomes.
In the center stood a desk, draped over with an embellished red and gold linen. A floating orb that shifted across the spectrum of colors floated above a small wooden platform. A concert of pens floated around an inkwell.
Behind the desk was a man with a silver white hair tied up in a bun above his head. His chin was clean of any facial hair. His green and blue eyes softened when he looked up to see Quinen and Oberen.
“Ah,” he said. His voice was high and nasal. He had been poring over an old tome. He closed it, locked it with a wave of his hand. He brought out his palmnode, raised it up, and pressed. There was a flash that erupted from the middle of the node’s back, capturing their image and then saving it on the device. “Warlock Quinen and Magicker Oberen. Come in.”
Chrysanthemum walked out of the door, instead of the Portal. She went up to the Vedina statue and looked around, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Throngs of students walked around like busy ants. She spotted a blonde person, but saw it was just a female human.
Why am I looking for him? She thought to herself. She stalked up to a young boy, with dark cropped hair and glasses sliding off his nose as he typed on his lapnode.
“Excuse me, good sir,” she said, leaning forward a bit. “Do you, perchance, know of a fellow named ‘Navarre Thackeray’?”
The boy pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and looked up at Chrysanthemum. He stared for a good three… four seconds. Chrysanthemum knocked on his forehead. “Hello?”
“Oh,” he shook his head and looked away. Chrysanthemum pulled back, standing straight, and repeated the question. He answered. “Y-you might find him in the Gymnasium.”
“And where is that?”
He pointed the way. She nodded, smiled at him, and went off on her own merry way.
She managed to find the Gymnasium on her own. It was down a set of stairs off to the side of the floating island of the Collegium. Built upon a floating isle of its own, the gymnasium was annexed to the Collegium’s, held close by a steel bridge that kept it unmoving.
Chrysanthemum walked up to the bridge. When she stepped onto it, she felt a humming of power. Disregarding the view of the skyscrapers and buildings, jutting out like fat fingers and steel spines, she looked down. She saw small Tass orbs that seemed to… do something. She didn’t know. But she was sure it kept the bridge safe and firm.
She crossed and walked up to the steel doors of the gymnasium, opened it just a creak — enough for her body to fit through — and slipped in.
The gymnasium was a spacious. The floor was mostly covered in padding. Hard enough for sure footing, soft enough so that it didn’t hurt too much when you fell. All the windows were open, and there was a partition of the large gymnasium blocked off by a glass wall.
Outside the glass wall, people ran around obstacle courses, performed gymnastics, and lifted weights. Some of them practiced sports, others practiced weapon training. A class of young Prentices were drilled by a beer-gut sports teacher.
Within the glass wall was something far more amazing to Chrysanthemum’s eyes. She could see the faintly humming glow of sigils and runes scribbled with Magick upon the glass wall to strengthen it. Past the glass wall, men and women — some of them in layered carapaces of flexible steel, and some in just workout clothes — jumped all about. They flung fire from their fingertips, shot lightning from their mouth. Some of them summoned blades of ice from the tips of their swords. Magick used for Conflict.
Chrysanthemum ran up to the glass wall. A heavy hand stopped her from putting her face against the glass. Turning, Chrys saw a man with a neck the size of a tree stump. He was scowling, but his eyes were neutral. “Not past the red line.”
Chrys blinked, looked down, and saw a line fulminating with some sort of crimson energy. What kind of energy it was, she didn’t know, but it was dynamic and liquid, like plasma. She turned to the man and nodded. The man had looked away.
Chrys turned to look at what tree-stump-necked man was looking at, and saw the golden mane of Navarre Thackeray.
He spoke, but through the glass wall she couldn’t hear anything. There was a smug grin on both of the combatant’s faces, the other combatant being a woman with hair cut short, boyish, making her look like a Piskie Divata. Her eyes literally flared with an icy flame. In her right hand was a quarterstaff. She opened her mouth to retort, with a smirk.
After said retort, Thackeray stepped forward. The girl snarled.
When Thackeray’s foot hit the hard ground, he disappeared in a flash of light. He reappeared in another golden flash of light, reminiscent to a star twinkling, a second later. The piskie-haired woman had already twirled her staff before Thackeray moved.
Thackeray’s kick met with the woman’s staff. Grinning something fierce, Thackeray blurred in the air, twisting and turning, bringing his legs with him. The woman wasn’t even looking. She moved her quarterstaff as if this were a carefully choreographed dance, blocking each strike.
Thackeray planted both feet against the staff and jumped off of her, using her as a springboard. The woman shook her head, twirled her staff, and then struck out at Thackeray. A quick movement, like a snake leaping out.
Thackeray crossed his arms in a defensive position as he flew through the air, hair flailing. An invisible pounding force slammed against him, and he flew higher into the air. Thackeray curled into a fetal position, and then disappeared in another twinkling star.
The piskie woman frowned, knelt, struck the ground with her left hand, and spikes of ice radiated from it. The spikes broke off a few inches right before they hit the wall. Jumping onto one of the ice spikes, she tapped it with her staff, magickally directing the ice spike upwards with the enchanted instrument. The spike rose up from the floor, and she skated in the air, wintry frost trailing behind her.
Thackeray flickered into vision on one of the ice spikes jutting out of the ground. The woman continued slinging sparks of ice from her staff towards Thackeray. The golden-haired Magicker clasped his hands together, and his golden mane glowed with the intensity of the sun. The icebolts zipped towards him, and he moved.
Not away. His fists flashed. It met the fastest, closest projectile and shattered it into a million tiny fragments of frost. The rest of the icebolts followed and Thackeray slammed his fist against each one.
The piskie woman crouched as she skated about in midair on top of the ice spike. She tapped it with her staff once again, and she flipped, kicking the shard forward.
Thackeray opened his hands, and grinned widely. His eyes burst a flaming crimson. When the spike came in a few feet of him, he clamped both of his bare hands together, pinning the spike between them.
Golden flames erupted around Thackeray, enveloping him like some sort of aura. He shouted loud enough for Chrys to hear on the other side of the glass wall. His golden mane floated upwards, forming a crown of gold about his head, as the woman fluttered to the ground on an invisible chariot of frostic winds.
Thackeray screamed something, and four arms made of pure golden light erupted from his back. They each grabbed a part of the spike, and he turned. He rotated and threw the shard back at where the woman was in the air.
The spike of ice shattered against the magickal strength of the glass walls. The woman was gone. She turned into a fine, swirling mist of frost and bolted toward Thackeray. She crashed into him, square in the chest, sending him sprawling to the ground, and she congealed into being once again.
Thackeray was up on his feet before he knew it. He pulled back all of his six fists and stepped.
In the breath of time it took an eye to blink, he was in front of the woman. His hands became a blur. Fists flying.
The woman fought smart. She stepped back, made a gesture with her hands, and a misty circle swirled into being. She used that and her staff to block each of the strikes. Her hands became a blur as these two fighters, so evenly matched in speed and strength, traded blows and never landed a hit.
Then a golden fist slipped through the ice, and shattered the woman’s armor. The fist connected, and time seemed to stop as everything registered. She was hit so hard that it seemed like she disappeared and reappeared a few feet away.
Her body crashed against one of the ice spikes, but she managed to twist midair and land on her feet. Aside from a couple of bruises and scratches, she was perfectly fine. Cold beads of sweat dripped from her forehead.
Her staff had shattered. She spread both hands behind her, as if she were spreading out her wings, and then balled them into fists, as if she were crushing something. The ice spikes shattered, turning into smaller pieces of fragmented frost. Spreading her arms back again, she uttered more words and her eyes flared icy hues. She had three bangles on each wrist, Chrysanthemum noticed, and each one shivered and shuddered.
The woman swung her hands forward, and the ice spikes bulleted toward Thackeray.
Thackeray grinned defiantly. He stepped back, his foot sinking into the ground, creating a crater as gold flame enveloped him. And, impossibly, his six arms collided with each of the million fragments of ice.
Each time ice shattered, it dissipated into mist. A fine mist erupted around Thackeray, but a barrier of clear air formed a dome about him as the fierce wind from his flurry of punches kept the icy mist from him.
Thackeray stopped as the mist dissipated, replaced with glittering as the little fragments of ice reflected light. Thackeray released his fists, and he fell to a knee. Golden brass knuckles shattered from his grip.
The woman was on her knees as well, breathing heavily. Her eyes had ceased flaring.
*Malach are seemingly mythical creatures that none have seen for thousands of years. Saying this in modern times is like saying, “Where in nothingness, or where the heck.”