Quinen crossed his arms and tried very carefully not to erupt into laughter.
The Dean beckoned the both of them in with a waving gesture. Quinen’s vision warped and twisted. When his vision cleared, he was standing on top of the carpeted floor, a few feet from the desk. The double doors shut behind them. Quinen tensed, his muscles moving on pure instinct. He was able to control his body. “Have a seat.”
Quinen held his jaw in a firm line. Oberen deferred, and he took a seat. It took Quinen a bit longer to oblige.
“So,” the Dean of the Collegium grinned, looking down at his palmnode. The screen reflected off of his round spectacles. “What have we here? Why does the Warlock return?”
Oberen opened his mouth. “Is that really what I’m called here now, ‘The Warlock’?” Quinen cut in, smiling. “Because that’s pretty awesome.”
“Dean Hakumatheia,” Oberen said, as if Quinen hadn’t spoken at all, “we’ve come to tell you that the Warlock has accepted the grave responsibility of investigating upon his step-sister’s death.”
The Dean raised a silver eyebrow. He turned to the Quinen. “I suppose you know what happens when you undertake jobs from the Collegium?”
Quinen leaned back on his high-back chair. Ooh, pillows. Comfy. “All too well,” he said.
The Dean stared at him with green and blue eyes. His gaze was with intent, hard and glaring. After a few moments of staring, he leaned back. “Success means you retrieve all your Magickal Instruments from the Repository, and maybe I’ll order my Huntsmen to turn a blind eye to some of your doings,” he said. The Dean raised a delicate white eyebrow when he continued. “Failure means that your Warlock status will be enforced. You know what that means.”
Quinen struggled not to bite his lip or ball his hands into his fists. Signs of weakness. Of fear. Never show it.
But retrieving all his Magickal Instruments? “Does that mean all of my Yantras?”
The Dean nodded. “All of them. Including the ones obtained… not so legally.”
A moment’s silence. The Dean and Oberen were both looking at him expectantly, their gazes fierce. He set his jaw. All his Yantras back would mean that he would be able to channel the Astral Realm once again, as well as call upon the Field of Death and gain his Mageweave coat back — his main form of protection.
“Fine,” he said. “You know if I had my Scepter, I would be able to conjure up Lyn’s ghost for questioning.”
The Dean nodded. “Very well.” He turned to Oberen. “File a retrieval notice from the Repository. The Scepter of the Warlock. Now.”
Oberen nodded, sparing Quinen one last dubious glance as he stood and walked out the door. It was just the Dean and Quinen together now.
The silence was choking. They sat in it for a few moments. The Dean’s eyes plastered against his palmnode. Quinen decided to check out his own palmnode, and found a message from Chrysanthemum.
— From: Chrysanthemum
here at collegium’s gymnasium
A wind of relief passed through Quinen.
“How have you been lately, Quinen Argist?”
Quinen smirked, and raised his eyebrows. His thoughts swirled. Why was he being so amiable, when he was the one that voted he be expelled in the first place? “Getting by,” he said, with a shrug.
“You’ve become a Private Investigator, I see?” The Dean smiled, somber. “Still seeking information and truth.”
“My curiosity is both a blessing and a curse, it seems,” Quinen said.
“What have you learned ever since you left the Collegium?”
“Paying taxes is hard,” he said. “As well as finding a decent place in Throne that’s not in the Slums. Also, jifarin are vulnerable to fire.”
“And you’ve been able to channel Power without your usual Yantras?”
Quinen shrugged. “It’s easy to conjure up a few of your own,” he said. “Other than the usual Mudras and Mantras — and you know how much I hate runir — I’ve been doing magick with a zippo lighter and tattoos as Yantras.”
The Dean’s eyebrows shot up, and he nodded impressed. “Very resourceful of you.”
“I learned a lot from here,” Quinen said. A smirk crept up to his face.
The Dean smirked. A smirk that meant to say his remarks bothered him not at all. “But you are not able to channel the Astral Realm without that peculiar staff of yours. How you’ve managed to do that is still unknown to us.” The Dean’s smirking face turned into a scowl. He looked back into his palmnode.
“You don’t know how to channel the Astral Realm?”
The Dean looked up, frowning. He brought up a ball made of rubber, and placed it on his desk.
With a wave of a hand, the ball turned into a bonsai tree.
Quinen shrugged, looking straight out of the window.
“All knowledge about the Astral is incomplete by its very nature,” the Dean said, snapping his fingers and dissipating the bonsai tree back into Diwa. “For we are Mortals. We do not deserve the power of God.”
Quinen raised an eyebrow at that. The doors swung open then, and Oberen walked in, holding a Scepter. Its shaft was made of bleached bone, and its head was a black obsidian stone. All around it were twined feathers of a blackbird.
“I’ll hand this to you once we get to Lyn’s corpse,” he said as Quinen rose from his seat.
When the mist cleared from within the glass square, Chrys hadn’t been quite sure what she just watched. Without any knowledge about what they just did, it looked like they had just exhausted themselves in a flashy show of magickal power.
The piskie-haired woman stood up, walking over to the exhausted Thackeray. She put her hand out, smiling. Thackeray gripped it with his own and stood. The two of them walked out of the glass square together.
They retreated to locker rooms. Chrysanthemum had to wait a while before either of them emerged into the non-partitioned area of the Gymnasium. When the door opened, it was the piskie-haired girl who walked out first.
Chrysanthemum skipped over to her and grabbed her hand. “You were amazing!”
“Oh,” the piskie-haired woman stepped back. She scanned Chrysanthemum, and then pushed her optics up her nose. “Oh, thank you…?”
“Chrysanthemum,” Chrys said, pouting.
“Nice to meet you, Chrysanthemum.” She smiled. She wore a regal blue leather coat about her now, embellished with vine-like designs, and brought a gym bag with her.
“What’s your name?” Chrys asked. “I know Thackeray-”
“Of course you did.”
“-But I don’t know you.”
Grinning, she said, ”De Laqua Maeve. But you may call me Maeve. First Magus of the Kifetic Order.”
Chrysanthemum shook her head. “No. Thackeray is the First Magus. You must be the second-”
“Oh no,” Maeve chuckled. “First Magus is but a title for those who have achieved exemplary magickal levels.”
“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded. “Neat.”
The doors swung open again, and Navarre Thackeray stepped out. His lean, muscled body was quite clearly seen through his slim-fit tank top and white jogging pants. His blonde hair he tied up in a messy bun on top of his head. He had a towel on one hand, and a gym bag on the other.
Chrysanthemum smiled. “Oh, Thackeray!”
Thackeray paused, and then looked up at Chrys. He furrowed his eyebrows, opened his mouth, pointed a finger. “Um…?”
Maeve chuckled again. “It’s Chrysanthemum.”
“Right!” Thackeray snapped his fingers. “Chrysanthemum. Right, right.”
Chrysanthemum walked up to Thackeray. “You were so amazing. You were like a god.”
Thackeray’s head bobbed backwards, and then he just smiled. Maeve turned to Thackeray, and they exchanged a knowing smile. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that. We were just sparring, after all.” Thackeray shook his head. “A-anyway, little lady. Why are you still here? Haven’t I already brought you to the exit?”
“Chrysanthemum’s not very good at following.” Chrys bopped her head and stuck out her tongue, winking.
“Okay,” he said, shrugging. “Well, we’re just about to leave the campus. We can take you with us.”
Maeve walked to Thackeray’s side.
Chrysanthemum tilted her head. “Are you committed? What tradition are you adhering to?“
Thackeray and Maeve turned to look at each other, and then turned Chrys with their lips pressed together and their eyebrows furrowed.
She opened her mouth to say something, but the words that came out were different. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”
“Um, we had Martial Thaumaturgy classes together,” Maeve answered. “We’re on our last year. We’ve just finished our license exam and are on our way to becoming Huntsmen.”
There was another blast within the partitioned part of the room. Thackeray turned and whooped at the fight, presumably to encourage his sparring friend. “To become Huntsmen,” Maeve said.
“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded, mouth hanging open. “What do you hunt?”
Maeve shrugged. “Well, you know, monsters, creatures not safe for the City, those in the hinterlands.” She looked up past Chrysanthemum, and her face turned into a scowl. “Warlocks.”
“Warlocks?” Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side.
Oberen held Quinen’s Scepter as they walked down the Gymnasium. He told him that he needed to pick up Chrysanthemum before he set to work.
Quinen smirked as he walked up to Maeve, straight past Chrysanthemum. Maeve had a pretty athletic physique, so she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Quinen. “Hey, De Laqua.”
Her scowl burned. “Warlock.”
Quinen raised an eyebrow and opened his palms. “What’s with the hostilities?” Her hands were balled into fists, her stance rigid. Her jaw was set in a line.
“Why don’t you leave the campus? You are not needed here.”
Quinen snorted and turned around. “Yes, I am, actually.”
Thackeray returned after cheering his friend on. “Aw man, that last working was…” His voice trailed off when he saw Quinen. His face turned stoic, his stance straight-backed and ready to pounce. “Warlock,” he said.
Quinen sighed inwardly. “Navarre!” Quinen smiled, spreading his hands out. “I hope that Huntsman thing is getting along well.”
“It is,” Maeve said with a shrug. “And soon enough we’d be hunting people like you.”
Grinning, Quinen said, “But not today. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to get going.” He gripped Chrysanthemum’s arm and hauled her away. Oberen followed suit, not making eye contact with the two Huntsmen-in-training.
Chrysanthemum broke Quinen’s grip once they came out of the Gymnasium door. She held her arm. “Ouch.”
Quinen inhaled, kept the breath and composed himself, and then released it. He smiled, but that quickly faded. “Don’t leave my side.” He then grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand again and hauled her away.
As they walked back to the East Park, Quinen spoke. “Are there any people connected to Lyn?”
“A few have been suspects the last few days,” Oberen said. “This belgar named Dajud, an human Inker, and a dreorg named Diys.” Chrys squirmed. Quinen cursed and let her go. She stayed a few feet from him, walking while cradling her hand.
“The belgar is crossed off as a potential suspect then,” Quinen said. “Belgars can’t be in the Collegium.”
“That leaves the Inker and the dreorg.” Quinen frowned. They walked down the stairs to the East Park. “What does the dreorg do?”
“She’s a Magicker.”
Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, thinking. “To the Fields of Matter and Mind.”
He paused, his mind lurking up to a piece of information he had read in an obscure, banned textbook somewhere in the public library. “Ten eagles says it’s the dreorg.”
Oberen stopped in his tracks. He raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”
“The Field of Mind is, metaphysically, close to Avalon,” he said. “At times, they intersect.”
“Sure,” Oberen said. “But Fields intersect all the time. A lot of magickal workings cross their beams so to speak.”
“Not the Material Fields, no,” Quinen smiled.
They walked into the sectioned-off center of the Park and up to Lyn’s dead body. More greenery had begun sprouting out of her corpse, and flowers were blossoming with a speed only a time-lapse would be able to replicate. The three of them watched with befuddled gazes.
Quinen walked up and knelt in front of her. “Give me my Scepter.”
Oberen handed him the bone-staff. Quinen gripped it, and a familiarity washed over him. He breathed in a deep wind as he held the staff close to him, as if a key had suddenly opened up yet to another door. As if a long dormant piece of hardware had just clinked back to life, cobwebs dusting off.
He knew for a fact that he didn’t need this specific Yantra to do his Workings, but he’d been the lowest in his class when it came to Mudra, Mantra, and Runir Forms. He couldn’t perform the Mudra hand gestures fast enough, speak the Mantras properly, and create the perfect lines with the Runir geometries. He found that Yantras — physical tools — were his best bet, and he’s never looked back.
Although some proficiency in a Mantra would be nice, he thought.
He put the Scepter in front of him, sticking the obsidian stone into the soil. He snarled a sentence,
incomprehensible, yet perfect. He gripped it hard and then, for the first time in three years, connected his soul to the Field of Death.
A cold feeling washed over Quinen, and he welcomed it. He found that if you tried to fight the fear and cold of death, you’d just end up hurting yourself instead. He tightened his grip as he Willed Power to come down and change Reality.
And Power did come. As it surged through him, he formed a spell. In his Imahen, his Mind’s Eye, he created the image of a summoning spell, to call the ghost of Lyn. As the spell formed, he pulled the obsidian stone from the soil, and struck Lyn’s corpse.
He snarled a word. Power released from him in a surge. Death answered his Will. Magick came to be.
A silence. A beat.
There was no answer.
Quinen opened his eyes and frowned. Had he done something wrong? Had his hiatus from channeling the Field of Death made his connection somewhat weaker? No. He shook his head. Do not doubt. Doubt is the enemy of belief. Belief is the fuel of Will. Will is the way to Magick. Quinen repeated it in his head, chanting it like a mantra.
Then, there was an answer. Quinen’s eyes opened, and he looked up. His irises glowed a sickly green. Above Lyn’s body was… a void. An emptiness. A nothingness. A something that should’ve been there, but is not. There was no ghost.
And if there was no ghost, where was her soul?