Chrysanthemum looked about the area, doing her best to look away from the corpse. A feeling she didn’t like crept all over her, settling in the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t just the dead, soulless corpse that lay on the ground, but the strange resonance she felt from it.
It was unnervingly familiar.
Quinen frowned. He stood up, gripping his bone scepter. When he turned to face Oberen and Chrysanthemum, his eyes remained bright green. The green emanated from his eyes, and as he moved, the green glow trailed after him like wisps of verdant smoke.
“Something’s wrong.” Quinen frowned.
Oberen raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”
“A Perceive Death Working,” he said, stepping forward. “But I saw nothing. That’s impossible. How long has she been out?”
“A day, now,” Oberen said. “Why? What’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “So, look. I was just sort of joking when I hypothesized about that whole her body might’ve been taken by Avalon stuff-”
“But looking at it now, it might be true.”
Oberen crossed his arms and placed a foot back. “What do you mean?”
“Well, do you know Thanatology? The study of the Field of Death?”
Oberen shook his head.
“Thanatology covers most of the popular theorized after-afters. One theory’s been widely accepted.” Quinen said, but there was that tinge of skepticism in his voice. “But apparently, when the body dies, the Soul goes through the ten different realms before it dissipates back into the Astral Realm.”
“Mmhm? You mean the Upper Soul, right? The one that only the intelligent races have?” Quinen nodded.
“Right. The Lower Soul simply fades away, a product of temporal, cosmic coincidence instead of higher things.”
Oberen sensed a short lecture incoming, so he sat down on the warm gray rock. Chrysanthemum jaunted over and sat beside him. “Go on,” said Oberen. “I’m not stopping you.”
“Right, so, the Upper Soul starts off from the Field of Life, right? And then it goes through the rest of the Corporeal Fields: Matter, Forces, and then Timespace, where the Soul stops experiencing time. Then it goes into the Ethereal Fields. It starts at the Field of Fates, and then the Field of Death, and then the Field of Spirits, before finally reaching the Field of Mind. Once it gets there, it goes straight up to the Astral Realm, completely purged of all of its material burdens.
“Now here’s the thing though: when the Upper Soul passes through the Field of Death, it leaves behind a Ghost of itself at that current time. This ghost is unaffected by luck or probabilities and looks exactly like it was when it died, because it already passed through the Field of Timespace. But it hasn’t become fully ethereal yet because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Spirits, and it still has its memories and consciousness and personalities because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Mind.”
“So what are you saying?”
“That I should’ve been able to easily call upon her Ghost.”
Oberen raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Wait, but, wouldn’t that mean that if the Soul already went through the Field of Mind, it would’ve been completely erased and would have no semblance of itself?”
Quinen shook his head. “The Perfected Collegiate Theory states the Ghost is a different entity from the Soul entirely. It also exists almost indefinitely, because it is no longer bound by the Field of Timespace.”
Oberen inhaled. “Wow.” He said. “I… understand. So what you’re saying is that you should’ve been able to access her Ghost?”
Quinen nodded. “If she truly has died, she’ll most definitely have left a Ghost behind. Probably in the Traverse of the Field of Death, Mort. Unless…”
“Unless she didn’t die or…” Oberen’s eyes widened as realization dawned upon him, fire burning away ignorant darkness. “Someone took her Soul before it arrived at the Field of Death.”
“Yes,” Quinen replied, his fingers in a steeple. “With that out of the way, I’m gonna need you to take me to the suspect.”
“Which suspect?” Oberen asked as he stood, straightening himself. He went over and removed the red fence blocking the way.
It didn’t take them long to reach the dreorg’s flat. Oberen had told Quinen that she cooped herself up in the Karoley Ward, in a dormitory near the floating Collegium, above an old pawn shop. They went up to the apartment building and reached her room — on the second floor, numbered 2.
Quinen raised his hand and tapped the door softly, sending a probing sense. No Wards of any Field. Satisfied, he knocked on the door using his bone-scepter.
A few moments, and then there was the sound of footsteps, heavy and dragging, across the floor. The door swung open. A bespectacled dreorg girl, her height reaching up to Quinen’s waist, stood with her eyebrows furrowed. When she saw the three of them, she crossed her arms. Her prehensile tail wagged, unravelling its grip from the doorknob. “Yes?”
Quinen turned to Oberen, and then at Chrysanthemum, who stood beside Oberen instead of him. “Diys?” The detective said.
She nodded, her dark red hair bobbing. She had tied it up in a strange top knot which sat over her head, forming some strange makeshift bangs. Her face was round and young-looking.
“That’s me. What do you need?”
“Some of your time.” Quinen shouldered his way into the student’s dormitory, ignoring her consequent protests. The single room only had a bed, which lay beside a tall window that showcased the Wards opposite of the floating landmass that was the Collegium. Off to the horizon one could see the steel structures twined together with neon, magick, and money. One would need to have a lot more money than what it cost to afford the tuition of the Collegium to get to be part of the Spires.
“I’m here on Collegium-sanctioned business, Miss Diys,” Quinen said. His eyes flickered over to Oberen. “Cooperate, and nothing bad happens. I’m not gonna harm you, just ask you a couple of questions.” As he droned this off — as if he’d said this same exact line a million times before — his eyes gazed along the top of the desk she had. Papers upon papers of Substantial Theory and Psychoanalysis.
Quinen turned when he saw that he couldn’t glean anything from the papers. “Understood?”
She bit her lip. Oberen walked up to her and showed her the golden badge. “We won’t hurt you, okay? I bind our word by the Sacred Oath of the Vedina.”
Magick popped, whizzed in a buzzing sound one can only feel, and then the oath was bound. The air felt heavy for a few seconds, before it turned back to normality.
The dreorg swallowed, and then told the rest of the gang to come inside. With a nonchalant thwip of her tail, the door closed. “What are you going to ask me?” Diys walked over to her bed and sat.
Oberen and Chrysanthemum stayed a respectful distance away from her. Quinen stood right in front of the window. He eyed an aircraft, powered by the infinite resource of Diwa, floating through the sky like dust motes in the air. If one squinted hard enough, one would be able to see some rainbow-colored feathers of the anzu, splitting the skies with their wings.
“What is your connection to the human named Lyn?” Quinen didn’t turn. His eyes flickered to something clumsily hidden under her bed. A strange contraption resembling a glass sphere with a circular tube extending out of it. At the end of the circular tube was a mouthpiece.
Quinen smirked. That wasn’t a Yantra. At least, not of the Collegium.
“Lyn…? Does this have to do with her murder?” She managed to normalize her voice. It no longer shook with uncertainty. “She was a good friend of mine — one of my best friends. She treated me like she would treat any other human.”
Quinen nodded. “When was the last time you met her?”
“Not too long ago. A few days ago? I don’t remember. I was too busy catching up on my studies — I had a big intercrossed Matter and Mind exam coming up.”
“When did she die?”
Silence from Diys, then “When I was having my exam.”
“You enjoyed any substances with her?”
She scoffed. “Substances? Hey, old man, we’re in academia. We do drugs, yeah.”
“I’m going to assume mostly hallucinogens and greenleaf and the like, yes?”
She nodded. “Yeah, the usual.”
“I see,” Quinen said, turning around. He eyed the vials on the corner of her desk, put in a meticulous order. “You ever messed around with stimulants?”
Diys eyed the same rack of vials as Quinen. “Not yet, no. I want to, in the future. I have some alchemical combinations that can make me immune to pain.”
“Heard of the Garda Tonic?”
“The one that makes you sprout wings?” Diys said. “Yeah I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen anyone skilled enough to be able to mix them up.”
“Yeah,” Quinen said, nodding. “It takes some equal knowledge of the Fields of Life and Matter to be able to make something like that.” He paused. “Pertaining to hallucinogens, have you ever heard of Angel Dust?”
A pause. Quinen heard her breath cut short. Not very good at hiding things, was she? “I have,” she said, suddenly confident again. Quinen activated her palmnode and scoured Datascape about information on Angel Dust. “Haven’t tried it, though. It’s a bit too expensive.”
Quinen nodded. “I can sympathize,” he said, smiling. Diys looked up at him and smiled as well.
The information nodule about Angel Dust flashed into Quinen’s palmnode. A gray window, and then lines of Shennin script.
A powerful hallucinogenic substance created by being an expert in the Fields of Matter and the Fields of Mind. It puts the user into a narcotic state in which their body is rendered asleep for a few hours as they undergo a potent psychic trip.
“But, anyway, I’ve got an exam tomorrow,” she said. “I need to be a Dean’s-lister this year, so that I can keep it up next year. Then I’ll be able to graduate with the highest honors, and I can get out of Throne!”
Quinen’s ear perked up. He chuckled. “Okay, alright,” he said. “You might be called in for further questioning, though. Is that fine?”
She bit her lip, her eyes flickered to the left, and she nodded. “Absolutely fine,” her voice was completely calm. “Here’s my Scapelink, so you can contact me anytime.” She tapped her palmnode against Quinen’s and a buzz went through it. Their nodes linked together, her information on his palmnode.
Quinen smiled. “Alright. Have a nice day, Diys.”
“You too,” she said, smiling so wide her eyes were slits. She closed the door with her hands.
The three of them made their way downstairs. “I like dreorg,” Chrysanthemum said as they emerged into the pavement. “There were a lot more dreorg in my memories. Where could they have all gone?”
Oberen grimaced. “It’s better that you, uh, learn it from the history books.”
Chrysanthemum nodded. The Human Impergium that Quinen had taught her still bounced around her mindspace. If that were true…
She turned to Quinen. “Where are we going to now, Quinen?”
“To an old friend of mine,” he said, shoving his palmnode into his pocket and hailing a red cab. These were the resident ones of Karoley Ward, costing less than the brown ones that could go through the entire megacity of Throne. The red ones, however, were confined to traverse only around Karoley Ward.
“Friend of yours?” Oberen asked as he helped Quinen hail a cab.
They rode the red cab to the Corners, a refuge of houses all huddled against the corner of the great wall of sideream and orichalcum that defended Throne from all sides except the south, where the great Thronian Woods resided. Almost a small complex of their own, the Corner beganwith the Squatters, the area on the ground. From the Squatters, one would take the many bridges and stairs crisscrossing and winding about and through the houses, like an intricate snake caught in a spider’s web, to reach the second level of the Corners, the Jumpers. There lived the poorest of the poor, as well as various avian who could afford to live there because of their aerodynamic abilities.
While Squatters were so named because they “squat” into their houses below, the Jumpers are so named because of, well, the way most of them decide to finally leave Throne for good.
The Corners sat against the grandeur of the Great Wall like a strange, bulging hive of grime and scum. It jutted out to the sides of the Great Wall, huddling close to it. a strange scab that had infected the cleanness and majesty of the Wall.
The cabbie refused to go past the first street, so they had to drop off. It was for good reason, Quinen knew. He held Chrysanthemum close as they walked through the cracked bitumen roads that crisscrossed the ground of the corners. Street urchins ran around, playing with sticks and rocks, wearing nothing but shorts or undergarments. Behind them shouted their mothers, large-gutted or with mismatched teeth. They wore the bare minimum that would cover their skin, probably because that’s all they could afford.
Quinen knew the fathers of these children mostly just lazed around all day within, watching with their visionnodes that provided cheap entertainment through the Datascape. The three of them wove their way through them, like a trio of paper boats flowing upstream. Eventually, Quinen entered into an alleyway in between two houses made of hodgepodge materials. The alleyway had sluice running down its concrete. It ended in a small open cul-de-sac with various Squatter houses piled on top of each other, blotting out the sun.
Within, little boys played bugball. They would punt little caterpillar like creatures that roll into a dense ball known as circopedes. They were generally harmless, and rather enjoy being punted around and hit with sticks by small, shirtless children.
Quinen led the three up to a Squatter house on top of another. He knocked on the door once, and he was immediately answered. The door protested as it dragged across the ground. The man inside pulled once, twice, and then thrice before the door finally dragged open, making an unpleasant noise all the while.
Behind it, a skeleton of a man stood grinning. The vine-like markings on his body glowed with a complacent gray. His collarbones sprung out, looking like knives trying to puncture his sickly gray skin. He looked so thin and deathly that if one would put a finger through their cheek, their finger would pop through.
The man’s green eyes, so reminiscent of a wood-life long gone, were half hidden under black clean rings. The man had no ears.
Which was for the best, Quinen knew. Whatever it took to keep your alfrian self out of the shade and wrath of the human.
“Akyrie,” Quinen said. “I’m gonna need your expertise.”
Akyrie grinned a yellow-toothed and foul-smelling grin. Chrysanthemum scrunched her nose up and looked away. If Akyrie was offended by this, he showed no sign. “Ah, if it isn’t my old friend the warlock. Come in, come in, the Mixer is working today.”