The night sky echoed. The only thing inheriting the soaring blues was a thick smog that rose up from the dirty streets of Throne like a mist.
A flapping, winds billowing. Something glided across the night sky, splitting it with its large, feathery wings. It flapped once, putting into motion the tender muscles that make up its entirety. Its sharp, avian eyes swept the city of Throne, flying even higher than the tallest of the Spires. Its feathers flapped against the wind, and the starlight reflected off of the shiny scales that lay underneath the layer of feathers. Its beak opened, lined with razor sharp teeth, before closing again.
It wore nothing to cover its top, but it did wear tight cloth pants made of carbon fiber. The anzu flapped once again, and then folded its wings, plummeting to a balcony jutting out one of the taller Spires.
It opened its wings just before it landed, cushioning its fall. It fell on the ground, and its wings folded about it like a cloak. Mesmerizing patterns, radial and geometrical and tribal were splattered onto the outside of the anzu’s wings. They used it mostly for mating. They didn’t really need clothing.
The anzu looked up. “Gharth. Report.” A human stepped forward. His right hand replaced with a mechanical limb that shone with lights. On the cybernetic limb was a floating holographic image which the human typed on.
“Magickal incursion, Captain Urie,” Gharth replied, his voice hoarse and squawking. Shennin was a human language developed by and for human. When those that didn’t have the same vocal chops as an human spoke the language, its sound becomes akin to that of a grater grating steel.
Urie frowned. He gestured for the anzu to continue.
“High Dissonance Tension,” Gharth continued. “Implosion might be eminent if the Magicker in question does not stop.”
“Who is the Magicker in question?”
“A certain Warlock,” Gharth replied. “I do not know his real name, but my database has registered him as thus.”
“Very well,” the human nodded. He turned, tapping something onto his mechanical arm. It had been outfitted with a weavenode, so he could connect to the Datascape through it. He tapped on a contact that only said, “Dean.”
Hakumatheia, Dean of the Throne Collegium of Magick, sat behind his wooden desk. Various pens floated around an inkwell. The three-storey high-room was completely clean of dust. Gloomlight from the Nightstar filtered in through thin curtains. One couldn’t see a single mote of dust.
The Dean sat with his elbows on the desk, his hands steepled. His eyes glowed with a low light, as if there were a sun behind his irises. He held his lips in a thin line, tense.
There was a rippling in the serene calm of the dimly lit room. It was weak and faint at first, wanting not to be seen. Then, it was stronger. A shimmering in front of the glass window.
The window burst open, and on the other side was not the night sky, but rather, the chaotic wild of Avalon. Winds both scorchingly cold and freezingly hot gusted in. The old bathrobe that Dean Hakumatheia wore billowed away from the heat. The curtains that dressed the windows were thrown back, afraid of the otherworldly portal.
A sound echoed from within the portal. It was a quivering sound, that shook through the rapidly flowing air of the room. A laugh. The laugh subsided as a shadow stepped through the portal and onto the carpeted floor of the Dean’s Office.
Zinnia closed the door with a nonchalant wave of her hand. The Jade Princess turned her unnerving green eyes upon the Dean, Master of Magicks. She walked, moving up to the front of the Dean’s desk.
“You did a good job, Hakky,” she said, her voice low and sultry. “But it seems you ‘ve messed up. Just by a bit.” She placed both hands on the desktop. The floating pens shook. “That Warlock intruded, and has banished one of my fiagai back into my realm. He seems really dead on in protecting Chrysanthemum.” She frowned. “At this rate, the wedding will be canceled, and the power of the Dwarf Court will ebb.”
“I did what I could,” the Dean said. His eyes were steely with resolve, unmoving and looking straight into her eyes. Straight into an alien fey’s eyes. “But the Warlock is a fickle pawn in this game of yours.”
“And you are my King,” she said, leaning forward. Her eyes danced with beautiful madness as her lips met with the Dean’s. The Dean’s eyes did not change as she pulled away, an iridescent smoke wisping out. “Such delicious power. You are the reason I live.”
The Dean managed a smile. “But now you must go, for a court meeting shall be held soon, if I remember correctly?”
She nodded. “A… pickup, actually. You always were good with time,” she leaned back, stretching. “I do commend you, darling, on the rather unconventional and inadverted way of attracting the Warlock’s attention. I shall try to take care of him from here.”
The Dean scowled. Had his Dissonance been that powerful? Had he actually connected his Soul to Avalon…?
The thought raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
Zinnia grinned. Her eyes danced with humor and rage. She turned, clapped once, and the portal reopened, a golden tear in reality. She turned and gave the Dean one last flying kiss before stepping into the portal and closing it behind her.
The Dean’s smile turned to a scowl. He cursed, inwardly. He leaned back, slumping into his high-backed chair. What in Adon’s name had he gotten himself into?
Chrysanthemum remembered what had happened next.
Once the fiagai fell away, an intrinsic part of her sensing that he had been banished back to where he belonged, she huddled to a corner and cried. Her head lanced with pain. Tears soaked her cheeks. Confusion wracked her body. Quinen had walked in and hugged her, and the warmth of his coat against her was enough to lull her to sleep.
She dreamt of nothing. For the first time, she dreamt of nothing. Usually, she would dream of the most esoteric and strange things. Talking trees, neon animals, dancing buildings. But she dreamt of nothing, and when she awoke, she awoke feeling like she had been submerged in deep, dark water.
When she awoke, Quinen was no longer next to her. It was cold, despite the blanket on. She stared out of the window — it had been closed, and the air was painted by snow.
The first snow of Nymph Season.
She sat up slowly, the blanket sliding off of her. Her glowing pink hair had dulled, just a bit, and made it look like as though she had only dyed her hair.
“Awake, I see,” a familiar voice echoed through the empty room. How Chrysanthemum didn’t notice him at first sent shivers up her spine. She turned and saw Oberen, wearing dark blue hoodie. He peered at her through rectangular optics. On his right hand, he gripped a cup of coffee, small little brown droplets dribbled on the mouthpiece.
“Oberen,” her voice cracked.
“Don’t strain yourself,” he said. He stood, looked at the empty space beside Chrysanthemum, and then shook his head, He sat back down. “You weren’t injured or anything.”
Chrysanthemum shook her head. “What about Quinen? What happened to him?”
Oberen raised an eyebrow at that. He sipped on his coffee. His breath came out as visible steam. “He’s alive,” he replied. “But hurt. Real bad. Both physically and metaphysically.”
Chrys cocked her head to one side. Oberen sighed.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” he said. “He’ll be good in a few months.”
A deadly, heart-wrenching silence cut through the room. Chrysanthemum bit her lip, looking down. She blinked rapidly, pressed her lips together, and then shook her head. “It was my fault.”
Oberen inhaled. His breathing could be heard through the silence, which seemed to be frozen into the room by the Nymph weather outside. “Not necessarily. Don’t blame all of it on yourself,” he said. “You’ll never get anywhere nice with that.”
“Then why?” she asked. “Why did he go that far to protect me? To keep me here? Did he… did he remove my memories too?”
Oberen shrugged. “Doubt it. Quinen’s never been good with Psychemancy,” he said. “But it’s possible he could’ve asked someone to do that for you…” he stopped. “Or you could’ve lost you memories because of your… transition to this physical realm.”
She stopped her blinking. She looked up at the boy with the sea-green eyes. “What do you mean?”
Oberen couldn’t help but melt a little — just a little — from her gaze. She was so pale and small. Her nose, button and cute, was flaring red from the cold. Her eyes were the strangest mix of green and blue. Not too far from the color of his own eyes, he realized. Her lips were chapped and white from the temperature. Oberen stepped forward and gave her the coffee in his hand.
Chrysanthemum stared at it. Oberen gestured for her to take it. She did, eventually, bringing it up gingerly to her lips and letting the warm coffee down her throat. “You’re not human, are you?” Oberen looked down at Chrys. “The glowing pink hair would’ve ticked me off, but those kinds of wigs are popular these days.”
Chrysanthemum sipped again, and then looked up at Oberen. “What am I, Oberen?” Her eyes gleamed with innocence.
Oberen’s own voice was shaky when he spoke. “You’re…,” he inhaled. “You’re a Siddivata.”
Something within her broke. As if a ball of glass had been dropped onto the floor in the middle of the storm, and the cacophony of the shatter was so loud that all noise seemed mute. Her eyes, blue and green, suddenly flared and contrasted each other. Black splashed into the whites of her eyes, like tendrils reaching for her irises. They were getting closer. Ever so closer.
Her grip on the coffee faltered. She let go of it, but the cup stayed in the air, suspended by some invisible force.
Oberen cursed. What did Quinen do to this girl that she had repressed all this power? Why did he get her from Avalon in the first place?
She wanted her own Soul. The words resonated within Oberen’s brain. He cursed, stepping back. He lifted his hands, Willed Power into his Fists. The most basic technique of Martial Thaumaturgy.
Then, everything was gone. The black pools that her eyes had become turned back into white, dissipating. Streams of chaotic iridescence streamed out from her orifices — her nostrils, her mouth, her eyes, before she collapsed back onto the bed.
The coffee cup exploded. There wasn’t much left in there, but warm brown caffeine splattered onto Oberen’s trousers and hoodie. He frowned, and set to cleaning the room while Chrysanthemum returned to her sleep.
Quinen found himself in pure darkness. He sat up, a blanket of pure shadow enshrouded him. He placed a hand on his heart — something he always did whenever he woke up — and found that, well, there was no heart.
He inhaled. Quickly, and then he realized he wasn’t breathing. He looked down on himself. He was naked, but his skin was made of glimmering, incandescent starfire.
He got up quickly. Although “got up” might be wrong term. He willed himself up in a standing position, and his Soul followed. His feet floated on solid nothingness, and only when he willed something to be solid underneath him did he stand correctly.
Where was he?
He walked around just a bit, trying to regain his thoughts. Yes, that Siddivata. Zinnia? She found out about him and Chrysanthemum. He scoffed. He wasn’t fooling anybody — he knew that the Siddivata would find out sooner or later. He began rifling through many different options in his head. How to deal with the situation.
If he wasn’t careful, he could get the Wyld Hunt down his throat. Nobody wanted that Hunt down their throat.
He walked about even more. This was no Traverse. He’d been to Stygia before, the Traverse of the Field of Death. That place was less… empty. It still had hope, it still, ironically, had life. This place of pure nothingness, nil and void, made him empty.
He looked down upon himself. His right shoulder burned weakly, as if the fuel that had been powering the fire in that specific area had run out. Other parts of him also flared much weaker than the others.
Then the realization hit him. Dissonance. He had used Magick way above his reach in that melee he had gotten into with the fiagai. He overextended, he was too proud. Especially with that last Banishment spell — that was sure to attract some attention.
He looked down upon his Soul again. Some of the spots that burned weaker were being wrapped around with multicolored vines.
Quinen’s eyes widened as he began to realize where he was. Or rather, where he was going. He went through his mind palace, trying to recall everything he knew about Dissonance. It seemed like immediate information had left him, and he had to go deep into the recesses of his memory to get them again.
“Dissonance. The backlash of Fields against the unworthy Soul,” he began muttering to himself. No words flew out — all he heard were his thoughts. “The more power you reach out for that is out of your reach, the more powerful the backlash. Many levels of Dissonance. One of the highest possible levels is…”
His eyes opened, and everything around him exploded into a chaotic cacophony of beautiful madness. Of cold fires and burning frosts. Of singing colors and hued songs.
Quinen fell to his knees, the grass around his knees flashing red. “Transportation.”