Navarre Thackeray walked up to the podium when his name was called. A distringuished, well-suited man smiled at him. Wrinkles flanked his eyes. Thackeray strode forth and bent down as the old man hung a medallion about his neck. A medallion of an octagonal shape, within the polygon were a cross and an “x”. The Vedina.
“Navarre Thackeray,” the announcer behind him boomed, using the voice-enhancer device which resembled a black flat stick. “First Class. Officially a Hunstman.”
The crowd before him cheered. Navarre smiled, waved his hand.
He turned and walked down the podium. De Laqua Maeve — wearing a simple white shirt and black pants, with a cloth black jacket overlaying the outfit — jaunted over to him and encircled her arms around his neck. Navarre hugged her back.
“Good job, Thack,” she said. She smiled. Her Vedina medallion also shone.
Thackeray shrugged. “All in a day’s work.”
“Well,” Maeve smiled. “More like four year’s worth of work.”
Thackeray chuckled. “Let’s get?”
The two of them walked out of the auditorium of the Collegium, leaving the rest of the graduates to their own desires. Thackeray and Maeve hadn’t planned on finishing the entire ceremony. It was on the zenith hour, after all, which meant they had skipped lunch.
They never skipped lunch.
They took the stairs down from the tenth floor of the structure, and walked into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was mostly populated by empty chairs and tables, with a few students on their breaks grabbing a bite as well. Thackeray and Maeve walked over to the chair and table set on the far corner, behind a concrete pillar.
“They couldn’t get your name right again, couldn’t they?” Maeve snorted.
Thackeray shrugged. “Well, I never told them the right way to pronounce it.”
“It’s Na-vah-rey, right?” she said, tentative.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I don’t care anymore. What should we get to eat?”
“Anything,” Maeve said, letting the side of her head hit the table. “I’m hungry.”
“Aren’t you on a diet?”
She shrugged. With her head on the table, it was a funny gesture. “Diets be damned, we graduated.”
Thackeray grinned. “Yeah. Right right. Graduated, huh,” he leaned into his chair. “Kind of great, that. I wonder if we’ll get a Contract soon.”
“Hopefully,” Maeve said. She picked her palmnode from her pocket and began scrolling through it. “I’m moving out, soon. I need to get enough money for the rents.”
“Why not just stay in the Dirah Ward?”
“Slum City?” Maeve angled her head to look up at Thackeray. She raised a delicate, groomed eyebrow. “I hope you’re joking.”
“I don’t get what’s so bad about Slum City,” a voice resonated behind the pillar. The source of the voice emerged a second later — a dreorg about the height of Thackeray’s waist. His hair was tousled, curly, and he wore the scholarly robes of an Apprentice-Librarian: embellished gold threads upon green and brown silk that cascaded down to their knees. From the way the silk reflected the light, though, it was synthetic. “I’ve been living there for the past two months. Nothing bad’s ever happened.” He smiled, and his flopping ears perked up a bit, reminiscent of a rabbit.
Maeve perked up, grinning. Thackeray chuckled. “Hey, Eyth.”
“Eyth!” she said. “Glad you could make it.”
He shrugged. “Wouldn’t miss messing up your lunch dates,” he said. He grinned through his square optics. Underneath one small arm, he carried a book that would’ve been half his weight. His tail, tipped with an orange ore, curved about, flailing and wispy like seaweed in the ocean.
He slammed the leather-bound tome on the table. He whispered a word, and he crossed his legs as he began to rise up into the air, as if riding on some invisible chair. “Congratulations, meat-heads.” Eyth smiled.
“Why, thank you Eyth,” Thackeray said. “I’ve never known you to be the congratulatory type.”
“Well becoming a Huntsman is a particularly stressing undertaking,” said Eyth. “Congratulations are in order.”
“How’s the books going?” Maeve asked.
Eyth shrugged. “All well, all good. Switched over to reading Fiction for this one.” He placed a finger on the leather bound book. “A Rhapsody of Frost and Flame,” he said. “Fascinating world-building. Great overall story. Confusing way of telling it.”
Thackeray shrugged. Maeve was a bit more interested. “Ooh, tell me more about it.”
“I can’t,” he said, shrugging. “It’s an experience. You have to experience it. The plot is hard to explain anyways, because of the multiple point-of-views.”
“Ouch, multiple perspectives?” Maeve shuddered. “Tap out.”
Eyth nodded. “Indeed. Anyway, isn’t Thackeray supposed to be getting us food by now?”
Thackeray sighed. He got up out of his seat and walked over to one of the booths that lined the walls of the cafeteria.
He walked over to one that sold grimu feathers. Crispy and delicious when eaten. He also ordered three sets of rice bowls. He paid his eagles to the otherwise nondescript vendor and turned around.
A man wearing grand, ceremonial crimson robes that cascaded onto the ground about him stood beside Maeve. He clasped his hands behind him. Maeve and Eyth both sat upright, rigid. Their eyes open, but with smiles on their face.
Thackeray furrowed his eyebrows. He brought his tray over to the table and bowed before the man. “Dean Hakumatheia,” said Thackeray. “How may we be of service?”
“Congratulations are in order for your Huntsmanship,” he said, his voice low and sonorous, like rolling thunder. “You’ve made me quite proud with your achievements, Navarre.” He pronounced it right.
“Thank you, Dean,” he said. “I am happy that you think so.”
“Same with Lady De Laqua here,” he gestured to Maeve. Maeve smiled, pressing her lips together. “You both have done marvelous jobs. And so, I repeat, congratulations.”
“Thank you, Dean,” said Maeve this time.
“Now with you two being Huntsmen, are you looking for Contracts?” He asked.
Thackeray didn’t sit down. Maeve and Eyth both looked up at him. “We are, sir, yes,” she said.
“Excellent,” he replied. “I have a Contract for you two prodigious Huntsmen. It seems that all other Huntsmen are out on their own Contracts or their Pilgrimages, and so I contact you.”
“What are the details of the contract, Dean?” Thackeray asked.
“I need you two to go into Avalon.” Eyth audibly gasped. Maeve’s eyes darted between Thackeray and the Dean. Thackeray’s eyes were fixed upon Hakumatheia. “And I need the two of you to hunt down the Warlock. Alive.”
Oberen watched Chrysanthemum stir awake. It was slow at first, with her moving about and messing the blankets, and then sudden. She sat upright, and Oberen feared she was going to jump out of the closed window.
“Where…?” She looked around. “Oh. Oberen.” She sighed.
Oberen stood. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head. “I dreamt of nothing again,” she said. “Why do I dream of nothing?”
“Well, Chrys, if you dream of nothing, then you aren’t dreaming at all.”
“Is that so?” Chrysanthemum’s eyes focused outside the window. Once again, they were full of wistfulness.
“Are you okay, Chrysanthemum?” Oberen asked, walking over to her and sitting next to her on the bed. “Have you come to terms with who you are?”
“Siddivata…” the word lingered in her lips. “What can the Siddivata do? What are the Siddivata?”
Oberen shrugged. “I don’t know much about these creatures, unfortunately,” he said. “They are powerful, mythic in their might. I only know the legends, Chrys.”
“Tell me about them.” She hugged her knees against her chest.
“I’m going to say here that they won’t help you much.”
Chrysanthemum shrugged. “I think much can be learned from myths and stories.”
Oberen couldn’t help but smile. “The Siddivata are the greatest of the Divata. They are the gods, one could say, ascendant in their power, and have the ability to forge Contracts with the Realms, which is how they get their powers. They rule Avalon — everything their is whim to their whimsy. It is said that they’ve been living during the time when the Gods were still alive.”
“Was that long ago?”
“From what various archaeological finds tell us,” Oberen replied. “Yes. Very long ago. Two million years, to be exact. But that’s only because the relics and the great treasures the Gods have left for us when they still walked our lands are incorruptible. Impervious to the effects of Entropy.”
Chrysanthemum let out a breath. “Wow.”
“But what I don’t know, even with the Legends,” says Oberen. “Is how Oberen managed to remove you — a Siddivata — from your realm, stuck you into here, and removed all your memories. You are Siddivata — a God in many senses.”
Chrysanthemum shrugged, looking out at the window. “I need to know more about the Siddivata.” She sighed. “I need to know more about myself.”
“Me too,” said Oberen.
They were quiet for some time, before Chrys pulled up the sleeve to her hoodie. “Maybe it’s these tattoos?”
Oberen glanced at them and shrugged. “I don’t know anything about ink magicks, unfortunately. Do you remember where you got them from?”
She furrowed her eyebrows. She looked down, and then, she shook her head. “I… don’t.”
Oberen’s eyebrows arched upward. He didn’t speak. The silence was deafening.
“Books!” Oberen’s sudden smile broke the silence, like a sword piercing a veil. “We can go into the Public Library. Maybe we’ll find something there.”
Chrysanthemum looked up at Oberen. “You think so?”
He nodded. “Well, hopefully. I haven’t been to the Public Library too much. The Librarium in the Collegium always had me covered.”
Chrysanthemum didn’t move from her position. “Come on,” Oberen said. “Introspection is good and all, but it won’t do you any good if that’s all you do.”
Chrysanthemum smiled. She nodded, her glowing pink hair bobbing. “Right. Let’s go.”
Chrys hopped onto her feet, lightly, like a firefly dancing. Every step she took, something tugged at her mind. Oberen walked out of the room, briefly stopping and glancing behind him.
He saw Chrysanthemum, eyebrows furrowed, looking down at the floor.
“Something wrong, Chrys?”
She turned, and walked over to the window. She opened them, looking out as the white snow fell softly. “Snow.” Her voice lingered through the white. Oberen furrowed his eyebrows.
“Snow.” She said again. Oberen closed the door and reached out for Chrys.
“Snow. Answer me.”
And the snow outside flurried toward her. White snow burst in through the window. “Don’t hurt me!” she shouted. The snow flurried into the room, like white light, but it fell about around her, as if she had a bubble.
“Snow, return.” She said again, and the snow that had fallen into the room rose, defying all known laws of physics, and flurried back outside, falling again.
Chrysanthemum yelped and shut the windows. She turned, her eyes wide, her irises iridescent.
“What was that?”
Oberen shrugged. “Hopefully, we’ll find out in the Library.”
Quinen walked, naked, through the multi-colored grass of Avalon. He winced as a gold wind buffeted him.
He called down power and Will from… somewhere. He called down the Field of Energies, and bright flame erupted about him. He willed it to disappear, and it did. He walked through the field of blue, now red, now green, now purple grass. He should hide, somewhere, he knew. Out here in the open, in Avalon, things did not bode well.
Every step he took hurt him, as every blade of grass pricked his soulfeet. The golden wind pushed him to and fro, as if angry at him.
Quinen saw a tall tree in the distance. It’s trunk and branches were seemingly made of glass, it’s leaves moving about in a radial pattern. The leaves did not bend — they were solid, and shaped like blades.
He ran towards that. Quinen didn’t know why, but he ran anyway. Pain throbbed into his feet in staccato bursts. Every step he took changed the color of the grass. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, indigo…
Then there was the sound of a loud horn. It echoed throughout the entirety of Avalon.
Fear. Absolute fear echoed through Quinen’s soul. Not chemical interactions that plagued his physical body.
True, spiritual, soulful fear flooded him. He knew what was coming.
But he knew, when he heard an arrow being released from a bow.
When the arrow crashed beside him, the soil erupting as the arrow — the size of a large spear — embedded itself into the ground. A deliberate miss.
That there was none escaping the Wyld Hunt.