came the incomprehensible babbling of the Wyld Hunt. Quinen sprinted, huffing, balling his hands into fists. His footsteps thumped against the grass — red, blue, green, yellow, indigo, orange.
He reached the tree. Up close, Quinen could see that the leaves hung low from their branches, as long as his arms. They glinted viridian and silver. Quinen wove through the low-hanging leafblades, wincing as the blades lacerated his being. His soul screamed in pain.
Quinen turned around to face the Wyld Hunt. From behind the curtain of leafblades, he could see the army of shadow figures atop a host of beasts. Each one was different — one scampered on five feet. Instead of paws or hooves it stood on blades. The beast didn’t have a head. Another steed resembled a hunched over man, carrying a bulbous Wyld Huntsman on his back. His white beard fell to the floor and trailed after him like a river of silver. Antlers sprouted from where his arms should be, and that was where the large obese fey riding atop him held him and steered him.
Quinen winced. He called deep into his Soul, Willing Power to come to him. Do not doubt, he thought. Do not fear. Fear is the opposite of power. Will Reality.
He willed Power from the Field of Energies to come down and answer him, forming it into a gigantic gust of tempestuous flurry that would knock the blades off of the glass branches and straight into the Wyld Hunt. He screamed as he used up the last of his Soul.
Quinen’s Soul exploded with radiant light as the Field of Energies flurried into the Realm of Avalon. He grimaced as pain lanced through his Soul, but he felt the building storm. He felt it bubbling beneath the surface of his power. All that was needed left was to direct it.
Quinen flung his arms forward, and shouted defiantly. The Wyld Hunt stopped in their tracks, looking at him with eyeless, featureless faces. Thunder rolled from his soul. A powerful wind blasted from behind him, his Soul flickering from the force. The blades flailed wildly on their hinges, before they burst from their branches, hurtling straight for the Hunt.
Some of the blades struck true, stabbing a round, obese gut. That Huntsman looked down, featureless face and body made of unilluminable darkness bleeding out some sort of iridescent smoke. It looked up at Quinen, and then fell. Slumped to the floor, it exploded into a mist of incandescent, showering colors.
Quinen paused, grinned. Even that faltered away when a Huntsman in an armor that seemed to have the entire night sky within its alloy stepped off from its steed: a lion-headed, eleven footed dragon. It moved with a certain grace — something akin to a shadow slinking across a wall. It stopped, halfway between the tree and from its host, and it raised its hands.
The blades that circled about their branches and the wind that still blew from behind Quinen, stopped. Everything snapped stagnant, as if its word had paused their dance. It lowered its hands, and the wind died. The swords fell to the ground, blades first, so that they struck the multi-colored grass, steel spires jutting out of the earth.
The Huntsman turned to Quinen. It stepped forward, and then another, and then it was in front of the Warlock.
Quinen flinched back. His flaring Soul died down back into a low glow.
The Huntsman raised a hand.
The Huntsman’s hand flurried toward Quinen. All became black.
Captain Urie and the anzu Gharth took the electric lift. It zoomed down to the underground parking lot of the Spire they were in. “It seems that the Dean needs a proper, personal visit before he gets off his ass to do anything.”
Gharth didn’t reply, air circulating through his hollow bones. Urie grunted as the doors opened and stepped forth. “Have you got your sword ready, Gharth?”
The anzu nodded, keeping his wings folded close to him, folded about him like a cloak. He was just as tall as Captain Urie, which was saying something. Urie stood at six-five.
Urie walked up to the autochariot. Its wheels made of rubber, its sleek rectangular body colored the blackest of blacks. The Transmogrifier engine was tucked underneath the autochariot, and it was shaped similarly to chariots in the older ages — a driver’s chamber in front, and a box carriage that contained the passengers behind it.
Urie brought up his palmnode and tapped the side of the driver’s carriage with it. It lit up, the Transmogrifier engine underneath it working its magick. It glowed a bright blue as the Transmogrifier burned the residual Tass within. The front driver’s chamber swung open, revealing a steering wheel and other such controls. Urie jumped into it, placing his node onto the navigator’s depression beside the steering wheel. It glowed brightly as Gharth opened the door to the passenger box and sat within.
“Collegium of Throne,” said Urie, and the autochariot sped off, turning sharply, and then moving at forty miles per hour, it went into the road. It drove without being steered.
There was fortunately no traffic on the way to the Collegium. Urie switched to manual as he parked the car in the lot underneath the floating buildings of the Collegium. They got out, walked up to the Celestial Lions that blocked the swirling star portal, and Urie frowned. His gruff, bearded face looked rather tired when he spoke to the heavenly guardians. “Captain Urie of the Naphli. We’re here to speak with the Dean. Hakumatheia.”
The Celestial Lion looked down at him, flowing star mane and intense starfire eyes burning into Urie’s soul. The captain stood defiant, raising an eyebrow. The Celestial Lion then opened its mouth, and it rang hollowly — as if somebody within.
“OBSERVE THE RULES OF THE COLLEGIUM,” it said. And then, it returned to its upright sitting position. Gharth had been looking at the other Celestial Lion on the other side of the portal all this time — it didn’t move, although its starfire eyes seemed to gaze into Gharth.
“Let’s go,” said Urie. Gharth turned and followed the Captain into the portal.
The portal vomited the Naphli out into the Dean’s room. Urie and Gharth stumbled into the carpeted floor. Gharth was able to regain his balance much quicker than the bulky, lumberous brick of a man that was Urie.
Hakumatheia sat behind his wooden desk, writing. When the two Naphli stumbled in, he raised an eyebrow, released the pen he had used to write, and it floated off to join its orbiting brothers above the inkwell.
“And what brings you here, dear Naphli?”
Urie retched, but nothing came out. He shook his head. “Damned portals,” he said. He blinked a bit, and then walked up to the chair. The Naphli captain sat.
“Yes, you may,” said the Dean, bemused.
“Let’s cut the pretexts shall we?” Urie said, sitting upright now. He shook his head again. Gharth walked over beside Urie, keeping his talons on the starsteel sword slung across his hip. His wing-cloak covered his tic. “A ‘Warlock’ has been detected. Some sort of Magickal Incursion. Incursions don’t happen much, Dean Hakumatheia.”
The Dean looked down on his wooden desk. He spoke without moving, “Yes. I would know.”
“Unless one of your students has racked up enough Dissonance to burst themselves into a Dissonant Realm.”
The Dean nodded this time, silent.
“And it comes to my attention that a student only registered as a ‘Warlock’ has been the center of such a Magickal Incursion,” said Urie. He turned to the anzu next to him. “Isn’t that right, Gharth?”
Before Gharth could reply, the Dean spoke. “The Warlock: Quinen Argist has been the victim of a terrible Rupturing. Transportation.”
“Ah,” Urie said, nodding. “Well that confirms my suspicions. That would be all. I’ve only come because you wouldn’t answer my bloody call.”
“My palmnode broke, Captain,” said the Dean, smiling now.
“Better get it fixed then. Being one of the most powerful Magickers in Throne is bound to get you a lot of contacts, so best not to keep them waiting.” There was an edge to the Captain’s answer.
“But there is one slight problem,” the Dean spoke. “This Transportation was an unusual one.”
The Captain sighed. “I’m no fucking Magicker, Hakumatheia. How would I know if it were unusual or not?”
“Well,” the Dean breathed through his nose. His beard flared. “When one is the subject of a Transportation Rupture, then you would be sent to a Traverse that seemed connected somewhat to whatever spell you’ve been doing. As if Reality itself was telling you that all the Magick you’ve been doing is too much an affront to it.”
“Our Warlock…” the Dean pressed his lips together. “Seems to have gotten himself Transported not to a Traverse, but to a different Stratum of Reality entirely.”
Urie raised an eyebrow. “Get on with it.”
“Quinen Argist has been transported to Avalon.”
Urie looked at the Dean, knitting his eyebrows together. “Are you fuckin’ serious? That’s not safe! Avalon might wage war or… or worse!”
“Calm yourself, Captain,” the Dean said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve already sent two of my best Huntsmen to retrieve the Warlock from the Stratum.”
“And? What good is that going to do? Avalon, by God. We need to contact the Vigilant.”
“No need,” the Dean waved his hand. There was a slight flicker of power in the Dean’s eyes. “My Huntsmen are the best in their line of work. Tracking the Warlock down and getting him is going to be as easy as picking an egg from an avine’s nest.”
Urie breathed. Gharth looked to Urie, and then to the Dean, nodding. “Okay,” said Urie. “Hrm. Alright. Get your damn node fixed, okay?” He jabbed a finger to Hakumatheia. “Out.”
The Naphli Captain stood from his seat and walked back through the portal in which he came from. The anzu followed suit, pausing once to look at the Dean, who smiled at Gharth.
A beat passed. Wind blew in from outside — a cold snowy draft. The Dean closed his eyes, and the windows closed shut.
Then a laugh pierced the silence. “Hooey boy, boss!”
The Dean frowned. “Who let you out of your cage?”
“It’s my free day today, you forget?” An impish creature hopped up to the desk. It was… well it was a skull. An extremely designed and painted on skull, covered in runes and sigils carved into the yellow bone, yet it was an otherwise ordinary anzu skull. Except for the wings on the sides, of course, but that was another matter.
The bony wings fluttered, and it somehow got the skull off of the desk and up into the air. “Oh man. I heard everything you said to that Naph and to my livin’ brotha’. Lyin’ so openly to them.”
The Dean shook his head. “The Siddivata must be hunted down.” Hakumatheia leaned back into his chair. There was an edge of exasperation to his tone. “Else she will awaken to her true power, and ravage Throne City.”
“And the Warlock, hm?”
“A wild card,” said the Dean. “That’s been taken care of. Navarre Thackeray and De Laqua Maeve, though both exemplary, will not make it out alive from Avalon. They will fail, as intended. I’ve already sent word to one of the Knights Vigilant that there is a Siddivata loose in Throne City. They should come back in a few days.”
“God’s fiery spit, you are cruel, Hakky!”
The Dean groaned. “Better make yourself useful, Shikoth. Spy on the whereabouts of the Siddivata. Make sure she isn’t doing anything that would get her more power. Or worse – remember who she is.”
The anzu skull, long beaked, and with wide eyeholes, twirled around in glee. “Will do, Hakky-baby!” Shikoth paused. “Er, what if she is up to no good?”
“Report back to me,” said the Dean. “And I’ll make sure that Vigilant gets here faster.”
“Gotchu, gotcha!” Shikoth twirled around again. “Open the window and let me free!”
“Do you want your whole body?”
Shikoth turned to the Dean, mouth agape in awe. “Can I…” ephemera resembling tears welled up from his eyes. “Can I really?”
“Yes yes,” the Dean waved. As he did, Power flickered, and from somewhere within the infinite spaces and vectors of his room, a completed skeleton of an anzu popped out. Roughly six feet tall, with six limbs — two of which were large wings. Its bones were light as feathers, but within the bones glowed something orange, as if a fire had been ignited within.
Shikoth did another somersault in the air, and it landed on the head of the skeleton. The skeleton danced jauntily after a few moments of complete stillness. “I feel alive again!”
Another wave of a hand, and a black cloak flew out from within the confines Hakumatheia’s room and draped itself over the skeletal anzu. “Don’t get caught.”
“Will do!” said Shikoth. It walked over to the window and blasted it open. It folded its skeletal wings within its shadowy cloak, concealing its entire body. It then stepped off of the window and into the Nymph night. Snow flurried Shikoth’s cloak, and when it spread its wings, the cloak billowed free.
And, against all known laws of physics, the skeletal anzu flew through the snow.
Upon a brass ship shaped like a triangle rode one of the Knights Vigilant. She sat with her back hunched over. Her body covered in sleek brown-red fur. Her hand-claws and feet-claws polished to a point, which she promptly retracted when she saw a scared human boy point at it.
She shook her head, her muzzle clean and groomed. Her large, pink nostrils flared. She blinked, and her feline eyes pierced through the darkness of the lounge, only illuminated by the faint glow-lights that lined the walls. She rode upon an economic transport ship, so she had to ride with other people, which she didn’t prefer.
She stood from her seat, walking over to a door that slid open. Outside was the cloudy gray of the sky beginning to open up floodgates of Nymph-snow. She walked out onto the balcony that overlooked the sky itself. The air was chilly, but she’d lived near Yxis before. Her fur could withstand all kinds of cold.
She turned and walked up the side of the balcony, her amorphous lune-iron armor adapting to her shape so that she moved unimpeded. Over the silvery armor she wore an asymmetrical mantle that covered her right shoulder more than the left, with a brooch that clasped the two parts of the mantle together. The brooch glowed with a self created blue light. The light glowed through a symbol of three swords crossed, pointing upward and wrapped around by a steel laurel.
The symbol of the Knights Vigilant.
She inhaled. Cold air filled her lungs. “Do what others cannot, what others will not, what others must not.” She muttered the mantra of the Vigilant. Her voice was low and guttural, yet otherwise had a feminine tone to it, light and melodic.
When she opened her eyes, there was a short man in front of her, smiling up at her. No, he wasn’t short. She was just tall. She stood around seven-five, the man was probably six feet in height.
“We are to land soon. Please stay seated inside the ship. Thank you.”
Vigilant Rexza nodded, turned, and walked into the ship, sparing one last glance at the clouds, which looked like the calm before the storm.