Maeve and Thackeray both decided to ask for more details regarding the mission. They went across the Diwapaths — saying hi to Eyth as they passed the Library — and arrived at the Dean’s office. They knocked, first.
The door opened without anybody opening them. Thackeray and Maeve waited for the beckoning of the Dean. “Hm? Ah yes, I thought you might come. Come in.”
Thackeray nodded, and he walked first, followed by Maeve closely behind him. The doors closed shut as they walked in. “The Warlock has been taken by Avalon through unknown means, although presumably it was because of Transportation Dissonance.”
Thackeray furrowed his eyebrows together, and raised his hand.
“Sorry, Dean, please hold on a minute,” he said. “I still haven’t quite grasped the depth of what you’re asking us.”
“Right,” Maeve nodded beside him. “Do you not think that it’s a bit too dangerous to send us, newly graduated Huntsmen, to go off on such a high-level hunt in an extremely dangerous place?”
“It is,” the Dean said. He leaned back, smoothing his graying beard and hair. “That’s why I’ve assigned the both of you. You two are the best in your class, yes? No other person is more qualified than the two of you.” The Dean waved his hand, and the faintest spark of power crackled.
“Besides, all the other Huntsmen I can call upon are out on their own Hunting Quests in various parts of Oeuvre.”
Maeve bit her lip and looked down. She stepped back. Thackeray raised his hands in a questioning gesture. “How much are we to be paid? What are the rewards?”
“Lots of eagles,” the Dean said. “And perhaps we can arrange something else? Tell me,” another hand wave, and another crackle of power. Faint, undetectable. “What do you want the most in life?”
“Well,” Thackeray sighed. “I’d like to live with Maeve peacefully, somewhere in the Western cities. The more rural areas.”
Maeve turned to Thackeray, her eyes soft. The Dean nodded and turned to Maeve. “And you, Huntswoman?”
“Mine is simple,” Maeve shrugged. “I want to live fighting to protect others. It’s one of the main reasons why I purposed to become a Huntswoman in the first place.”
The Dean nodded. “Yes, yes. Two very noble and personal desires. I shall grant them both easily, as long as you return the Warlock to me alive. Do you think you can do that, for me?”
Thackeray knit his eyebrows together once again, questioning, wondering. Wondering about what? He shook his head. Wait a minute–
“Will we get provisions for the journey?” said Maeve. “Preferably weapons?”
“You will get access to the Collegium’s armory,” said the Dean. “But I suspect that you won’t need much weapons.”
“A sword or two should work,” Maeve said.
“No,” Thackeray pitched in. “If what I read from those old Avalon Tomes were to be believed, then normal weapons won’t really do much in Avalon. We’re in their reality. Their domain.”
The Dean smirked. “Very smart and learned of you, Thackeray. Indeed, your only means of defense will be Magick, as your Magick will be something that they cannot control in their domain.”
“They…?” Maeve raised an eyebrow.
“The Siddivata,” explained the Dean. “Also, avoid the Wyld Hunt, and try not to anger too many Fiagai. They work on a sort of feudal system. Don’t just go around destroying everything in a massacring rampage to find the Warlock.”
“We’re not stupid,” said Thackeray, rolling his eyes. Maeve shot the Huntsman a nervous look. The Dean smirked.
“Then all the more better,” the Dean said. “The only preparations you really do need is your Will. Lose it, and you lose your soul forever. Also, do not stay in Avalon for too long. Two days is the breaking point. Past that… well, you will forever be part of their narrative.”
Maeve winced. “Dangerous.” She breathed. “While I find it flattering that you consider us good enough for the mission, I still do not think it is a very safe mission.”
“If you would like,” said Thackeray. “You may call upon the help of more of your friends, but their lives are in your hands, not mine.”
Thackeray looked down onto the ground. Maeve turned to look at him.
“Alright,” Thackeray said, shrugging. “How do we get to Avalon?”
“That’ll be easy,” the Dean said standing up. He lifted his hand and pointed at the window. “I can open up a portal for you. Whenever you’re ready.”
“We’ll need some sort of timepiece that won’t be affected by the different reality of Avalon,” Maeve said, turning to Thackeray.
“Right, and food, maybe some medical kits for when we get injured.”
“If,” said Maeve, raising a finger and smiling smugly.
“Right,” said Thackeray. “If.”
“We head to Eyth, then?”
“He can help us, most probably.” The two Huntsmen said goodbye to the Dean, and the Dean sat back on his seat.
“You could just ask from the Repository, you know?” The Dean muttered to himself as he closed the door.
“What do you need an Unalterable Timepiece and Magickal Remedies for?” Maeve raised her eyebrow.
“Right,” Eyth said, shaking his head. “Well, my shift’s about to end. I’ll whip something up for you back in the house.”
They waited for a few moments. It wasn’t long before Eyth bounded out of the back of the Library, and the three of them walked out one of the portal chambers. They had recalibrated the portals to transport them to the parking spaces.
They walked across the large, rectangular piece of land, paved with bitumen. Eyth clambered onto the driver’s pit in front of the two-seater carriage in the back. He turned it on, and the autochariot hummed with a low sound. Soon enough, they zoomed out of the parking lot and hit the Outer Interward Highway. The black box autochariot of Eyth cruised down the wide roads alongside larger, rectangle autochariots — those built with larger carriages to haul larger and more numerous cargo than just passengers. There were also longchariots, which allowed for a crowd to fit within, serving as an alternative to commute in between Wards as well as a means to get to the place outside of Wards.
Soon, they changed lanes and entered into a spiralling road that led to the Dirah Ward.
It was called Slum City for a reason.
Imagine the Corners, but much larger. So large, in fact, that it was an entire city.
Makeshift “apartments” filled the areas in between the large roads. The daystar was setting, so the orange glow only added to the grimy aesthetic of the Dirah Ward. The apartments were actually square houses stacked atop each other, with walls made of hammered together galvanized steel plates, flimsy and brittle. Those that lived in the bottom lived the most comfortable lives, the others that lived higher up — up to thirty storeys high — had the short end of the stick. To get down from their abode, they would have to learn how to climb down acrobatically, be an anzu with wings, or install some sort of lift mechanism.
Thackeray watched as a saurian humanoid, standing at seven feet tall, with a tail permanently cut so that it didn’t destroy anything when he turned around, gripped such a lift and pulled it off of its wirings. There was a shouting from a top — an old woman. The saurian humanoid, a lakerto, paid no mind to the shouting woman. He lumbered away, and not a lot bothered to fight him to get it back.
Thackeray watched the half-closed eyes of the passerbys, of those that lived in this ward. There was a spark of fear, but otherwise, they viewed the lakerto thief as an everyday occurance. Once he turned a corner, disappearing into an alleyway in between two stacks, they went back to their daily lives.
Kids — both human and non-human — ran across the street, so bored that they played with the cars. The anzu found this game the easiest, as they could just leap into the air acrobatically, or take to the skies with their wings. Maeve winced as she saw a brown cab slam into a human kid. A belgar boy screamed in fury and ran after the driver. The driver opened the car and brought out a slugslinger, aimed it at the kid.
Maeve looked away.
Eyth turned and drove the small box autochariot into a small space that conveniently was big enough for him. They drove into a narrow road flanked with two absurdly wide and large stackhouses with a concrete bridge to connect them together, providing an arch overhead. Eyth parked the car at the end of a circular curb — a cul-de-sac — and he got out. Thackeray and Maeve followed suit.
“Mornin’ Lady Yalla,” Eyth saluted a hunched over anzu. She smiled up at Eyth, and then to Thackeray and Maeve.
“Welcome, young ones,” she said. “Hope you like your stay. I’ve done so much to keep it safe.”
Thackeray smiled. Maeve smiled as well, but that faltered when she saw the two stumps on her back.
“Her…” Thackeray gripped Maeve’s arm, and they followed Eyth up a set of stairs tacked onto the side of a wall. On the top of the stairs was a door, which Eyth unlocked with a key he produced out of thin air with a flick of his hand.
He opened the door and gestured for Maeve and Thackeray to walk in. “Timespace Workings,” he said, grinning. “They’re convenient.”
Thackeray walked in, admiring the… “view”. It was a small place, only one room. A video set on the far side — small, with a nodal antenna still connected to it. There was a mattress on the floor, and then a wooden table on the far side with a surprisingly modern desknode set up. A rectangular box, seemingly made of some sort of blue gray glass, sat beside a holographic screen and a script input device.
“How does that work anyway?” Maeve asked as they walked in. Eyth locked the door behind her.
“It’s a Timespace Manipulation Working,” Eyth said. “You make it so that every time you perform the hand gestures, it apports the keys into the drawer over there,” he said, pointing at the drawer below the desknode setup.
Thackeray walked over to it, raising an eyebrow, and opened it. Sure enough, the brass key was there.
“More experienced Magickers can Create a pocket dimension where they can put it, but I can’t really do that yet.”
“We didn’t study Timespace,” Thackeray said, closing the desk and turning to Eyth. “So that’s some interesting stuff. Might have to pick it up later on as a Graduate Class.”
Eyth nodded. “Anyway. You needed a Timepiece and a some remedial stuff?”
The Huntsmen nodded, not really sitting down or anything, since there was nothing to sit down on. Eyth gestured to the floor, and then grimaced sheepishly. “Sorry for the small place. It’s good enough for me, but that’s because I’m a dreorg.”
“It’s fine,” Thackeray said. “What surprises me is how you manage to sleep here all the time. Why not stay in the dorms like the rest of the students?”
Eyth shook his head. He didn’t answer any further. The dreorg walked up to his desknode set and began tapping sigils and navigating the Datascape.
There was a moment of silence. The occasional beeping sound and the occasional pop of air.
Then, “Okay,” Eyth said. He leaned back at the two Huntsmen, who still haven’t sat down. “I’ve made requests to the Repository to grant you a bunch of combat medicine. As for the Unalterable Timepieces… get me a couple of Timepieces and I can manipulate the Timespace within them to stay constant and tethered to the time here on Mund. I… It will take me a day or so, though.”
“It’s fine.” Thackeray smiled. “Thanks, Eyth. You’ve been a great help.”
“No worries. Go and not die.”
“Careful out there in Slum City. You want me to call for a Brown Cab?”
Maeve nodded. Eyth turned around to his desknode and typed more scripts.
They headed out then when their Cab arrived. Maeve followed Thackeray, but her eyebrows were furrowed and she pressed her lips together.
“Let’s get some food. Preferably imperishables. Maeve…?” He turned around as they stepped to the ground floor. Miss Malla was inside her home again.
Maeve looked up at Thackeray. “It’s weird.”
“What is?” Thackeray balled his hands into fists.
“Why didn’t we just ask for the remedies from the Repository?”
There was a blank moment of silence, before Maeve started giggling. Thackeray laughed along with her. “What kind of Huntsmen are we?” Maeve asked.
Thackeray shrugged. “Ones good enough to go into a top-dangerous Realm, apparently.” And with that, they entered the brown cab.
In the darkness of unconsciousness, Quinen awoke to memory.
Infinite Sights looked down at him as he taught. Within those rooms that had rows of semicircular long tables that rose up as it got farther from the teacher, he’d listened as intently as he could, despite the throbbing pain on his chest which he had gotten when he tried summoning a Jack Frost spirit without proper training. Every move he made jerked at his heart, as the frosts threatened to take hold of the seat of his soul once again.
“I’m sure you’ve learned your lesson by now,” Professor Sights had said. His teimach was a dull gray, his face blank and nondescript. His hair fell down to the small of his back. His teimach resembled that of watercolor paintings, brush strokes scrawling down his arms and legs and back. “And I’m also sure that you’ve learned the Fundaments of the Perfected Collegiate Theory. You should, if you want to graduate this semester.”
Quinen shivered in response.
“Don’t let the power get in your head, Quinen. That’s what separates man from god — hubris.
Quinen managed a grin, and then winced. “Who’s the hubristic one?”
Sights turned to him, blinked. His teimach was a perfect serene blue. “Why, man of course.”
Quinen shivered again. Infinite Sights sighed, and then clapped his hands together. “Since you missed the test last Eroding,” Sights began. He brought out a notebook and said, “What is the Great Mandala of Reality?”
Quinen opened his mouth, but his teeth chattered too hard. With an effort of will, he forced his teeth stop chattering by raising his body temperature a bit, reflexively calling upon the Field of Energy with a complicated finger gesture sequence he performed underneath the table. “The Mandala is the foundation of Magick. All of Reality is composed of the eight fundamental fields, which are malleable through the Techniques. The Techniques can be invoked with the Forms.”
“What are the Eight Fundamental Fields of Reality?”
“The Corporeal Fields govern the Physical World of Mund. These are Timespace, Life, Forces, and Element.
“The Ethereal Fields govern the Gossamer World of Mael. These are Destiny, Death, Mind, and Spirits.”
“The Five Techniques,” said Infinite Sights, with a monotone voice.
“Perception, Transmutation, Manipulation, Destruction, Creation, in order of difficulty and succession.”
“The Four Forms?”
“Mantra is the verbal form, incantations to channel Magick. Mudra is the gestural form, hand gestures and katas to perform Magick. Runir is written form, scripts and runes to call down Power. Yantra is the tool form, usage of tools and instruments to call upon Magick.”
“And all of this together makes…?”
“The Great Mandala.” The cold crept up to Quinen’s chest. Another Mudra to keep the heat up.
“What is this Theory of Magick called?”
“The Perfected Collegiate Theory.”
Infinite Sights never looked up from his notebook. “And is this the only true Theory of Magick.”
“What is one of the reasons why?”
“Because this Theory cannot account for Power being drawn from other places.”
“Such as?” Now Sights tore his eyes away from the notebook’s pages and looked down his optics, at Quinen.
Quinen breathed. Another Mudra. The cold was getting stronger. He needed to rest. “Such as Avalon.”
Quinen ripped himself out of his memories as he was awakened. The world was black, blurry for a few minutes, before a cascade of light and fire and earth and wind and sounds and objects overloaded his senses. So much that he found his mind blank for a few moments.
When he came to, he blinked his eyes rapidly. He peered through the veil of lights and sounds. He found himself kneeling down, his hands and feet completely gone. He found that he was looking down upon a carpet that burned with a frozen fire. He followed the length of the carpet until his eyes set upon a throne made of inert wood, of growing steel.
And sitting atop it, was Zinnia, her emerald eyes glinting, her true form menacing. A moving, voluptuous tree with hair made of liquid snakes, with bark moving ever so superfluously, made of zephyr winds. She wore a gown made of dancing flames, shining darkness.