Dean Hakumatheia sat, his elbows on his wooden desktop. His fingers steepled, and with him staring intently into the space between them. Then he breathed, and he pulled apart his fingers. There was a spark of Power, and Will congealed it. As he pulled his fingers apart, threads of Diwal Energy burst into existence, creating an intricate web in the space between his hands. He inhaled, and the webs of power flashed, congealed, and solidified into a glass sphere.
He breathed out. Stars rose from the corners of his eyes, like upside down tears.
Into the glass sphere, he spoke. “Shikoth-”
“Gah!” The Dean winced backwards away from the glass orb. “You scared the shit out of me, Hakky, baby! Next time, give me a heads up before you go into me, alright? Dammit, we don’t even have a safe word yet, Hakky.”
“Shut up,” the Dean said, his voice rolling thunder. “Give me a status update, you brainless husk of a bird.”
“Fuck you,” said the brainless husk of a bird. “They went into the Librarium Soph.”
“Librarium Soph?” The Dean tsked. “Dammit. Uthurja.”
“Nobody,” he said. “Keep your eyes glued on them, you hear me?”
“You got it, Hakky-baby!” And with that, the Dean clasped both ends of the glass orb, and clapped his hands, crushing the orb in his palms. He breathed out, and channeled the Astral Sea as he did, and the thing dissipated into nothingness. Reality shaped.
There was a knock on the door. He raised an eyebrow. He closed his eyes, and a mandala exploded from his brow, with a slit in the middle of the complex geometries. With another Will of Power, the slit widened and burst open, revealing something looking similar to an eye in the middle of the spinning visage of Power.
The Dean looked through, and saw, a lady belgar with dark brown, bristly fur, standing wearing a lune-iron armor, liquidly fitting to her armor. The belgar stood at seven feet, hunched over, with a large muzzle filled with teeth made to kill and tear and destroy.
The Dean opened his eyes, and the mandala disappeared. He waved his hand, and the wooden doors flew open, revealing the Knight Vigilant standing beyond his room.
“Knight Rexza!” The Dean said, smiling, but not standing up from his seat. “Come in.”
She did, closing the doors behind her. Her slit, feline eyes regarded him with caution, but… was that respect he saw? Hakumatheia watched as she walked over to the chair in front of his desk and pulled it away from the desk. Then, she set a long, cylindrical bag by the foot of the chair, and she sat. She was one of the leaner belgar it seemed, so she wasn’t too uncomfortable with the chair. “I trust your journey wasn’t too harsh?”
The Knight Rexza’s ears twitched, but otherwise she didn’t share any emotion through her face. She reminded Hakumatheia much too much of a non-urban alfr.
“We were attacked by pirates,” she said, her voice low and growling, yet somehow still monotonous.
“I’m sure you took care of it,” the Dean said, waving his hand. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his desktop. “My, you look dashing today.”
“I see.” Another twitching. The Dean figured out that the twitching wasn’t some social cue or tick — she was actively listening. “I’ve come per the request. I need details.”
“Of course,” said Hakumatheia. “As per the original request, I only want one thing done.” Hakumatheia breathed. “The annihilation of a rogue Siddivata romping through Throne.”
“I’m a Siddivata,” said Chrysanthemum, rising to her feet. The kalista glared at her, shooting her a look that told her to stay where she was. Chrysanthemum bit her lip, took a step back.
“Uthurja,” said Oberen. “She’s not hostile. I’m trying to help her.”
“Not hostile?” Uthurja shook her head. “The Siddivata are the Queens of Avalon, Oberen. Avalon! The place of fickle rules and dreams? The realm that stands nearest to Unreality?”
“I know,” Oberen said. “I know. But, she’s not like the others. She’s different.”
“How?” Uthurja turned to Chrysanthemum. The kalista’s face was haggard and drooping as she clutched the armrests of her chair.
“She…” Oberen tsked. “Okay, I don’t know the whole story, but she wants a Soul, it seems. She wants an identity. And Quinen wants to give her one. Says he found a way.”
Uthurja furrowed her eyebrows and turned to Chrysanthemum. “Siddivata are supposed to eat Souls.”
“I… don’t want to do that. I want to have a Soul of my own. I want to be Chrysanthemum.”
Uthurja frowned. “How in the hell did you end up having an identity of your own? Siddivata aren’t supposed to have identities. They’re supposed to have Narratives.”
Uthurja scowled. She turned to Oberen. “So this is Quinen’s doing, eh?” Oberen nodded. “That man’s finding out too much for his own good. How’d he get a Siddivata with him? Did he create a Sympathy with Avalon…?”
There was a silence, before Oberen answered. “I have a lingering suspicion.”
“Adon’s balls,” Uthurja sighed. “I’d rather deal with thieves than you. What’ve you come here for?”
Oberen opened his mouth to answer, but Chrysanthemum jumped at the opportunity. “We were hoping you could answer some questions for us. I would like to know about my… being.”
Uthurja narrowed her eyes at Chrysanthemum. “You don’t… You don’t remember. Of course. Dammit. What did Quinen think he was doing with this?”
“I don’t think he even knew,” Oberen replied.
“Fine,” Uthurja said, mopping her face. “The girl wants to learn about the nature of the Siddivata? I’ll give her a rundown.” The kalista gestured for Oberen and Chrysanthemum to sit. “From the beginning?”
Oberen turned to Chrysanthemum, and Chrysanthemum nodded.
Uthurja breathed. “In the realm of Fickle Fates and Resplendent Destinies, the Siddivata rule. They rule over the commoners, the Divata, and the land itself, Avalon. The Siddivata are nobles, kings, princes, queens and lords of Avalon, crafting contracts to bind the land to their will, and needing sustenance, lest they unravel into oblivion.
“This sustenance is known as Gossamer. And Gossamer can only be obtained by unraveling the fine threads of the Mundlings. By eating and consuming their Souls. This act of ritual feast does more than just sustain them — it gives them purpose, it gives them identity. They are compelled to continue their Narrative — their Narrative is what they are. You will be hard pressed to find a Siddivata who likes eating food, or a Siddivata the loves their family. Instead, you would find a Siddivata who is ‘eating their food, and in the morrow, they will ride to battle to protect the honor of their family’. The Siddivata are not people. They’re stories.”
Chrysanthemum wasn’t blinking, completely enraptured.
“They have powerful Magics that bind the land of Avalon, and to an extent, the spirits of such bindings cascade into the Mund. Contracting, they call it, whereupon they create a contract — an oath — with the Anito of something, and whatever clauses their contract holds, the Anito must abide. Of course, in return, the Anito get something in return.”
Chrysanthemum only let a gasp — faint like fairy wings — escape her breath. To her right, Oberen spoke. “Interesting. Can you give me an example?”
“Say the Siddivata Grace holds a court with the Anito of Fire. Their contract is as follows: ‘In exchange for receiving half of my Diwal Supply, Fire shall never harm me, and I shall have control over it, in Mund and Mael, for a year and a day.”
“Ah,” Oberen leaned backwards into his high-backed chair. “That’s… definitely something a Siddivata would conjure up.
“And since you’re a Siddivata,” Uthurja turned to Chrysanthemum. “You are most probably part of the clauses of your court’s Contracts. Do you have any idea of what your Courts are?”
Chrys opened her mouth, and then shook her head.
“Snow responded to her,” said Oberen.
Chrysanthemum nodded. “But only when I remembered that I was a Siddivata.”
Uthurja breathed out. “Strange. Odd. Arcane. Interesting. Did Quinen wipe her mind and find a way to turn her mortal?”
Oberen shook his head. “But he did speak of ‘a way’.”
Uthurja raised an eyebrow. “Whatever could that be?” There was a moment of silence, as everyone sat enraptured by knowledge.
“Then,” Uthurja said. “It would be in your best interests to look for the Contract. Why are you suddenly interested in learning about what you are, though?”
“Why not?” Oberen asked.
Uthurja turned to face him. “Most of us don’t question. Most of us like living with the thought that we just are.”
Chrysanthemum made a face. Pulling her eyebrows together and frowning. “I want to help Quinen,” she said. Uthurja turned to her. “I want to heal him, and I want to not be a burden to him. If I can harness my… being, I can be less of a burden.”
“Noble,” said Uthurja. “But what if the ‘way’ Quinen had talked about was indeed what he had already inflicted? Wiping of memory. If you don’t remember being a Siddivata, then you might’ve turned mortal?”
Chrysanthemum’s eyebrows arced upward, but her lips drooped sad. “Really?”
“No,” Uthurja said. “But it would’ve been a nice solution.”
There was another silence. It was quite silent in Uthurja’s little sanctum. The only sound that could be heard was from the ceiling fan.
“Well,” Oberen said, breaking the thread of silence. “Let’s find a way to look for that Contract. Or maybe, you can find out by yourself?”
“Maybe,” said Uthurja. “Contracts can usually be found in the vaults of the Court that formed them.”
“So there’s no other way than going to Avalon?” said Chrysanthemum.
“If…” Chrysanthemum bit her lip. “If I can help Quinen, I’ll do it. I have to save him.”
“Hold there,” Oberen said. “You don’t even know what’s happened to Quinen. For all we know, he could’ve been Transported into a Dissonant Realm, and we won’t be able to pull his Soul back from there.” Then Oberen furrowed his eyebrows. “Unless, of course, he was Transported to Avalon.”
Chrysanthemum watched as Oberen’s eyebrows perked up, and his ears perked up as well. “The Dean. We might get some help from him.”
Uthura scoffed. “Hakumatheia? That hack. Limits himself to one Theory.”
“That’s why he’s good at it,” Oberen said, shrugging. “Many thanks, Master Uthurja. We are in your debt.”
“There is no need,” Uthurja said, shaking her head, but not rising from her seat. “You take care now.”
“We will,” Chrysanthemum answered. The two of them walked down the stairs, with Oberen taking the lead.
“Damn this snowstorm,” said Shikoth, the brainless husk of a bird, as he perched on top of one of the Librarium’s warden gargoyles.
“I like it,” the gargoyle said, his stone face contorting into a grin. “Most days, it’s just hot Daystar. But snow is just fine.”
“It’s kinda hard to fly through a snowstorm, Gardya,” Shikoth said. “The snow and the cold wind messes with your feathers and aerodynamics.”
“You don’t have feathers.”
“Shut up,” Shikoth said. Just then, from below him, Oberen and Chrysanthemum stalked out, heading for the curb. “Ah, finally. Took them long enough.”