Thackeray and Maeve lounged about Eyth’s home, eating away at pizza slices. “It’s a good thing that pizza can still get delivered here,” said Maeve.
Thackeray shrugged. “It’s mostly because Holloway’s isn’t afraid of anything. They’re insane like that.”
“Hey,” Eyth said. “Give me another slice.” He worked with a stele in one hand, another hand with a floating rotating mandala hovering above his fingers, and with his eyes covered by a mandala of power that looked similar to a clock face.
“This is your fifth,” Maeve said as she handed him the slice. Eyth took it with his tail and took a bite.
“That’s not a complaint, is it?” He said as he rotated the wristwatch timepiece in midair.
“Not at all,” Maeve said. Thackeray looked down at the timepiece on his wrist. It ticked away, like any other timepiece.
“So,” Thackeray said. “This timepiece will only follow the Mund’s time?”
Eyth grunted. “It’s synchronized to the Timespace Field,” he said. “A few Manipulation Workings. Nothing too hard.”
“Not too hard for you,” Maeve said, grinning. She turned to Thackeray. “You think we’ve got all we need?” She asked, nodding her head at the gym bag lying on the floor beside him.
Thackeray nodded. He shoved the last bits of his slice and he zipped it open. “Medi-kits, extra foci, water, imperishable food, extra clothes, and some sleeping blankets. I think we’re good.”
“Speed is the important thing,” Maeve said. “We get in, haul the Warlock’s ass out of there, and then get out.”
Thackeray nodded. “Right. I haven’t studied Avalon much, so I don’t know what to expect.”
“It’s a place of dreams and stories,” Eyth said, blinking. His mandala dissipated into thin air, a torrent of diwal motes, as he turned around and lifted the timepiece to Maeve. He bit into the slice again with his tail. “There. Should be good now.”
Maeve nodded, walking up to him. She strapped it to her wrist and tapped on it a few times. “It’s so trivial, but important.”
Thackeray nodded. “If we want to keep track of the time, we can get out of there before we become part of their Narrative.”
“Two days.” Maeve echoed. She then sighed. She inhaled deeply, shutting her eyes, and then wrapped her hands around Eyth. “Thanks a lot, Eyth. For helping us.”
Thackeray’s eyebrows lifted when he saw Eyth turning pink. “Eheh, i-it’s nothing, really. Don’t die, now.”
“Yes,” Maeve said, standing up. She glanced at Thackeray and said. “We won’t. You too, okay?”
Eyth grinned at her direction, and then turned back to his desknode. “I’m signalling for a cab.”
“Much appreciated,” Thackeray said, rising to his feet. “We should get this over with as soon as possible.”
Maeve nodded. “Right. It’s seven ascending, right?”
“Right. The third time it would hit seven ascending, we would be goners.”
“We’ll be able to get out in time,” Maeve said, as they both walked out of the door once again. A brown box autochariot drove up to the curb. “We always do.”
They made their way up to the Dean’s room. The door opened on their own, before they even got out of the elevator, and the Dean grinned at them as they approached. When they entered his room, the doors slammed shut behind them.
“How are the preparations?”
Maeve smiled, laying a hand on her scepter on her right hip. “Well,” said Thackeray. He nodded to the gym bag he carried over his shoulder. “One day is all we need.”
“Good,” the Dean said. He nodded. “I wouldn’t want my best graduate huntsmen to be killed on the first day of their job, now would I?”
Maeve and Thackeray smiled. “Shall we?”
“We shall.” The Dean raised his hand, and snapped his fingers. Along with it, a snarling basso word, and the space in front of the window exploded into life, creating a rift within the fabric of reality, and opened a golden, shimmering, gossamer portal to Avalon. Beyond, it was amorphous, devoid of definition, only made up of incomprehensible dreams and looping narratives.
“Before you go,” the Dean said. “May I ask if that dreorg friend of yours knows about this?” He gestured with his hand — a casual gesture, that implied casual questioning. Power — undetectable — popped. Stars speckled Hakumatheia’s irises.
“Eyth?” Maeve nodded. “He does, yes. He helped us. He knows we’re going to be getting the Warlock from Avalon, and that we ourselves are heading into Avalon. I’m pretty sure he did not like the idea.”
“Right.” The Dean gave the Huntsmen a tight lipped smile. He reached into the drawer behind his desk and brought out two balls of what seemed like glowing clay, translucent like glass, with swirling Diwal power within, but rimified and frozen. “Tass,” the Dean said, giving it to both of them. “For your Magick. I’m foreseeing you might need it.”
Maeve and Thackeray took it, bowing deeply. “Thank you, Dean,” Thackeray said. Hakumatheia smiled.
“May the Vedina guide your path.”
“May power overflow,” replied Thackeray and Maeve, and they stepped through the portal.
It felt like plunging deep into the sea, and then having the sea flipped over, so that you realize that you never hit the water in the first place. That was what it felt like, going through the rift that took one to the realm of madness.
Multicolored skies, amorphous trees, and burning frosts, and black glows, and stagnant wind and flurrying stone met the Huntsmen in Avalon.
And then, with a pop of power, a burst of wind, the rift behind them shut closed.
Maeve and Thackeray nodded to each other. “Let’s get going.”
“Hello,” Hakumatheia said into a ball floating in between his hands. Through the ball, he could see both Maeve and Thackeray. “The balls are meant to be communication devices as well, so don’t try to use all the Tass up, okay?”
The Huntsmen nodded, surveying their surroundings.
“Good. I shall contact you later.” The Dean clasped his hand together, smashing the ball of power within his hands into iridescent motes, and then he picked up his palmnode.
It took a few minutes before the converse line with Rexza opened. “Dean?”
“Knight Rexza,” the Dean said. “I need you to do something for me.”
“I am scouting for the Siddivata, like you said.”
“Yes,” the Dean said. “But this is part of the contract, so that the news about the Siddivata doesn’t get out of hand. It prevents the rumors and chaos part later on.”
The Knight Rexza walked through the Dirah Ward with her armor and weapons tucked away within the protean hide of lune-iron. Not that she needed weapons — her Strife only required her fists.
She walked through the various ghettos and alleyways of the Slum City, pinpointing the location of her target. She walked through stacks of flimsy homes, without much luxury. It reminded her of the Lower Trimester Strata of Jubh-Kan, with all the dirty trash-clogged streets, orange coloring, out of place neon lighting, and constant need for crime to survive. She saw an anzu flap down and steal a zaretrych’s only food — which was a few strands of silk from the ankiadi animal. The ankiadi animal was a delicacy for the insectoid, chitinous and segmented zaretrych. The silk of the ankiadi were usually regarded as the “juices” one drinks after eating the main meal. A light desert, one could say.
It was usually eaten by coiling the strands around and around until it formed a bulbous shape, reminiscent of cotton candy. The particular zaretrych Rexza saw only had ten strands in her legs.
And the anzu took it away from her.
Rexza ignored it. She also ignored a gang of humans circling around a sole female alfr, and a dreorg plucking the keys from an old anzu woman who had stumps in her back.
She was here for one reason only. One reason only. She couldn’t meddle with those — she couldn’t. Why not? Said her consciousness.
Because it would be inefficient to her mission, said her Knight Vigilant training.
But the Knights are about protecting people.
But it’s too late to protect them now.
She arrived at the cul-de-sac where her target was. She had to get out of this slum city, fast.
The lower house was closed. No lights could be seen from outside. The house stacked above it had lights emanating from what seemed like a desknode screen.
Rexza walked up the flimsy, and small, staircase hastily bolted on to the side of the stacked houses. She knocked once, and then opened the door by destroying the knob. It gave way easily.
Eyth bounced up on his prehensile tail and turned around. His eyes wide, his optics drooping off of his small nose, his tufted ears pressed against his cheeks?
Rexza closed her eyes, and she stepped forward. Through the door frame, into the much too small room.
“Who are you? What? What’s happening?” He sniffed. “I…?”
“I am a Knight Vigilant.” Rexza said.
“Knight Vigilant?” Rexza could see the confusion in his face start to falter, as he began to comprehend. “Oh, you… you need my help? The Knights Vigilant are supposed to be these protectors of good, right?” There was a grin on his face. “I’ve always thought that you guys were disbanded, but it’s good to see you’re still alive and kicking.”
Rexza nodded. “Yes. The Knights Vigilant are the protectors of good.”
But she was just doing what the Knight’s code said. “Follow the demands of the needy.”
Was the Dean needy? It was meant to interpreted as “help those who need your help.” The Dean asked for my help, so I have to follow his demands.
Rexza shook her head.
None of it mattered. She’d be failure either way. “I am a Knight Vigilant.” She said, as she reached out and tore the dreorg’s head from his body.
The glowing orange light at the tip of Eyth’s tail petered out, and the ore fell out, as if it had been set free.