Quinen looked about him, at the ten fiagai — five on each side of Zinnia — that watched him from within armors of twining steel and glinting sap. Wielding bows of destiny and shooting arrows of sadness, brandishing spears of wrath.
The Warlock coughed out a laugh.
He laughed a wheezing laugh as he watched the chamber he was in pulse like a heartbeat. He watched as the walls writhed with symphonies, and danced with pigments. As the walls sang with spices.
“Seems like I’m back, huh.”
Thackeray and Maeve wove through multicolored grass and shrubs with leaves of wicked sharp daggers. They kept their wits about them, their combat Yantras kept close. Maeve gripped her scepter and Thackeray clenched his fists, his fingers suffocating his gold brass knuckles. The Huntsmen stalked the unfamiliar forestry. All round them, roots double their size and trunks thinner than their fingers surrounded them. The leaves burned with ice, sang with silence, rustled in stagnant air, made of chlorophyll knives and steel leaves. A wind passed by them, and they could see the particles of the wind, ever-shifting in color, always changing, never the same.
Maeve stopped and doubled over, retching. Thackeray leapt to her and held her shoulders. She felt horrible, but nothing would come out of her mouth. “You alright?”
Maeve nodded, waving dismissively at Thackeray. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
Thackeray nodded as Maeve moved on forward, scepter held up. The scepter was made of gnarled wood, with branches spreading out like fingers at the end of the shaft and wrapping around the crystal on the head of the staff, glowing a bright blue. A mist of frost swirled about it, leaving trails of little frost as the coldness froze the air. Thackeray followed after Maeve, cautious steps. “Hey,” Maeve said. Her voice echoed, and then suddenly became muted, as the fickle winds amplified her voice and then muted it. “Help me up and over this branch.”
Thackeray nodded, and walked up to her, interlocking his fingers to give her a boost. She stepped on it, and Thackeray threw her up. She clambered over the branch, turned around, knelt and stretched out her hand. “Come on.”
Thackeray nodded. He readied to spring up into a large jump to reach for Maeve’s hand, when there was a sudden, amplified noise that resembled gurgling behind her. She gasped as something pulled her out of his sight. “Maeve!”
Thackeray cursed. He looked about him, but found nothing to use leverage. He grit his teeth, repeating to himself to think, think.
He wondered if Magick would work.
He shook his head. He could only Percieve and Transmute Force. And with the fickle physics of Avalon, he wasn’t quite sure if there were any forces in here in the first place. He’d have to create some Force first, and he hasn’t studied to that level. He switched over to a Minor Theory for his Martial Thaumaturgy, after all.
He had to get creative. He bent down and began Channeling Magick, calling down power from the Divine Realms.
Maeve turned around and pushed away whatever had pulled at her in the first place.
The weird, wet hand that clamped around her ankle let its grip loose fairly easily, and she scrambled to her feet. With a flick of her hair, she looked up, and saw a — no, three! Three black, hunched things with teeth the size of long knives and with eyes shining like candleflames. Their thick, black desiccated hide had a strange texture about them. Everytime they moved, the pattern upon the hide didn’t move, as if they were just empty video screens that showed an unmoving back screen.
Globules of spit dribbled down their huge underbite. Their eyes looked at her rapaciously. None of them had weapons, save for the claws the size of longswords on each hand. They looked like they shouldn’t be able to life them, but they did so anyway.
The black creatures screeched and they all launched themselves at her, swiping at her with their wickedly sharp claws. Maeve bit her lip and tried to dodge the attacks by charging head first into the fray and jumping over them, creating a minor wall of ice underneath her feet.
She vaulted over four gripping talons that belonged to two of the creatures, but the last one lashed out longer, and managed to scratch her combat armor. She hadn’t worn too much — certainly not enough to hamper her mobility. The white long coat that shimmered with magickal power was magickally-enhanced by Eyth himself, who managed to get ahold of a few artificers.
The long claws bit into her, but didn’t tear through her white, frostic long coat. She landed on the other side, relatively unscathed.
As she soared through the air and landed, she Channeled her Magick. Calling upon the Heart of Niveus, coagulating his Animistic force into her own Magick, snow and frost and rime swirled about her, billowing through her long coat and sending her brown hair flailing wildly in the wintry wind.
“Niveus!” She turned and flung out her scepter. Knives of frost, like hornets of ice, solidified in the misty air that had appeared about her, imposing order upon the fickle Avalon. A myriad of ice arrows flung themselves toward the closest creature.
The ice fragments hit home, crashing onto the creature’s tough hide. The ice punctured its strange textury hide and stuck there, like darts on wood. The force of the projectiles was enough to send the creature flying back. The two other black creatures crept up, smiling their wicked slasher grins, and jumped at her.
“Shit,” she said, and prayed fervently for Thackeray to get there. As the creatures jumped at her, she twirled backward, bringing her scepter with her, sweeping it in a wide arc. A trail of rime mist followed the scepter, which then froze into a wall that jutted out from the ground. The creatures studded against the winter wall.
“Six Sacred Sacraments!” Thackeray bellowed, and four extra arms made of pure divine energy exploded from his back, glowing golden and white gossamer, radiating a light that fought back the fickle chaos of Avalon.
Thackeray grunted as he jumped up, and using his six limbs, dug onto the side of the root, and clambered up to the top in mere seconds. He saw a black-hide creature writhing on the ground, with ice spikes jutting out of his chest, and Thackeray smashed it with a golden arm. It paused, and then exploded in a cloud of fine gossamer silk, which eventually dissipated.
“Maeve!” he shouted. Three more of those black hide creatures came crawling out of the huge crevices in the bark of the humungous trees that were no less thinner than their finger, as if they moved through space itself.
Thee three new of these black hide creatures, with their wicked grins and sword claws, fell down in a sickening thud, and then picked themselves off the floor, prying their faces as if they’d been glued to the floor.
Thackeray cursed. He moved forward, grabbed two of the creatures that had thudded against the ice wall with two his gold arms, and proceeded to punch each of them in the gut with the other two of his golden arms.
The force of the punch sent them flying back, to the wall of ice, which shattered. Behind it, Maeve was already preparing another Working.
The other three creatures all pounced on him. He cursed, turning, and used his six arms to get out of the way, flipping backwards on golden arms. Divinity coursed through him, sending strands of gold as Avalon contended with another realm.
As he barreled backwards, sword-claws dug into his jacket-armor, and the strands of divinity were joined with strands of cloth that had been cut from his jacket. He cursed as he hit the ground, wincing.
The one creature that managed to hit him pounced upon him once again, and Thackeray used his Sacrament arms to launch him upwards, and the sword blades hit nothing but the wood of the branch, which seemed to be as hard as clay.
Maeve raised her scepter up high. “Niveus, hear me! I channel the breath of your soul, fuse with my Magick and send them to the rivers of pain! Breath!” She swung her scepter forward, and a huge gust of misty wind billowed in a cone in front of her, completely enveloping the five creatures in front of them.
When the mist cleared, the black creatures had turned into sculptures of ice, with frosty flowers decorating each display as chaos melded with order.
Maeve sighed, and sank to her knees. Thackeray fell to the top of the root with a light thud, and dismissed his four extra arms with a wave from both his arms. They dissipated into glows.
“Come on,” Thackeray said, walking up to Maeve. “We should keep going.”
She nodded. “Let’s try to avoid fighting first.” She wheezed. Thackeray offered to carry her. Maeve smiled. “That’d be nice.”
He picked Maeve up, and made his way down the other side of the root. He managed to find a loose vine that fell halfway to the ground. He clambered down, and then dropped the rest of the way. Wincing, he picked himself off the ground, and managed to walk forward. “Do we know where to go?” Thackeray asked.
Maeve looked at Thackeray, eyes wide and brows furrowed in confusion.
The city of Throne was crowded during the Zenith hour.
Of course, this was kind of a given. Throne City was the Capital of the Human Kingdom of Shen after all.
“I live nearby, so we can just walk.” Kasu had said.
And so they did.
They walked down a sidewalk path, with Kasu trying her best to explain what the Datascape was to Chrysanthemum, only to give up a few tries later. They wove through the dense population. People bumping with each other as they went out on their lunch breaks to try and get the cheapest place possible. Academia students bumped into workers that probably woke up only to enter into a cubicle, and then out again.
The three of them stuck close together. Oberen ruffled his already tousled dark hair as he followed the two of them. They crossed a wide street beneath the wide tracks of the City-Rail Transit. Above them, the tracks and structure of the Transit looked like an ominous structure of times bygone, with its stark black steel and occasional bright red and yellow and blue neon.
Eventually, they arrived in front of a building protected by a scissor gate that led into an open lobby. Kasu reached into her pocket and unlocked the gate, sliding it to the right. She beckoned the two of them to come inside, and they followed. She walked across the lobby, which was clean as a janitor swept the floor, and went up a flight of stairs. Chrysanthemum and Oberen followed Kasu to the third floor, wherein they entered.
Kasu removed her boots and slipped on comfy house slippers. The floor was immaculately clean, shining and reflecting the light fixtures on the ceiling. Chrys smiled and followed enthusiastically. Oberen smiled a lazy smile, raised both eyebrows as he watched Chrysanthemum, as if one would watch their own child. He closed the door behind him and slipped on the guest slippers.
They walked across a short hallway lined with a room and a bathroom, before it opened up into the living room. All the windows were covered in a blue curtain, and was barred shut either way by the two large stacks of Nodes that made up Kasu’s machine.
“Wow!” Chrysanthemum’s eyes widened as she stepped forward. Kasu grinned. She snapped her fingers, and the two stacks of glass cubes lit up with a digital, blue-gray haze. The visual feed erupted out of a small fixture on the bottom of the desk — it was a holographic display. Expensive, by today’s standards.
Kasu walked over to it and sat down on her chair. It swivelled a bit. She stretched her fingers, and when she lay them down a few inches off of the desk top, a holographic script-board materialized in a flash of blue-gray. Kasu began typing away at the scripts, and the visual feed began computing.
She typed a few things, and then reached up and tapped something on the holographic screen. A new screen popped out from that, and Kasu moved it around with her hands. She stood, carrying the new window off the desk and near Chrysanthemum. “Here,” Kasu said. Oberen looked and saw that the screen was showcasing the visual of what the Datascape looked like on the inside — a gray desert made up of fine grains of information, swept by a storm of blue-gray-green data, made up of scripts and numbers.
“That’s the Datascape,” Kasu said. “It’s a new sort of… realm that the modern races have made that allows us to send and receive and manipulate information and data. We can do almost anything with it. Even Magick.”
“Kasu is a Datathurgist,” Oberen said behind Chrys. Chrysanthemum turned around and nodded. “That means that — while I, as a Magicker of the Perfected Collegiate Theory, have my Soul Sympathetically Linked to the Fundamental Realms, Kasu here is Sympathetically Linked to the Datascape itself.”
“Which means I can do some neat things,” Kasu said, grinning. She turned and pressed a floating button to the side of the script-board. “Like this.”
The room began folding away, as if pieces of paper were being peeled off of the room. It was replaced with, well, the room of Kasu, but one made up of blue gray data and information. Chrysanthemum and Oberen stepped back, but was surprised to see that they were unharmed, their bodies trailing information like dust motes. Kasu began whisking data and then turning it about her hands. “This is my Datagrove, my own little encrypted space of the Datascape.” She trapped the small bit of data she whisked away from the air within her hands and clasped them together. With another breath, the layers of physical reality returned, stapling themselves back onto the walls and air of data and information. Chrys and Oberen felt their stomachs flutter for a bit as they materialized.
Kasu smiled sweetly and opened her hands, cupping something within. Inside, a small little bunny peeked out, made up of translucent blue-gray-green data. It moved about, a haze trailing after it like a translucent shadow. “And this is a rabbit. A data-rabbit. Only a Datathurgist can do these things.”
She laid the data rabbit down on her desk, and it began hopping around. “So that’s the Datascape. It connects all of us. Your Node taps into it, so that you can access, send, or manipulate information. You can contact someone from across the world, or manipulate data in such a way that you can abandon your physical body and live in the Datascape without dying. Sounds great, huh?”
Chrysanthemum smiled. But it was a sad smile. She didn’t like the sound of living forever.
Oberen chuckled. “Ever the dataphiliac, eh?”
“It’s just so amazing,” said Kasu, as she rubbed her cheek against the data-rabbit. She laid it down again, and waved a dismissive hand. It dissipated in a digital haze, back into her Datagrove. “Right. Anyway, your Contract?”