“How bright does the fire
of absurdity burn. In hues
in songs of crimson,
in blankets of brimstone,
in vistas of sweetness.
Such cackling symphony,
absurdity burns with
— The Symphonies of Avalon
by Invisible Palimpsest, alfr
Hakumatheia blinked. He leaned back on his desk, looking out into the gray, overcast sky. It wasn’t night time, he knew, because the warmth of the Daystar still glowered within the curtains of the gray.
The Dean furrowed his eyebrows and wondered.
Why isn’t Zinnia contacting me yet?
* * *
Thackeray and Maeve knew they had to run. They did. Their athletic bodies definitely helped as they wove through the steel wood and singing colors. Although it never rang again, the echoes of the bellowing horn bounced around their minds. Their utter souls rang from the tune, piercing through the physical and impaling the ethereal.
Thackeray spoke in between gasps. “D-do you know what that was?!” The Huntsman jumped over a fallen stump, and the stump turned liquid when he touched it. He would’ve fallen mid-vault, if it wasn’t for Maeve reaching out her hand and reflexively freezing the water. She winced as she did it.
Thackeray rolled as he hit the ground, and Maeve followed suit.
“I don’t!” Maeve said back, with the same heaving breaths. “But it’s not good!” The hairs on the backs of their necks were raised up, and there was the inherent feeling of wrongness. As if they had just seen a man’s face riddled with a myriad of holes, making him look like a pineapple.
Wrongness, dancing with fear.
They erupted out of the hedge and into a clearing, in the middle of which was a crooked tree, resembling a bonsai. Its leaves were made of steel, resembling blades, and they flailed about in a radial pattern in the solid, rainbow-colored breeze. The two Huntsmen never stopped moving, gasping for breaths as their legs carried them through the clearing. With each step, Maeve noticed, the blades of the grass turned into a different color.
As they stopped near the tree, the rapidly shifting colors of the grass stopped. Thackeray fell to his knees, gasping for air, while Maeve hunched over, sweat matting her hair to the sides of her head, sticking her clothes to her pale skin.
She looked down on her fingers, prying them from her knees. They shivered, tingled, and they emitted a frosty mist. She could hardly move them.
And that was when they heard the bellowing horns again. The sound came from all sides of the clearing.
Thackeray rose to his feet, and brought out his yantras — his brass knuckles. He slipped them on, punched the ground, and began chanting the mantra.
Maeve blinked, turning to Thackeray. “Thack, I…”
“I’m not going down here, Maeve,” Thackeray said, in between chants. Maeve saw the golden particles as he called down the Divine Realms. They were ghastly at first, but when they met with the power of Thackeray’s will, they coagulated and solidified until they were wisps of burning power. The grass all about them — and even the protean air that shifted about them — responded to this show of power, turning into vibrant hues of orange and red and yellow and white, painting a picture of some sort of six handed avatar of some God. The mutlicolored blades of grass turned red and wilted away, as if afraid of his power.
Maeve watched in awe, as Thackeray finished the chant and turned to her — his eyes burned golden. “And I know you’re not either.” He turned to the sky and screamed, “Six Sacred Sacraments!”
Four extra arms made of solidified divinity exploded from his back, and immediately took up a fighting stance. Thackeray turned all about him, readying for whatever was coming.
Maeve nodded. She agreed. Going down here just wasn’t an option. Not now, not ever. She brandished her scepter and called forth the power of Niveus, his icy frost turning her blood into rime, before exploding into wintry mist about her, signifying her power.
Now they waited for what was to come. Maeve with Niveus channeled, and Thackeray with his Six Sacred Sacraments activated.
And eventually, they heard it come. The rumbling of hooves, the clanking of mail, the low bass of some sort of electronic instrument intermingled with the loud, rattling “BOOMS” of drums the size of lions.
And though they did not study this admittedly apocryphal piece of information, they knew what they were.
As the first of the Hunters stepped forth, riding three different beasts for his rump was too large to fit one, and raised a bow with an arrow the size of a spear large enough to shatter mountains, the name rang through.
One by one, the shadows in between the hollows of the gargantuan trees opened their eyes, grew limbs and feet, came to life, moving toward them in fiendish gaits and four-legged prowls. Thackeray grit his teeth, stepped back, but shone brightly — the solid wind, like a painting, showing the avatar wrapped around him grinning defiantly.
Maeve clenched one of her fists, and the coldness in her fingers made her wince. She felt like they were gonna break off at any second.
And then, the third horn bellowed.
And the two of them knew, deep down, in their heart of hearts and soul of souls.
There was no escaping the Wild Hunt.
* * *
“Kasu.” Chrysanthemum’s voice shook, miniscule. “I feel… strange.”
Kasu blinked. She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Um…?”
What kind of strange? she thought deep in her mind. She licked her lips.
“Memories…?” Chrys whispered, and shivered. “Memories, Kasu. And they’re so… strange.”
Kasu nodded. “Mm-hm. I’m sure they are, love.” Chrys’ head was on her lap now.
The Datathurge tsked. A small voice in the back of her head kept reminding her how they haven’t got much time left. That belgar will break out, eventually. It was just the way the Datascape worked — if it wasn’t digital, then it didn’t belong in the Scape. Kasu knew that if they didn’t move soon, the belgar would eventually get them.
“Ch-chrys…?” she slowly nudged Chrys to get off her lap, but when she poked her, the Siddivata stood up on her own. “Chrysanthemum…?”
* * *
Chrysanthemum’s mind was in a rush. Memories, all she never remembered having — and most of it she couldn’t really decipher anyway — swam through her head. They drifted slowly, at first, before she saw a vision of a tall man. He had horns reminiscent of a goat’s curling out of his head, and wings hanging low — so low that they dragged across the floor like too long hair, or a cloak.
When she saw this man, something snapped, chugged, and then clicked.
The Siddivata let the rest of the flurrying, tornado-speed memories guide he rmovements. She walked across the concrete rooftop, and clambered up to the top of the rooftop.
She could hear Kasu behind her. That strange Dataphile called for a while, which eventually turned into ear-piercing screams when the Siddivata clambered on top of the concrete parapet.
Just like her memories, it took Chrys sometime before she could begin deciphering the desperate screams from Kasu.
“Chrys!” She called. She opened her mouth to say more. To encourage her not to do it, but no words came out. Her eyes stirred with fear, and she saw herself standing in Chrysanthemum’s place, many years ago.
Kasu’s heart fluttered when the girl paused, turned around, and managed a weak grin.
Without saying another word, Chrys looked away once again, back to the chilling view of the low-rise buildings of the Dirah Ward. Chrys thought it strange that she could only see five to six skyscrapers. Of course, it was because she was facing away from the Cathedra Ward, and consequently, the Spires.
The vista upon which she gazed didn’t offer a breath-taking sight. In fact, it offered something completely mundane. She could see the man walking his brown and yellow haired canine, the oversized woman yelling at someone from the lower floor. Through window she could barely peek her head through, no less.
The constant flow of autochariots zooming left and right on the bitumen road was dizzying. Much like her influx of emotions, she realized.
Chrys clsoed her eyes. When she opened them, before her — tinged with pink, giving it the impression that it hid behind some translucent pink veil — the visage of the swirling, curling, storming, coagulating, melting, dissipating, destroying, beautifying…
Chrys let out a little breath, as she reached out with her hand, and ripped open the pink veil with a thought.
* * *
Kasu’s eyes widened. She stepped back, her hand over her mouth. Air exploded out of the rift in reality that Chrysanthemum had opened. With one hand. Without the usual yantras and mantras and mudras thing. One could see, reflecting off of her optics, the golden, blazing ring; within were colors incomprehensible, sounds inaudible, and smells improbable. Through it, Kasu could only see— wait. Greenery? Green and emerald foliage everywhere.
Kasu blinked, and immediately, the scene before her solidified into something understandable. Something her mortal, limited senses could make sense of.
Before her was strangeness. She could see through the perspective of someone from behind a vaguely human figure — a bit more translucent and made of wispy ethereal gossamer than a usual human, that was for sure — kneeling on the ground. Before him were ten knight-like figures with weapon and armor so ridiculous you would’ve thought they belonged in some animation from Sidef.
In between the ten knightly figures sat a weird woman on a strange throne. The throne was made of unmoving, steel-like wood; its gnarled branches more akin to girders of steel. Sitting atop the strange throne was something that looked like a sentient, autonomous tree… if the three could wear a blazing dress and have liquid snakes for hair and gale-force winds for skin.
Kasu slowly turned to Chrys. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but the pink-haired Siddivata turned to her, still with an arm outrstretched. Chrys muttered a word that sent chills reverberating within Kasu’s Soul.
* * *
Rexza could feel the grip of the Datascape weaken its hold on her physical body. The Scape eroded all about her — she could feel the inert, fundamental laws of the Mund and the Scape work together to peel away the digital haze. Electricity crackled about her, fur rising up. She could begin to smell once again the girl’s room. Stale pizza and cheap deodorant. The muted sounds gradually popped back into cacophonous vibrancy.
Eventually, the Knight Vigilant was back in the real world. She stood up, too abrupt — her head became a balloon, filled with air, and her vision swirled. A high-pitched bell rang within her skull.
With a deep breath, a quick shake of her muscles, the bell dulled into silence, and everything became clear. The rhapsody of the Third Age came popping back. The barking of dogs, shrill protests of disgruntled tenants, the squak of the auiboic birds… and then there was the exploding thunderclap that cut through all of it.
Rexza’s ears twitched, once, twice. She recognized the cacophony. As if somebody had opened a spinning washing machine that hadn’t stopped yet, and wasn’t stopping any time soon.
Rexza cursed. Shit. The Siddivata opened a portal.
The belgar bolted out of the room, scowering the hallways for the flight of stairs. There! The pressure made a popping sound within Rexza’s ears, as if she were in an airship, as she ascended up the flight of stairs. Closer and closer she got to the anomaly, the stronger the pushback.
The last few steps to the blue-green doors were agony. Her hypersensitive sense of paranormalcy (extramundic things that trespass into the world — was going haywire. With her body, she burst through the doors, grimacing as she stumbled onto the rooftop. She could only see the bewildered Datathurge, and the — surprisingly — just as bewildered Siddivata.
The two human girls turned to the Knight. There was a split second where silence reigned. Then, the Siddivata turned, eyes wide with alertness, and she leapt off of the rooftop.
Into the Rift.
The Dataturge watched Chrys jump into the rift, and it sealing behind he, the ring shrinking into a hole the size of a mole on the face of an anzu. Rexza’s fur stiffened, and her tail crawled in between her legs as reality — at least, the Reality of the Mund — knit itself back together.
Another silence. This time, it was true silence — even the shrill neighbors had gone silent, even the honking of autochariots, the blinking of neon signs — silent. As if they knew the significance of what had just transpired.
The Knight Vigilant blinked. She was quite stumped, as she lingered bodily into the silence. The contract WAS to kill her, right? There wasn’t any clause covering what to do if the Siddivata returned to its origin. The agreement was to annihilate the rogue Siddivata. If that Siddivata had gone back to her origin, can she still be considered “rogue”?
Inhaling, exhaling, Rexza walked over to the parapet upon where Chrysanthemum jumped off of, and sat.
Time worked differently in Avalon. Maybe, all she had to do was wait?
* * *
Kasu blinked. The assassin of Oberen burst in here, and then suddenly was jumping into… Avalon?!
The Datathurge blinked again when the Knight walked across the rooftop, over to the parapet upon where Chrys was standing. She stood there, for a bit, and then clambered over ontop of the parapet, and then just sat there. A few seconds later, she dug into the pocket of her lune-iron armor — the liquid steel forming a hole — and she pulled out a palmnode. Huh, that one was quite… was that a Halcyon Black Box 4? That was released back in 2070. Seven years ago.
Yeah, it was the retro design. A black box, with a clear glass screen across the front. No holographic or augmented reality functions — everything was on the screen. Unlike the newer models, which tended to be panes of glass — well, not really glass. They were made of Kronium, a type of magical alloy usually found in the Fundamental Traverse of Timespace, but can be recreated through Alchemical Amalgamation. Now Alchemists are in high demand, because of their ability to create Kronium, which can be made into nodes, which offer increased nodal power in channeling the Datascape. This allowed lots of graphical improvements, along with holographic screens without being a Datathurge.
Well, the Black Box models still worked, Kasu guessed. Just that they didn’t have the same nodal power as newer models. How can she access the newest Data Sectors? She thought. Lots of bottlenecking, I guess.
Kasu watched the belgar tap away, and she wondered what she was doing. Then she saw the blood stain on her armpit, and she realized that she stood in the midst of Oberen’s killer.
Activating her remote interface, Kasu thought of her options. She didn’t know how to fight, but, she figured if she could drag the furball into the Datascape — her turf — she’d have the same chance a Regito Animae would have against an ant. She’d be a god.
The belgar didn’t look her way. “H-Hey.” Kasu furrowed her eyebrows.
The assassin turned to Kasu, one eyebrow raised. Her irises were vertical slits, which the belgar shared with felix animals — cats, nyakins, the like. “Oh, you.” The belgar sighed, but didn’t move from her spot on the parapet. Her clawed feet swung in the air.
There was a deep, grating rush of air. An exhalation. “Look,” Rexza spoke. Her voice was still melodious, yet now it sounded… frail. Vulnerable. Her pitch was a bit higher, her voice more wearied and tired. “Look.” The belgar looked down on her fists. “Look,” she sighed. “I’m sorry about the boy. H-He was just in the way. I had to do a job. Nothing personal, okay?”
Kasu didn’t realize she had been scowling. She didn’t feel compelled to stop doing it either. She also didn’t feel compelled to turn off her remote interface. If she could just get the belgar to her Datagrove… “So you are an assassin.”
The belgar sighed. “That’s what I looked like, huh? Wouldn’t blame you. I don’t even know what I am anymore, either.”
The Dataturge raised an eyebrow. “You’re… not an assassin?”
The belgar shook her head. “Sometimes it’s part of my job.” She leaned back, supporting herself on her paws. She turned up to look at the sky, Descending, the Daystar sunk low on the east horizon, the serene, softer glow of the Nightstar could be seen on the far west. The intermingled blue and orange glows created the warm gray of the Twilight hour. “I’m a Knight Vigilant.”
“A… Knight Vigilant?” Kasu blinked. Twice. “Oath of Knighthood, diwablades, sixth sense, masters of the one hundred Mystic Strifes?”
Rexza grinned. It seems she’s been told a lot of stoires. She raised a claw. “One hundred and eight Mystic Strifes. And Diwablades are expensive to make these days, only half of us really have them anymore.” She sighed, and then nodded. “But yes. Those Knights Vigilant. The ones that fell into legend… and never rose again.”