“There exists a realm
of unbridled passion and
hidden beneath all of us.”
— Beautiful Madness
by Cordmn, dreorg poet.
Maeve cursed as a silver blade plunged deep into her gut. Intoxicating ecstasy turned her delirious. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she faded from consciousness.
Thackeray, screaming in defiance, threw himself at the thing that had stabbed Maeve. The thing was vaguely solid, an amorphous umbral blob that slithered out of the shadows between the trees. It didn’t have any eyes, nor did it seem to have appendages, but a blade as silver as the Nightstar erupted out of it anyway.
Thackeray’s six Divine arms ripped into the amorphous blob, and the shadow burst. The liquid darkness that fell onto the mutlicolored grass immediately congealed and rose into pillars of solid shade. Eventually, human figures walked out of those pillars as if they were stygian chambers. Thackeray grit his teeth, and the multitude of humanoid shades pounced.
The Huntsman managed to hold his own for a while, his four Divine Matter arms blazing gold-white, along with his two, natural arms. He punched one shade, vaulted over another, smashed one to the ground and broke four heads all at the same time.
He continued this brave bastion. A punch, evasion, a kick, a shout. The sweat had matted his shirt to his skin, his lungs grew tired. His arms and legs burned as he tried to keep himself, and Maeve, from succumbing to the wild hunt.
But for every shadow that receded, two more leapt to take its place.
Eventually, a hand slipped past the Huntsman’s valiant defence, and a cold sharp pain erupted from right hand. He cursed, and fell to the ground, and the shadows moved about him, congealing as if to reform.
The luminous sun that was Thackeray slowly succumbed to the eclipsing shadows.
All the while, the Wild Hunt watched from the Dark Between the Trees.
Time was very—awfully fickle in Avalon.
Quinen knew that he still retained Sympathy to the Fundamental Realms. But do I still have my Sympathy to Avalon…?
Zinnia’s voice crackled. “Know now that you have been beaten, Warlock.” The crackling of her voice echoed in three different silences. One light and vaguely human, another deep and hoarse, croaking like wood, and one monotone for a split moment before blazing into emotion the next. All three of them created the symphonic cacophony of Zinnia’s voice. “Know that my dear half-sister Chrysanthemum will fall into my lap.”
Quinen never looked up. He concentrated on the blooming sapling hugging the far wall. Its purple stem twisted out from the hard jade ground.
Zinnia made a sound reminiscent of someone smacking their lips. “But, then again, if she doesn’t, then what’s stopping me from charing into Throne City with the Wild Hunt as my sword and shield?”
Quinen licked his lips. He looked up. “You’re not that stupid, are you?”
Zinnia looked down at the Warlock from up on her throne, with eyes the texture of storms and with irises of blossoming roses. “What? You think the Collegium will stop me?” She shook her head, and cackled the same way a bonfire would flail wildly at a rogue wind. “Idiot. Fool. Moron. SImpleton. Mockery. Failed abortion. You dim-witted, single minded apespawn! The Collegium bows before me!” and her zephyr skin howled. Her flame-dress roared, her liquid snake-hair hissed. “None can stand against me, Baroness of Dwarf.”
Quinen, during this self-indulgent monologue, had turned back to that sapling, repeating the Mantra for Manipulate. “Herapher, herapher, herapher…” He performed the intricate hand Mudras behind him. When she finished her last, scene-consuming line, the sapling moved toward him… and then snapped in two.
Quinen grinned. “I can.” And he stood. A hot rush of Willpower and Resolve flooded through his Soul. He grinned like a wolf.
And then, behind him — just as he was about to perform some cool trick, for Adon’s sake — a portal exploded into life. The now alien sounds of shrill shouting of tenants and honking autochariots waked an intense nostalgia within Quinen. As if he hadn’t been in Throne for centuries.
Chrysanthemum stepped through the portal that had opened.
As Chrys’ Dwarf-Nymph blood mingled with Avalon, the room took on the aesthetic of a taiga. Crystalline snow over emerald jade.
The door, which had been sealed all this time, turned from the color of translucent green, to the blue-green of the sea, with a foundation of emerald. As the frost covered the material of the door, it burst open. An arachnid the size of two human males emerged into the room, wearing interlocking leaves of steel for armor. In two of its seven appendages hung…
…w-was that Maeve and Thackeray?
The silence that shook Avalon afterwards sang volumes.
The Darkness that engulfed Maeve and Thackeray tore away when consciousness returned to them. Horrid, sparkles of light behind the lids of their eyes flung them back into the flurry of reality. Of waking.
It was Maeve that came to first. The frost that had accumulated in her fingers had melted off. A few more seconds of sensation, and she realized that she was bound tightly, like a cocoon, with steel-strong threads.
She blinked, casting off the crust of slumber. She awoke to the sound of bitter fire, a sensation her limited, mundic perceptions couldn’t fathom.
The first few things she saw were the frozen walls of crawling vines and verdition. The next was the Warlock’s Soul, on its knees, looking up with wide eyes at her. The Soul’s eyes flickered over to the figure beside her.
She furrowed her eyebrows. Thackeray! She thought, craning her neck to look at the figure beside her. It was Thackeray, all wrapped up in a steel-strong cocoon like her. Thackeray blinked the unconsciousness from his eyes.
His sight recovered, the first thing he did was turn to his left, and then to his right, and shout, “Maeve! You’re okay.”
Maeve managed a smile.
“Cacophonous!” screeched Zinnia. “Make more noise and I will slowly turn every current of water within your body into seething hot brimstone!”
Maeve and Thackeray both grimaced.
The arachnid hunter that bound them in its appendages bowed a little bit too reverently at the Fey-princess. “Baroness Zinnia of the Aiobhan Fiefdom, fourth of her name,” it spoke with that serpentine hiss. “We’ve more Orderly Mundics spotted.”
Zinnia raised her liquid eyebrows. This was the first time she’d stood up. When she walked, flowers tried to blossom after her footfalls, but all they ended up becoming were frail little stalks of ice.
The Baroness of the Dwarf Court strode over to where the arachnid held the mundic prisoners. She took one glance at them and turned away, her liquid serpentine hair hissing like steam. “Abhorrently hideous. Execute them!”
All this time, the arachnid hunter never moved its seven bowed heads. Only when Zinnia issued the command did it animate once again. “As you wish,” Only one of its heads had a mouth. At least, one capable of coherent speech. It hefted Maeve and Thackeray just when a voice flared with a chilly fire.
Quinen’s Soul-mouth quite literally hung open when he heard Chrys talk. The one place she had wished never to come back to, and here she is — and on her fucking own.
The Warlock turned to find Chrys standing there, feet shoulder-length apart, her miniscule stature proving to detract from most of her intimidating demeanor. Quinen turned back around to Zinnia, who was calmly regarding Chrys.
“Ah,” she said. “So you’ve come back to you senses, dear Chrysanthemum.”
The Dwarf Baroness turned and snapped her fingers — her blazing dress danced wildly in response. As if the dress reacted to her every dramaticization. “Very good, Daughter of Ice and Earth.” The ten Fiagai brandished their swords, strung their bows, and readied their spears.
Quinen grimaced; Chrys squeaked.
“Now…” Zinnia paused, turning to the arachnid hunter that hadn’t moved. “Well?”
The arachnid turned all seven heads to Zinnia, and then to Chrys, and then to Zinnia once again. “We are… confused, oh Beloved Baroness.”
Zinnia scowled a confused scowl. “About?”
The arachnid turned three heads to Zinnia, and then three heads to Chrysanthemum. The one unmoving head spoke. “She is… the Daughter of Nymph and Dwarf. She is of the same echelon as thee, Baroness, if not higher.”
“You are on my fief, Dushamigkhala!”
“Indeed,” said Dushamigkhala. “But, she is the Daughter of Nymph and Dwarf. A holy union. Thou art just a Baroness. Indeed, which is higher?”
Zinnia rubbed her temples. She mumbled something audible only to herself. “Fine.” She turned to her Fiagai. “Fiagai, eliminate the bastard wench.”
The Warlock plunged his hand into the frostic ground. “Hepher da Avalon!” He snarled, which meant “I manipulate Avalon!” when translated into Shennin Speech from Ascendant Speech.
Heeding the Warlock’s Will, the ground beneath them rumbled for a split moment before the columns of erathen ice exploded from the ground like fat fingers erupting out of a wall. Billows of light gathered around the pillars, as if to signify that it was, indeed, Magick.
The pillars of earthen-ice obstructed the path of the flying spears, arcing arrows, and charging hunters. Quinen’s Soul flickered for a moment.
But he didn’t stop.
He burst into action, dashing over to the arachnid hunter and yelling out the same words. “Hepher da Avalon!” Ice vines launched themselves out of their frozen places in the walls and wrapped around the arachnid hunter.
The one, articulate head shouted indignities in a language Quinen couldn’t understand. The Warlock willed the icy vines to retract, and the animated vines hauled the arachnid toward the far wall.
Quinen, conjuring up his Will, manipulated Avaon again, focusing now on the cocoons of strange silk wrapped around the two Huntsmen. With another command of Hapher, the silk unravelled, and the Huntsmen fell like a sack of rice to the ground.
“Get moving!” yelled Quinen. “I’ll buy you some time.”
Maeve looked up at him, and blinked. Then she shook her head, nodded, and turned to Thackeray. She helped him up to his feet.
“Newts!” screamed Zinnia. “Fiagai!”
There was an uncanny sound as a blade sliced clean through a pillar — a hissing sizzle to announce its feat. Grimacing, Quinen turned to Chrysanthemum. “Chrys!”
Chrys blinked, shook her head, and looked at Quinen. Her eyebrows arced upward, worried and confused. “Chrys,” Quinen repeated. “Chrys. I need you to believe in your own power. In yourself, okay? Open up another portal for us, alright?”
Chrys blinked, and then nodded. A determined furrow of her eyebrows, a determined thin-lipped smile. She breathed and turned around.
Quinen turned back to the enemy. He saw the Huntsmen limping over to where Chrysanthemum was. Neither of them looking any good.
A Fiagai appeared in Quinen’s periphery. It carried a curving blade that screamed epithets of war and destruction and strife and conflict. He bounded over to Quinen and swung his blade.
Quinen cursed, turning to the direction of the attack. He stepped back to duck away form the blade, and intoned, “Hapher!” once again. The ground beneath the attacking Fiagai rumbled before it shot up, a pillar exploding underneath the Fiagai.
The blade had cut up into Quinen’s Soul-stuff but not too deeply. The earth-ice pillar smashed the knight of Zinnia onto the ceiling, and the gauntleted hand gripping the sword fell open, limp. It tumbled out of the Fiagai’s grip, and Quinen caught it.
The surprisingly spacious room now looked like some sort of game room. Various pillars bridged the floor and ceiling. There was no coherent structure or system to the placing of the columns. Two more Fiagai emerged into the space between the pillars.
Quinen cursed. They hefted bows and spears — weapons belonging in the Mid-Second Age. He raised his own, newly acquired blade. It burned an orange fire within its gray steel. It felt awfully heavy and much too solid, but the screams of death and destruction provided a boost to Quinen’s grip.
Right as the Fiagai with the bow nocked an arrow, the screech of the arachnid echoed across the walls. Quinen flickered, turning. The two other Fiagai paused for a bit. Chrys bit her lip. Maeve and Thackeray limped faster.
Quinen saw that it had broken free of its icy vine bonds and it seemed to be weaving something. Flame colored like the sea exploded out of its spinnerets, and its legs’ appendages wove the unbridled sea-green embers into a ball of flame, coagulating and hardening as if it were a ball of snow.
Quinen stepped back, risking a quick glance over his shoulder. Chrysanthemum stood, looking away from him. One hand stretched out, fingers spread, and another in a fist against her heart. Her face contorted into worry.
Cursing, Quinen turned to the three threats before him. The Fiagai with the bow pulled back the string, and loosed an arrow.
“Ah, Adon’s blue balls.” Quinen wheezed with effort. The wound on his shoulder spewed out more stardust soulstuff. Quinen dove out of the way, but he knew the flying arrow made of loyalty turned into killing intent would hit him.
And that was when another thing guided his soul-hands.
The rearing blade seemed to move of its own accord. It moved right as Quin dove out of the way, right as the arrow got too near. The roaring, orange within gray blade sliced through the arrow’s shaft, killing its momentum and its killing intent, and sparing Quinen’s life.
Quinen crashed onto the surprisingly stable ground. He winced as pain surged up the shoulder he’d been cut in. It was at that moment he realized that the Soul could still feel physical pain. At least, in a realm with such loose rules as Avalon.
Wincing, the Warlock managed to pull himself to his feet. He looked down at the gray sword, which now absolutely blazed with sulfuric vermillion. As if a powerful bonfire had been lit within the gray steel. Quinen breathed, and managed to grin.
The arachnid screeched again. Quinen swept his gaze to it — saw the Fiagai with the bow ready another arrow, while the other Fiagai hesitated on attacking. Probably because of the seven legged, seven headed menace barelling down the room toward Quinen with an honestly terrifying speed.
Seven legs scrambling toward him, six heads flailing around like loose threads of hair. One head — the articulate one — chewed something in its mouth.
Quinen blinked. He spotted that, in between chews, there was something sea green and bright and fulminating within its mouth. As if it were chewing a star.
It chewed the sea-colored fireball it had created.
“Shit,” the eloquent Soul of the Warlock said. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” Quinen looked down at the blade, and shook it, as if that would make anything happen.
Quin could’ve felt fear. Anger. Disappointment. He did, but one emotion overpowered everything else.
Here he was. The Warlock. The one who had seemingly been able to create a Sympathy with Avalon. And he couldn’t do jack shit. Quinen grit his teeth and sighed.
Failure. All those tomes. Getting kicked out of the Collegium. Risking his life in Avalon for the first time. All for this.
What an ironic way to die.
Was this his Narrative? Or do only the denizens of Avalon have those? Made from those?
Chrysanthemum’s call pulled him out of his ocean-like reverie. All this time, everything had been blurred. But now, his vision focused.
And all he could see was the arachnid hunter stopping its run, raising its head, and breathing out ungodly amount of sea-colored fire like a flamethrower.
The sword blazed. It sang again, and it moved on its own. Quinen had never practiced swordsmanship formally before — only the general self-defense class in Physical Fitness class — but the sword he gripped didn’t seem to mind that. It made every fiber of soul-muscle held the blade as if it had held it a thousand times before.
The blade moved, guiding Quinen, and they cut a six-pointed star in the air. The lines blazed, and then the sea-colored flames funneled into it instead of enveloping Quinen like what — he presumed — was the original plan of the arachnid.
The star drank up the sea-green fame. The Fiagai with the bow loosed an arrow. The sword moved, lightning fast, and the arrow bounced off the blade with a satisfying clang of concept against steel. The arachnid stared at the glowing star swallowing the insidious spray of fire. it blinked 434 different eyes, each in different parts of a second.
Quinen did the same thing — albeit, only with two eyes. He gawked and wondered just what in the hell the sword was.
The Fiagai with the spear charged then, stabbing at Quinen. The spear resembled a crooked branch rather than a weapon used to skewer combatants from a safe distance. A thrust of the spear, and the curved sword parried it. It flourished, and moved Quinen’s wrist in a quick whipping motion that cut twice into the Fiagi. It had to weave back to avoid the strikes.
The Fiagai came in for another thrust. Another parry, and the blade reached farther this time. A slash embedded itself across the Fiagai’s breastplate of silver steel leaves. Quinen grinned wolfishly. The Fiagai spear-divata cursed in another language.
And that was when the sweet dissonance of the Portal back to the Mund roared throughout the room.
Chrys’ voice rode that dissonance and caressed his ears. “Quinen!”
The Warlock turned to Chrys. She reached out her hand — she was already on the other side, with Maeve and Thackeray. She stood on a rooftop, and the sky outside was the murky black of late Descending.
The arachnid screeched. Zinnia screamed out something. Even the walls seemed to resound. But Quinen’s soul muted all noise. He ran. He ran as fast as his soul’s legs could carry him, a trail of stardust smoke billowing in his wake.
And Quinen finally reached the Portal, and grabbed Chrys’ hand.
The Portal shut closed.