Quinen opened his eyes with a gasp, as if he were in some sort of trance or dream or nightmare. He opened his eyes and saw himself in the vast, blinding light of the Datascape. The incandescent flows of information and the powerful lines of data coursed beneath him in murky, chaotic shambles. He saw that he was in someone’s Datagrove, finding himself within a room sleeted over with a blue-gray haze. Those lights of data exited through the Datagroves’ opening: the window in front of him. He could hear the second-hand conversations and the third-hand gossip being passed to and fro like water running through glass pipes.
The Warlock turned around and saw nothing but the Datagrove. When he looked down upon himself he saw his lingering Upper Soul, still not free of this mortal coil.
How… How did I get here? He wondered. Ah. That girl. He thought back to the girl that raised her palmnode at him. Was that possible? He wasn’t a master of the arts of Data, nor the Arts of Working the Scape with Will. But manipulating a Soul with it with such ease… it wasn’t possible, right?
He wondered then. He knew that one could manipulate the Soul using Diwaturgy, the Sorcery of Manipulating Diwa, but he knew not much more than that. He’d decided not to dabble into the basic foundation of Magick, finding that Magick that affected the natural state of the World Seen to be far more important, or pragmatic, or fun.
So the thought lingered on in his mind, even as he wandered about. A Soul without his Lower Half in the Datascape.
* * *
Kasu breathed hard, with the woman behind her cradling the small feychild. The two of them reached the bottom of the stairs, and then eventually arrived at the Lobby. The janitors wiping the windows turned to them with furrowed eyebrows, stared for half a second, and then went back to their chores. Gotta get their work done, after all; they were being paid by the hour.
Kasu turned around to see if the woman was still following her and she was, still carrying Chrys in her arms. The little girl’s pink hair glowed dimmer now, softer hums. It was as if the bright beating was slowly being extinguished.
Kasu nodded, and she tried thinking of safe places to bring them, to no avail.
“Get us a Brown Cab,” the woman carrying Chrys said.
Kasu bit her lip, but she nodded. She dashed out to the curb, and she realized that it was early morning Ascending already. The Daystar blossomed a yellow-orange glow into the world, banking in the west. A few autochariots passed by — the morning bustle had already begun. It was mostly humans walking to and fro, grabbing donuts and shoving them into their faces, washing it down with coffee or beer. They rushed out with half-buttoned up uniforms, obviously late to whatever job it was they did to contribute to society, tying up their hair.
The occasional non-human race lumbered through, making way for the either taller or shorter humans.
Kasu reached out a hand to hail a Cab, and then beckoned for the woman and Chrys, The two of them slid into the passenger’s cabin of the autochariot. The woman held Chrys up and fixed her position so that she was sitting down, leaning against the woman’s shoulder.
The woman leaned forward to the driver. “Karoley Ward, Collegium?”
The driver turned on the meter. “Which entrance?”
“South should be good.”
“I gotcha.” He drove off.
They rode in silence for a short while. The raven haired woman fixed her hair, tying it up ontop of her head, exposing the soft pale skin of her neck underneath. She turned to Chrysanthemum, checking up on her, before turning to Kasu. The Dataturge looked straight on ahead, blinked, nervous and afraid of looking at this woman straight at the face.
Kasu saw the woman smiling from her periphery.
“And what do you have in connection with the feychild?”
Kasu blinked. “Me?” She glanced at the woman, saw her freezing gray blue eyes, and then looked away. “I’m just being a good soul and helping her.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Oh, is that so? You have no connection whatsoever to her?”
Kasu shook her head. “Sort of. Um, it’s trivial. I knew Oberen and they both walked into the cafe I worked in and then suddenly I found out that Chrysanthemum was, er, that.”
Kasu nodded. “Y-yeah.” She gulped.
“Where is Oberen?”
Kasu stayed silent, looking down at the black floor of the cab instead of straight ahead.
There was silence. The taxi driver was glancing at them from his rear view mirror.
“So, you just randomly helped this girl out.”
Kasu shrugged. “Right. Um,” she bit her lip. “I don’t think I need some big ol’ reason to help her out. Besides, Oberen clearly went out of his way to help her. So she has to be of some importance.”
The woman turned to Chrysanthemum, and her gaze lingered on her. “You might be right.” She turned to Kasu. “De Laqua Maeve, by the way.”
Kasu blinked. “Shemi Kasu.”
“Call me Maeve. We’ve already survived death together, anyway.”
Kasu blinked. “Then I guess you can call me Kasu.”
The cab turned into the Inner Interward Highway, joining the throng of other autochariots moving down the road, like a river of rubber and steel.
* * *
The anzu named Gharth flew across the morning air, his grand feathery wings slicing through the wind. He dove onto the rooftop where the scene of one of the crimes was supposed to be. Two crimes around the same building was intriguing to the Naphli — there’s a very small chance they weren’t connected to each other. And with reports of another High Dissonance Tension, this could prove intriguing indeed.
Not like they didn’t deal with Dissonance Tensions brought about by Magickers that didn’t respect the law every now and again. But it has been around two days since the last one, and a High Dissonance Tensions is rarely seen. High Tensions were sources of great magickal workings.
Gharth opened his wings right before he hit the ground, allowing air to catch him, and he dropped down safely onto the concrete parapet of the rooftop. Across them, he could see visible signs of struggle, blood everywhere, a broken door, and two bodies eviscerated and laid onto the floor.
The first body, nearer to the parapet he stood on, was human. He still had the lingering of magick about him. There was a woman detective, also human, standing over him, inspecting the dead body with a critical eye. She was squinting, her blonde hair cascaded down behind her, and she scrunched up to a heavy cloth which she used as a scarf. The long and heavy gray overcoat was definitely a nice touch. Gharth liked to think of himself as a sort of fashion connoisseur. Not that it applied to him, since he had to wear Naphli uniform tailor made for his race.
He stepped down onto the concrete of the roof, his zygodactyl feet crunched onto the surface. “Detective Namana,” he said, stepping forward. His Naphli-issue sword and slugpiece clanked on his right waist. “Tell me the read of this situation.”
Namana turned to Gharth. “Not good. Also: Sahnie, since we’re friends an all.” She turned back to the body. “This one’s eviscerated, but I can’t connect the cause with the effect. Lacerations on his body, deep, and curiously clean. Honestly, only a Naphli blade could make this clean a cut.” She looked up, at the second body — a decapitated belgar. “That one is stranger. She has the emblem of the Knights Vigilant.”
Gharth blinked. “The Knights? I thought they were gone?”
Sahnie shrugged. “Well I guess not.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Anyhow, the strangest thing of all from this scene are definitely the pockholes. See over there? They look like they were formed by sturdy spears struck onto the concrete. Multiple times. Some of them have a high frequency, while others are far apart.” She pinched her nose, and then shrugged.
Gharth inspected the pocks in the concrete. Some of holes were close together, while others were apart. “Right. The frequency of those holes are strange. Any hypotheses?”
“They were feet, maybe,” she said. “Bladespiders have that similar type of legs, with sharp swords for feet, which they use to climb up surfaces. But most of them can only be found in far Northern Sidef, and none of them can grow that large.”
The anzu nodded. “Anything else?’
“Very heavy Magickal Resonance. It’s setting off all kinds of signals on my Sight.” She stepped back, closed her eyes, and uttered a word. Mandalas of power — three tiers of them — materialized in front of her eyes, glass circles of translucent iridescence amplifying her vision. She opened her now blazing eyes, and peered into the scene.
After a moment, she tsked, and closed her Sight with another blink. “Resonance, yes, but not Magickal. Definitely a bit more… transdimensional. Might be from a Realm in the Mael.”
He decided to leave Sahnie to her investigations and fluttered down to the left side of the apartment, into a piss-smelling alleyway where another body lay. The entire alley was sealed off with holographic sign telling the populace that there was an investigation underway. Some of the populace tried to peer in, but most of them only took a cursory glance before heading on their usual route.
Gharth strode over to where the body was, past other Naphli officers that wore a similar a black and white uniform as he did. They nodded to him as he walked past, and Gharth quickly returned it.
He saw the body: it was a handsome looking young man, with a cloud of black hair and pale skin. He wore a dark blue jacket, and through his anzian eyes he could still see the Magickal Resonance floating up from him like some sort of mystic vapor. The dead boy’s chest looked like it was blown inwards, with dark black markings on them.
The one they’d sent to investigate this one was yet another Magicker-Detective. Gharth walked up to the man, lanky and wearing glasses, with a maroon waistcoat over a dress shirt. “Detective Kotoro?”
Kotoro raised an eyebrow and turned to him. “Ah, Officer Gharth,” he nodded to the anzu. “We haven’t made much progress. Excessive blunt force to the chest, died before he hit the ground. Used my Sight earlier — terribly powerful magickal force. Destroyed his entire upper torso. Magickal power overflowed to his Soul, even. He was in the Great Afterafter at the moment of the impact on his chest.” He sighed. “Whatever it was.”
Gharth blinked first, processing the information, then: “Magickal Hammer, maybe?”
“Maybe,” Kotoro said, shrugging. “I’ll get deeper into this, but that means going over to the Collegium. I need a warrant.”
“I’ll do my best,” Gharth said, nodding. He didn’t like the developments on this case. Yet another High Dissonance Tension. Another Incursion of Magick, it seems, but transdimensional? Just what were they dealing with here? “I’ll report back to Captain Urie.”
Kotoro nodded. “Much thanks, Gharth. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“So is the impact caused by something Magickal, and not Transdimensional?”
Kotoro nodded. He paused, then turned to look up at the anzu. “What did Sahnie conclude up there?”
“That the resonance seemed Transdimensional. At least, she said so.”
“Ah,” Kotoro said. “Interesting. Well, I suggest you head back to Captain Urie and get that warrant.”
Gharth replied that he will. He turned around, opened his large, gold-feathered wings, and shot into the air. As he rose into the skyline, he saw, in his periphery, a skeleton of an anzu perched atop a rooftop across the alleyway. He turned for another look, but the skeleton had vanished.
He shrugged, turned, and made his way back to the Naphli headquarters.
* * *
Shikoth flew through the cold Nymph season air. He made his way to the floating fortress that was the Collegium, powered by dwarfic defying magicks. Thoughts ran across his… thoughtspace. He didn’t exactly have a physical brain, you see.
The anzu veered up, flapping rapidly, and reached the high window that led to the Dean’s window. He perched on the open window, peering into the room of the Dean. He saw Hakumatheia, wearing a coat over a black shirt and denim pants. He sat with his fingers steepled, and he leaned forward.
Across the table, in front of him, stood a disheveled woman with tattered clothes, which seemed to be once a beautiful array of black and blue coats and shirts, skirts and leggings, now showed too much of her pale skin accented by the black cherry of blood.
She held in her hands a small little girl with pink hair, and Shikoth couldn’t help but mutter, “No fucking way.”
It was Chrysanthemum; it was the Siddivata. They did it.
But beside the disheveled woman was a not too little girl, also disheveled, her optics bent, her dark green jacket seeming too big for her, holding a hazing palmnode in one hand.
“Ah,” the Dean said. “Very, very good, Huntsman De Laqua.” Hakumatheia gestured for De Laqua to lay Chrysanthemum on the chair in front of his desk. “I shall reward you accordingly, but I suggest you rest first. Maybe a trip to the Medica.”
“We are loyal to you, Dean,” De Laqua said almost bowing reverently. “But I must ask a question before I hand the victim over…” Her face was firm, unyielding, and fierce. “Did you think we would get out? Was the plan really to rescue the Warlock?”
The Dean paused. He had that passive look on his face. Shikoth never saw him wearing any other mask, only a passive mask that seemed to tell people that he knew every detail and minutiae of your next move. “It might, it might not be.” He shrugged. “Hand the Siddivata over.”
De Laqua Maeve narrowed her eyes. “Why? You ordered us to hand over the Warlock, yes? Not this little girl. Not this… Siddivata?” The Huntsman looked down, but she shook her head and resumed her piercing stare at the Dean.
The Dean shrugged. “The Warlock is gone, is he not?”
“He has turned into a Soul,” said De Laqua. Her eyes glanced over to the shorter girl beside her. “I do not know if this bodes well or not.”
“Ah, so,” he turned to the girl. “She has it?”
The girl gasped, taking a step back.
“Shemi Kasu,” said the Dean, leaning back. “You’ve studied here before, if I recall correctly. Matter studies, or was it Energy? I don’t remember.”
Kasu’s eyes flickered to Maeve.
Maeve shook her head. “Answer me truthfully, Dean Hakumatheia. Did you plan on us getting out?”
The Dean spread his hands out. “Of course! I needed the Warlock’s Soul.” With a very minute flicker of a finger magickal power popped, and Maeve nodded.
“Right. Okay.” Maeve turned to Kasu. “Give him the Soul of the Warlock.”
“Just follow his orders.”
The Dean leaned forward again. “Oh yes, by the by, wasn’t there another one of you? The man? Thackeray Navarre, if I recalled his name correctly.”
“Ah,” Shikoth cut in then. Maeve and Kasu both turned to look at the skeleton, but Dean only looked at the girls. “Isn’t that the guy on the rooftop? Yeah, he’s dead.”
De Laqua almost dropped Chrysanthemum. She stepped back, her grip slackened, and she blinked. “Wh-what?”
Shikoth turned his avian skull to Maeve. “You heard me. He gone, dead, his Soul has gone to the Great Afterafter, baby.” He then turned to the Dean, completely ignoring the disheveled woman, who has gone through hell, staring at him with glassy eyes. “By the way Hakky, there’s this weird spider thing going on killing them. Um, you want to do something about that?”
The Dean blinked. Slowly, almost trancelike. “What?”
Shikoth sighed. “You heard me, didn’t you?”
The Dean cursed. “Quick. Get out of this room.” He turned to Maeve. “Leave the Siddivata here. You, Shemi, leave your palmnode here as well.”
They did as they were commanded. Kasu dropped her palmnode onto the desk, and Maeve laid Chrysanthemum on the chair. Quickly they shuffled out the door after that, and it shut tight behind them with a loud bang.
“Let’s get back to my dorm room,” Maeve said, on the other side of the door, but she didn’t feel like her words were her own.
* * *
“What’s going on, Hakky baby?”
The Dean turned to Shikoth. “Leave for now. Keep an eye on that same thing, and report back to me once you’ve seen the spider thing again.”
Shikoth nodded. “Will do!” And fell backwards into the air, and then up into the sky.
The Dean, now alone, closed the window with nary a thought. He snapped his fingers, uttered a snarling word, and a portal to Avalon burst open. Through it, he could see the disheveled room of Zinnia, vines everywhere, with her fiagai scattered about. The pillars were gone.
“Zinnia, come to the Mund.”
The firetree Siddivata turned to him, frowned.
“Come!” His voice rolled thunder.
Zinnia shrugged. She stood up, and walked through the portal. Her true nature and form peeled away as she stepped through the veil between worlds, replaced by something the Mund could actually understand. Her fiery red hair and emerald green eyes returned. “What is it, Hakky?”
Without another word, the portal to Avalon closed, and an invisible hammer of energy slammed Zinnia towards the wall.
Hakumethia glared at the Siddivata Baronness, and his eyes crackled with electricity. “Explain why a Hunter of the Wyld Hunt is here. And do not lie to me.”