The Baroness of the Dwarf Court stayed pinned onto the wall as the Dean turned around and grabbed a cup of coffee with his Mind’s Hand. It floated through the air and the Dean caught it and sipped. “I’m waiting.”
The Dean sipped a second time before Zinnia spoke.
“The Warlock is still alive,” she spat. “And he escaped. One of my hunters managed to get out at the same time.”
“Who opened a Portal to Avalon?”
Zinnia raised a crimson eyebrow at that.
“Oh adonsshit,” he said, and he turned to Chrysanthemum. He snapped back to the other Siddivata and said, “Fix this.”
There was a small pause. Dean could tell the Baroness was eyeing him, gauging and weighing the consequences, if whether following the Dean could be deemed “beautiful”.
In the Dean’s perspective, the next words that resounded her decision were the wrong ones. “Or what?”
Hakumatheia could clearly sense the hesitation in her timbre. The momentary pause, the slight shaking of the first word…
“You know what will happen,” said the Dean, and with a nonchalant wave of his hand, a portal to Avalon exploded into being once again. “Go.” His voice echoed into the swirling golden gossamer rift.
Zinnia shot the Dean a look. Hakumatheia knew she hated this, but she also knew the consequences.
With a indignant humph, the Baroness turned to the portal and walked into it. With another dismissive wave from the Dean, the portal sealed shut.
* * *
When the rift behind her sealed, Zinnia screamed. A short burst of noise that echoed across Avalon. The second the sound exploded out of her lips, a rhapsodic synesthesia of notes and waves echoed into scintillating fireworks of neon blues and colors. Her fiagai stood there as her rage took shape, forming into her shout, which then dissipated and congealed into the walls of her throne room. The throne room became red, and the leaves wilted.
“Damn that Dean!” she shouted. “I thought I had him in the palm of my hand.” She walked up to her throne and sat, pouting. Her hair blazed. The conflagration on her scalp caught on the wilting trees, setting those afire with a blue flame.
Her fiagai said nothing, all ten of them still standing one either side of her. Zinnia inhaled, despite not having to breathe in Avalon. It was probably something leftover from her human form. She exhaled, and her breath turned into an angry cacophony of mini shouts and curses.
“Tell me from which Pack that hunter — Dushamigkhala — is from.”
There was a silence for a beat, and then a disembodied voice that seemed to whisper from the crevices of the room replied, “The Cold Silver Eclipse Pack.”
“Get the Head Hunter of the Cold Silver Eclipse.”
“As you wish.”
Zinnia looked straight on at the door, and only had to wait mere moments before the green jade double doors opened at the same time, for time was a mercurial concept in Avalon. In stepped a man twice the height of Zinnia, about nine feet. Every step he took, his armor clanged, echoing steel across the entire room. On his back hung a wide greatsword, a foot wide and six feet long, along with a longbow in a strange harness made of rotting vines.
On his right arm he had strapped a buckler, and on his left he held the neck of some sort of creature with ten eyes on its scalp and no mouth, yet otherwise having a humanoid body.
“Baroness.” His voice was mechanical, metal, lifeless. No inflection. No emotion. “I am here.”
“You are the head of the Cold Silver Eclipse?”
The giant tossed the humanoid nonchalantly to the foot of Zinnia’s throne, and he knelt. “Garomeos,” he intoned. “Sword of the Silver Eclipse, killer of the Avalon Beast: Dragon Swallows the World. What would you have me do?”
Zinnia blinked. Her fires died down. She could feel the power emanating from this entity, as if some sort of Magick radiated from him. Avalon was strong with him. He had eaten much gossamer, Zinnia guessed.
“What Echelon is Cold Silver Eclipse in the Wild Hunt?”
“The Second Echelon,” he replied.
Lightning streaked excitedly across Zinnia’s bonfire hair. “I need you to do what you do best then.”
“And in return?”
“I am the Baroness of this Fiefdom,” she said, her voice calm but rolling like thunder. “Your Packmate, Dushamigkhala, is loose. We cannot have that. We are not ready yet. Common knowledge of Avalon must be hidden from the Mund.”
“I will make sure he is punished.” Garomeos stood.
“But you are from the Second Echelon, of all things,” she said. “If I let this mess up be known to those that DO know… then imagine what will happen to your reputation.”
Garomeos stood still.
“To repay me, accept this Contract that shall Bind our Gossamer evermore. By the seven names of the Dwarf King, Garomeos and Zinnia hath been bound.”
“Hath been bound.”
“You have to kill two more in my name: The Warlock of Throne known as Argist Quinen…” and she conjured a piece of his soulstuff from the boughs of her being. Garomeos stepped forward and strung it up like it was silk weave. He clasped it together in between his hands, and a light pulsed through the armor. When he let his hands go, the soulstuff was gone.
Zinnia stood and walked forward. With a thought, she raised the flooring until she was equal in height to Garomeos. Then, she leaned forward, and kissed the featureless helm.
Another pulse of light.
“Hakumatheia. Dean of the Throne Collegium.”
* * *
Dushamigkhala’s thoughts echoed through its thoughtspace.
The constant stream of its alien mind ran unimpeded as it jumped from one concrete rooftop to the next, barely reaching the other side, scrambling over the edge with its seven feet. Its blade appendages punctured a neon fixture and it fizzed out.
It only had six heads now. The seventh destroyed one hung limply to the side, yellow Avalon resonance wafting from it like yellow vapor.
It scampered across the rooftop, blade appendages digging into the concrete, no doubt disturbing the things or people underneath, and a limp head clanging against its obsidian carapace. It stopped at the edge of that rooftop and looked down. Below was, what Dushamigkhala called, a “river of bitumen” swimming with “fish made of defiled creation-essence and steel.”
It reared its new mouthed head back, and then stepped away from the edge.
It raised another, featureless head, and it made a motion quite reminiscent of sniffing. It paused for a moment, before turning and then scampering across the rooftop, running adjacent to the streets below.
The arachnid Hunter jumped over the gap and then landed on the next rooftop. Behind it were the tall, sky-piercing towers and floating marvel-monuments of the Spires.
Before him rose the floating island known as the Collegium.
* * *
Kasu had been watching the Warlock slowly grow accustomed to his body.
She shoved a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, glanced at the holographic monitors to her right — which showed feed about the newest food recipes and some information about the going ons in the Collegium — and then back at the slumbering Warlocok. He looked so frail and, well, dead. For the first couple of minutes, he hadn’t moved at all, unmoving as a rock.
Kasu reached down and picked up a cup of coffee, sipped. She’d watched the body slowly breathe, his chest heaving, up, down, up, down. He seriously hadn’t looked like he was breathing, but now he took in deep breaths. Slow, pondering breaths that signified that he was truly asleep.
She’d gone to the thrift shop down the street, bought some clothes and scrounged up enough change to take it to the laundromat shop across the street. None of the autochariots really followed the pedestrian crossing or rules of the road in Throne, so crossing the bitumen road was like trying to play a game of “run really fast before the speeding hunk of metal hits you because they’re not stopping for you”.
Kasu glanced at the neatly folded clothes stacked on top of one another on the foot of the bed. She’d only gotten the bare minimum. A black hooded sweater, some jeans, a pair of boots. They all smelled of cheap flower cologne and cleansing powder. Tangy and aromatic, sweet like the smell of an artificial flowerbed.
Kasu nodded. That should do fine.
As Kasu scooped out the last bits of vanilla ice cream off of her tub, Quinen stirred. She gasped inaudibly, moving her rolling chair back a bit. She put down the ice cream and sat with her knees against her chest. She watched through her optics, as the naked, yet very well-toned man stirred into being.
“Wh-” he coughed. Kasu’s eyes widened. She fetched him a glass of water and allowed him to drink it slowly.
He coughed a few more times, his eyes still unopened like a babe. When he finally peeled his eyes open, Kasu could see the Soul sear through the irises. He had the dark browns that she presumed had belonged to Quinen. When she had gotten the Shell, she realized that the eyes didn’t have colors on their irises.
He sluggishly turned his head to Kasu, and then gazed at her for a few seconds. Kasu bit her lips, and then sat with her knees pressed against her chest once again.
“Who are you?”
Kasu breathed in. “Kasu.” She opened her mouth, and then closed it. And then opened it again and spoke anyway, “I saved your life.”
“Ah–” another cough, “Right. Yeah. Thanks for that.” He inhaled, and then exhaled. Inhaled, and then exhaled. He looked down upon himself, and he started hyperventilating. His eyebrows arched downward, his face exploded into shock and confusion. “I…”
“It’s alright!” she said, but didn’t move. “It’s alright. It’s a new body.”
“How…?” The shock was taking over him.
Kasu leaned forward and grabbed his hand, held it tight. “It’s alright, Quinen. It’s alright.”
That did the trick, a bit. His breathing slowed, stabilizing. He licked his lips. “It’s alright, Quinen,” she repeated. And Quinen held Kasu’s hand tight.
Before long, Quinen had worn off the shock. He laid down on the pillow, his eyes staring up at the ceiling. He would move parts of his body to grow accustomed to it. Kasu saw him touch and feel his body, his hair, his lips. He actually said something, muttered something, just to see if he retained his voice. Somehow, his voice sounded almost the same, as if the Soul had changed the vocal chords.
“Shit,” said Quinen. “I need a cig.”
Kasu walked out of the apartment building and to the convenience store a couple of blocks to her left. Dusk fell, and as she walked by the neon lights they flickered to life, illuminating with that low, buzzing sound.
She came across one shop with glass windows for walls, so you could see everything going on inside. Within were a few aisles of food and other convenient items. For your convenience. Kasu looked up, and saw, in a orange and blue neon fixture, the word “Quickshop.”
Kasu went in and ordered a pack of cigs. The man behind the counter was an alfr. She could easily identify that with the body markings — his teimach — that he tried to hide so desperately with various clothing items. Also because he had cut off his ears, and had grown his hair to cover the fact.
Kasu had studied some of the Naturaspeak in the Collegium. She took the cigs and anextra lighter, and said, “Ondo-hiranda-saninte.” You I thank.
The alfr shot her a look back, and shook his head. “Next.”
Kasu turned and left, grimacing.
When she returned to the apartment, she found her door fixed up and good as new. She realized just how empty the floor she was in. Aside from another human, she was the only one in this floor, so having the door permanently open didn’t really agitate her.
She opened the door and saw Quinen standing fully up and fully clothed. “Fixed your door.”
Quinen shrugged. “I should thank you. You got me a Shell, huh?”
Kasu smiled a tight-lipped smile. She walked over to the bed and laid the pack of cigs and the lighter there. The clothes she’d bought him fit him well enough. Maybe she should’ve gotten a longer sweater, but hey.
“Thanks for the cigs.” Quinen said again. He grabbed one, blew into the tip of it, and then muttered, “Herapher.”
The air that he’d blown out slowed down, grew stagnant. Quinen grimaced slightly, and then the air fizzed, and then turned into flame, igniting the end of the cig. “Shit. Can’t do anything done without my Instruments.”
He turned to the lighter and picked it up. He examined it, and then shrugged. “This should work, I guess.”
“So you’re the Warlock, huh?” Kasu asked, as she tried to slowly walk around Quinen. Eventually, she sat on her chair once again.
Quinen raised an eyebrow and paused. He glanced at Kasu from the corner of his eye. “You’ve been in the Collegium too?”
“They spoke about you,” she said. “You know. In the urban legend type of way.” She eyed him as he dragged a long one, and then puffed it out. The smoke wafted, reflecting the red neon outside.
“What they say?”
“Um.” She bit her lip again. “That you can rewrite reality.”
Quinen shrugged and fell onto the bed again. It was eerily silent inside, the only noise coming from the bustle outside and the low hum of the Transmogrifiers. “Isn’t that what Magick is, anyway?”
Kasu thought, and then said, “Magick changes reality.”
Quinen sighed. He leaned against the wall and scoffed a bark. “What else?”
“What else did they say about me?”
“That you consorted with demons and fiends to get that ability. That’s why they called you Warlock, actually.”
“Ah. Because I consorted with demons. Because that’s the only way I could’ve managed to have been this… good with Magick.” Quinen turned to look at Kasu.
Kasu only stared back.
Quinen looked away. “I had a different mentor. An alfr mentor. He was the previous Dean.”
Kasu raised an eyebrow. “So the Dean I’d met earlier was newer?”
“Somehow. You met the Dean?”
There was a pause, before Quinen cursed. “So that’s where Chyrsanthemum is, huh?” He shot up to his feet.
“Chrysanthemum…?” When it dawned on her, she gasped. “Adonsshit. How could I forget?”
“Mind Workings,” said Quinen, looking around. “Where’s my coat?”
Chrysanthemum had stood up at this point and shrugged.
“Ah shit.” He sat down again. “Okay, lemme think this through. One of the most powerful Magickers has Chrys hostage. I don’t have anything to blunt against his magick. My coat can, but it’s lost.” He was hotboxing his cig. “Shit. My old body’s dead, huh?” He turned to Kasu.
Kasu licked her lips.
“Yeah probably. Fucking hell. Alright. In cases of Transportations, the Collegium always manages to get ahold of the Magicker’s body. So I must’ve been in their Medica. Then I must’ve been killed. So my old body would be in a mortuary, somewhere, while my Instruments are probably… back in the repository. Goddammit.
“How long since the Dean encounter?”
Kasu furrowed her eyebrows, and it took her a second to get it. “Ah, um, around a few hours? It was near the Zenith hour.”
“Alright, then,” he said, standing up again. The first cig had been shortened considerably. He plucked it from his mouth, threw it to the air, and then muttered “Herapher” once again. The cig disintegrated into ember motes. He picked up a new cig and lit it up; this time, by placing his the end of cigarette near his fingers, and then snapping. He spoke the same, Manipulating word, and the sound waves transformed into flame that ignited the tip of the cig.
Kasu blinked, impressed. “You are really good at that. Is that all you learned?”
Quinen turned to her and grinned. His teeth were an exemplary white. “I can Sense, Manipulate, Transmute, and Destroy Energies.
“I can Sense, Manipulate, and Transmute Matter.
“And finally, I can Sense and Manipulate Death and Timespace. Of course, the Sight and the Aegis, but those are par for the course.
“Anyway, those are my credentials. Eventually working my way to Create Energies, but all this Avalon work has me cramming.” He turned toward the door and began to walk out.
“I can’t bring you with me. Too dangerous.”
Kasu rose to her feet. “At least give me your palmnode’s frequency.”
“For… contingency. Look, I can help you from back here. Send information, scan areas, that kind of shit.”
“I would, but I don’t have my palmnode with me anymore.”
Kasu bit her lip. She turned, pulled out a drawer and tossed an older version of a Halcyon palmnode his way. A Nova 6. Fast, reliable, and has a great link to the Datascape. Quinen caught it. “Ta. I’ll be counting on you.”
Kasu smiled and nodded.
The Warlock walked back into the warzone.