The Dean Hakumatheia rode the Tasslift to the top floor of the Administration Tower. The doors slid open, and the Dean stepped onto a carpeted floor. Glass walls surrounded the room, providing a one-way mirror to the rest of the City. From up here one could see most of the concrete buildings, and the neon lights writhing out of the umbral crevices. In the middle of it all was a graveyard of spears jutting out, reaching for the heavens — the Spires.
A circular table sat in the middle of the room, and eight other Magickers sat around it. On eight points of the table were intricate, multi-layered runes that represented the Field they administered. The runes were engraved onto their chairs.
The circular table lacked one last person to complete the Circle. Furthest from the Tasslift was another high-backed chair, with another multi-layered rune. This rune resembled all eight of the other Runes superimposed on top of each other, with a circle that sealed the runes within.
Hakumatheia walked, his synth leather robes trailing after him. He sat on his designation, and a hum of power rose from underneath the table.
The Dean sighed, placing an elbow onto the table and then leaning his head against his hand. “Do we have to go through this again?”
A man on the far right grinned and shrugged. “Magickers are beholden to Tradition, Dean.”
He dipped his head, and then waved for them to begin the formalities.
“Seal the Circle of the Nine,” the Dean began.
To the Dean’s right was a short dreorg female with blonde hair cut into a piskie’s style: short and boyish. Her small nose twitched as she had to adjust her chair up. With a swish of her tail, she said, “Eiv. Grand Exemplar of Life.” The rune of the Life Field glowed incandescent.
To Eiv’s right, a slender man with a sleepy smile raised his hand and flourished. His silver hair seemed to float until he spoke. “Ivahl Aurnem. Grand Master of Timespace.” And the rune of Timespace glowed.
To Ivahl’s right was the man that spoke earlier. He was burly and well-toned. His muscles taut and thick. His neck like the stump of a tree, and his chin and face structure square like a brick. His skin was dark against his white grin. “Smide Hefen, Grand Master of Matter.” And so the rune glowed.
To Smide’s right was a woman wearing a strict breast jacket and a skirt. Her eyes’ irises were the color of bleached bone, fulminating with power. Her hair was the color of a sun-bleached storm, and at times lightning would cause a strand of her hair to jump up, and then fall down. She looked at the Dean through square rimmed optics. “Fulma Aster,” she spoke, her voice like rolling thunder. “Grand Master of Energies.” The rune glowed as well.
To Fulma’s right, was a Magicker Grand Master that seemed very out of place. He was a zaretrych, with eight legs for walking appendages, two of which he could use as limbs, although he lacked fingers. He used the adhesive pads on each of his arms to cling onto things. The zaretrych’s anatomy was akin to a large arachnid’s save for the neck and head, which sported clawing mandibles instead of a mouth and tongue, and the little, useless hexagonal wings hiding in his abdomen.
It raised a hand, and it spoke. It didn’t move any mandibles, or had any physical means of speaking. Its face was more of a mask than an actual face, with a facial pattern on the front of the head resembling ink splattered onto a paper and then mirrored. The pattern glowed a bright green, contrasting its dark purple carapace. “Ssryx’ryxh.” The zaretrych spoke with a masculine tone, and his voice echoed from a contraption he wore near the top of his head. “Grand Master of Mind.” And the rune glowed.
Next to the zaretrych was a kalista, the ursine race. With dark gray fur and bright blue tattoos running down his torso, the kalista seemed like he still belonged to his barbarian tribes. When it was his turn, he smiled, his eyebrows arcing up in a lax position like Ivahl’s sleepy gaze. “Idurgam,” he said. “First of his name. Grand Master of Spirit.” The rune glowed.
An alfr sat next to Idurgam. His teimach glowed, and his long, alien ears were uncut and stood proud. They twitched, as if they had minds of their own. “Ardent Sound,” he said, his voice completely neutral but his teimach blazing white with pride. “Grand Master of Death.” This alfr had no hair on him.
Next to Ardent Sound was a belgar. Orange striped his brown fur, and he wore a blindfold across his large, beastly head. “Garod Avakahn,” he said, his voice deep and growling, the sound of marbles churning. “Grand Master of Fate.”
“And finally,” Hakumatheia waved a hand. “Dean Hakumatheia Uthan. Grand Master of Magick. With these nine Souls do we…”
And the rest of the Council joined him in saying the next words: “Quoth the Laws of Magick.
“Change is Reality, Magick is Change. Connection is Power, Magick is Connection. Dissonance is Consequence, Magick is Consequence.
“Quoth the Laws of Magick. And thus we seal the Circle of the Nine.”
Power popped, and the an invisible surge of Magick overflowed out of their Souls. The spasms of puissance conjoined and fuzed the runes’ glows until a single, incandescent light shone over them all.
The light died down, the room dimming, and little particles of white stars drifted onto the floor, dissipating with a hiss of smoke. “That took forever,” said Fulma. “Now for what have you assembled us here for?”
“We are in the middle of re-enrolment,” the zaretrych Grand Master, Ssryx, pointed out.
“Deepest apologies.” The Dean rolled his eyes. “But something grand is afoot. And I mean that in the worst way possible. The Wild Hunt might have been able to step through the cracks of Reality and appear out here, into the Mund.”
“What?” Fulma placed a hand on the table. “How could that happen? Wasn’t there an Accord?”
“There used to be,” said Hakumatheia, shrugging. “But that was made by the Knights Vigilant. And, for good or bad, they no longer exist.”
“I know of some Knights that still exist.” The alfr, Ardent Sound, spoke up. His tone was still neutral and unfeeling, but his teimach glowed brightly, urgently and almost desperately orange. “I may contact them.”
“Yes but the Accords themselves are obsolete,” Ivahl put in with a drolling sound. “The only thing keeping them away now is the fear of the Accords still existing, as time isn’t exactly a concrete concept over in their Plane.”
“How,” Fulma slapped the table. “Did a Gods-damned Divata arrive here in the first place?” Her hair crackled.
The Dean shook his head. “Come on, Fulma. You know that the Divata are summoned here regularly-”
“Well let me rephrase the question,” she cut in. “How did a Gods-damned Wild Hunt Divata arrive here in the first place? They’re bigger, stronger, more anathemic to the Mund’s physical realities than those in the lower rungs of their hierarchy. Literally the only way a Hunter could’ve arrived here is through a Portal rent open by a Siddivata.”
The Dean paused, and then leaned back. His mind wandered to the young Siddivata girl he’d placed on the couch above his office. Could she have…?
“We all know it is against Collegium Code to consort with extraplanar entities without express consent and permission,” Ssryx said.
“Yes.” Fulma’s voice was hard. “We all do.” She turned to the Dean. “So…?”
“I was consorting with a Siddivata. I was wanting to fix the Accords, but something went belly up along the way. She wanted something in return.”
Ivahl snorted a laugh. Eiv and the belgar said nothing, but when the Dean said that, they both turned to him.
Smide’s heavy arm slammed onto the table. The table quivered. “What?!”
Eiv sighed. “As expected.” Her voice was small and quiet.
The Dean changed the subject. “Let’s focus on the problem at hand, first.” His voice rolled thunder, managing to hide the wince as Dissonance struck his mind.
All eight of the Magickers nodded in agreement. Ssryx shook his head, as if snapping out of a trance. The Dean narrowed his eyes at Ssryx, and created a tether of empathy. A powerful working that needed his concentration and Will. He was thankful that Dissonance didn’t decide to strike then.
Ssryx relaxed, and nodded.
“Now.” Hakumatheia strained to let the words out. “We… urgh. We must get ready in case one of the Wild Hunt agents attacks the Collegium. I highly doubt that the entire Wild Hunt would arrive here in the Mund en masse.”
“But if that were to happen,” said Ivahl. “We’d all be screwed.”
“That would be speaking of Interplanar War,” said Garod, the belgar Grand Master of Fate. “That does not bode well. The skeins tell me that some threads lead inevitably to that, however…”
Ivahl grinned. “I hear you. The Reflections of Time-To-Be is hazy and shows fractals of possibilities. We are at an interesting time indeed.”
“Now,” the Dean continued, nodding. “Send some of our best Huntsmen here to deal with the Wild Hunt soldier. Tell them to watch out for Naphli reports. They might speak of strange beasts.”
“Most of our Huntsmen are on-duty right now in other places,” Smide says, contorting his face into a thoughtful visage. “Maybe we need to strengthen our defenses, just in case they come here? The Naphli have Magickers, after all. They can handle Interplanar Incursions.”
“Hm.” The Dean leaned back, and nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”
After a few more deliberations that eventually amounted to absolutely nothing, the Council of Nine was adjourned with another evocation. They had decided to double security, deploying twice the number of Celestial Lions and asking Smide to create more magitechnological constructs.
As each of the Grand Masters left, Ssryx couldn’t help wondering if there had been something amiss with the entire meeting. The zaretrych watched as the Dean walked into the Tasspath first.
He had also heard — and he was sure the other Grand Masters had too — that the Dean walked into the Medica and killed someone. They declared this as some sort of rumor, but…
Ssryx’ryxh contemplated on following the Dean. “Hey, Ssryx,” said Ivahl, tapping the zaretrych’s bulbous abdomen. “Ready to go back to re-enrolment?”
“O-oh. Yes.” That was right. He still had duties.
As he left the Tasspath Lift and walked out into the ground floor of the Administator’s building, he saw three Naphli officers striding past them. Ssryx and Ivahl asked what their business was.
“We’re here to ask the Dean something.” There was an edge to the human Naphli’s voice. He definitely looked demeaning, especially with his caramel skin and close-cropped black hair. Behind him walked an anzu and an alfr.
“What will you be asking?” said Ivahl.
The Naphliman raised an eyebrow. “There’s been another Incursion. I think it’s time I go to the Dean with some extra precautions.”
Ssryx’ryxh turned to Ivahl, and they nodded. Ssryx had learned that human gesture after spending much time in Throne. “Very well,” he said.
The Naphli bowed by the waist. “Have a good day, Grand Masters.” And he walked past them, the two others walking quickly after.
Ssryx and Ivahl looked at each other again, and then walked off to Re-enrolment.
* * *
“Quinen?” It was at that point it dawned upon Kasu that he was probably heading to the Collegium. The blinking dot on the holographic map of the Karoley Ward indicated just that. Cursing, she got up on her feet, turned and seized the sweater hanging by the coat rack and stopped just as her hand reached up to the door knob. What was she doing? Was she going to run all the way to the Karoley Ward just to help a guy she barely knew?
She paused for a second, thinking. She could help him better if she stayed here. But what if he dies again? I could siphon his soul back into her Grove…
She looked down on her hands. A finger fizzed in and out of materiality, breaking down into datal squares before reforming again. She gasped. Datal Dissonance.
She took a step back, looking at the unopened door. What would she do?
Then something dinged. She turned and walked back to her desknode, and typed away at the scriptboard. Soon, she’d accessed her datagrove and saw, there, the imprint of Quinen’s consciousness.
She bit her lip, and ran a program that would recreate the Consciousness. She watched as Data reformed the Warlock’s Soul.
Kasu watched this, mesmerized, until a knock on her door snapped her out of her reverie. The Dataturge got up to her feet, clenched her hands, and then walked out. She remembered that she had a job then, and maybe she should get back to it. She opened her palmnode and worked a text message to Einei, saying that she could go back to work by tomorrow.
She didn’t wait for an answer. She walked up to the door and opened it. “Yes?”
A Naphliman stood on the other side. “Miss. Can we ask you questions? Investigation for the crime scene that happened around your room.”
“U-um. Yes. Sure.”
They asked her questions about whether she’d seen anything, or whether she’d conspired, or felt something weird. It was easy enough to say she’d been in her room the entire time. She silently thanked Quinen for fixing her door.
Soon enough the Naphliman walked up and out of her room. She hoped that they didn’t suspect a thing. Apparently — from the questions the man was giving her — they were too busy trying to connect the scene from the roof to the scene on the ground.
As the Naphliman closed the fixed door behind him, Kasu sat on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest, waiting for the Data to reform the Soul.
* * *
Captain Urie rode up the Tasspath Lift that would lead to the Dean’s Office. A hand was on his belt, fingering the grip of his slugpiece.
Sersha and Gharth stood at attention behind him. They knew there was something about to happen. Something about to break out. Tension broiled underneath their armors.
Then the doors dinged open. Urie stepped out and slung out his slugpiece. With a quick movement, he removed the cartridge of slugs, and replaced it with another cartridge. The cartridge resembled any old cartridge, so Gharth questioned what was inside. He’d seen the previous cartridge that the Captain had removed still had a full dock of slugs.
Sersha followed quietly, and her hand was already on the long sword behind her.
Gharth was a bit more cautious. He unsheathed his Naphli-issued blade, and turned to Captain Urie. In a low croaking whisper, he asked, “Sir, what is that cartridge?”
Urie didn’t answer. “Watch my back.”
He flicked the switch on the side of the slugpiece’s barrel, activating the mini-Transmog that converted small pieces of Tass into quick, yet powerful, bursts of energy. Tass filled the lines that ran down the barrel of the slugpiece, glowing low. Below the barrel was a smaller rune that would use the remaining Tass from a shot fired as a Buffer to to contain any Dissonance that may come instead of letting it mess the mechanisms of the gun up. Of course, firing too much at any single time will raise the chances of incurring Dissonance.
Captain Urie opened the door just a crack, and then kicked it inward. Without another word, the Captain lifted his slugpiece and pulled the trigger. Tass churned, the spell activated, and the Transmog converted Diwa into pure kinetic energy. A black slug — small and the piece of a shattered glass — shot through the air, a white stream trailing after it. The slug sank into the robes of the Dean, and with a pained grunt, onto the surface of skin, but not actually puncturing it.
“What in Adon’s name are you doing?!” The Dean doubled over onto his desk. He had stood up when they entered, and now had to keep himself up by placing one hand on the desk. His other hand clutched the point of entry.
“Don’t try anything, Dean,” Urie said, lowering his gun and advancing to his desk. “Dissonance slug. Perform another Working and you’ll incur so much Dissonance that a Permanent Severance won’t be too far a fantasy.”
The Dean groaned at the pain, still doubled over on his desk. With sluggish movements he turned to look up at Urie. “What, in Adon’s holy hells, do you want?”
Urie grinned. Pretty easy to break the Dean’s demeanor, eh? “Now now, Dean. Since you’re technically the Head of this Administration, you should be the one to represent all the values that you actually stand for.”
The Dean’s eyes glanced to the palmnode sitting in his desk. “Fuck off. I can have all of the Collegium down your throat.” Urie made a gesture behind his back, facing the alfr behind him. The gesture made it look like he was holding some kind of invisible cylinder.
Sersha nodded. Her teimach flared a bright, creamy white as she tapped her Sorcery. The palmnode lifted off of the desk, and with a grunt from Sersha, the Data device shattered against a far wall.
Gharth pulled out his Naphli sword, and Sersha did the same, pulling out the long, curving blade from her back.
With the Dean still doubled over from the Dissonance slug embedded into his chest, Urie grabbed one of the chairs that lay in front of the wooden desk. He sat and leaned back, but still kept the slugpiece trained on Hakumatheia. Behind him, he heard the doors lock.
“I just came to talk,” Urie said, but he couldn’t help chuckling by the end of that sentence. “And, well, last time I came here… I couldn’t remember a damn thing Gharth and I did. I guessed it was your Magicks going on, so I brought some precautions.” He raised the slugpiece, and then lowered it. Now, there have been so much Tensions lately.”
“High Dissonance Tensions are common, you ignorant buffoon,” the Dean spat, and then grimaced. He wheezed. “Our job is to educate Magickers so that that won’t happen, but every once in a while you get a trickster.”
Urie nodded. “Right. So, I need you to track down that Warlock of yours and re-educate him. While you’re at it, care to tell me what in Adon’s Sin is a Transplanar entity doing in my City?!”
The Dean managed a wolfish grin. “That’s probably because of the Warlock too.” The Dean wheezed again. He could feel the cold blossom of potential Dissonance from his chest.
“Hm.” Captain Urie leaned back. “Then I’m going to need permission from you.”
The Dean raised an eyebrow and looked at him.
Urie turned to Sersha, then back to the Dean. “We’re going to have to apprehend this Warlock of yours. Now, since every Magicker that’s gone through the Collegium in this city is under your juris-”
“Fine,” the Dean said, looking away. “Go ahead. Apprehend him. Give him the Death Penalty for all I care.”
Captain Urie raised both eyebrows and leaned back a bit. Grinning, he said, “Well I’m thankful that we can come to terms with that.” The Naphli Captain rose to his feet, and the two Senior Officers moved, waiting for commands. “One last thing. I know that you’re a recently appointed Dean, but please do keep your Magick in your pants. One more use of Magick on anyone like that that I catch a whiff of? The Congregation will make sure they know it.”
And with that, Captain Urie turned around and walked off, his two Senior Officers following suit.