The South Entrance’s Portal spat De Laqua Maeve into the torch-lit room. In her rush, she barely noticed the doubled amount of Celestial Lions watching her as she descended the steps and out into the Central Park.
She cut through the throngs of students enjoying their afternoon classes and approached the Administration Building. She strode toward the Lift that would take her to the Dean’s Office.
“Whoa there, miss.” A large hand gripped her pale bicep. Maeve tensed and lifted a hand, about to shout another Niveus spell. She turned and stopped, seeing that it was Smide, Grand Master of Matter, grinning at her.
Maeve put her hand down. “I-I have to see the Dean.”
“Did you make an appointment?” He pointed over to the office that had been empty before. A girl not any older than Maeve sat behind it, typing away at the scriptboard and speaking with a belgar in front of her.
“Appointment?” Her voice shook. Maeve could only imagine what he was seeing in her. Some ragged woman who looked terrible without her makeup on. “I… I have to speak with the Dean. I had a mission for him.”
Smide furrowed his eyebrows and took a step back. He crossed his arms in front of him. “Mission? Ah, were you the Arrow sent to retrieve the Warlock from the Avalon plane?”
Maeve blinked. She found that she was gasping. Her mind wandered a bit back to the things she’d seen in Avalon, and she quickly shook her head. “Yes. We were. I have to speak with the Dean about… my partner.”
“Righto.” Smide glanced at the woman behind the counter and shrugged. “Alright, go on ahead then.”
“Thank you, Grand Master.” They grinned at each other, and Maeve went on to the Lift.
The Dean’s Office was locked. With a breath, she knocked.
The door opened on the second knock, unassisted, as if buffeted open by the winds. “Come in,” said Hakumatheia past the doors. Maeve walked up to the Dean, the doors shutting behind her.
She was sealed in with the most powerful Magicker in the Throne Collegium once again. All around them, little Runir symbols floated about like lazy fireflies.
“Sit.” Hakumatheia gestured. Maeve scanned him as she took the seat. She wondered if he was hiding something from him. He was speaking awfully tritely right now.
Maeve didn’t sit. “Where’s…” She breathed in. “Where’s Thackeray?”
Hakumatheia raised an eyebrow, and then he sighed. There was a silence, a pause. Maeve realized that there was some sort of low, humming melody somewhere just beneath the skin of reality. It buzzed right beside the pallor and veil of the Mund. Was it the Dean’s Power? Or was it something else…?
“Okay, De Laqua Maeve. I will be honest with you.”
The Dean sighed. His breathing was ragged, and he winced a bit in pain. “It was all a matter of saving face,” he said. “Would I had not attempted to rescue the Warlock — a Magicker still technically under my jurisdiction — I would face a consequence as dictated by the Ordinances. We Magickers are beholden to Tradition, see? We couldn’t spare anyone. I couldn’t spare anyone.” The Dean looked straight into Maeve’s eyes, and he swallowed. There was a softness there that Maeve couldn’t quite make out. Like he was asking for pity, or he was simply tired. “You were new.”
“So,” Maeve grew appalled at the conclusion she was arriving at. “We were expendable. Is that it?”
“Pragmatism is what won the Kifetic Theory the Mystick Wars,” said Hakumatheia. “We changed and adapted, used the others to our advantage. Now our name is synonymous with Magick. It’s deeply rooted into our mythos. Into who we are.”
Maeve shook her head. “I don’t care anymore.” In the back of her head, she was already screaming that she was going to run away. Far away, once she got Thackeray. They would escape to nicer places, to nicer vistas. Maybe a city down the coast, or to West Choma, instead of the hellhole that was Throne. “Where’s Thackeray?” she demanded.
Hakumatheia steppeled his fingers and looked at Maeve straight in the eye. He licked his lips. “Thackeray’s dead.”
Maeve blinked. There was a short period of calm. A short period of silence, as everything broiled underneath, like electricity galvanizing and churning under a pot lid. And then, Maeve exploded.
Hakumatheia let out a breath through his nose. There was a sheen of Power, a coagulation. Maeve blinked, realizing that she had raised her hand and a five icicles hung arrayed about her.
The Dean’s hand flared with a creamy white substance. Maeve looked up and saw three pointed shafts of pure, pulsating and coruscating Diwa, aimed at her. The were positioned in such a way that made it look like the Dean had a halo.
“And yes, to answer your question. You are expendable.”
* * *
Kotoro watched as a haggard woman walked by. He had asked the woman in front of the reception’s desk if he could ask about a certain student’s schedules. When she hadn’t complied, he raised a brass badge depicting twelve pairs of wings — six of them folded inwards, creating the body of the badge, and six of them outstretched, crowning the other, folded in wings. His Naphli Badge.
“I have a search warrant,” he’d said, and the girl behind the counter immediately went to work. Kotoro grinned, and then turned around, watching all about him.
Kotoro whistled. This was the Lobby building, they’d said, which had a Librarium to the far right, where students could download their booknodes. There was also the Repository, where they could retrieve and deposit magickal items and artifacts.
The stone walls broke and opened into a hallway. Kotoro wondered where that led. The other opening led to a Tasspath, and he could only guess that that led to the Administration Building.
All in all, this place looked nothing like the Jubh-Kan Collegium. The Jubh-Kan Collegium was a lot less… floaty, and had more buildings than parks. It was more of a complex than a cool university like this one.
Kotoro had to admit that he was a bit jealous.
He also realized the stark difference in human to other race ratio in Throne. Having grown up in Jubh-Kan, he was used to having a belgar for a best friend, a dreorg for a lover, and a zaretrych for a mentor.
In Throne? Lots of humans. It was kinda plain to see.
Kotoro stopped, and he turned around. He grinned at the girl sitting down behind the counter. Kotoro absolutely knew how handsome he was. The girl was young, obviously working part-time, helping the facilities of the Collegium. Since most of the Collegium worked on Principles she studied, this was something that she probably wanted to do.
“Please,” he said. “Call me Lumis.” Even he cringed. His heart sped up a bit as he tried to flirt and became flustered.
“O-okay. Lumis.” She looked down on the information the holographic monitor fed her. Partly to see the information, and partly to cover her face. “You are looking for the schedule of our Sixth-Year Roeser Oberen, yes?”
“Can I have your palmnode’s frequency, Lumis?”
Kotoro gave it, and she passed on the information to him. Once it was done, and he had retrieved the information, he said, “Why don’t you sync your frequency on there as well, while you’re at it?” He burned inside; the flame of the thrill. He was young, after all. He’d survived twenty-seven years studying and then working as a Savant-Detective. Wait, should this be normal? He felt sixteen again.
He hated it when he saw attractive women.
She pressed her lips together and looked down again. Her hair was naturally silver, almost white, with a tinge that made it look like it was purple. Her features were small and delicate, like a dandelion one would see in the Sydea Plains to the South of Throne, near the Hedge.
Eventually, she finished and handed it back to Kotoro. “A-Are you sure that flirting with people while on the job is professional, Detective?”
“It is if I want it to be,” he said, shrugging.
She smiled. “Saraster Ofenia.”
“I’ll see you then, Ofenia.” And with that Kotoro winked at her and walked away. He managed to get out of the doors, back into the central park, before he let out a huge breath that he didn’t realize he was holding in. He walked over to a pillar, and placed his head against it. He groaned. Both in success or irritation of himself. He didn’t really know.
“Alright,” Kotoro said, checking down the schedule. “Fifth of Nymph… ah, there.” He scrolled down until he saw what his next period would be. “Five to Six Descending… Martial Thaumaturgy. Alright.”
He asked around for directions to the Martial Thaumaturgy class, and was directed to the Westside of the Collegium. There there were multiple buildings that encompassed the multitudes of Fields of study. While other practical studies were held in the other side — the Eastside — most Magickal Study was apparently conducted in the Westside.
For some reason, they’d placed the Martial Thaumaturgy classes into the Building of Energy. The buildings formed a circle around a single statue of Kifes Hasrianna — made of adamant and aurichalcum mixed together, giving it a silver and gold sheen. She stood with one hand high up, ablaze with flame, another hand wrapped around the staff, and the Vedina shining behind her like some golden Halo.
The buildings around her were fashioned to reflect the Fields they taught. On the right side — the side where Kifes held her staff — stood the buildings for the Corporeal Fields: Life, Timespace, Matter, and Energy. On the left — the side where Kifes’ blazing hand was — stood the buildings for the Ethereal Fields: Death, Destiny, Spirit, and Mind.
Kotoro followed the cobblestone path that winded on the right. It was a long path, as each building was wide and almost five storeys high. They were each made of a different magickal material — specifically, the material that can be mined from their Traverses. As such, the building of Life was made of the material edaphine. It looked vaguely like a deep, green jade, and so most of the walls were made of this material.
The building of Timespace was made of orasium, resembling a thousand-times reflecting mirror. Kotoro winced and walked as fast as he could past it so that he didn’t have to look at it.
The building of Matter was made of one of the more common magickal materials — adamant. It looked vaguely like basalt, but was darker in shade — nearing black — denser, more compact. More material than the other magickal materials.
And finally, the building of Energies. Kotoro stood in front of it, admiring it. It was made of aurichalcum, the same blazing golden material found in many ceremonial buildings. It was a symbol of wealth and status, after all. Here, they amped up the blazing part — the gold looked more like flame, constantly shimmering and showing off force. This was aurichalcum as it was meant to be.
In front of the building of Energies were a bunch of students in their downtime. Fiddling with their palmnodes, playing lutes and guitars. As Kotoro passed by, a powerful gale of wind threatened to throw him off his feet, but it promptly stopped, with a girl’s voice going, “Hey! Don’t be a dick.”
One of them struck the aurichalcum walls and amplified the force of their punch with the usual Manipulate Energy rote. The section they struck billowed out flames, but never cracked or shattered.
Kotoro avoided eye contact and walked on in, finding the door carpeted, much to his surprise. He saw a woman behind a desk. She waved the detective over. “Hello, sir. You seem new. Can I help you in any way?”
Kotoro nodded. “Right. Ah, can you direct me to where the Martial Thaumaturgy class is?”
“Take the stairs all the way to the fifth floor. Our Lift isn’t functional as of the moment. A few students tampered with the transmogrifier of it. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Oh no, it’s alright.”
“There will be two rooms in the fifth floor. The gym and the classroom for the Martial Thaumaturgy. It shouldn’t be too hard to find which one you’re trying to get to.”
Kotoro smirked. “Of course. Thank you once again.”
He made his way up to the fifth floor, taking the stairs on the ends of the hallways. The stairs were made of adamant, which have an express resistance against magically conjured flames or any magically conjured spells. He could see the rails were made of aurichalcum as well.
They were taking extraordinary precautions. Which is, of course, to be expected.
Kotoro arrived on the fifth floor, and walked into the hallway. The first room had the words “Gym” in Shennin written across a black slate. The Gym had two doors, each on one end of the doors, so he had to cross those two before getting to the second room.
The second room had the words “Martial Thaumaturgy” written across it in Shennin. Kotoro stood in front of it. He could hear words being spoken from within. Inhaling, Kotoro knocked on the door. Three short, yet loud, raps on the door.
The talking lecture inside the classroom came to a shushing halt. Kotoro fixed his posture, so that he looked intimidating and like a Shennin Naphli conducting official business, and not some grad that felt like an outsider.
The door slid open, and before it was an older man. Not any older than Kotoro — hell, the man was probably just three years older than him — but he conveyed a sense of antiquity. Like wizards of yore.
“And how may I help you?” The man was lean, muscular and tall. Kotoro looked up to him. Literally.
With a flourish, Kotoro showed his badge. “Kotoro Lumis. Detective for the Shennin Naphli. I have some questions to ask. This is urgent.”
The man furrowed his eyebrows. “Urgent, eh?” He turned back to his students and said something in a low-hushed voice, yet most of the students understood him anyway. Kotoro smirked. An old Field of Energy trick, really. Amplify the sound energy as it arrived near the ears of the ones you want to convey a message to.
Eventually, the man turned back to Kotoro and said, “Sure. We’d be happy to, given that it doesn’t take too long.”
Kotoro nodded. “I’ll do my best to keep it concise.”
The Master nodded and gestured him inside. “Oh, right, I’m Master Qamed. Come on right in.”
Master Qamed led Kotoro into the room, which was a lot bigger than he’d thought it would be. The students — there were around forty of them in this room in all — sat in tiered seats with semi-circle tables. In front of the students was a large, circular clearing with a few Runir symbols engraved onto it, constantly humming with Diwal power. Kotoro knew that the Symbols were for “Manipulate Matter”. It was a Spell to strengthen it without the use of Adamant.
Of course, strengthening it ran the chance of Dissonance.
“Class. This is Kotoro Lumis, a Detective for the Shennin Naphli.” The students began leaning close to each other, whispering in hushed tones and speaking and gossiping. Some of the students sat more rigidly, as if caught doing something bad. Kotoro grinned. “He’ll be asking a few questions.” Despite the large room, Master Qamed’s voice carried throughout the entire space. His voice was amplified.
And with that, Master Qamed took a step back, gesturing for Kotoro to speak.
Kotoro spoke, and he found that his voice had been amplified too. It was the only way for him to be heard in such a big space anyway. “Roeser Oberen is dead. Did anybody in this room know him?”
A boy with tousled hair and large optics shot up to his feet.
* * *
Quinen cursed at his own stupid plan.
He stalked after the three Naphlimen as they walked across the road and approached their autochariot. As they came near, the alfr girl that walked behind the two other men paused.
Adonsshit. Quinen stopped, turned, and leaned against the wall, inhaling another smoke.
The alfr girl turned around. They were on the same side of the street as Quinen now.
One of them — the human — opened the door to the driver’s pit. He turned to the alfr girl and said something. Quinen strained to hear, and he called upon the Field of Energy to amplify the sound as it came over to his ears. An intricate, delicate, and complex working.
The anzu had stopped moving as well, looking at the alfr.
“Sersha,” the anzu spoke. “What’s happening?”
“There is a human that follows,” she said, her teimach writhing with a suspicious violet.
Quinen saw the man close the door and turn to him. Quinen removed his cig, watching the flames fall to the ground, and then he let it dissipate into embers with a quick Spell. He then turned and walked into the alleyway right beside him, all the while never letting go of the amplification spell he’d done.
“That’s the human that follows.” The alfr.
“Gharth. Pick him up.”
“Ah come on,” muttered Quinen to himself. He prepared to run — it should be easy enough when the Naphli didn’t have Magickers with them, but he decided to stop. A little plan coalesced in his mind.
With a huge intake of breath, to make sure there was enough zephyr in his mind to keep the Spell going, he walked out of the alleyway and into the open. “Naphli. I mean no harm. I’ve only come to ask a question.”
The human raised an eyebrow. The alfr had pulled out a sword from her back, and the anzu was already in the air. A pause, and then the human walked forward. He pulled out a gun and said, “This has Dissonance slugs, son. Come forward without any Magick.”
Quinen nodded, and he turned off the amplification spell. A strain on his brain lifted, like a migraine eroding. The Warlock walked forward to the Naphli human.
“Stop.” The human said as Quinen came a few feet from him. “Now what did you come to ask?”
Here we go. “The Wild Hunt Soldier,” he said. “That Transplanar entity? I can help you with that.” He breathed, eyeing the captain and the anzu and the alfr carefully. “It was chasing me.”
The Naphlimen lowered their weapons.
* * *
Afar off, in the midst of the afternoon hustle, in the midst of the Daystar’s unrelenting rays beating down on the concrete city of Throne, a rift exploded in the vestiges of reality. It ripped open in a seemingly random place, as if the coordinates of its entrance was slightly off. Deep into a back-alley, amidst the dumpsters and scaffolding and plastic wrappers and homeless people leaning against the brick walls for support, the winds swirled about the Rift, as if trying to fill in a vacuum but failing over and over again, creating a loud sound.
Then a chill came over the entire alleyway. A sabaton of black incomprehensible flickered out from the rift and into the Mund. When it landed on the floor, ice exploded outward, radiating around it. The ice frosted over the walls of the alley, froze the scaffolding and the dumpsters and the flying trash wrappers and the homeless people with nowhere to go. In the existence between seconds, the entire alleyway had been frozen over, as if a two day blizzard had swept through it.
Soon followed the rest of the armor, moving out of the rift as if passing through a heavy veil. A nine-foot tall humanoid clad in armor stepped forth, and raised its armet helm, fashioned in the gothic design of the Second Age Shennin Warriors known as the Dakila. A bowl helmet that covered the entire head with the use of hinged cheek plates that folded backwards.
It turned, and its cloak billowed in the icy wind. It was a cape made of the coagulated tears of animals, knit together by the aeolian strands of unfate.
It looked up, and thought that this view was not fit for it. That it couldn’t see anything from here. With a thought, it bent the rules of the Mund and carried itself to the top of the building beside it with nary but a thought.
Now on the concrete roof, it walked near to one of the edges, and looked out. If any of the populis would look up, they would see a tall statue made of such an abyssal black that they would’ve thought it were made of styigum — the material mined from the Traverse of the Field of Death.
It surveyed its surroundings, seeking out the essence, the tasteful gossamer, of Dushamigkhala. Its cape billowed in the wind, and the winds itself now seemed to bow to it, whirling about the Wild Hunt Leader, caressing it and sliding into the vents and openings of its armor.
Then, Garomeos turned around, its armet now pointing to the direction of the Spires. More specifically, the Naphli HQ.
It stepped forward, and a Rift — not surging with golden gossamer like the usual Avalon Rift — exploded in front of it. It stepped inside, and the Rift closed behind it.
In its wake, the winds had turned cold, and the working class and the populis below shivered. They chalked it up to a Cold Surge because of the Nymph Season, and maybe they would not be wrong. Some of the populis looked, up, and only saw a frozen silhouette.