The Containment Room was a vast white room with several glass tubes that reached up to the ceiling. Within these glass tubes were a wide variety of creatures. Some sort of clockwork human that sat hugging its knees, a black ooze that slammed itself repeatedly against the wall, soliciting a bright blue sigil from the points of impact, as well as some sort of lakerto — his skull cracked wide open by a black material that looked like solidified black ink blossoming upward.
Urie led the Commissioner past these and to a sectioned off room within Containment. This room was split into two halves — one half was dark and filled with different kinds of equipment and monitors, desknodes and magickal scripts. The other half was a simple white room, large enough to house the large, arachnid… thing.
Urie grimaced at the sight. It was a weird one, that was for sure. It definitely would live up to the title of Transplanar entity.
The Captain and the Commissioner walked into the monitoring room, where the Haliyn was greeted by salutes and bows. The Commissioner walked over to the one sitting right in front of a desknode console. She peered through the one-way glass.
The Commissioner leaned down, placed a finger on the sigil that activated the resonator, and said, “What are you?” Her voice was deep, husky.
The arachnid looked up, and then to its right, and then, straight at the commissioner. The six heads that it had all turned directly to her, and one of it grinned.
Commissioner Haliyn furrowed her eyebrows, and her mouth twisted up a bit. It was the slightest grimace.
“…HUNTER…” When it spoke, it’s voice echoed in and then out, as if it was constantly talking, and never stopping.
The Commissioner leaned down again and activated the Sigil to the resonator. “Where are you from?”
Urie stood near to the Commissioner, but behind her still.
The Hunter kept grinning at the Commissioner. It had been tied up quite neatly, with the same Uvikaian binds that were reinforced by magick, steel chains that glowed. But it removed one foot out of its frozen body, cracking and shattering the rime. It still couldn’t move its blade-appendage past the Uvikaian binds, but it struggled.
It didn’t answer.
The Commissioner stood up straight and folded her arms. “This thing was chasing down a Magicker?”
“Yes,” Urie said, and then said, “A-and the Magicker himself has offered himself for interrogation. He’d stated that that thing was a Wild Hunt Soldier.”
The Commissioner turned to Urie and raised both eyebrows. “Take me to him.”
* * *
Quinen leaned against the couch. He looked at his hands, and then, began poking at his own, rock-hard belly. It was supposed to be fleshy, and tummy-like, not something akin to a washboard. It freaked him out, to be honest, as he poked at it. He licked his lips and furrowed his eyebrows.
He scowled as he raised his hand, and saw the hard, veiny muscles that ran down his arm. Was this even him anymore? Did him not having the same body as before make him not Quinen?
Well, I could still do Magick… he thought, and some Mind-Savants argue that the Soul is the only identity…
But is it? Is identity one quantifiable thing, or is it a great many things that defines us, and not just the Soul?
But is the Soul the thing that would be defined?
Quinen shook his head. He decided to ponder on cooler things: could his Shell be modular? Could he upgrade his parts with magitechnics?
The doorknob twisted and the door swung open. Quinen noticed the two humans that walked in, albeit still absent-mindedly looking down his arm. One was the Captain, while the other human was a woman that held herself like she was a dignified 40 year old corporate executive, yet looked like a 25 year old theater actress.
Quinen scowled at them, but he would be a liar if he said he wasn’t somewhat taken aback by the woman’s gray eyes.
The Captain turned to Quinen and said, “Magicker, this is Commissioner Haliyn.”
Quinen furrowed his eyebrows, sighed, and stood up. He offered his most gracious bow. “Good day, Commissioner.”
The Commissioner stared at Quinen severely, and her gray eyes looked like an endless hallway that Quinen could get sucked into. He had to look at the bookshelf behind her to not get distracted or utterly entranced.
The tall woman nodded, and then turned to the Captain. “Thank you, Captain. Please, give us some privacy.”
The Captain nodded, and he shut the door behind him.
The Commissioner gestured for Quinen to sit, and Quinen bowed by the chest ever so slightly as he fell down onto the leather once again. The Commissioner drew up a chair, and then sat across him.
“Privacy?” Quinen managed a smirk. “There’s another room with a one-sided mirror over there.”
The Commissioner raised an eyebrow. “You tried a Working within this room?”
Quinen shrugged. “I know that this kind of, ah, place tells me that there’s probably some sort of anti-magickal spell in here somewhere. Be it because of the bland gray walls, comfy veneer, or the fact that it’s in the middle of the Naphli HQ.” Quinen turned to look up at the woman, and steeled his resolve to look straight into her eye. “But curiosity is a core tenet of the Theory.”
There was a silence. A moment. Quinen had to break off from the tensions growing between them because of the prolonged staring contest.
When he broke off, the blonde woman spoke. “What is your name, Magicker?”
Quinen still didn’t turn to look at the woman. He tossed the idea of telling her his true identity around his mind, but he realized that he didn’t exactly have anyone else left to protect other than Chrys.
He’s never shown his connection with Chrysanthemum officially. Chrys has never been officially registered into the Annal Populi — the Records of the People. He decided to take the chance, but a measured one. A leap of faith but with a safety net underneath. “The Warlock. Maybe you might’ve heard of me.”
The Commissioner sat back, resting on her chair. She blinked at Quinen, and both her eyebrows were raised. “I have heard of you, but most of the claims to your infamy have been only legends in the Collegium.”
“And thus you do not believe them,” Quinen said, nodding. “Smart, I guess. People do tend to blow up my acts.”
“What did you do back then, Warlock?” The Commissioner leaned forward. “What did you truly do to earn that infamous moniker, Argist Quinen?”
Quinen shrugged. “A little bit of Qitra dabbling, a little bit of Astralmancy, curiosity. You know, the usual for a Magicker who thinks he’s the hotshot.”
“And have you learned from it?”
“I’d like to think I have.” But I probably haven’t. I’m not exactly the best self-critic.
The Commissioner nodded. She pulled out a larger palmnode that didn’t exactly fit the palm. They’ve called these models padnodes, and they’re slowly becoming a more famous occurrence in Modern Throne.
The blonde haired woman guided different visual feeds with her finger, tapping and closing, sliding and stopping, before she clicked on something and said, “How old are you?”
Quinen lifted a hand and wiggled it, a gesticulation of in-between. “Eh, maybe somewhere between twenty seven, or twenty nine? Maybe twenty eight, I’m not sure.”
The Commissioner squinted her eyes at him. “It says here that you’re 29, yes. It also depicts a much different version of you. Much thicker, and with longer hair, and shorter. Who are you?”
Quinen sighed and leaned his head backwards. “Okay. Alright.” He hadn’t counted on the fucking Commissioner of the Naphli to come and interrogate him. He was hoping he could get this over with as quickly as possible.
“You have a record of Incursions.”
Quinen shrugged. “Why do they call me Warlock?”
“And you have been an accomplice of that certain Dean that has been since stripped of his power and subjected to the act of Severance.”
Quinen tensed. He snapped his head to the side and nodded, looking back straight at the Commissioner. Her face was a perfect mask. “And was replaced by a literal monkey that has no idea what he’s doing.”
“We don’t tolerate traitors.” She flicked away a stray lock of hair that had fallen, and on her right hand Quinen could see the seven-spoked star that burned with some sort of superimposed neon.
“You don’t tolerate free-thinkers, you mean.”
The Commissioner’s mask never broke. “That is a topic for Academia.”
“Academia does nothing,” said Quinen, running a hand through his hair and stretching his legs, “if they’re not allowed to make a change.”
The Commissioner squinted her eyes. Quinen managed to grasp faint strands of satisfaction. “The religion this place runs on will not benefit the future,” he continued. “Especially when it’s built on a lie.”
The Commissioner had already been nodding halfway through Quinen’s statement.
And that was when the entire building shook.
Both Quinen and the Commissioner stopped. A half-second passed and the Commissioner was already on her feet, opening the door, and meeting with the rest outside. Quinen scrambled forward and caught the door right before it closed, and managed to slip outside.
A red sheen covered the room he was in, as if someone had set up bright red neon somewhere and turned off all the usual alchemical luxes. “Let us put this discussions aside and focus on something more important that you’ve said.”
“That the Transplanar Entity we’ve captured is actually a Wild-”
“Something broke in, Commissioner!” The Captain barged in.
The Commissioner turned and was on her feet in a lightning second. “What broke in? How?”
“It’s vaguely humanoid, Ma’am,” another voice said. Female. “And as for how…?”
* * *
Gharth, Sersha, and the rest of the Top Command Crew jumped up from their seats, weapons all in hand and ready to fire. Those with access to the better armor units activated them, and a liquid armor exploded out of a cartridge on the napes of their necks and twisted about them until they were fully clad in a protean, silver carapace.
The corvid lay destroyed, ablaze, casting a harsh orange light against the inside of the top floor. In the midst of the fire, completely unhurt and covered in white ice, was a ten foot-tall walking suit of armor. Its armet helmet completely blocked its entire face, but they could see two burning balls that acted like eyes.
When it spoke, it was like rocks being ground. “…DUSHAMIGKHALATHEHUNTERTHEINCOMPETENTSTUPIDFOOLIHUNTFORITGIVEITTOMEANDYOUWILLALLDIE…”
Gharth readied his blade. Sersha chanted something, and her teimach flared with Magick.
Gharth glanced side wards at Sersha, and he could see the knife-ears slowly lifting off of the ground. He could feel the pull of Magick, of some sort of Sorcery not quite like Collegiate Magick but not too different either.
The Top Command Crew fired. A cacophony, a rhapsodic orchestra of slug and missiles razing the armored thing. Fires and slugs and plumes of flame and crackles of lightning and bursts of wind as they unloaded different types of bullets. A colorful cloud burst from where the thing stood.
The armor walked through it, rainbow smoke trailing behind it.
Gharth cursed. Sersha tensed. The suit of armor was fast. One stride and it was in front of one of their armored units. The man brought up an arm, and the liquid armor extended, creating a shield just as the Suit of Armor brought down a gigantic steel fist. The fist slammed against the armored unit, sending it flying backwards and against a wall. Spiderweb cracks radiated from the point of impact; liquid steel dropped onto the ground and the shield shattered.
Gharth breathed heavier. He had to work himself up. He’d pledged. Die protecting the City, the Kingdom. He didn’t earn the title of Senior Officer by being scared of some sort of walking suit of armor.
But the ten-foot tall thing straightened up from its punching posture, and turned. One flaring red eye staring at Gharth underneath a black veneer.
Gharth took a step forward, and his avian legs quivered.
The voice swirled about his mind, echoing within the chambers of his soul, and then calming him down with a serene, soothing mist. Gharth stopped quivering, and he stood up straight, inhaling.
The anzu looked about him, and he could see the rest of the tense Top Command Crew lower their shoulders, stand straighter, and eyes more alert, looking straight at the hulking piece of armor.
Gharth looked at Sersha, and Sersha stared up at him. “The Commissioner,” Sersha whispered.
They nodded at each other.
Calm down, resonated once again the voice of the Commissioner. You are Naphli. Sworn Guardians of the Kingdom. Show this intruder the might of the mortals. Remember: every fight has a rhythm.
Gharth looked about him, and the rest of the Top Command Crew nodded, looking at each other. Ornami, with her dark blue hair stood up straighter, holding up the slugpiece and reaching for a different slug cartridge. Kijaki, their belgar, clenched his beastly fists and stretched his legs. The liquidsteel armor allowed him more mobility that accompanied his fighting style. Arashu, the madman, grinned as he stood on the desk, holding an electric guitar.
The Suit of Armor lunged towards Arashu. Sanami, their combat-magicker, clapped her hands and shouted, “Manipulate Energy! Let’s go, Kifetic Shield!” The lunging suit of armor slammed against an invisible wall, and then with another shriek of effort, Arashu hurled the suit of armor back with a powerful explosion of kinetic energy. The suit of armor struck the ground, twisted, and found its footing near the opening of the Command Center. Back where it started.
“Every fight has a rhythm!” shouted Arashu, his dark hair flailing. “Let’s rock, Naphli!”
Engage, but do not die. I will be there soon.
The entire Napli team nodded.
And Arashu riffed.
The fight was a coordinated, calm strike. The first attack was from their stronger units, armored. Kijaki and Ordan — the one punched by the Armor — lunged in a provoking attack. Kijaki lunged, with a speed that could’ve matched the armor, and then feinted to the right as Ordan leapt across the room, twisted in midair, and slashed twice with his Naphli sword. Their magickally-enhanced, Naphli-standard blades didn’t cut right through the steel despite being made of starsteel, but it dented the armet helmet of the Armor.
The Armor moved just as quick. It struck once, and Ordan hurtled backwards, crashing against the roof. Kijaki feinted to the right, and then moved up, bringing a claw wrapped with the liquidsteel with him. The Armor kicked the strike away; Kijaki twisted and swung his leg, which actually connected against the steel of the Armor. The Armor moved again, like a tornado, and Kijaki slammed against one of the desknodes.
Keep it occupied until I am there.
Sersha nodded and her teimach flared. She turned to Sanami, and then to Gharth. The first riff had been set. Their swords can scratch it, and the Armor was fast. They just need someone just as fast.
Gharth sighed. There’s a reason he became a Senior Officer at his young age. He didn’t come from Shen, after all. Rather, far to the east, in the Cliff-Nests of his kind. There they practiced a particular kind of Magick.
Sanami vaulted over the table and slid beside Sersha. The Armor didn’t budge, watching as more of their armored units came in and provoked it. Some fired their slugpieces, and the bullets lodged themselves into the steel, but the Armor trudged on, implacable.
“What’s the plan?”
“The Commissioner is coming soon,” Gharth said, kneeling beside Sersha. “We will try not to get killed.”
“But sometimes,” Sersha began. Her teimach still flared, like a neverending bonfire. “Your defense is as good as your offence. We’ll keep it occupied. The Commissioner should be here soon.”
Sanami nodded. “So I’m gonna do the thing with Gharth, right?”
“Yes.” Sersha’s flaring teimach managed to flash a green of confirmation. The white flaring blazed emerald.
Sanami bit her lip. “That Manipulate Spell took a bunch out of me, but I can still do Solid Circles.”
Gharth breathed. “Alright.”
The guitar was in the build-up. A continuously rising riff. “The first break is coming,” Gharth said.
“We’ve done this a million times.”
Arashu riffed, faster and faster and faster.
Gharth breathed, and his feathers rose, each plume prickling with its own wind.
Arashu stopped, and the final guitar chord echoed.
When Gharth moved, the electric guitar returned, riding the crest of the hanging final chord, carrying the battle to another stage. Gharth shot forward; Sersha, Sanami, and even Arashu all grimaced as the wind whipped their hair backward, and the tables toppled. Arashu managed to flip off of a tumbling table, continue his guitar in the air, and then drop onto the ground, slamming his guitar pick down at the same time.
The Armor wasn’t expecting Gharth’s blade lodged deep into its chest, his plumage flaring with an invisible flame. In the next second, Gharth dislodged his blade and pushed off of the Armor, and he exploded backwards, flurrying gales sending the Armor stumbling backwards.
Sanami raised her hands and shouted, “Transmute Energy!” She performed a lightning fast gesture.
Gharth flipped in mid air and hit the block of flash-frozen wind. He pushed again, and his Zephyr burst against the thin slice of frozen air. Wind exploded. Gharth sliced at the Armor once again, going through and creating a long slash across its side. The anzu hit the floor and the tiles burst outward, into the landing pad, some of it crashing against the now decimated corvid.
Three rising chords.
Gharth moved three times. Sanami created blocks of flash-frozen wind for him to bounce from. Three more slashes materialized in the Armor. Gharth moved five times all in the space of a second. Sanami winced, fell on one knee as she made four blocks of flash-frozena air, helping five more gashes materialize on the steel of the armor. Gharth moved one last time, and one large gash materialized across the Armor’s back, and this time the creature howled. A howl that sounded like steel grinding against rock.
Sersha rose from the ground, flipped in midair as if suspended by invisible strings, and then she fell forward, just as Gharth reappeared beside Sanami, breathing heavily. Sanami was on both knees.
Sersha fell towards the Armor; a thousand more cuts reappeared beside the gashes that had already been dealt.
The final riff played, just as Sersha — completely silent — crashed against the Armor with the weight of a falling boulder. Her knees slammed against the Armor’s torso just as Arashu played the final chord. The Armor hurtled backwards, past the smoking remnants of the corvid, and crashed against the steel railings of the landing pad.
Sersha flipped in midair again, and then fell back down, wincing.
The lift behind them dinged open, and the Commissioner, with the Warlock, stepped out.
The final guitar chord’s vibrations echoed through the air, a shredding final note to end the battle.
The Armor pushed itself off of the steel railing and rose to its feet. The snow flurried around it. The Commissioner stared it down.