“There is someone.” The Dean Hakumatheia squinted his eyes, and subtly opened his Sight. There was a burning conflagration on his periphery — a Magicker’s Soul — burning behind the railings of the second floor balcony. Behind such conflagration was a smaller wick of flame.
The Dean sighed. “Come out.”
* * *
Kotoro grimaced. He had to think fast; he looked down, and saw the gleaming badge of the Naphli. He grabbed it, removing it’s fastening pins from the breast of his shirt. He didn’t have a weapon with him — a huge mistake on his part — but rose. He saw the Dean on the floor below him. “Dean Hakumatheia? I am Kotoro. I’ve a warrant for questioning.” He raised his badge.
The Dean turned to him and raised a pristine, white eyebrow. The shimmer of his limbal ring suggested that he had his Sight turned on.
“You are… from the Naphli?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve only come here for the investigation of a certain Magickal Incursion near the Karoley Ward, southeast.”
“Indeed?” The Dean sat behind his wooden desk. The bearded man gestured for Kotoro to sit, and the detective did so, hurrying down the stairs and then taking his position on the wooden chair.
The Dean stared at the quicksilver orb that lay on his desk — one of his Charms. “Ask away.”
Kotoro nodded. He licked his lips, and then opened his mouth: “It’s come to our attention that there has been another Magickal Incursion that has also happened just a few days ago. That one was from the Warlock. This time, we’ve found a dead body. Two dead bodies, to be exact: one of a belgar with a strange emblem — somehow similar to the now vanished Knights Vigilant — and another belonging to a student of your Collegium. A certain Oberen Roeser.”
The Dean nodded slowly. “I see. What was the cause of death?”
“Unsure,” Kotoro said. “Usually, with two deaths so close to each other, one would think that they would have similar causes of death; the time of death seemed to be close enough as well. But no,” Kotoro straightened his back, “Oberen was killed from blunt force trauma, shattering his ribs. The belgar was decapitated. There were signs of a struggle on the roof, and more signs of struggle on the scaffolding.”
“I have one,” said Kotoro. He proceeded to splay open his hands and shrug. “They were fighting, of sorts, maybe. Maybe a rare burst of Dissonance hit them both, and Oberen flew off the roof, onto the scaffolding, dying as he hit the railings. The belgar was probably struck by a spell of some sort by Oberen. Was Oberen some Martial Thaumaturgist?”
The Dean nodded. “If I recall correctly, yes.”
“Perfect. That fits the theory.” Kotoro snapped his fingers, and then shook his head. “Now a new thread has popped up — there’s a Transplanar entity on the loose, and I’m thinking that the entity has something to do with the murders. Somehow. There was Magickal Resonance as well, which only helps my hypothesis of Martial Thaumaturgy.”
“Hm.” The Dean coughed. “Don’t you think you’re reaching for stars? The Transplanar Entity… should it not be connected at all…”
Kotoro licked his lips. “I’ve thought of it. But the time the Entity appeared, compared to the time we found the crime scene? I mean, it’s not all the time you see a Transplanar Entity openly jumping across the Karoley Ward chasing after a Magicker.”
Kotoro shrugged. “So they must be connected. Somehow.”
The Dean looked down at his desk, leaning back on his chair. He joined his fingertips together, forming a steeple with his fingers, as he thought. His face was completely blank. After a few moments, he spoke. “I care for the welfare of my students. What do you mean to ask of me?”
Kotoro gleamed. “What do you know of Oberen Roeser? What was he doing before his death?”
The Dean turned to Kotoro and looked into his eyes. The glimmer of Magickal Power wasn’t there anymore, and Kotoro leaned back at the intensity of his mundane gaze. The blue, icy eyes of the Dean.
Then the Dean said, “I don’t recall too much. He was with the Warlock the last time I saw him.”
“Ah,” Kotoro said, nodding. “So he hangs out with the Warlock a lot, it seems?”
The Dean shrugged.
“Who is this Warlock, by the by?”
The Dean sighed. “An Urban Legend, now. We have given him that moniker, Warlock — an old term for Magickers during the Second Age, during which Magick was feared as some sort of malevolent force — for it is what we call Magickers expelled due to malevolent sorceries.”
“Ah.” Kotoro nodded. Kotoro thought back to how they didn’t call any of the expelled students anything back in the Jubh-Kan Collegium. Merely Expelled. “Interesting. Do you have any idea where the Warlock might be?”
The Dean inhaled. “You may try the Headquarters of the Naphli.”
Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “He is there?”
The Dean was silent for a while, before saying, “In the Medica.”
“Thank you, for your time, sir,” Kotoro said.
“Anything to help the City’s Protectors.” The Dean said, smiling tightly. He stood with Oberen, and shook hands with him. Without another question, Kotoro bowed by the waist, turned, and walked out.
When he got to the lift, he realized that his Psychic Barrier had been struck. He blinked. Was the Dean trying to read his mind?
Kotoro walked out of the lift, and saw the girl still pinned to the wall. With a wave of a hand, he removed the bindings, and turned the matter back into the counter. With another wave of his hand and an uttering of incantation, he wove Magick. His Mind Working wove into her memories and struck out the recent happening.
She shook her head as if she were in a reverie, and then looked up at Kotoro. “Hi, how may I help you?”
Kotoro shook his head and grinned. “Just walking by.” He then turned and made his way out. He wondered why he didn’t just use a Mind Working in the first place, when he was trying to walk up to the Dean’s room. The Detective shrugged, chalking it all up to Matter Workings being easier to conjure up on the fly, since he learned it first. Besides, Corporeal Fields were easier to manipulate than the Ethereal Fields.
* * *
She found herself crouched over a damp, dark floor, rocky and craggy, uneven. There was a source of light somewhere, and before her shadows danced with the figures of her past. Strange animalian humans, twisted chimeras, and bygone dragons flew and crashed and ate and soared, creating bludgeoning images of surreality that seemed to bring into her mind the temporality of all things.
Within this shadowy cave, she felt a hand on her shoulder. The hand burned; she was cold and frigid to the touch. She turned, but found that she could not, for she wore some sort of mechanism that stuck her head forward, forever looking at the shadows dancing and showing them the shade of the truth.
The hand came away for a moment. Chrysanthemum turned to each side and saw other beings that were not human. Some of them had tentacles for hair, others had flaming mouths. Some didn’t have a face at all, only the visage of a shadow creating squinting masks. There was one that was an animal only — a small ferret, that enjoyed the dancing upon the wall, smiling along.
Then the burning hand returned; Chrysanthemum could feel its warmth. The hand touched the mechanisms binding her head and neck, and they melted away, burning up in a never-ending golden blaze. The burning hands cupped her small pixie face and turned her away from the shadow.
The light that cast such shadows only burnt her eyes. She had to squint, and through her squinting eyes she saw the face that equipped the burning hands.
It was Quinen.
The Warlock grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the Sun outside. She was equal parts afraid and excited. As she ran across the cold damp floor of the cave, onwards to the shining mouth and outside, the flames and heat only seemed to singe her. Conflagrate her. Torment her and burn her. Incinerate her.
She cried out, just as the Sun’s light was too unbearable, and right as she left the dream. Right before she tittered over the cusp of consciousness and unconsciousness, she heard a dark, twisted, yet holy voice. It spoke in cryptic words that she could not understand, but she felt bumps running along her spine.
And then she awoke.
Chrysanthemum opened her eyes. Her glowing pink hair was matted to her damp face. Her pupils dilated as she gazed up at the little pixie lights that floated lazily within the Dean’s Sanctum. She wondered upon what she just experienced. For so long, she’d been experiencing death — the state of slumber was the closest one could get to eternal rest, Quinen had told her once. But now that she dreamt, she wondered the implications, and what the dream meant.
She realized that tears streamed down her face.
She wanted to leave.
The little pixie lights still bumped each other. She shifted; a blanket slipped off of her and piled onto the floor. She rose to her feet, but fell back to the chair, dizzy from the sudden movement.
She breathed and then moved again, forward, to the steel railings. She peered down and saw the white haired Dean of the Collegium, leaning over his desk, deep in thought, wearing more regal clothes now. Clothes that seemed to fit his stature of being the Dean.
This white haired man tensed, and then turned to look up at the fey-girl. Th wrinkles on his face seemed more pronounced, his eyebags heavy and bulbous underneath his eyes, which glowed with some sort of fading white. He blinked, and said, “Come down, dear.”
Chrysanthemum, tired and all, happily obliged.
She came down the stairs, cold on her feet. Then something toiled, and turmoiled and trembled within her very being. A rumbling that she couldn’t exactly feel with her physical senses, rather, some sort of churning within the recesses and ravines of her mind.
Chrys stopped on the last step. Her glowing pink hair swayed like stray silk caught in the zephyr. When she turned to the Dean, the Dean’s face had been drained of color, and his mouth was slightly open.
“I felt it.”
Chrysanthemum tilted her head to one side, like a cat.
* * *
Kasu walked into the Lo-Fi Cafe. Ambient noise played in speakers unseen, but filled in the silences between conversations, an unwelcome third party to discourse. The bell rang as she walked through the glass door, and the strong coffee aroma slammed against her senses before mixing naturally with the scent of rain outside.
The lights were a yellow hue, bright enough for people to see but tinted for aesthetic purposes. A boy smiled at a customer ordering an eldrics cup. His short hair fixed into a fauxhawk, and his posture bad and crooked. As the woman moved to the right, he turned to the Dataturge.
“Ah, Kasu,” he said. He wore a black and red apron, instead of the usual yellow and brown.
Kasu walked up to him. “Did you miss me, Igdo?”
He smiled that crescent moon smile, which matched his dark complexion perfectly. “Maybe a little bit.” His Shennin was tinged with the accent of Zirrinae. “Just a little bit. How long are you going to be away?”
Kasu sighed, but eyed the choices of coffee written with chalk on the blackboard behind Igdo. “Maybe a day. Then I’ll come back. I just wanted to…”
Igdo wiped his hands on his apron, and then beckoned her to the Barista’s Quarters, which was really just a small place where they shove their bags into. Kasu followed, and they settled within the small private cubicle in this overly public place. She watched as Igdo touched her face. She didn’t pull away. “Kasu. Yiha, don’t stretch yourself. Okay?”
Kasu nodded which gradually grew into a slow shake of head. “I know, Igdo. I just… There was someone who needed help. I can’t just turn away from that.”
Igdo pressed his lips together. “I know, I know,” he nodded, and he tore away his hands from Kasu’s face. “Just remember that, if you do not help yourself, how can you help others? This is not bad, what you are doing. But too much of it is bad. Just like everything else in the Surface World.”
Kasu inhaled, and nodded. “I know. I get it. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
“That’s my girl.” Igbo cupped Kasu’s face again and brought it closer to his. He laid his lips on her forehead, and then let go. “You damn well should. I cannot keep paying you for doing nothing.”
Kasu nodded, grinning. “I know, I know. Can I have a house blend, before I go?”
Igdo winked, smiled that dimpled smile, and turned around back into the counter.
The Dataturge turned and made her way out of the Barista’s Quarters. She found a lone seat against the glass wall of the coffee shop. She sat, leaning against the invisible yet material wall between the cozy warmth and coffee aroma of the cafe and the wet and cold rain of the outside. She could half-see her reflection, and found that her hair wasn’t as bad as she thought. Past that, the streetlights cast an ember hue upon the rainfall puddling on the sidewalk, reflecting against the bitumen sheen of the road. Autochariots passed. Jacketed and umbrella using people walked by. Some of them wore plain clothes, others wore heavy jackets and asymmetrical hoods. Their datanodes cast a turquoise hue upon the drizzle.
Igdo placed a cup of coffee in the round wooden table in front of her. The thudding and then clanking of the coffee nudged her away from the outside. “Here you go,” he said. “Enjoy it.”
Kasu grinned at him as he turned and strode away, back to the counter, just as the bell rang again. Grateful, she removed the top covering; she preferred seeing the coffee on the first sip or when she wasn’t on the move. The dark caramel brown color of the blend only accentuated the warm brown aroma. She leaned in to take a sip, when she saw the coffee quiver. Just by the tiniest bit.
She pulled the cup away from her lips.
Kasu looked past the glass window again, and she saw the rain intensify. The bright nightstar and her twin the moon could not be seen at all as heavy nimbuses huddled and conquered the night sky.
Kasu squinted as she realized the rain, looking like it was being poured out of the pitcher of Adon itself, was actually moving upwards. She saw people — humans, mostly — running to and fro past the coffee shop as the sidewalk suddenly shifted and turned into mud, or burst up into a concrete pillar or spike of earth. She saw the glass she sat behind suddenly begin to churn, as if it were water, and she dove away from it just in time before the glass suddenly warped and exploded, although it did not shatter.
“What in Adon’s Balls–?!”
There were screams from outside, and the lights flashed red, blue, green, yellow…
* * *
Kotoro leapt out of the Brown Cab, throwing down thirty full eagle coins onto the paying well of the Cab and never bothering to turn around. He dashed into the front doors of the HQ, ignoring the massive crater in the middle. He made his way to the front desk and asked, “I heard the Commissioner was here. Where’s the Commissioner?”
“7th floor, Detective,” said the woman behind the Desk. “Medica.”
He nodded in thanks and ran up the Lift.
* * *
The Top Command Center was still being repaired, but the more dedicated members — most notably Captain Urie, Sersha, and Gharth, all continued their works on the floor below it, which still had equipment.
Sersha nursed her wounds. Gharth slept soundly, without a noise, standing completely straight up and with his wings wrapped him like a cloak. Urie straightened at a high-pitched sound. His eyes had dark bags underneath them, and his mouth was half open. In his hand was a large cup of coffee. He pointed at a yellow-haired boy manning one of the desknodes. “Report, officer!”
“Sir, there are some loud Transplanar Energies coruscating somewhere sir.”
“Pinpoint the location.”
* * *
Chrysanthemum felt it, all the way to her bones. “I feel something familiar is coming.”
The Dean shook his head. He got up on his feet and sighed. “And I had hoped…” his voice was slow, strained. “It would not have come to this. But it seems that Zinnia had wished something else. It seems I’ve been played a fool. It seems I was the first Card in the Deck of Vivid Dreams”
“What?” Chrysanthemum asked.
“The Mammiwla, as they call it in Old Kerahmetian. The Dean’s face contorted. His mouth became a grave line, his eyes fell, his chin pointed to his chest. “That damned Siddivata bitch never wanted you. If she really did resort to that, then, I will make her face Magick.”
* * *
There was a great trembling in Quinen’s Soul.
This time, he knew it wasn’t Dissonance. He had been awake all this time, staring at the ceiling and thinking of nothing. A new thing for him, blankness. It was bliss. It was the closest thing to Heaven. The scuffling feet, the swaying curtains, the beeping of the Vita sensors — these ambient sounds induced blankness. These offhand, tertiary sounds induced bliss.
Then there was a great churning within him. The fibers and strings of his Soul quivered and tanged.
He swung his feet off the bed. He could move them now, relatively easily. He still had his clothes on, much to his relief. With every step he took, his Soul thundered. He remembered the words of his mentor, about the Sympathetic Link between Fields — especially if it were a Field not of the Nine Fundamental Fields.
As above, so below.
Avalon thundered. Each one louder than the last.
Quinen gripped his head, and winced. He walked out of his little curtained off portion of the Medica, and found a glass window off to the side. Walking up to it, he saw rain falling upwards — rising — and lights turning into red and blue and green and yellow before turning into a glowing black, and then back to hues that even his Mundic eyes couldn’t properly process, blasting him and overloading his perceptions.
Thunderstorms swirled about the highest point of Throne City, as if a tornado of nimbuses touched down on the tip of the Spire.
Quinen hoped for the best, but realized only the worst.
Could it be?
He turned around, but the thundering in his Soul only confirmed it.
The thundering was like the beat of hooves upon the fiber of reality.
The thundering of hooves.
The thunder of the Wild Hunt.