Zinnia wore nothing but an emerald dress of flowing water. It began as a thin sheet of sidereal silk, eventually becoming trees, and then grasslands, and then turning gray as the grasslands rose up and danced into a raging storm.
Within the folds of Zinnia’s astral storm dress, the Wild Hunt thundered and roared, silhouettes appearing and dancing behind thunderclouds.
Beside the flaring redheaded Baroness was the feminine figure with the aubergine eyes. Her writhing, living wood figure grew out from the dress of trees of Zinnia as they travelled through the endless black in between.
“Hyacinth,” said Zinnia. “I task you with the job of bringing the Dushamigkhala to me once again. Give to Pixiu the task of killing the Dean Hakumatheia. He will be prepared, and he has powerful Magicks. Are you sure he is capable of taking down the Dean?”
Hyacinth nodded. “May I ask, Zinnia, Baroness: through what cleverness have you managed to break the Ancient Accords?”
Zinnia shrugged. “It was easy,” said Zinnia. “They are Mortal. They are human. They always make mistakes.”
Hyacinth pondered on this, but her mind was a cesspool of thoughts. She shook her head, and began to shrink, surrendering back into the ravaging storm Zinnia brought with her.
Zinnia stopped her with a hand. “Actually, no. Pixiu will be going with me.”
“To where, Baroness?”
“To the Dean, of course.”
* * *
Shikoth was, once again, a disentangled mess of bones.
Before the great spider had chased after the Warlock, the Wild Hunt Soldier found the boneful Anzu spying on it. The Transplanar Entity jumped up and decapitated the Anzu spirit with frightening ease, slicing through both Shikoth’s corporeal bones and ethereal gossamer. As the bone clattered and scattered into the wind like ash, most of them cut so fine that they were like ground bits of dirt, Shikoth’s spirit flew back — almost instantly — into the many Container Hex Globes the Dean kept in the great library behind him. Shikoth was silent, yet Shikoth was alive.
Outside and above the wardrobe, on the second floor upstairs, were the Dean and Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum’s pink glowing hair floated up on all sides, looking as if she had installed a glowing pink crown. Her eyes crackled. The Dean looked abrasively at the young Siddivata.
“They are nearing. You must stay here, inside. You will be kept safe here.”
Chrysanthemum sat on the couch. She had fallen asleep again, and realized that the Dean didn’t really sleep. She had slumbered under the monotone mutterings of a planning man, and woke up to her entangled mess of hair.
“What is happening?”
“Another world,” said the Dean, without looking at her, “Is coming to ours. I must mobilize the Glaves.”
Chrys tilted her head to one side. Then, she said, “Where’s Quinen? I want Quinen.”
The Dean stopped, and turned to her then. Staring deep into those soulless… the Dean blinked. Were they really Soulless?
He shook his head, clearing them of these thoughts for now. He’d have to wonder about that later. “Quinen is… somewhere. Outside.” The Dean swallowed, and almost had to roll his eyes at the next few words he — much to his surprise — managed to mutter, “I will find Quinen for you, but you have to stay put. Okay? You have to stay in here where it’s safe. Deal?”
The pink haired girl bit her lip, and then nodded. “Okay.”
The Dean left the second floor, down to the first floor of his office, and pressed on a rune on his wooden tabletop. “All Masters, convene in the meeting room. Now.”
As he said these words, thoughts of a failed Accords rushed through his brain in dizzying scenes. He shouldn’t have performed that ritual. The Siddivata were masters of oaths and loopholes. Had Zinnia found a way to break through the barrier…?
Above all, sitting on the throne of this mountain of thoughts, was the idea that he might be found out mingling and talking with one of the Siddivata. Even taking one as a lover. He should’ve known better.
They’re going to strip him of his Deanship. All of his Magickal Accolades.
The Dean shook his head. He straightened his back, turned around, and stepped forward. There was a blast of zephyr flurry, whipping around the entire room, sending cloth and papers up in a whirling maelstrom, and then he was gone.
* * *
The night crackled with the foreboding bass of thunder.
It was not a normal night, the Man in the White Cloak knew, as he walked through a sidewalk sparse with pedestrians, yet still lit with the jarring and bright neon lights of this particular street. The pink and purple and blue and reds and yellows danced amongst the sheet of upward falling rain.
The Man walked down the stairs, into the small bar nestled underneath the large towers in the further Wards of Throne. To the far West, to be precise — the Dilivian Ward.
The Man brought with him the Emblem of one of their members. She might not have been from Throne, or Shen, as he hasn’t met her before, yet she was still part of their admittedly disparate group.
The doors opened. The heating mechanisms had activated, counter to the wintry chill of Nymph outside. The small bar wasn’t much — a few wooden pillars that held it up, a small counter directly to the left of the door, with a few round tables and chairs and a bathroom that was (fortunately) cleaned religiously by:
“Hey Aravin. Did you get it back?” The Barkeep.
With a subtle movement, Aravin, the Man in the White Cloak, placed the bloodied emblem of the Knights Vigilant on the wooden bartop. “Where are the others?”
“Out,” the Barkeep said, wiping his hands on his apron. “They’ve found some anomalies in the Southeastern Barren, near the Hinterlands.”
“They?” the man turned and sat. The Barkeep scratched his beard, adjusted his glasses, and nodded. He leaned down and prepared the man’s usual drink — the Wyvern’s Venom — a sort of fermented coconut oil concoction actually spiked with a venom that wasn’t at all dangerous to humans, although dangerous to the physiologies of the other races.
“Fionava, Xreli and Akito.”
“Ah,” Aravin nodded. “The Lancers.”
“They are the only ones that came in.”
Aravin’s mind lingered and wandered about, realizing how empty the place was. Usually there would be a few other people — not other Knights, just other patrons — but there was no one here.
There was a moment of silence. Soon, the Barkeep finished Aravin’s drink, and slid a clear, tall mug his way. “Thunderclouds.”
“Not a storm.”
“Transplanar.” Aravin shrugged. “The Magickers should be on it.”
“Magickers, eh?” The Barkeep said, looking out the glass window and out at the multicolor fractal scene of neon dancing across an inverted falling rain. “Damn. That is strange.”
“Upside down rain,” Aravin said, looking out. He sipped. “Don’t see that everyday.”
“You really don’t. Unless there was a Dissonance Effect somewhere near you.” The Barkeep pressed on the thin rectangular block similar to a brick lying on top of his wooden bar. It was made of the same turquoise orasine as everyone else’s palmnodes and lapnodes and desknodes. With a tap of a button on the right hand side of its top, a light radiated from his finger and it synced with the frequency of the City-wide news forecast.
“A thunderstorm is being observed, but it does not seem natural.” The voice was feminine and clear. “Experts and Magickers are making sure to find out what it causing the strange weather. All citizens are advised to seek shelter and to keep an open ear for more news.”
“Speaking of Magickers,” the Barkeep said. “You think what happened in the Naphli HQ might have anything to do with it?”
“Remember the news a day ago?” asked Aravin. His mug was almost halfway empty now. “That spider thing chasing down the Magicker? It was the same Magicker that was by the base of the Naphli HQ. It’s connected, somehow. Maybe I should call the Twelve again.”
“You mean the ‘Eight’, right?”
Aravin nodded. “I forgot that four of us died. Thanks for reminding me.”
The Barkeep grimaced. He stayed silent.
Aravin looked outside, and then pulled out his palmnode. With a long tap of a finger on the front face, he connected to the unique frequency he’d set up with the Thronian Knights Vigilant. “Knights, this is Emperor speaking. We need to meet at Old Javio’s Pub in the Dilivian Ward. You know the place.”
* * *
The steel and tass throne of the High King of Shen glimmered in the darkness. The throne itself wasn’t made for comfort in mind. It’s gnarling, crystalline peaks pierced the roofs of his already vast throne room. The blazing mark of Adon, God of Life and Death, was marked high on the throne.
The throne room was dark, yet glimmered.The darkness was that of luminiferous black. The Daystar was high up in the air, and provided some sort of light, but the gray windows that allowed small streams of the daylight only managed to give the darkness silver strands.
Despite the darkness, one could see perfectly clearly. Around the throne were five other smaller seats that descended from the high throne, nestled beside stairs. Each of their high backs were shaped to show what dominion they occupied. On the chairs were five different humans, each wearing a differently colored mantle over one shoulder to distinguish their function.
“Aruniea City, off to the far west, is being taken over by revolts by some upstart group of college Magickers.” The one that spoke looked like a middle-aged man, with graying hair on his black that seemed to mirror the silver strands on darkness of the room they were in. His mantle fluttered a bit in the stagnant air, emanating indigo.
“City 8?” said another — a blonde haired woman wearing glasses and an industrial chic gray suited attire. Her mantle was a bright, almost jarringly, green.
“Their Cathedral over there has been losing contact with us…” said an elderly man, wearing a somber gold mantle. His attire was more akin to a priest’s frock — black and long.
“Rebellion?” A young man with hair tied like a braid, wearing a longer crimson mantle, said. “That doesn’t bode well, especially with our upcoming-”
The voice was that of rolling thunder. There was no Magick involved in it, none of them felt the cackle of the persuasive voice. It was pure, unadulterated charisma, of will of force. Such was to be expected of the High King of Shen.
The man with the white hair opened his eyes. He wore a tight fitting suit, with an elegant cloak that was thin and maneuverable. His beard was salt and pepper, and his hair was a clean silver. His eyes’ limbal rings glimmered purple.
The Five Viziers of the King silenced. They moved around and looked at each other, but none of them made a noise. The tension tightened, and the young girl sitting on the bottom turned and looked up at the High King. She couldn’t be more than twelve human years. “High King,” she said. “You’ve seen it.”
“It was coming,” said the King, his voice low and growling. “I knew it was. I didn’t think it would actually happen.”
“What would you have us do?”
“Rune,” said the High King. “You are the Vizier of Magick. Investigate the Collegium.”
The twelve-year old looking girl stepped off. Her white hair and caramel skin provided a strange contrast, a tinge of exoticness. She nodded, and then bowed from the waist. Her right hand stretched out, and her left in an angle, to her southwest. “As you command, High King. May the Fires of Adon ever burn.”
And with a clap of thunder, she was gone.
* * *
The Cathedral of Throne was situated in the middle of the Spires. And consequentially, in the middle of Throne City. This made for a good composition. Everything was centered around the Cathedral — it was the totem pole of the City. Other cities had Cathedrals in different parts, but only in Throne was the Cathedral in the stark middle.
And so, the City grew out radially from there. Like a blooming, multi-layered paper rose, the City of Throne unfolded from that place of worship, of the King. Obviously, when it wasn’t the great industrial machine that it was now — when it was a bunch of mud huts with crude thatch roofs — the Castle of the Throne was a bit farther, nearer to the hills to the left.
The Cathedral stood like a shining, glimmering beacon of the Fires of Adon. High above its highest peak (which is still shorter than the tallest buildings in the Spires) hung the ever great City-Wide Transmogrifier — colloquially known as the CWT — that allowed power to flow through Throne City, harvesting energy from the Hallow directly beneath the Cathedral.
One wouldn’t be able to see it, but underneath the Cathedral also ran five large lines made of magickally-hardened glass that ran to barren wastelands outside of the City, and outside of large towns and villages. These were called Redirectors. Through some esoteric means of Magickal prowess, most of the Dissonance would be redirected through these lines and released into five different points all throughout the Kingdom of Shen. The “dumping grounds” of these places were known as “Barrens”.
Their names were fitting. They were No Man’s Lands, barren wastelands. They were the cavalcading cascade of pure, protean chaos caused by the mixing of Magickal backlash onto Reality. It is, by all means and purposes, a tear in Reality. An Unreality, some would say, although that would not be the case. For something exists within there. Top leading Magickal Savants would rather classify it as “Storms”. The ruralites that live near the Barrens call them “Infernos”.
That day in which the thunders of the sky heralded the hooves of the Hunt, two tall and gaunt siblings stood side by side each other. Their silver hair and glowing purple limbal rings signified and only radiated their divine and royal heritage.
Before them was a mutated mass of chaos. It looked like it was made from the fabric of the storm itself behind it. As if the winds and lightnings and darkness of the very storm suddenly burst out and formed into a feline chimera.
The silver haired girl was a bit taller than the boy. She wore her hair in a braid, and held a sword in one hand, and a flaring ball of Agitated Diwa on the other. The silver haired boy, on the other hand, was on one knee, his hands high up in the air, and he was chanting some sort of mantra.
The girl offered to distract it. With a Diwal Bomb in one hand and a sword in another. She charged, managed a cut on the foreleg of the mass beast, and then went sliding under and past the bounding beast in one fluid motion. As the beast turned around to face its assailant, she bounced to her feet, and accused some of the Royal Thaumaturgy.
Her silver hair glowed, and her limbal rings radiated a brighter purple hue as she poured reality-bending energy into her legs. When she pushed herself off the ground in a jump, she leapt straight up into the air in an arc, much farther than anyone her size could’ve managed. The beast watched, and then randomly tried to scratch at her, but she parried away the swipe with her sword. It fell to the ground, turned, and leapt once again at the girl still sailing through the air.
The lion-shaped mass flew through the air, one of its three mouths opening. The girl was quick — with a thwip of her hand, the bomb was in front of the lion shaped mass, and would’ve entered it if it weren’t for the mass quickly closing its maw.
The boy grunted as he shut his hands into fists, creating a clear solid wall in front of them, separating the girl from the beast. The beast smashed against the wall of Diwa, right as the Diwal Bomb exploded once again. Fulminating force spread out, engulfing them and erasing the lion from existence. Like waves of creamy destruction, the creational blaze ripped apart the substance of the Chaotic Lion, before the white flames themselves dissipated back into a potential form.
The boy sighed and fell to the ground, just as the girl hit the ground, her Magick cushioning her fall. She breathed, and her silver hair and purple eyes faltered and dimmed. The wall — which fizzed and looked like it had been battered with some metaphysical hammer — exploded into a million particles of blue light, before vanishing completely as well. The boy heaved.
The girl got on one knee and rubbed the boy’s back. “You did great, Estruviom.”
Estruviom nodded, still breathing heavily. “Will you tell Father that I was brave?”
The girl smiled widely, and hugged her brother. She didn’t answer.
Behind them was one of the three royal corvids of the Family. Sleek and silver, only able to fit two people at a time, powered by an independent transmog engine. Estrea, the Princess, led her brother into the corvid’s pit. With an expert, learned movement she folded her blade and shoved it into her coat, and then slid into the driver’s seat. With a press of a button, she activated the transmog engine, and the corvid’s wings opened.
The corvid flew overhead. Over a small crossroad Inn that had neon signs painted on its side. The bitumen road continued only until the next town, a few hundred miles east of Throne. Corvids were the best way to move around without being bogged down by the usual transportational limitations.
Estrea drove the corvid expertly, without hesitation, pressing buttons and slowing down the acceleration. As she neared the city’s aerial borders, she pondered upon what the implications of the swirling thundercloud might be. Throne’s Meteocasters and Spiritspeakers never said anything about thunderstorms or potential strong winds, nor were there any disputes or misunderstandings amongst the Weather Courts, so it couldn’t be anything Natural.
The corvid zoomed past the high walls of Shen, and soon it was cruising through the lower parts of the city, with the buildings progressively getting taller and taller, reaching higher and higher, as she neared the Cathedral of Throne.
Behind her, Estruviom sighed silently. She glanced over her shoulder for a quick second, and saw that her twin brother was breathing with his eyes closed. “You alright there?”
There was no answer.
The corvid docked. Two people helped them out. The twins didn’t bring anything with them, save for their weapons, so the two servants busied themselves with questions. A tall woman wearing stiletto heels and fashion that belonged in the Ages of Darkness — frilly, high collar, and full of floral textures — leaned down and caressed Estrea’s chin. “Are you okay? Did you eliminate whatever it was you were trying to hunt?”
“Yes yes,” said Estrea, waving a gloved hand. She stopped that gloved hand, and then pulled off the black cloth glove. “We encountered a Barren Beast, but dispatched of it fairly easily, thanks to Estruviom.”
She turned to stare at her brother, whose breathing was still labored. The purple rings of in his eyes glowed more dully, and his eyelids were half closed, as if he was about to fall asleep. “You are sure you are doing fine, Master Estruviom?” The automaton that asked was fashioned eccentrically — like a walking suit of armor with a long flowing cape. His voice was masculine and rang hollowly, with the occasional fizz as the Datascape transmission wasn’t perfected.
“I’m fine, Varomar,” he said. “I’m fine.”
“Sir,” Varomar began again, and without Estruviom’s permission, lifted him up, “I may not have a body anymore and may not experience physical fatigue, but I know when someone is tired. You are a growing boy, sir. Rest is crucial.” And with that, Varomar carried Estruviom into their bedroom. Estruviom tried to protest, to no avail.
Estrea grinned as the suit of armor — which was, to be fair, very sleek and industrialized. Varomar almost looked like a modern automaton — walked past the frilly (and heavy) curtains that separated their room from the balcony.
“Kaniella,” said Estrea to the girl with the extravagant, anachronistic dress. “Would you fetch me a warm cup of coffee?”
“What kind, ma’am?”
“The usual kind. I want to report to Father. He’s not in a meeting, is he?”
Kaniella paused. She reached into her cleavage and brought out a palmnode. With a swish of a finger and an intense gaze at the glass pane, she shook her head. “It seems he’s talked a bit with his Viziers. It seems he will be expecting guests soon.”
Estrea nodded, grinning. “That should be enough. I’ve asked you to prepare my warm bath…?”
“Yes, you have, madame. Right this way.”
Soon, Estrea was dressed. She was in her usual get up — a backless bodice with a black mantle that covered her shoulders, heels and stockings that ran up to her knees. Usually, she didn’t like these types of clothing, and usually, she would just stay up here or use the corvid again to go out, but she wanted to speak with her Father.
She reached the elevator and pressed down. “Oh, Estrea-!” she heard Kaniella, but the lift closed before she could reach her.
The lift doors dinged open, and she was in the Throne Hall. She walked down and saw that only four of the Viziers was there — Rune was gone from her seat.
“Estrea…?” The King’s voice echoed across the empty, glimmering hall. “What do you need? I thought you went out on a hunt…?”
Estrea approached her father’s throne and curtseyed. “I have. I want to speak to you about something. Is this a bad time?”
The King stared at her, furrowing his eyebrows, and then smiled. “N-no. Not at all.” He turned to his Viziers. “Council, if you would be so kind-”
The tall double doors that led into the High King’s room swung open, pushed by two black armored giant automata. They wielded blazing pikeheads and wore capes attached to only one shoulder.
The two figures that walked through the double doors didn’t solicit a response from the High King. Just the slightest tinge of non-recognition from the tall, long haired man that looked like he had been beaten and bruised by three aramanthea. He wore a long leather coat, and had a cigarette in his mouth.
Quinen pulled the cigarette from his mouth and puffed smoke into the air. With a wave of his hand it dissipated into a million particles. The Commissioner glared daggers at him. The Princess — who looked striking, might he add — was watching in that weird mix of disgust and confusion when you see something new for the first time. Her eyes wide, mouth slightly open.
The King of Shen, sitting on his glimmering black throne, smiled ever so slightly.
“What?” Quinen asked, and without any Magick his voice already echoed through the room. Nice acoustics, he thought. “Never seen a smoking detective before?”