One could hear the clanging of chimes in the City of Throne.
The upfalling rain demanded silence and reverence. Most of the mortals in the City could do naught but watch the strange rain, and shudder at the foreboding thunder.
A sleek, black autochariot turned a street and fell in line with a congested lane. In the Cathedra Ward, near the center, there were always people working. Industry and labor didn’t stop in the face of supernatural threats, it seemed.
“Now have you ever seen the King, or any of the Royal Family Members before?” asked the Commissioner as they drove through traffic.
Quinen laid back on his portion of the seat, as far away from the Commissioner as possible. He removed the stubby cigarette from his lips and Transmuted it into a flash of light. With another flick of his fingers, he pulled out a cig from his pocket, and lit it up by nearing it to the tattoo of Energies on his right hand.
The Commissioner waited for an answer.
“No.” Quinen puffed out a slow waft of smoke. “They don’t do much, do they?”
The Commissioner sighed. “The Viziers take care most of the governing, surely. But they are still important. The King is more than just a face, and the Royal Thaumaturgy runs deep in their veins.”
Quinen rolled his eyes. “The ‘Royal Thaumaturgy’ is just Manipulation to strengthen physical capabilities. Life and Substance Fields.”
“I care not for your wretched Magickry,” said the Commissioner. “But…” she sighed. “Try to be at least a bit courteous before him. He is the symbol of Order and Law now, and if we garner his favor, we will be able to stop this mess before it erupts into something that spills into all the world. Tell him the truth. We are putting our foot forward. If the Wild Hunt completes its Transplanar Voyage, then it will spell bad fate for the City of Throne.” She twitched a bit, and then muttered a silent uttering. Quinen strained to hear the verbal workings of a nigh-silent prayer.
The Warlock sighed and rolled his eyes. “As if I didn’t know that already.” He still hadn’t gotten back his physical Instruments and Tools, so working with these makeshift tattoos and inks were guaranteeing a higher chance of Dissonance incurring every time he cast a spell. He shook his head.
The streets closer to the Cathedral in the Center of Throne were more congested. They came to a stoplight, and the traffic seemed like an impenetrable lot of parked cars. On either side of him were the tall Spires, and on their bases were the humans — with the one or two token races — walking about and fulfilling daily quotas and finishing tasks.
Quinen leaned on dragged on his cig. He saw his blurred reflection on the glass window — the long hair, the sharp features, the slowly growing back stubble. He realized that his new body didn’t look too far from his old body. Except, maybe, for the build. He was a lot leaner in this shell; his old shell was a bit more squat and stubby.
His thoughts lingered even further into what had happened and finally dabbled upon the forefront memory of Chrysanthemum. She was inside the Collegium, yes? Surely the Dean would know of her, or of her nature. Hopefully she was still safe. Hopefully.
Quinen shook his head. He should stop hoping. It never did anything for him. He realized the worst now, and decided that if Chrysanthemum had been killed, or had been sent back to Avalon…
No. He shook his head again, looking like nothing but an indignant boy who had lost his favorite toy.
“What troubles you, Warlock?”
Quinen didn’t answer. “I need you to come with me to the Collegium after this.”
The Commissioner lifted an eyebrow. “Why can you not go inside?”
“The moniker of Warlock isn’t given out as participation awards for not graduating, Commissioner. I need somebody of your stature as ah, how do I say this, a buffer.”
“You need to get through the Celestial Lions, do you not?”
Quinen was silent, but nodded in response.
“Very well. But I shall schedule another interrogation with you once again afterwards. You being chased down by an Transplanar Entity and now an entire Transplanar Army coming is too convenient to be ignored.”
“I understand.” Quinen knew it would get to this, one way or another. He knew the risks. “Just let me into the Collegium.”
The Commissioner stared at the Warlock, and Quinen looked away. From his periphery, he could feel her soul-gouging eyes. Quinen shook his head.
* * *
The Naphli HQ was being rebuilt. Most of the Top Command Crew officers and sergeants were given rest days, while the work continued on for the rest of them.
Captain Urie wasn’t much physically affected by what happened. He paid for the donut, pizza, and neon pop combo meal the fast food chain ‘Wantinables’ had. “Enjoy your meal, sir.”
Urie opened his mouth to reply, but saw the red eyed, chrome-skinned automaton standing behind the counter turn to the next guy in the store. “How may I help you, sir?”
The other guy — who asked for a burger combo — was the only other guy in the entire Wantinables shop in this corner of the street.
Urie walked out and into the deserted street. His eyes had almost glazed past the fact that the rain fell upwards. The strangeness of wondering where the water came from was not lost on him. The Storm Gods made sure the Water Cycle was well maintained. They must be toiling in the Spirit Courts right now.
The Captain walked down the block, to a four story tall apartment building squished between two twenty floor buildings. He walked up to the third floor, where the gaps between the room doors were sparse.
With a knock, the door swung open. Sersha and Gharth both lay on the makeshift beds the Captain had fashioned for them. Gharth, being the larger sized one, lay on the floor. Sersha lay on the couch. The smallest seeps of gray light flecked softly onto their cheeks through the gray blinds.
“Did they have pizza?” Sanami asked. The Captain walked past her, put the pizza on the congested wooden table with short legs, and turned to her. He had to look down again to see Sanami; her dark blue hair had been tied up in a bundle on top of her head. She set both of her hands on her hips, squishing the silken gray hoodie that fell to her knees. Until now, it was strange to see such a short human. At least, to Urie.
Urie gestured to the pizza on the low table. Sanami looked up at her captain, and then shook her head. She walked over to the table and picked up a slice, while the Captain walked over to the fridge and pulled out a chilly glass bottle. He opened the cap with a satisfying fizz on the edge of the table.
Falling onto the comfy, inviting leather chair beside the couch, Urie sipped on the bottle of Karnak — cheap chilled beer, but enough to give him the spike that he needed. It wasn’t much, and it would probably still take a few more bottles, but…
He looked over to the two sleeping non-humans beside him. They were dedicated to their badge. They protected the Naphli and the people, despite being not-human.
“They fought well.” Sanami’s mouth was full of pizza.
A silence cut through the room, a peach-flower cut buffered by the noise of sipping and chewing.
“The Transplanar Entity is out of our depth,” said Sanami, now gobbling on her fifth slice. “Maybe the King might bring out a Deathsworn again?”
Urie raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never seen one of the Deathsworn before. They’re as shadowy and as murky as the Phantasm in the Lake.”
Sanami nodded. “I’d like to believe that they exist. But… well Urban Legend never helpd me.”
Urie rolled his eyes. “I’d be more damned if I see one of the Knights Vigilant again.”
Sanami raised an eyebrow. “They’d seen a badge that purportedly belonged to the Knights.”
The Captain sighed. He realized his bottle was empty. He put it down beside the chair, and it clanked against the rows of bottles that he had tucked away in the same place. He rose and came back to his seat with another opened bottle. “I fake. The true Knights don’t exist anymore.”
“Do they not?”
“Even if they did, what use will they be? Political spears. That’s it. Maybe even initiators of a war with Zir. They’re gone. Useless. I don’t even remember what it was they were formed for in the first place.”
“It was for the culling of the Demonic Forces that were surfacing,” said Sanami. “I… well that’s all I know about that. The Twisted.”
“Ah yes,” Urie rolled his eyes. “The Spawn of the Elder God Kirahl.”
Sanami bit her lip. “That’s contested…”
“Of course it fucking is. With you Magickers, everything is contested.” He swigged from his bottle.
The thunderclouds and the upfalling rain was causing an unusual tension to brew about the entirety of Throne City. Like a string stretched too taut, but with a large hammer slowly falling down upon it, and all that saw what was happening could only watch as the inevitable unfolded.
* * *
The street was empty. There were still buses and trams and autochariots that drove slowly down the road, but other than that, it felt like the Outer Streets of the Karoley Ward had been deserted. The neon lights still danced across upfalling rain.
Underneath an empty bus stop, Kotoro buzzed the Urie’s frequency. He realized that the places where rain wouldn’t usually splatter and hit, the upfalling rain wouldn’t hit either. It was as if some sort of rewinding of past events, or maybe a phantasm conjured by some otherworldly force.
The Captain picked up after five buzzes. “Captain Urie, this is–”
“Hello? Hi. This is Sanami. Are you the Detective from Jubh-Kan?”
Kotoro blinked, and then nodded. “Y-yes. Are you…?”
“This is Sanami. The Captain isn’t available right now.”
“Oh.” Then a gasp. “Oh no–”
“He’s passed out, drunk. What do you need from him?”
A beat. Kotoro swallowed internally. “I need to speak with him. To update him and…” He thought that the next few words might better fit the Captain’s ears.
“Hm. Okay. Come to these coordinates.”
Kotoro knocked on the door of the strange brick building squished between two taller buildings. The door swung open to reveal Sanami, shorter than Kotoro, and wearing a gray hoodie that made ambiguous if she was wearing any underwear.
“H-Hello. Good day, miss. May I come in?”
Samani blinked, and then nodded. Kotoro bowed by the waist and closed the door behind him. “Where is the Captain?”
Sanami pointed at the sleeping Captain. He wore a clean enough gray shirt and black sweatpants. He looked like a person who never left their room, instead of a Captain of the Naphli themselves.
Urie scratched his belly and snored.
“I tried everything,” said Sanami.
Kotoro sighed. “I guess he is tired. With all the work he’s doing, I am not surprised that he hasn’t collapsed yet.”
Sanami shrugged. “The Captain’s a strong man. He lives for the work, for the hustle. It’s like… it’s like if he doesn’t keep working, the tension breaks and everything falls apart.”
Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
A moment of silence passed between them. Kotoro eyed the pizza. “Would you mind?”
Sanami stared at the pizza as well. There was only one slice left. Sanami licked her lips.
“Did you finish this all by yourself?”
Sanami shook her head. “The Captain helped. But I’m a hungry badger.”
Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “We could cut it…?”
“Sure. Why not.” And they did so. A sliced pizza, cut in half lengthwise. They both enjoyed a pizza not fully. Sanami felt so guilty she offered Kotoro the first two donuts from the box.
Kotoro chuckled. “It would be my pleasure.” And he wolfed down the two doughy treats. He wondered if Sanami regretted her strange little bout of generosity.
“So,” she said, watching him eat. “You’re from Jubh-Kan?”
Kotoro nodded. “It is… darker there than here.”
“Ah yes,” said Sanami. “The Tri-Layered City.”
“It is a strange city, for sure.”
Kotoro looked out past the blinds and noticed the gray skies that blotted out the Daystar. “But, with these thunderclouds, it might as well be as dark.” Kotoro turned to look at her, and noticed the various different earings and rings and bracelets that hung from her as if she were an inside out jewelry box. Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Are you a Savant?”
Sanami smiled, and she moved in such a way that made her bracelets clank against each other. “I’m an Adept at both the Fields of Matter and Diwa. I’ve studied Elementology and such, as well as Diwatology. If you were thinking of asking about the current state of events, I’ve no idea. The Storm Courts might be strangely angry to make this strange weather come to pass.”
“Yes,” said Kotoro. His eyes lingered on a bit more at the Instruments, before he turned back to the brooding clouds. “It was much too abrupt a change — and unpredicted by our Meteocasters — to be the natural order of events. The Storm Theito must’ve done something.”
“But none of the Spiritspeakers have reported anything,” said Sanami.
“Yeah.” Kotoro dusted his fingers on his dark jacket and said. “You studied Elementology?”
“I did. You have the dense Resonance of a Matter user.”
“I am,” said Kotoro. “What do you think of the newest model that’s been submitted for Elemental States?”
Sanami scoffed. “Hirem-Ya and Adaniro are hacks.”
“But you don’t think they have an interesting point? What about Lightning? What about light? What about the properties of Fire? Of blood? Are all liquids Water? Then what about superheated lava — they flow like viscous liquid. Are all gases air?”
“I think,” continued Kotoro, “the Iotic Model is better. Right before the cusp of Diwa, they are Iota — inorganic things of the smallest scale that when grouped with others of different iotic colors, they form amalgams, which then join together to create the different states. Fire, Water, Earth, Air — they’re just states now.”
Sanami blinked, raised an eyebrow and leaned back into a more comfortable position on her chair. “Then why are there Spirits for those?”
“For the elements? Don’t Spirits represent concepts, after all? It’s a matter of time before the Gossamer of the Mael spits them into being as we realize more about the Mund. Hell it’s even debated whether the Mael creates them or just brings them into light. The Mael is far vaster, and Timespace is a strange concept that might not exist to that expanse.”
“Yes, sure, but most spirits we have now have been there since the beginning of time. How can there not be concepts for the Iotic models? Everything has a Spirit, and those that have Spirits are the best way to scrutinize matter.” Sanami swallowed a donut.
Kotoro grinned. “What about Dwarfic Forces?”
“Dwarficity isn’t a force or matter,” argued Sanami. “No spirit represents it because it’s simply the pulling down of the Earth–”
Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Actually, it’s the Binding of the Mund-Soul to the Souls living here. It’s been tested and verified. It’s why there are no Spirits — no Sprito, no Anito, no Theito, of Dwarficity: because the Spirit might be the Mund itself. Have you not read the latest papers on Energies? It’s why Dwarfic Studies is now a joined effort of almost every Savant. It’s crazy. The Mund-Soul might be a way to explain all the different Realms, and maybe even to survey if there might be something past the stars.”
Sanami rolled her eyes. “The Mund-Soul was conspiracy when I first heard it, but sure. I’ll take it. But going past the stars? There’s a reason Adon set up the Firmament.”
Kotoro shrugged. “There have been reports of Magickers reaching past the blue sky and reaching a bordermarch of pure darkness.”
Sanami rolled her eyes. “Also conspiracy. Don’t believe EVERYTHING you hear, Savant.”
Kotoro smiled. “And you too, Savant.”
Silence followed. Kotoro watched the Captain stir in his sleep. It was going to be a wait he’d have to endure.
“I’m going to go out,” said Sanami, rising to her feet. “Watch over them for me.”
Kotoro nodded, as Sanami opened the door and left, locking it behind her.
Now he’d have to wait alone.