Old Javio’s Pub was silent. The wooden floors didn’t do so much as creak. The ceiling fans spun overhead, but their whirring was slow, dampened.
Behind the bar, the Barkeep had finished his cleaning rounds. He stood, looking outside the window and at the strange chaotic rain that fell up. He leaned against his bartop, and sighed. The neon lights reflected in his eyes.
Off to the corner, Aravin’s voice echoed. “They’re here, aren’t they?”
The Barkeep nodded. Aravin grinned in the slight darkness that the corner provided. “Get some rest, Young Javio.”
“And miss this?” The Barkeep, Young Javio, shook his head. “I don’t think so. Not yet.”
The doors to Old Javio’s Pub swung open; a bell rang. Five figures walked in, wearing vastly different clothes. In fact, they looked like they had just been out shopping in a mall somewhere, save for three of them, who had scratches and such on their bodies.
Aravin rose to his feet and grinned. “Ah, good day to you.” Three of them wore their mantles, while the others did not. The Knights Vigilant Emblem was proudly emblazoned on their chests.
A belgar — tall and lean, black-furred yet hunched over and with a massive overbite — growled like rocks were being churned in the bottom of his throat. “The rain is falling the wrong way, Emperor.”
“Astute observation, Strength.”
“I think he got bopped on the head a bit too many times,” said a tall woman. She grinned at Strength. The belgar shook his head and moved over to the barkeep, grinning and asking for his usual. Young Javio moved.
Aravin smiled. The woman wore a red tank top and denim jeans that embraced her figure. Strapped on her back was a five foot long blade, a foot wide in span, looking horribly impractical to carry. “Hey now, don’t be too harsh on Strength, First Lancer,” Aravin said.
The woman rolled her eyes at Aravin and made her way to one of the tables.
“Are you sure you are all okay?” The voice was soft, almost angelic in its faintness. Aravin knew it to be their healer. “No wounds or deep cuts or…?” The woman that spoke wore a long white leather hoodie that reached her knees. It was fashioned in such a way that it wrapped around her, which — in Aravin’s eyes at least — was very fashionable. Small sigils and runes — no doubt Magick work — floated across the ivory fabric, as if the fabric was the sky and the sigils were the clouds.
She kept the large, billowy hood up, but Aravin could see the pale skin underneath, and the dark — almost violet — hair that she had cut short. That she had cut herself. Her eyes were the color of leaden sunfall, and she stood quite a lot shorter than First Lancer and Aravin.
“Priestess,” said Aravin, but he didn’t move otherwise.
“Emperor.” Priestess nodded, but didn’t look at him. She moved past him and walked up to the dreorg that had bounced over beside First Lancer. “Second Lancer. Take it easy. You have cuts on your feet and your ears are bleeding.”
“I know,” said Second Lancer. He shrugged, and didn’t even wince. Even if the bleeding looked like it should’ve been bad. “It doesn’t bother me that much.”
“It should,” said Priestess, as she walked up to Second Lancer and knelt down in front of him. She laid hands on the wounds, and Aravin felt the Reality-twisting Resonance that vibrated and tinged space and air when a Magicker called upon one of the Fields by prestige of their Sympathy.
A high, nasal voice spoke behind Aravin. “I say, Emperor, we should really recruit more Medic Magickers. Healers are incalculably important.”
Aravin inhaled and smiled. He turned to greet the dark-feathered anzu that wore his wrapped his wings around him like a cloak. The feathers had been drenched in blood. Aravin tried to share the anzu’s nonchalantness, but the fresh blood didn’t help. He fervently hoped that it didn’t belong to the anzu.
“Ah, Third Lancer. I’m trusting whatever mission you undertook went well?”
Third Lancer tried to move his wings, but that effort only resulted in a pained grimace. The anzu shook his head. “I… It did. We managed to apprehend a herd of Barren Beasts that had managed to escape,” said the anzu.
Aravin grimaced. The Barren Beasts did not spew out blood. “Priestess-”
“Emperor. My wings have been broken.” The same serenity permeated the anzu’s face. “I’m afraid I will not be able to join you for a while.” Third Lancer’s gaze flickered to Priestess. “Thankfully, we have Magickers.”
“Don’t stress yourself, Akito.”
“I won’t,” Third Lancer, Akito, said. “I won’t. I’m indebted to the Knights, and I am one myself. This is my duty ‘til I die. Do not worry.”
“I’m worrying about you-”
But Third Lancer had moved past him, his footsteps so light that Aravin could barely hear it. He walked up beside the two other Lancers and sat. Priestess worked furiously; magickal Resonance made Aravin’s hair stand up on end.
“So.” Strength’s voice echoed across the room as Priestess and the other Lancers’ talked amongst themselves. With a sigh, Aravin turned and walked up beside the black-furred Belgar. “Why’d you call us here, Aravin?”
Aravin glanced at the Barkeep. “I want to investigate…” he gesticulated to the rain outside. “That.”
“Truly,” the belgar said nodding and then downing another mug. It was his second. “So when do we start?”
Aravin smiled. “Well, we have to make sure first who can be part of the party. That way I can gauge what we can do. Then…”
“You killed someone, didn’t you.”
Aravin paused, then his eyes turned to the bloody emblem still on the bartop. “I thought I told you to clean that.” He turned to Young Javio.
Young Javio sighed, and shook his head.
“Javio, I call the shots here and I told you to clean that!” His voice didn’t rise too high, so as to not interrupt the Lancers and the Priestess, but he’d managed to convey the bite in the tone. The Barkeep leaned back.
“It must be-”
“Don’t apologize, Javio,” Strength said. “And don’t do that, Aravin. You have to prove yourself first.”
“There’s a reason I’m Emperor now, Strength.”
“There’s a reason why we’re called Knights Vigilant, Aravin.”
Aravin shook his head. A chuckle rose from the bottom of his throat. “This is ridiculous. ‘What others cannot’, remember? We have to do these things — we have to resort to pragmatism, to keep ourselves alive.”
“So that we can keep doing what we do, Vikrus. So that we can keep doing what we do.” Aravin composed himself. “It belonged to a Knight from another country.”
Strength, Vikrus, clenched his fists. He sighed. “And here I thought the Throne Knights were the last ones.”
“Maybe…” Aravin shook his head. “Maybe we can get in touch with them and build the Knights back up to what it was.”
There was a silence. Javio picked up the emblem and began to wipe it clean. Neither Aravin nor Vikrus stopped him.
After a while, Vikrus spoke. “Emperor. Let’s get to that later. Continue what you were going to say — we’re going to investigate this phenomenon?”
Aravin nodded. His movements were sluggish now. He asked for another glass of Wyvern’s Venom. Vikrus scrunched up his nose when he heard it. “Yes. I… Young Javio and I have spoken about it. It’s most likely connected to that recent event with the Magicker being chased by that-”
“Transplanar Entity.” Strength nodded. “It adds up. That other Transplanar Entity arrived and fought with the Naphli, right? From the newsfeeds, I saw that same Magicker.”
“So they are somehow connected.”
Priestess walked up to the bar and asked for some pure alcohol. “It’s for the cleanup. Cleaning the wound is easy enough without Magick.” Javio obliged.
“So what would be our first plan of action?” asked Vikrus.
Aravin shrugged. He downed a cup of Wyvern’s Venom. “Maybe… the Naphli?”
Soon enough Priestess had cleaned and closed up most of the wounds of the Lancers. When they were all settled, Aravin convened with the five of them. They were missing three. Aravin, having his duties as Emperor, pressed on as if a normal meeting. He couldn’t waver.
He shared the information about the Transplanar Entity. Immediately after he finished, First Lancer raised a hand gripping a bottle. “So what exactly do we do? Do we, what, go off in an intel gathering mission? We should look for Hermit!”
She took a swig.
“You know, if we had a Hermit.”
There was a beat of silence. Priestess looked up at Aravin, her face in a stern command of telling him to keep the conversation moving. “Right,” Aravin began. “We… might try looking for information amongst the Naphli.”
“What do we do?” asked First Lancer again. “Walk up to one of the officers and ask politely? It doesn’t work that way.”
“I know it doesn’t,” said Aravin, gritting his teeth together. First Lancer simply raised an eyebrow and grinned insufferably. “We should…” he sighed, exasperated. “We can’t reveal our identities to the public. They’ll just end us. We should expand our grounds, try to establish more connections, gain intel without a Hermit.”
“It would be easier with a Hermit,” said First Lancer, pushing her chair back and shrugging.
“I know.” Aravin closed his eyes and breathed. When he opened them, he saw Vikrus, staring at him. Those beastly belgar eyes judged him, scrutinized him, but somehow, helped him.
Aravin exhaled. “I know. I’ll try to get to my contacts tonight. Maybe… we can even find a way to identify who that Magicker is.”
Priestess nodded. “I’ll go with you.”
Aravin smiled a tight lipped smile. “That would be nice.”
Second Lancer spoke. “I’m gonna take tonight to rest up. Hope that’s alright.” Aravin nodded vigorously, as if to say that yes, indeed, it was perfectly fine. “I’ll be back and at ‘em in no time. Buzz me when you need me. I’ll be right there.”
Third Lancer only looked down. Aravin spoke again. “Only those that are able to go with me should. Don’t push yourselves. Keeping the Knights alive is important — it’s the only way we can continue the mission.”
There was no response.
“Are we clear?”
A beat, before Vikrus — Strength — said, “Clear.”
And the others followed. First Lancer surprisingly followed right after Strength.
“Good,” said Aravin. “I’ll buzz you all when needed. Priestess and I will head out soon. Dismissed. Keep yourself safe, Knights. What others cannot.”
* * *
The Captain awoke an hour later. His eyes opened slightly, and when he saw that Kotoro was sitting there, cross-legged, his eyes widened. “You. What are you…?”
Kotoro straightened. “To report back, sir.”
“I’m off-duty today,” said the Captain, closing his eyes again. “Report back tomorrow or to whoever’s in charge in the HQ.”
Kotoro bit his lip. “Uh, Captain. I… may have a personal inquiry afterwards?”
The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Personal… inquiry?” Kotoro didn’t answer. He stared and stayed absolutely still. The Captain sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine. Get it over with.” He reached for a bottle and found none still had their contents.
Kotoro nodded. “So the death of Oberen Roeser, sir, might be connected to the Warlock.”
Urie raised an eyebrow. “The Warlock…?”
“Yes. Apparently Oberen’s been seen with him before.”
“I’ve seen the Warlock once,” replied the Captain. “I… haven’t seen him since then.”
“Then… wait, what about the Magicker that was being chased by the Transplanar Entity?”
The Captain blinked. He turned and, with a strange, new found clarity — as if for the first time he’d managed to blink away the haze of sleep and booze — he stared straight at Kotoro. The detective instinctively straightened up.
“That might be the Warlock.”
“But does his physical description match?”
The Captain shook his head. “He’s a Magicker. It doesn’t matter.” Kotoro opened his mouth in a silent ‘ah’. “Can’t you do your Sight thing to ascertain who he really is?”
Kotoro nodded. “But I’d have to be there with him.”
“Damn.” The Captain leaned forward. “He’s with the Commissioner right now. I’ll contact you if I ever get a hold of him.” He sighed, leaning back again into his chair and mopping his face. “Is there anything else?”
“We might be able to learn the entire truth if we get to the Warlock, sir.”
The Captain nodded, silent. “Right. He’s the next target then. We have to get the answers from him.”
“That’s it sir.” Kotoro licked his lips. “Sir, as for the personal inquiry…”
“Spit it out before you or I doubt.”
Kotoro nodded hastily. “Right. Sir. About Sahnie. Namana Sahnie. The Detective I was paired with?”
“Yeah? What about her?”
“What’s been the news? I haven’t seen her since a few days ago.”
“Well,” the Captain scratched his stubble. “She hasn’t reported back at all.”
“How many days?”
“One? Two? I don’t keep track of that shit.”
Kotoro nodded. “Right. Um. I am going to go to her then and see how she’s doing.”
The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Son, you don’t have to tell me about your love life.”
Kotoro smiled. “I’m just a concerned friend sir. Sahnie was with me during the airship ride from Jubh-Kan.”
“Ah. So you’ve grown attached?” asked the Captain. “LIke a little dog?”
Kotoro pressed his lips together. “As long as I am a cute dog, then yes.” He transmuted that almost-grimace into a smile.
“Alright then. Go ahead. You didn’t need my consent I’m not her father.” He rose and made his way to his fridge, pulling out another cold beer. “You want one?”
Kotoro was on his feet. He waved his hand. “Oh, n-no. I’m fine, sir. Thank you for the offer.”
“Suit yourself,” said the Captain, as he uncapped it and took a swig. “You take care now.”
“You too, sir,” said Kotoro, glancing over to the two Naphli that he knew fought in what happened in the HQ. He closed the door behind him, and ventured out for Sahnie’s apartment. He’d gone there before.
* * *
All the Masters had convened once again in the meeting room. The fickle Ivahl ruffled the head of the short Eiv. She harrumphed, but responded in a manner that suggested that she’d gotten used to the gesture. Her round face had burnt up into a bright pink, and her tail wagged indignantly.
Aster spoke with Smide about their lesson plans and how they’re planning on collaborating on a few experiments. Ssryx’ryxh, the zaretrych, nodded his head as Idurgam talked about the current state of the Storm Court: he said that the Courts had no idea what was happening.
A flurry of ribboning winds whipped various articles of clothing about as the Dean appeared next to his seat, which he immediately took. The other Masters greeted him, and immediately followed through and sat on their respective seats. They Sealed the Circle, and quickly went into the meeting.
“Masters,” spoke Hakumatheia. “We all begin this with a very present problem. The Wild Hunt is coming. We must take up measures to ensure the safety of the Collegium, and Throne.” All of them looked at him and nodded. Save for the alfr, who flashed a colorless white in agreement.
“I suggest summoning the-”
A knock on the door interrupted him. The Dean closed his mouth, and furrowed his eyebrows. Not a lot of things can interrupt a Master’s Meeting. The Master closest to the door, Smide, shrugged and rose to his feet. The Dean watched him as he swung the door open.
There, by the doorway, stood a short, seemingly twelve year old. The Grand Master of Matter towered over the small child, who walked straight into the Meeting without another word, effectively cutting through Smide’s imposing figure. The Dean was silent, watching this young girl with dark caramel skin and white hair stride straight up to him.
That was when the aurelian gold glint of her Mantle caught all of their eyes. Smide seemed to have seen first, because he was watching the girl with wide eyes.
The Dean’s only reaction was a lazy eyebrow slowly rising at the fact that she was the King’s Vizier of Magick.
“Dean.” Her voice was high, yet soft.
“Vizier.” The Dean made no gestures to respect.
“The King needs to speak with you.”
“I am in the middle of a meeting, Vizier.”
“Then I’m afraid it must be cut short. You may return at any time.” She turned to the Masters. “By royal decree of the King, the Dean is needed. It is with the Protocol of great urgency. You all understand.”
She turned back to the Dean. The Dean felt her immense magickal resonance. Something that easily rivalled his. She was questing with her Magickal Perceptions. “Now then,” she said. “Shall we?”
A ribbon of wind, which tightened, tensed, and then snapped into a clap of thunder, and then they were both gone.
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