Insomnia 6

Shemi Kasu watched information and images flooding through her desknode. She sighed, looking down at her palmnode resting on the table. No news from Quinen.

She wondered if she should go look for him. The information on her holographic screens showed the coordinates of somewhere within the Karoley Ward. The Collegium was in that Ward as well, but his coordinates didn’t say he’s in the Collegium. She sighed once more, and turned away.

She got up to her knees and stretched. “Hmmm.” She groaned, and then decided to head down to get another cup of coffee from the Quickshop.

 

* * *

 

Quinen stretched his legs as he hopped off the chair. His upper body glowed with intricate ink, complex scripts and drawings scrawled down his arms and his back. A few stray tendril-like inks lingered around his torso and toward his chest in a small, tight embrace.

“Where’d you get a Shell anyway?” asked Minada, running a finger down Quinen’s bare chest.

Quinen licked his lips and shrugged. He moved away from Minada and put on his shirt. “I have to go.”

Minada sighed. “When will I get paid?” She sipped a cup of coffee that she had laid beside her Inker tools.

“Soon.” Quinen walked out of the Inking room, through the thin veil. The store still said ‘Closed’. He could see a few people from the mouth of the alleyway, and then walking away. “Looks like you have some customers.”

“Word’s been spreading around,” said Minada as she walked through the veil. “You’re not the only one anymore gaining some traction anymore.”

Quinen smirked. “That’s nice to hear. I’ll see you, Minada.”

“Hopefully, “ Minada grinned, “not so soon.”

 

Quinen got out of the Inker Shop. He was already in the Karoley Ward, the same Ward the Collegium was in. Indeed, one could feel the immense, looming mass that was the floating isle of the Collegium.

Quinen briefly wondered if he should call a Red Cab to take him to the Collegium, but decided against it. It wasn’t too far from here anyway, and a brisk walk would benefit him and his new body by letting him get used to the body’s functions and machinations.

He walked down the pavement and turned around the corner. Straight ahead, he could see the tallest tower of the Collegium — the Administrator’s Building. The Dean’s room was nestled within.

Quinen sighed and grinned. A straight path to anywhere? That’s the least complex thing he’d had to do in his life. He walked down the path, smiling as he passed complaining, blue-collar workers, automata preprogrammed to grin at you when you walked by, skinny alfr and anzu pouncing out from the alleyways and smelling like piss-all, offering you for a ride…

He crossed a pedestrian’s walkway even when the crossing light was red. There weren’t any autochariots passing by that road anyway.

Quinen flexed his muscles as he walked, feeling the tight and rigid tendons, the taut muscles. Would he need to hit the gym to keep this strength and image up? Or maybe all he needed to do was keep himself moving.

He thought of a quick spell. Manipulate Matter. With a thought, move of a hand, and then the usage of the symbolism of the Ink on his right arm, he moved the dust lying on an alleyway. The dust stirred, and then shot up. With a smile, the Warlock paused, watching as the dust funneled upwards, all the way to the roof.

And just as it was about to escape the gap between the buildings, it slammed and exploded against a vast, blurring black figure. Something… arachnid.

Quinen’s Soul boiled. Shit.

The dust crashed against Hunter’s obsidian black carapace. It chittered and screamed, the force of the dust buffeting its momentum and sending him crashing against the brick wall of the building, and then down onto the alleyway. The homeless people — humans and otherwise — cursed and screamed as they ran away.

The arachnid twitched. One of its now six heads stretched up, and moved around, until its eyes — and grinning mouth — fell upon Quinen.

Quinen turned and bolted.

The Warlock heard the Hunter get on its feet, its blade appendages digging onto the ground as it took up on the pursuit. The Warlock heard the civilians screaming, and some of those screams being cut short as the arachnid eliminated barriers. With this thing in the open light of the day, the Naphli were bound to be en route. Quinen just had to survive until backup came.

The Warlock turned a corner, and dashed. His lungs burned less, and his feet moved faster.

Up ahead, the prism hanging underneath a black wire turned green, and the autochariots would be moving forward on the road Quinen was about to cross.

Quinen ran even faster. He could feel the adrenaline of the chase pumping through him, and he grinned like madman.

The Arachnid Hunter appeared overhead, grinning down at him. Its blade appendages dug onto the sides of the buildings, and it chased Quinen sideways. The Warlock churned a spell in his Mind’s Eye, and in his left hand the Ink he had designated for the Field of Energy burned brightly.

Autochariot horns blared. Quinen’s first reaction as he stepped onto the crossing with the autochariots at full acceleration was to use the timepiece to teleport him forward, but his Mind’s Eye had fumbled — he had visualized an Energy spell instead of a Timespace one.

Quinen’s second reaction was to raise his left arm behind him, and shout, “Herapher!” Manipulate. And he jumped.

The Spell he had been forming in his Mind’s Eye crystallized: Manipulate the kinetic Energy of the jump, and make it stronger.

The Working activated, and right as an autochariot slammed to a stop, Quinen burst up and forward, the kinetic energy of his jump amplified. The tattoo on his left arm blazed orange as he cleared the entirety of the crossing. He grunted as he slammed against the building wall on the other side of the street, but it wasn’t anything that would hinder him. With a grimace, he pushed himself off the wall, turned to his left, and ran. Even farther away from the Collegium.

Quinen took a chance and glanced over his shoulder, and he saw the arachnid Hunter leaping effortlessly across the road, sticking to the wall he had slammed against, and then running sideways once again. Its blade appendages dug into the brick, sometimes crashing through glass windows, wherein the arachnid would stumble a bit, but it would pull its appendage out of the window and continue on with the chase. One of its appendages flickered with blood.

Quinen screamed in his mind: Where are the Adon-damned Naphli?

 

* * *

 

“Captain, I’m getting word that some sort of obsidian-carapaced beast is barreling through the Karoley Ward.” Gharth looked down on his palmnode. A few human children were staring at Sersha, who sat on a cement block cross-legged and with her eyes closed.

“Hm?” Urie turned to the anzu. “Give me a visual.”

Gharth showed him the images flashing on the palmnode, which visualized some sort of arachnid… thing crawling sidewards, chasing after a tall man with black hair.

“Adon’s Fiery Spit — send the Wingsglave,” he said. “That’s no ordinary beast.” The image continued showing people scrambling out of their autochariots, taking pictures with their palmnodes, or running away. “Now! Relay the order now!”

The anzu did so.

 

* * *

 

“Shit. Get out of the way!” Quinen barelled through a crowd of workers hurrying to get to their trains or buses. They gave the Warlock strange looks at first, but when the Hunter rounded the corner, they dove out of the way.

No use. It probably has infinite stamina or something. Quinen thought quick; he saw an opening to an alleyway. He had to corner this thing and beat it. Somehow.

Okay maybe not beat it. That’s stretching it a bit too far.

Running at full speed, he grabbed the lead pipe running down the corner of the brick building and used that to help him turn sharply. He slid into an alleyway, his shoes slapping against a clear puddle.

It was a dead-end.

It was a narrow end, boxed in by three buildings perpendicular to each other. Quinen inhaled deeply as he careened to a stop. He looked up, saw clotheslines shot out of windows and jumped into windows directly across them.

The Warlock turned. The Hunter reached the opening, and saw Quinen trapped. Its grinning mouth only opened.

Its blade appendages left the wall in a flash, and in the next instant, all seven blade appendages were poised to skewer Quinen. Seven lances wielded by a mass of black Avalonian demonism. The Hunter had jumped from the opening of the alleyway, so it sailed across the space between them.

Quinen screamed and threw up his right arm, “Herapher!” and the Tattoo that had the symbol of the Field of Matter burned.

The water of the puddle exploded upwards, gushing against the Hunter. Quinen closed his hand, and the Matter Inks writhed with power. The water froze.

Quinen winced as stray Dissonance wracked his body, and he fell onto one knee. He reached out with both hands this time, and Manipulated Matter — he moved the lead pipe running down the side of the building, breaking it off and directing the water that jetted out of it towards the Hunter. As the water splashed onto the Hunter, he froze it again.

No stray Dissonance this time, but his skin looked… harder than usual. As if a chrome sheen had enveloped him.

The Hunter, on the other hand, writhed underneath a thick cocoon of ice.

Off in the distance, Quinen could hear the billowing booms of large wings flapping. He looked up, and he saw three creatures with six wings — three on each side — flapping above the alleyway he stood in.

The six-winged creatures — feathered with scales underneath the colorful sheen of plumage — banked, and riding on their large backs were silver-armored Naphli. They spoke through the voice amplifiers within their helmets. “Stand down and do not move. We are Wingsglave.”

Quinen tsked, scowling. The glare of the Daystar bounced off of the clean, reflective silver armor of the Wingsglave.

Managing a slight grin, Quinen said, “He’s all yours, officers.” And he reached out with his left hand this time, muttering “Herapher,” once more, and bent the light around him, reflecting the light away from him like a mirror.

“Sir, please comply and remove the veiling,” Quinen heard the Wingsglave say from afar. He was already five blocks away.

 

* * *

 

Sersha sat cross-legged. Gharth watched his Captain. The Detective Kotoro looked at his palmnode with eyebrows in a worried arc. Captain Urie was shouting into his palmnode, ignoring looks and gazes from the people around.

“Give me a report, now!” A voice replied to him from the other end. “There was a Magicker? Did he look like anyone from our records? No. Adon’s Fiery Spit.”

“What is it, sir?” Gharth stepped forward. Kotoro looked up from his palmnode to look worriedly at the Captain this time.

“Some… thing that’s not Mundic was chasing down this Magicker, apparently,” he said, turning to the Portal to the Collegium. “It’s nigh time we visit the Dean to understand just what in the icy nether is going on.” He put up the palmnode near his mouth again. “Give me status reports and examine the thing that was chasing the Magicker. Get some Savant Detectives to track the Magick down.”

The Captain shoved the palmnode into his pocket, sealing off the frequency. “You two.” He said, turning to Sersha and Gharth. Without another word, he walked toward the Celestial Lions. Gharth and Sersha followed.

Kotoro scowled at his palmnode. “Send me a frequency text once I’m clear to head in.”

“Will do, Detective,” said the Captain, as he walked past the Celestial Lions and sank into the Portal to the Collegium.

 

* * *

 

Quinen heaved. The adrenaline escaped him like an unraveling cloak. He could feel the Dissonance building within him. His skin felt thicker and heavier than usual, as if he were moving through water. He stopped by another alleyway — this one not a dead end and not smelling of piss — and leaned against the wall.

His palmnode buzzed in his pocket. Opening his eyes, he plucked out the device and answered Kasu’s frequency.

“Where were you?” asked Kasu from the other side, and her sudden shout actually made Quinen physically grimace. “Your coordinates were all over the place!”

“The…” Quinen inhaled deeply, still trying to catch his breath. “The thing that followed me into the Mund from Avalon saw me and chased me down.”

“The spider thing?!”

Quinen swallowed. “Yeah.”

“This is bad. Dangerous.” There was a pause. “Right?”

“Oh yeah very,” Quinen replied. “Don’t get involved. Keep being my eyes and ears Kasu. That thing was in the Karoley Ward — it was heading for the Collegium. That’s where Chrysanthemum is, isn’t she?”

Silence. “I…”

“That’s right.” Quinen pushed himself off of the wall and walked across the alleyway, out to the other side, where he could see the looming towers of the floating island. “Watch my back.” And he ended the call, cutting the frequency, and he shoved the palmnode into his pocket.

The Warlock ran towards the Collegium.

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Insomnia 5

Maeve sat on her bed. She had just woken up, drunken water, and washed her face. Without her usual makeup on, her skin was pocked, sickly pale, and her angles were flat. She licked her lips, sat up again and washed her face. Again.

When she looked up at herself, she remembered a name.

Thackeray.

She slipped on a warm hoodie and walked out of her dormitory. That’s why her dorm felt so lacking. That’s why there seemed to be some ghost that walked about the room, a restless shade trying to sleep next to her. It was the ghost of Thackeray in the deepest recesses of her mind.

She made her way through the cold Ascending air, all the way over to the separate building where the Dean stayed. She walked past the Guards, past the Librarium, through the Tasspaths and eventually, back to the double wooden doors.

Maeve balled her hands into fists, raised them, and knocked.

The door opened, and the Dean wasn’t there.

Frowning, she turned around and left as fast as she could. As she walked away, she saw a familiar face walking down the hallway. “Professor Ivahl!”

Ivahl paused, and turned around. As always, he wore that gray waistcoat that he never seemed to remove, never seemed to let go. He whipped his silver hair to the side. “Hm? Oh, De Laqua. Congratu-”

“Have you seen the Dean?”

Ivahl paused, and then stared closely at her. After a moment, he licked his lips and shrugged. “He has left, it seems. I’m assuming you’ve walked up to his room, yes?”

Maeve tsked, looked around her, as if she hadn’t heard what Ivahl had said. “Have you seen Thackeray?”

“Thackeray…?” He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you mean Navarre! I did not, as a matter of fact. Isn’t he always with you?” A gust of wind buffeted Ivahl’s hair, leaving as quick as it came. “Don’t you have other friends you could try asking?” He plucked out his palmnode, checked the piece of glass, and then returned it.

“Eyth.” And with a rekindled flame of hope burning from the bottom of her spine to the crevice of her heart, she turned and walked away.

Ivahl watched her walk. She’d always been that kind of girl — the one that took initiative. He chuckled softly beneath his lips, shook his head, and then turned around. Another gale rushed past, and Ivahl was gone.

* * *

Quinen walked into a diner, grimacing as he forced his new body to comply to his Will. “This is going to take some getting used to…”

The front bar was mostly a granite slab painted gray and red, with wooden stools in front of the counter. Dining tables were arrayed against the front window of the shop, curving, as it was at the corner of a street. “And you?”

Quinen looked up. The man that asked for his order scratched his stubble. “Heh. You look like shit.”

Quinen waved a hand. “Give me breakfast.”

“Mm.” He nodded and scribbled something. “Pick one — pelagum bacon and grimu eggs, or stacks of waffles with chairotnyan cheese?”

Quinen licked his lips, looked down at his pocket, and found that he didn’t have enough money for both. He sighed. “Gimme a minute.”

He turned around and buzzed up Kasu’s frequency. Midway through the first buzz Kasu picked up. “Are you okay? What happened?”

Quinen snickered. “Calm down, Mom.” He turned back to the man taking his orders. “Do you take Data-Transfers?”

The man nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right back.” He turned around, shoving the notepad and pencil into the pocket of his apron and walked back into the kitchen. Quinen put the palmnode up to his ear again.

“I need some money on this node.”

“For what?”

“I’m hungry.”

There was a silence on the other side. Quinen’s head throbbed, but it wasn’t debilitating.

“How much you need?”

Quinen smirked.

He finished the two plates quick enough. He raised his palmnode and tapped the Data-receiver of the waiter: a thick slab of aquamarine glass that showed information in the form of numbers and script. Light motes of data siphoned out of Quinen’s palmnode and funneled themselves into the Data-receiver.

“Transfer finished.” The waiter pulled the slab away. “Have a nice day.”

Quinen finished his third cup of coffee, smiled, and then turned around. “You too.” He walked out of the diner, turned right on the curb, and walked down the block. He had some people to visit.

* * *

Maeve hopped off of the brown cab and walked into the crumbling walls and galvanized steel stacks of the Dirah Ward. Of Slum City. It was the same as last time they’d come here, although this time the Daystar hung low, about to sink underneath the walls of the City. The tenants of these scabs of the wall brought out crude lamps with flickering lights within them. Some of them were the passable, usable alchemical luxes, others were the less bright orange-light luxes. Most of them carried around rods of neon for light instead, or used the sole palmnode they were able to scrape from the bottom of a dumpster as their light source.

Maeve arrived at the cul-de-sac where Eyth lived above the anzu woman. Lady Yalla, her name was?

She saw that the room above Yalla’s was dark and unlit. Maybe Eyth wasn’t home?

Without thinking, Maeve’s hand moved over to her sceptre, which hung within a little elongated leather pouch, and hovered over the revealed pommel. She saw Lady Yalla trudge out into the porch of her small home, her eyes heavy-lidded and half-closed. The anzu turned, reached for a rune on the side of the galvanized steel house, and she tapped it. It lit up with an orange light, and a bar of neon buzzed to life, casting a cool orange and blue glow over the anzu.

“Miss Yalla!” called Maeve as she walked closer to her. Yalla turned around to her, paused when she saw her, and then hung her head. She just stood there, hanging her head the entire time, weak and unmoving.

“Lady Yalla?” Maeve slowed her walk and leaned down to look at her levelly. The hunched over grandma anzu looked up at her, and Maeve fell on one knee. Her eyebrows arched downward. “Are you okay?”

Yalla shook her head. She walked closer and then butted Maeve softly.

That was a traditional anzu gesture. It had the same function as hugs.

“Where’s Eyth?”

Another headbutt.

Maeve’s shoulders slumped.

* * *

Gharth, Sersha, and Captain Urie arrived in the Southern Entrance of the floating Collegium, parking a few ways off from the Celestial Lions that guarded the Portal. One could see the many people walking about the sidewalk in front of the Portal, as well as the spacious clearing that acted as some sort of park.

The two senior officers walked behind the Captain of the Naphli HQ in the Spires. “Captain,” spoke Gharth. “Naphli Detective Kotoro Lumis is here.”

Urie turned to see the detective, outfitted in a stylish waistcoat and pants get up, overshadowed by a boring hoodie jacket. He grinned as he walked up to them, palmnode in hand as if he were just looking at it when he saw them. “Ah, Captain,” Lumis began. “I got the warrant. What’re you here for?”

“Some interrogation of our own, Detective,” the Captain replied. “They’ll be notified once you tell them you have a warrant. I have some authority in there, and I have to speak with the Dean. I’ll signal you when you can come inside.”

“Alrighty!” he paused, and then looked behind him. “Huh,” he said. “Have you seen Sahnie anywhere?”

Urie raised a stern eyebrow. “Sahnie? Namana? The other Detective, yes?”

“Yeah…” Kotoro looked down at his palmnode again. “I sent her a frequency text but she hasn’t replied. We usually go together on important cases like these. She hasn’t told me what she found yet, other than what the Senior Officer Gharth here told me.” He turned to the anzu.

“I’ll let HQ buzz her in,” said Urie, just as he connected to the HQ’s frequency and relayed that exact order.

* * *

In a dark room, far within the Western Ward, where many buildings abound, where run-down buildings revived into living places. Where warehouses stocked with refugees and homeless people. Where the cheapest rent could be found, at the expense of your privacy and health…

In a dark room in a five storey tall brick apartment, a palmnode buzzed.

A bed fit for two people leaned against a wall. A simple, adequate bathroom had its door open, and there was a small space fit for a stove and counters and a drawer. The only source of light was the buzzing palmnode, flashing intermittent turquoises.

On the bed lay Namana. Her coat hung on a hook hammered onto a slightly opened door. Light bled in, casting shadows upon the face of a man standing above the Detective. Her eyes were wide, afraid, her irises large, trying to take in as much light as they could. She struggled and flailed, but could not move underneath the man’s gigantic strength.

The man pinned her with only a hand. He raised a wicked long, single-edged blade in another, and clenched his fists. The carbon steel blade heated up, and it burned a bright orange-red.

A crimson flame.

Namana gasped as the man’s hand tightened around her neck.

The blade fell.

The palmnode buzzed once again, and beside it the intermittent turquoise flashes cast a light upon an emblem: which showed three swords crossed, pointing upwards, and wrapped by a laurel.

* * *

Quinen walked up the block and turned right into a small alleyway, ending at Minada’s Ink Shop. Through the glass front, the Warlock could see Minada sipping on a tall mug and tpying on the scriptboard of her lapnode.

The Warlock walked ahead, into the alleyway that had moss and grass growing out of sides, creating a makeshift path that seemed to paint the Inkers’ shop in a fairytale light. Of course, the scent of cigs and the buzz of flies and the husky, depressing smog from everything else didn’t really help strengthen that particular image.

Quinen removed the cigarette from his lips and dropped it nonchalantly. Quinen licked his lips, and the cig burnt up immediately as it hit the pavement.

Minada blinked, and she looked up at Quinen through the glass front of the Shop. She raised an eyebrow. With a wave of a hand, the holographic display of her lapnode dissipated, leaving only the large, slim slab of turquoise glass on her lap.

She stood and walked over to the door and pressed something. A holographic image that said “CLOSED” lit up.

Quinen smiled and walked in. Minada scowled and ran to the bar counter on the far right. There was a pop of power as Quinen’s Soul registered.  A bell chimed.

“Who are you?” Minada slung out a slugpiece from under the bar counter. The transmogrifier in the grip-cartirdge activated, power whirred. Quinen raised his hands. “Only Quinen could get through my wards unharmed.”

“Yeah well that should give you an idea,” said Quinen, looking down at his new body. Slightly taller, definitely a lot more fit and aesthetically pleasing. “Like it?”

“Adon’s Fiery Spit,” she gasped. “What have you done this time, Quinen?”

Quinen licked his lips. “It’s a long story.” He gestured at the comfy leather chair set in front of a wooden table and another leather chair.

Minada bit her lip, and her eyes only flickered to the chair. Then she nodded, but kept the slugpiece trained on him.

Quinen smiled and took the seat, groaning as he sank into the leather of the chair. Then, he explained. No preamble.

Minada listened, yet kept the slugpiece trained on Quinen at all times. The Collegiate Symbol that glowed on the side of the barrel was one of protection. For three times a day, Quinen knew, that every slug that exploded out of that barrel would be magickally protected — counterspelling and unravelling any spells used against it.

Minada herself was covered from top to bottom with ink. Her skin was naturally dark, a trait of most Zirrinae humans, which she came from. She wasn’t wearing her eyeliner today, but her hair was still tied way too tightly behind her head, in a ponytail. She had those ear fixtures that widened your lobes, and a nose ring shimmered against the white alchemical light above.

“And that’s why this happened.” Quinen finished the story quick enough, avoiding alot of the unnecessary details. Minada was the only person Quinen had told about the truth of Chrysanthemum — that she was Siddivata. She was the one that created her Binding Inks, after all.

“Shit, Quin,” said Minada. “Godshit. You were technically dead.”

“Wasn’t a fun experience,” said Quinen, shrugging. “If Avalon was the afterlife I was going to then, heh, I’d rather choose hell.”

Minada shrugged. She kept the slugpiece, but her shoulders relaxed, tension unravelling from her like a turning coil. She sat down on the chair across Quinen, and picked up her lapnode again, which she had placed on the table. “So I’m guessing you want a new batch of Inks, eh?”

Quinen smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Um, and presumably one for most of the Fields that I can do now, because I might not always have them.”

Minada glanced upward, thinking. “But if your Soul is a bit, ah, flimsier now, that means Shell-Changing is possible for you–”

Quinen waved his hand. “Let’s not think about that right now. I need an Ink Array — one for Energy, one for Matter, and then one for Death.”

“How many Workings have you cast?” She asked, rising to her feet.

“Not much. Easy ones. Not enough to break Limit.”

Minada walked over to a spot in the cafe where a thin veil of black and purple covered an opening the size of a doorway. “Alright, you have a time limit this time?”

Quinen rose to his feet as well. He walked over to the opening and was surprised he had to watch his head for once. He slipped through, and on the other side was a chair that resembled a hospital’s surgery room way too much. On both sides of the chair were wooden tables that showed different wands and steles and scepters for the act of Inking. No windows in this square room, although there a very bright alchemical light shone a bright, clear white.

“Uh, it’s not going to take more than two hours, right?”

Minada walked over to the tables and bit her lip, standing with her hands akimbo. “I guess, yeah. You want interlocking Symbols?”

Quinen nodded.

“Well,” she pursed her lips, and then tsked. “For a hundred Eagles and a drop of Tass? I’ll make it two hours, yeah.”

Quinen nodded. “Deal.”

And Minada set to work.

Insomnia 4

The Baroness of the Dwarf Court stayed pinned onto the wall as the Dean turned around and grabbed a cup of coffee with his Mind’s Hand. It floated through the air and the Dean caught it and sipped. “I’m waiting.”

The Dean sipped a second time before Zinnia spoke.

“The Warlock is still alive,” she spat. “And he escaped. One of my hunters managed to get out at the same time.”

“Who opened a Portal to Avalon?”

Zinnia raised a crimson eyebrow at that.

“Oh adonsshit,” he said, and he turned to Chrysanthemum. He snapped back to the other Siddivata and said, “Fix this.”

There was a small pause. Dean could tell the Baroness was eyeing him, gauging and weighing the consequences, if whether following the Dean could be deemed “beautiful”.

In the Dean’s perspective, the next words that resounded her decision were the wrong ones. “Or what?”

Hakumatheia could clearly sense the hesitation in her timbre. The momentary pause, the slight shaking of the first word…

“You know what will happen,” said the Dean, and with a nonchalant wave of his hand, a portal to Avalon exploded into being once again. “Go.” His voice echoed into the swirling golden gossamer rift.

Zinnia shot the Dean a look. Hakumatheia knew she hated this, but she also knew the consequences.

With a indignant humph, the Baroness turned to the portal and walked into it. With another dismissive wave from the Dean, the portal sealed shut.

* * *

When the rift behind her sealed, Zinnia screamed. A short burst of noise that echoed across Avalon. The second the sound exploded out of her lips, a rhapsodic synesthesia of notes and waves echoed into scintillating fireworks of neon blues and colors. Her fiagai stood there as her rage took shape, forming into her shout, which then dissipated and congealed into the walls of her throne room. The throne room became red, and the leaves wilted.

“Damn that Dean!” she shouted. “I thought I had him in the palm of my hand.” She walked up to her throne and sat, pouting. Her hair blazed. The conflagration on her scalp caught on the wilting trees, setting those afire with a blue flame.

Her fiagai said nothing, all ten of them still standing one either side of her. Zinnia inhaled, despite not having to breathe in Avalon. It was probably something leftover from her human form. She exhaled, and her breath turned into an angry cacophony of mini shouts and curses.

“Tell me from which Pack that hunter — Dushamigkhala — is from.”

There was a silence for a beat, and then a disembodied voice that seemed to whisper from the crevices of the room replied, “The Cold Silver Eclipse Pack.”

“Get the Head Hunter of the Cold Silver Eclipse.”

“As you wish.”

Zinnia looked straight on at the door, and only had to wait mere moments before the green jade double doors opened at the same time, for time was a mercurial concept in Avalon. In stepped a man twice the height of Zinnia, about nine feet. Every step he took, his armor clanged, echoing steel across the entire room. On his back hung a wide greatsword, a foot wide and six feet long, along with a longbow in a strange harness made of rotting vines.

On his right arm he had strapped a buckler, and on his left he held the neck of some sort of creature with ten eyes on its scalp and no mouth, yet otherwise having a humanoid body.

“Baroness.” His voice was mechanical, metal, lifeless. No inflection. No emotion. “I am here.”

“You are the head of the Cold Silver Eclipse?”

The giant tossed the humanoid nonchalantly to the foot of Zinnia’s throne, and he knelt. “Garomeos,” he intoned. “Sword of the Silver Eclipse, killer of the Avalon Beast: Dragon Swallows the World. What would you have me do?”

Zinnia blinked. Her fires died down. She could feel the power emanating from this entity, as if some sort of Magick radiated from him. Avalon was strong with him. He had eaten much gossamer, Zinnia guessed.

“What Echelon is Cold Silver Eclipse in the Wild Hunt?”

“The Second Echelon,” he replied.

Lightning streaked excitedly across Zinnia’s bonfire hair. “I need you to do what you do best then.”

“And in return?”

“I am the Baroness of this Fiefdom,” she said, her voice calm but rolling like thunder. “Your Packmate, Dushamigkhala, is loose. We cannot have that. We are not ready yet. Common knowledge of Avalon must be hidden from the Mund.”

“I will make sure he is punished.” Garomeos stood.

“But you are from the Second Echelon, of all things,” she said. “If I let this mess up be known to those that DO know… then imagine what will happen to your reputation.”

Garomeos stood still.

“To repay me, accept this Contract that shall Bind our Gossamer evermore. By the seven names of the Dwarf King, Garomeos and Zinnia hath been bound.”

“Hath been bound.”

“You have to kill two more in my name: The Warlock of Throne known as Argist Quinen…” and she conjured a piece of his soulstuff from the boughs of her being. Garomeos stepped forward and strung it up like it was silk weave. He clasped it together in between his hands, and a light pulsed through the armor. When he let his hands go, the soulstuff was gone.

“And?”

Zinnia stood and walked forward. With a thought, she raised the flooring until she was equal in height to Garomeos. Then, she leaned forward, and kissed the featureless helm.

Another pulse of light.

“Hakumatheia. Dean of the Throne Collegium.”

* * *

…crisscrossthroughthelandsoforderandtechnologyindustrythathasmadethingsusabletoallmagickisnolongermagicalbutsomethingmundanewhatseparatesunrealityfromrealitynow…

Dushamigkhala’s thoughts echoed through its thoughtspace.

The constant stream of its alien mind ran unimpeded as it jumped from one concrete rooftop to the next, barely reaching the other side, scrambling over the edge with its seven feet. Its blade appendages punctured a neon fixture and it fizzed out.

It only had six heads now. The seventh destroyed one hung limply to the side, yellow Avalon resonance wafting from it like yellow vapor.

It scampered across the rooftop, blade appendages digging into the concrete, no doubt disturbing the things or people underneath, and a limp head clanging against its obsidian carapace. It stopped at the edge of that rooftop and looked down. Below was, what Dushamigkhala called, a “river of bitumen” swimming with “fish made of defiled creation-essence and steel.”

It reared its new mouthed head back, and then stepped away from the edge.

It raised another, featureless head, and it made a motion quite reminiscent of sniffing. It paused for a moment, before turning and then scampering across the rooftop, running adjacent to the streets below.

The arachnid Hunter jumped over the gap and then landed on the next rooftop. Behind it were the tall, sky-piercing towers and floating marvel-monuments of the Spires.

Before him rose the floating island known as the Collegium.

…ohthetasteofgossamerflowssosweetiamravaginghungryineedtoeatandreturntotheworldibelongedineedtheSiddivata…

* * *

Kasu had been watching the Warlock slowly grow accustomed to his body.

She shoved a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, glanced at the holographic monitors to her right — which showed feed about the newest food recipes and some information about the going ons in the Collegium — and then back at the slumbering Warlocok. He looked so frail and, well, dead. For the first couple of minutes, he hadn’t moved at all, unmoving as a rock.

Kasu reached down and picked up a cup of coffee, sipped. She’d watched the body slowly breathe, his chest heaving, up, down, up, down. He seriously hadn’t looked like he was breathing, but now he took in deep breaths. Slow, pondering breaths that signified that he was truly asleep.

She’d gone to the thrift shop down the street, bought some clothes and scrounged up enough change to take it to the laundromat shop across the street. None of the autochariots really followed the pedestrian crossing or rules of the road in Throne, so crossing the bitumen road was like trying to play a game of “run really fast before the speeding hunk of metal hits you because they’re not stopping for you”.

Kasu glanced at the neatly folded clothes stacked on top of one another on the foot of the bed. She’d only gotten the bare minimum. A black hooded sweater, some jeans, a pair of boots. They all smelled of cheap flower cologne and cleansing powder. Tangy and aromatic, sweet like the smell of an artificial flowerbed.

Kasu nodded. That should do fine.

As Kasu scooped out the last bits of vanilla ice cream off of her tub, Quinen stirred. She gasped inaudibly, moving her rolling chair back a bit. She put down the ice cream and sat with her knees against her chest. She watched through her optics, as the naked, yet very well-toned man stirred into being.

“Wh-” he coughed. Kasu’s eyes widened. She fetched him a glass of water and allowed him to drink it slowly.

He coughed a few more times, his eyes still unopened like a babe. When he finally peeled his eyes open, Kasu could see the Soul sear through the irises. He had the dark browns that she presumed had belonged to Quinen. When she had gotten the Shell, she realized that the eyes didn’t have colors on their irises.

He sluggishly turned his head to Kasu, and then gazed at her for a few seconds. Kasu bit her lips, and then sat with her knees pressed against her chest once again.

“Who are you?”

Kasu breathed in. “Kasu.” She opened her mouth, and then closed it. And then opened it again and spoke anyway, “I saved your life.”

“Ah–” another cough, “Right. Yeah. Thanks for that.” He inhaled, and then exhaled. Inhaled, and then exhaled. He looked down upon himself, and he started hyperventilating. His eyebrows arched downward, his face exploded into shock and confusion. “I…”

“It’s alright!” she said, but didn’t move. “It’s alright. It’s a new body.”

“How…?” The shock was taking over him.

Kasu leaned forward and grabbed his hand, held it tight. “It’s alright, Quinen. It’s alright.”

That did the trick, a bit. His breathing slowed, stabilizing. He licked his lips. “It’s alright, Quinen,” she repeated. And Quinen held Kasu’s hand tight.

Before long, Quinen had worn off the shock. He laid down on the pillow, his eyes staring up at the ceiling. He would move parts of his body to grow accustomed to it. Kasu saw him touch and feel his body, his hair, his lips. He actually said something, muttered something, just to see if he retained his voice. Somehow, his voice sounded almost the same, as if the Soul had changed the vocal chords.

“Shit,” said Quinen. “I need a cig.”

 

Kasu walked out of the apartment building and to the convenience store a couple of blocks to her left. Dusk fell, and as she walked by the neon lights they flickered to life, illuminating with that low, buzzing sound.

She came across one shop with glass windows for walls, so you could see everything going on inside. Within were a few aisles of food and other convenient items. For your convenience. Kasu looked up, and saw, in a orange and blue neon fixture, the word “Quickshop.”

Kasu went in and ordered a pack of cigs. The man behind the counter was an alfr. She could easily identify that with the body markings — his teimach — that he tried to hide so desperately with various clothing items. Also because he had cut off his ears, and had grown his hair to cover the fact.

Kasu had studied some of the Naturaspeak in the Collegium. She took the cigs and anextra lighter, and said, “Ondo-hiranda-saninte.” You I thank.

The alfr shot her a look back, and shook his head. “Next.”

Kasu turned and left, grimacing.

 

When she returned to the apartment, she found her door fixed up and good as new. She realized just how empty the floor she was in. Aside from another human, she was the only one in this floor, so having the door permanently open didn’t really agitate her.

She opened the door and saw Quinen standing fully up and fully clothed. “Fixed your door.”

“Thanks.”

Quinen shrugged. “I should thank you. You got me a Shell, huh?”

Kasu smiled a tight-lipped smile. She walked over to the bed and laid the pack of cigs and the lighter there. The clothes she’d bought him fit him well enough. Maybe she should’ve gotten a longer sweater, but hey.

“Thanks for the cigs.” Quinen said again. He grabbed one, blew into the tip of it, and then muttered, “Herapher.”

The air that he’d blown out slowed down, grew stagnant. Quinen grimaced slightly, and then the air fizzed, and then turned into flame, igniting the end of the cig. “Shit. Can’t do anything done without my Instruments.”

He turned to the lighter and picked it up. He examined it, and then shrugged. “This should work, I guess.”

“So you’re the Warlock, huh?” Kasu asked, as she tried to slowly walk around Quinen. Eventually, she sat on her chair once again.

Quinen raised an eyebrow and paused. He glanced at Kasu from the corner of his eye. “You’ve been in the Collegium too?”

“They spoke about you,” she said. “You know. In the urban legend type of way.” She eyed him as he dragged a long one, and then puffed it out. The smoke wafted, reflecting the red neon outside.

“What they say?”

“Um.” She bit her lip again. “That you can rewrite reality.”

Quinen shrugged and fell onto the bed again. It was eerily silent inside, the only noise coming from the bustle outside and the low hum of the Transmogrifiers. “Isn’t that what Magick is, anyway?”

Kasu thought, and then said, “Magick changes reality.”

Quinen sighed. He leaned against the wall and scoffed a bark. “What else?”

“Huh?”

“What else did they say about me?”

“That you consorted with demons and fiends to get that ability. That’s why they called you Warlock, actually.”

“Ah. Because I consorted with demons. Because that’s the only way I could’ve managed to have been this… good with Magick.” Quinen turned to look at Kasu.

Kasu only stared back.

Quinen looked away. “I had a different mentor. An alfr mentor. He was the previous Dean.”

Kasu raised an eyebrow. “So the Dean I’d met earlier was newer?”

“Somehow. You met the Dean?”

Kasu nodded.

There was a pause, before Quinen cursed. “So that’s where Chyrsanthemum is, huh?” He shot up to his feet.

“Chrysanthemum…?” When it dawned on her, she gasped. “Adonsshit. How could I forget?”

“Mind Workings,” said Quinen, looking around. “Where’s my coat?”

Chrysanthemum had stood up at this point and shrugged.

“Ah shit.” He sat down again. “Okay, lemme think this through. One of the most powerful Magickers has Chrys hostage. I don’t have anything to blunt against his magick. My coat can, but it’s lost.” He was hotboxing his cig. “Shit. My old body’s dead, huh?” He turned to Kasu.

Kasu licked her lips.

“Yeah probably. Fucking hell. Alright. In cases of Transportations, the Collegium always manages to get ahold of the Magicker’s body. So I must’ve been in their Medica. Then I must’ve been killed. So my old body would be in a mortuary, somewhere, while my Instruments are probably… back in the repository. Goddammit.

“How long since the Dean encounter?”

Kasu furrowed her eyebrows, and it took her a second to get it. “Ah, um, around a few hours? It was near the Zenith hour.”

“Alright, then,” he said, standing up again. The first cig had been shortened considerably. He plucked it from his mouth, threw it to the air, and then muttered “Herapher” once again. The cig disintegrated into ember motes. He picked up a new cig and lit it up; this time, by placing his the end of cigarette near his fingers, and then snapping. He spoke the same, Manipulating word, and the sound waves transformed into flame that ignited the tip of the cig.

Kasu blinked, impressed. “You are really good at that. Is that all you learned?”

Quinen turned to her and grinned. His teeth were an exemplary white. “I can Sense, Manipulate, Transmute, and Destroy Energies.

“I can Sense, Manipulate, and Transmute Matter.

“And finally, I can Sense and Manipulate Death and Timespace. Of course, the Sight and the Aegis, but those are par for the course.

“Anyway, those are my credentials. Eventually working my way to Create Energies, but all this Avalon work has me cramming.” He turned toward the door and began to walk out.

“Wait–”

“I can’t bring you with me. Too dangerous.”

Kasu rose to her feet. “At least give me your palmnode’s frequency.”

“For what?”

“For… contingency. Look, I can help you from back here. Send information, scan areas, that kind of shit.”

“I would, but I don’t have my palmnode with me anymore.”

Kasu bit her lip. She turned, pulled out a drawer and tossed an older version of a Halcyon palmnode his way. A Nova 6. Fast, reliable, and has a great link to the Datascape. Quinen caught it. “Ta. I’ll be counting on you.”

Kasu smiled and nodded.

The Warlock walked back into the warzone.

 

Insomnia 3

Shikoth barrelled forward, tumbling through the air, but managed to right himself and catch the winds. “What the hell?” He turned around and felt the great Magickal outburst coming from within the Dean’s room. The skeleton winced — as much as a skull can wince — and turned around and went about on his way, as he was tasked to do.

* * *

Gharth landed on the landing pads of one of the taller Spires. The Naphli’s HQ. At this time of day, there were more than just a few people bustling around in black and white suits. Captain Urie stepped forward, one hand resting on the hilt of his Naphli-issue blade. “Report?”

“Another Magickal Incursion, Captain,” he said. “Still of a High Dissonance Tension. This is very disconcerting…” Captain Urie was already turning around and walking back to the electric lift down to the garage.

“It sure is. Gharth, Sersha, with me.” The Captain pointed at a young-looking lady sitting in front of a desk. Sersha turned and nodded. She had been coating a long, single-edged curving blade with what looked like some sort of translucent liquid, that congealed and made the blade of the sword gleam. When she nodded, she flourished the blade and sheathed it down the built-in scabbard on the backside of her armor.

Gharth managed an avian grin at Sersha as she walked into the electric lift with them. “Hey, Knife-ears.”

“Birdbrain,” she said back, with the tiniest hint of a smirk on her pale face.

Urie stepped behind them. As they zoomed down the electric lift, Gharth noticed Sersha’s posture. Straight, unmoving for the most part, with her fingers open and relaxed, ready for anything. She regulated her breathing, ready should a fight erupt at anytime. On her right waist hung a standard issue slugpiece.

Soon enough, the lift opened and they stepped within. They piled up within the autochariot, and it made its way to the Collegium. “Oh yes,” Gharth perked up, forgetting something. “The Detectives are making some headway, and they want to investigate within the Collegium. For that, they need a warrant.”

Captain nodded. “Who were the Detectives?”

“Namana Sahnie and Kotoro Lumis.”

The Captain brought out his palmnode and buzzed the frequency of the Headquarters. He told them to issue warrants for the Collegium to aforementioned detectives.

* * *

Kasu blinked, and then checked her pockets. “Where’s my palmnode…?”

Maeve turned and looked at her. “Huh?”

“My… palmnode…” She blinked, and then shook her head. “Sorry, Maeve. I have to go.”

“Where’s Thackeray, I wonder…” They walked down the Central Park of the Collegium. “I should go look for him. Alright, you take care, okay?”

Kasu nodded, and she was off.

Her memory was slowly coming back to her. Her mental defenses managed to soak up a lot of the perversions from the Working of… who did the Working? Was it the Dean?

She shook her head. She had to get Quinen out of there. If… if she was forced to leave the palmnode, then the Dean must’ve known that there was something important within. That the Warlock was in it.

She took the City-Rail Transit to her home. It was faster, and she wouldn’t get caught in the traffic. She fervently hoped that she wouldn’t be late.

Kasu dropped by a certain place just outside her the Ward in which her home was in. She wove through buildings close to each other like concrete ravines, until he found a neon sign that only said, “Unggang’s” plastered above a steel door. Kasu knocked.

There was a thumping on the other side of the door, and then it swung open. The sound of the hinges creaking echoed across the room. Out came a nine foot tall… person that had to crouch to get through his own little door. His skin was mottled and textured like the bark of a tree, his tusks crooked and jutting out from his jaw. His eyes were a pitch black, but if one looked closely and looked past the ugly exterior, one would see specks of starlight. He breathed through his fat cigarillo.

Past the door, Kasu could see a flight of stairs going down into a much larger basement room.

“Ung,” she spoke. “I need… um,” she looked around her. There was a woman fumbling with her purse, a bunch of homeless trying out the newest magickal herbs. She turned back to Ung. “I need a Shell.”

Unggang spoke with the voice that grated the earth in its baritone. “Okeh, Shemi Kasu. Please, step inside.”

Kasu nodded, looking about her still. She closed the door behind her, and followed the giant down into his basement.

Basement was a bit of an understatement. It would be more accurate to have called it a cave. It rose up to probably all the way to the first floor of the building above, as the nine-foot tall giant still had about two feet of headspace within. As Kasu stepped down onto the maroon-carpeted floor, Unggang walked across the room in three strides and looked down at a large table that had rows upon rows of clay-like humanoid.

“What body you need?”

“Human,” Kasu said. “Um, hopefully you have some?”

Unggang nodded, scanning through his rows. “Of course I do! Everyone here in Throne is human.” He sighed. “Not very many kapre.”

Kasu smiled a tight-lipped smile. He walked over to Unggang and stroked his arm. “You’ll find one some day, big guy.” She blinked.

Unggang shrugged. “I do not want one. I want many.” He shrugged. “But it does not bother me. I have my customers, and they pay me. Very good business.”

Kasu snickered. “You’re running a very illegal business, Ung.”

Unggang turned to her and grinned. His teeth clacked woodenly. “But sometimes, illegal business is what people need.” He turned back. “I am guessing you need human male? Tell me what shape and distinctions. I am sure to have some.”

“I guess, tall, handsome? Maybe has long hair. Free of tattoos, ew,” she said, grimacing. “Give him a well-toned body.”

“Why you need Shell, huh?” asked Unggang as he picked up a masculine Shell, shook his head and dropped it back down. “I did not know you studied the Death Arts or the Spirit Arts.”

“Data Arts,” replied Kasu. “And, I… managed to digitize a Soul.”

Unggang turned and raised a leafy eyebrow. “You did?”

Kasu nodded. “I’m sure the Dissonance will manifest like some kind of headache and it’ll hurt like hell.” She bit her lip. “I should pick up some dampener pills for that actually…”

“Say no more.” Unggang paused from his sifting, picked up a clear, small packet of pills, and gave it to Kasu. It was small, even in Kasu’s fingers, and it made it all the more humorous when Unggang had to pick it up with the sharpest of precisions.

“Thanks, Unggang.”

“That will be an extra,” he said, smiling. “But let us finish this first, yes?”

Kasu nodded. “Right.”

“But tell me how you did this Soul-Digitizing. I hadn’t heard it done before.”

Kasu shrugged. “With live subjects.”

“Hm?”

“You’ve never heard it done before with live subjects. I’m guessing this one — this wandering Soul — had a physical body that was by all intents and purposes, deceased.”

“Ah yes,” Unggang nodded. “That may be a valid reason. Interesting. So the Living Souls of the Dead may be tampered with… How did you get a Living Soul detached from its physical body, however?”

Kasu licked her lips and bit them. “I… don’t know, honestly. It came from Avalon, so maybe Transportation?”

“From… Avalon? Then that soul plays with a particularly dangerous fire.”

“He does.” I guess. Kasu said.

“Here.” Unggang picked up a body that was handsome enough, rugged, and with a body build that would put Kerahmetian sculptures to shame. Such Kerahmetian sculptures showed images of human perfection, with lean muscles and flat stomachs, with six packs. Kasu thanked the kapre, and the kapre offered to put it in a minimizing bag, wherein it would fit, but the bag would be a lot smaller. That added much more money to her final.

“How much would that be?” Kasu asked, biting her lip.

“I think two thousand Eagles should do the trick.”

“Fuck,” she patted about her, checked the deep pockets of her green leather coat. “You, uh, take monthly payments?”

Unggang nodded. “You may pay me fully in another time. All I need is some money now, and a lock of your hair.”

Kasu sighed. Very well.

* * *

Argist Quinen had no idea what was happening outside. He was mostly moving about the confines of the palmnode subconsciously. He looked about him, and realized that he was, somehow, basically an intelligent ghost. The Datascape was his Underworld, or his Great Afterafter. What if this was his punishment? His punishment for all his transgressions in the past, against Reality, against the Dean, against the Collegium…

He stopped. The Warlock clutched his head, and willed the thoughts to go away. He didn’t want them back.

It wasn’t long before there was a subtle pulling and manipulation in the Scape. Quinen felt the tugging, fraying, and otherwise perversion of the entire Realm before another “ghost” materialized in front of him. She looked like… that girl that had digitized his soul.

Her hair had been put up on top of her head. Lines of blue and gray circled about her, and her entire body was covered in an electric sheen of data and information, swirling clouds of numbers and haze.

“Who are you?” Quinen spoke, but he didn’t hear his voice echo.

“Call me Kasu,” the girl replied. Without another word, she reached out and grabbed Quinen’s Soulstuff. Quinen cursed, reflexively tried to pry her hand off of his, but she worked her Dataturgy, and the room around him blurred. It funneled into a tunnel of brilliant lights and data, of great brightness. The blues and grays and whites and yellows blurred all about him, in discombobulating synesthesia and…

* * *

Kasu bit her lip and closed her eyes. She curled up in a fetal position as she felt the Dissonant wracking in her Soul, but she had to hold out just a bit more before she could give in to the Dissonance.

Once the painful spasm of Dissonance grew a bit more tolerable, she stood up and reached for the packet of dampener pills. She realized she had tears in her eyes as she searched for some kind of liquid to down the pills with. She found a gallon of milk that she’d almost forgotten. She checked the date it would’ve expired. Shit. Tomorrow.

She downed the pills with a huge gulp of the milk. The pills reacted almost immediately, the headache and the spasming pain subsided, just a bit. She inhaled, closing her eyes and regulating her breathing. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, somehow proud that she didn’t make a sound.

She turned around once again to the unmoving form of the Warlock and realized that she really should’ve bought him some clothes.

Eh, she thought. Too late for that now.

* * *

Quinen swam through a sea of abyssal emptiness, of overwhelming nothing. And the Warlock could not comprehend nothingness, for the mind has to think of something, therefore it cannot think of nothing. These thoughts and non-thoughts waged war, and there was a great wracking pain within his very being.

The Warlock awoke. He awoke simply — just like any other human. His eyes opened, and he gasped a breath.

And that was when he felt something was wrong.

He gasped for another breath. And then another. And then another. And his whole body was wracked by spasms of breathlessness, of the lungs failing to heed the commands of his Soul. He closed his eyes, and desired to die, as he felt his lungs bursting from within, as if he was drowning. Drowning…

No. He saw Chrys’ face in the back of his eyelids. He saw the things he left behind. He saw his past, flurry through him, and how the Baroness Siddivata known as Zinnia has the power to wreak havoc among Throne, bringing with her the Wild Hunt.

And because of this, he awoke, and he Willed his Soul to conform to this Shell. He’d seen this before. He’d seen Souls transplanted onto homunculi. Some of them succeeded, some of them didn’t. Those that succeeded have been testaments to mortal ingenuity.

Quinen shook violently within the chains, the coffin that was the Shell, and he Willed his Soul to be at peace. “I am the Master,” his voice managed to roll out of his thought, echoing like rolling thunder across the room despite the mouth never moving. “The Magick is still.”

And all was calm, and all was peaceful.

Kasu had been going around, scrolling through walls of scripts on her desknode. She sweated, muttering over and over to herself, the tears on the corner of her eyes streaming down her cheeks.

She didn’t stop even when all was calm, even when Quinen had control of his body once more. Quinen reached out, and touched her hand. The Warlock was just as impressed at his Will, and at this new development. This new body he inhabited.

Kasu gasped, tumbling away from his touch. He must’ve been deathly cold to the touch. The semblance of life, warmth, should come gradually, as the Soul anchors itself within this new body.

Quinen winced, as his Soul flagellated itself to fit within its new shape.

“Thank you,” Quinen managed to say, before he fell back to darkness.

Insomnia 2

Quinen opened his eyes with a gasp, as if he were in some sort of trance or dream or nightmare. He opened his eyes and saw himself in the vast, blinding light of the Datascape. The incandescent flows of information and the powerful lines of data coursed beneath him in murky, chaotic shambles. He saw that he was in someone’s Datagrove, finding himself within a room sleeted over with a blue-gray haze. Those lights of data exited through the Datagroves’ opening: the window in front of him. He could hear the second-hand conversations and the third-hand gossip being passed to and fro like water running through glass pipes.

The Warlock turned around and saw nothing but the Datagrove. When he looked down upon himself he saw his lingering Upper Soul, still not free of this mortal coil.

How… How did I get here? He wondered. Ah. That girl. He thought back to the girl that raised her palmnode at him. Was that possible? He wasn’t a master of the arts of Data, nor the Arts of Working the Scape with Will. But manipulating a Soul with it with such ease… it wasn’t possible, right?

He wondered then. He knew that one could manipulate the Soul using Diwaturgy, the Sorcery of Manipulating Diwa, but he knew not much more than that. He’d decided not to dabble into the basic foundation of Magick, finding that Magick that affected the natural state of the World Seen to be far more important, or pragmatic, or fun.

So the thought lingered on in his mind, even as he wandered about. A Soul without his Lower Half in the Datascape.

 

* * *

 

Kasu breathed hard, with the woman behind her cradling the small feychild. The two of them reached the bottom of the stairs, and then eventually arrived at the Lobby. The janitors wiping the windows turned to them with furrowed eyebrows, stared for half a second, and then went back to their chores. Gotta get their work done, after all; they were being paid by the hour.

Kasu turned around to see if the woman was still following her and she was, still carrying Chrys in her arms. The little girl’s pink hair glowed dimmer now, softer hums. It was as if the bright beating was slowly being extinguished.

Kasu nodded, and she tried thinking of safe places to bring them, to no avail.

“Get us a Brown Cab,” the woman carrying Chrys said.

Kasu bit her lip, but she nodded. She dashed out to the curb, and she realized that it was early morning Ascending already. The Daystar blossomed a yellow-orange glow into the world, banking in the west. A few autochariots passed by — the morning bustle had already begun. It was mostly humans walking to and fro, grabbing donuts and shoving them into their faces, washing it down with coffee or beer. They rushed out with half-buttoned up uniforms, obviously late to whatever job it was they did to contribute to society, tying up their hair.

The occasional non-human race lumbered through, making way for the either taller or shorter humans.

Kasu reached out a hand to hail a Cab, and then beckoned for the woman and Chrys, The two of them slid into the passenger’s cabin of the autochariot. The woman held Chrys up and fixed her position so that she was sitting down, leaning against the woman’s shoulder.

The woman leaned forward to the driver. “Karoley Ward, Collegium?”

The driver turned on the meter. “Which entrance?”

“South should be good.”

“I gotcha.” He drove off.

They rode in silence for a short while. The raven haired woman fixed her hair, tying it up ontop of her head, exposing the soft pale skin of her neck underneath. She turned to Chrysanthemum, checking up on her, before turning to Kasu. The Dataturge looked straight on ahead, blinked, nervous and afraid of looking at this woman straight at the face.

Kasu saw the woman smiling from her periphery.

“And what do you have in connection with the feychild?”

Kasu blinked. “Me?” She glanced at the woman, saw her freezing gray blue eyes, and then looked away. “I’m just being a good soul and helping her.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Oh, is that so? You have no connection whatsoever to her?”

Kasu shook her head. “Sort of. Um, it’s trivial. I knew Oberen and they both walked into the cafe I worked in and then suddenly I found out that Chrysanthemum was, er, that.”

“Roeser Oberen?”

Kasu nodded. “Y-yeah.” She gulped.

“Where is Oberen?”

Kasu stayed silent, looking down at the black floor of the cab instead of straight ahead.

“Ah.”

There was silence. The taxi driver was glancing at them from his rear view mirror.

“So, you just randomly helped this girl out.”

Kasu shrugged. “Right. Um,” she bit her lip. “I don’t think I need some big ol’ reason to help her out. Besides, Oberen clearly went out of his way to help her. So she has to be of some importance.”

The woman turned to Chrysanthemum, and her gaze lingered on her. “You might be right.” She turned to Kasu. “De Laqua Maeve, by the way.”

Kasu blinked. “Shemi Kasu.”

“Call me Maeve. We’ve already survived death together, anyway.”

Kasu blinked. “Then I guess you can call me Kasu.”

The cab turned into the Inner Interward Highway, joining the throng of other autochariots moving down the road, like a river of rubber and steel.

 

* * *

 

The anzu named Gharth flew across the morning air, his grand feathery wings slicing through the wind. He dove onto the rooftop where the scene of one of the crimes was supposed to be. Two crimes around the same building was intriguing to the Naphli — there’s a very small chance they weren’t connected to each other. And with reports of another High Dissonance Tension, this could prove intriguing indeed.

Not like they didn’t deal with Dissonance Tensions brought about by Magickers that didn’t respect the law every now and again. But it has been around two days since the last one, and a High Dissonance Tensions is rarely seen. High Tensions were sources of great magickal workings.

Gharth opened his wings right before he hit the ground, allowing air to catch him, and he dropped down safely onto the concrete parapet of the rooftop. Across them, he could see visible signs of struggle, blood everywhere, a broken door, and two bodies eviscerated and laid onto the floor.

The first body, nearer to the parapet he stood on, was human. He still had the lingering of magick about him. There was a woman detective, also human, standing over him, inspecting the dead body with a critical eye. She was squinting, her blonde hair cascaded down behind her, and she scrunched up to a heavy cloth which she used as a scarf. The long and heavy gray overcoat was definitely a nice touch. Gharth liked to think of himself as a sort of fashion connoisseur. Not that it applied to him, since he had to wear Naphli uniform tailor made for his race.

He stepped down onto the concrete of the roof, his zygodactyl feet crunched onto the surface. “Detective Namana,” he said, stepping forward. His Naphli-issue sword and slugpiece clanked on his right waist. “Tell me the read of this situation.”

Namana turned to Gharth. “Not good. Also: Sahnie, since we’re friends an all.” She turned back to the body. “This one’s eviscerated, but I can’t connect the cause with the effect. Lacerations on his body, deep, and curiously clean. Honestly, only a Naphli blade could make this clean a cut.” She looked up, at the second body — a decapitated belgar. “That one is stranger. She has the emblem of the Knights Vigilant.”

Gharth blinked. “The Knights? I thought they were gone?”

Sahnie shrugged. “Well I guess not.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Anyhow, the strangest thing of all from this scene are definitely the pockholes. See over there? They look like they were formed by sturdy spears struck onto the concrete. Multiple times. Some of them have a high frequency, while others are far apart.” She pinched her nose, and then shrugged.

Gharth inspected the pocks in the concrete. Some of holes were close together, while others were apart. “Right. The frequency of those holes are strange. Any hypotheses?”

“They were feet, maybe,” she said. “Bladespiders have that similar type of legs, with sharp swords for feet, which they use to climb up surfaces. But most of them can only be found in far Northern Sidef, and none of them can grow that large.”

The anzu nodded. “Anything else?’

“Very heavy Magickal Resonance. It’s setting off all kinds of signals on my Sight.” She stepped back, closed her eyes, and uttered a word. Mandalas of power — three tiers of them — materialized in front of her eyes, glass circles of translucent iridescence amplifying her vision. She opened her now blazing eyes, and peered into the scene.

After a moment, she tsked, and closed her Sight with another blink. “Resonance, yes, but not Magickal. Definitely a bit more… transdimensional. Might be from a Realm in the Mael.”

Gharth frowned.

 

He decided to leave Sahnie to her investigations and fluttered down to the left side of the apartment, into a piss-smelling alleyway where another body lay. The entire alley was sealed off with holographic sign telling the populace that there was an investigation underway. Some of the populace tried to peer in, but most of them only took a cursory glance before heading on their usual route.

Gharth strode over to where the body was, past other Naphli officers that wore a similar a black and white uniform as he did. They nodded to him as he walked past, and Gharth quickly returned it.

He saw the body: it was a handsome looking young man, with a cloud of black hair and pale skin. He wore a dark blue jacket, and through his anzian eyes he could still see the Magickal Resonance floating up from him like some sort of mystic vapor. The dead boy’s chest looked like it was blown inwards, with dark black markings on them.

The one they’d sent to investigate this one was yet another Magicker-Detective. Gharth walked up to the man, lanky and wearing glasses, with a maroon waistcoat over a dress shirt. “Detective Kotoro?”

Kotoro raised an eyebrow and turned to him. “Ah, Officer Gharth,” he nodded to the anzu. “We haven’t made much progress. Excessive blunt force to the chest, died before he hit the ground. Used my Sight earlier — terribly powerful magickal force. Destroyed his entire upper torso. Magickal power overflowed to his Soul, even. He was in the Great Afterafter at the moment of the impact on his chest.” He sighed. “Whatever it was.”

Gharth blinked first, processing the information, then: “Magickal Hammer, maybe?”

“Maybe,” Kotoro said, shrugging. “I’ll get deeper into this, but that means going over to the Collegium. I need a warrant.”

“I’ll do my best,” Gharth said, nodding. He didn’t like the developments on this case. Yet another High Dissonance Tension. Another Incursion of Magick, it seems, but transdimensional? Just what were they dealing with here? “I’ll report back to Captain Urie.”

Kotoro nodded. “Much thanks, Gharth. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“So is the impact caused by something Magickal, and not Transdimensional?”

Kotoro nodded. He paused, then turned to look up at the anzu. “What did Sahnie conclude up there?”

“That the resonance seemed Transdimensional. At least, she said so.”

“Ah,” Kotoro said. “Interesting. Well, I suggest you head back to Captain Urie and get that warrant.”

Gharth replied that he will. He turned around, opened his large, gold-feathered wings, and shot into the air. As he rose into the skyline, he saw, in his periphery, a skeleton of an anzu perched atop a rooftop across the alleyway. He turned for another look, but the skeleton had vanished.

He shrugged, turned, and made his way back to the Naphli headquarters.

 

* * *

 

Shikoth flew through the cold Nymph season air. He made his way to the floating fortress that was the Collegium, powered by dwarfic defying magicks. Thoughts ran across his… thoughtspace. He didn’t exactly have a physical brain, you see.

The anzu veered up, flapping rapidly, and reached the high window that led to the Dean’s window. He perched on the open window, peering into the room of the Dean. He saw Hakumatheia, wearing a coat over a black shirt and denim pants. He sat with his fingers steepled, and he leaned forward.

Across the table, in front of him, stood a disheveled woman with tattered clothes, which seemed to be once a beautiful array of black and blue coats and shirts, skirts and leggings, now showed too much of her pale skin accented by the black cherry of blood.

She held in her hands a small little girl with pink hair, and Shikoth couldn’t help but mutter, “No fucking way.”

It was Chrysanthemum; it was the Siddivata. They did it.

But beside the disheveled woman was a not too little girl, also disheveled, her optics bent, her dark green jacket seeming too big for her, holding a hazing palmnode in one hand.

“Ah,” the Dean said. “Very, very good, Huntsman De Laqua.” Hakumatheia gestured for De Laqua to lay Chrysanthemum on the chair in front of his desk. “I shall reward you accordingly, but I suggest you rest first. Maybe a trip to the Medica.”

“We are loyal to you, Dean,” De Laqua said almost bowing reverently. “But I must ask a question before I hand the victim over…” Her face was firm, unyielding, and fierce. “Did you think we would get out? Was the plan really to rescue the Warlock?”

The Dean paused. He had that passive look on his face. Shikoth never saw him wearing any other mask, only a passive mask that seemed to tell people that he knew every detail and minutiae of your next move. “It might, it might not be.” He shrugged. “Hand the Siddivata over.”

De Laqua Maeve narrowed her eyes. “Why? You ordered us to hand over the Warlock, yes? Not this little girl. Not this… Siddivata?” The Huntsman looked down, but she shook her head and resumed her piercing stare at the Dean.

The Dean shrugged. “The Warlock is gone, is he not?”

“He has turned into a Soul,” said De Laqua. Her eyes glanced over to the shorter girl beside her. “I do not know if this bodes well or not.”

“Ah, so,” he turned to the girl. “She has it?”

The girl gasped, taking a step back.

“Shemi Kasu,” said the Dean, leaning back. “You’ve studied here before, if I recall correctly. Matter studies, or was it Energy? I don’t remember.”

Kasu’s eyes flickered to Maeve.

Maeve shook her head. “Answer me truthfully, Dean Hakumatheia. Did you plan on us getting out?”

The Dean spread his hands out. “Of course! I needed the Warlock’s Soul.” With a very minute flicker of a finger magickal power popped, and Maeve nodded.

“Right. Okay.” Maeve turned to Kasu. “Give him the Soul of the Warlock.”

“Why?”

“Just follow his orders.”

The Dean leaned forward again. “Oh yes, by the by, wasn’t there another one of you? The man? Thackeray Navarre, if I recalled his name correctly.”

“Ah,” Shikoth cut in then. Maeve and Kasu both turned to look at the skeleton, but Dean only looked at the girls. “Isn’t that the guy on the rooftop? Yeah, he’s dead.”

De Laqua almost dropped Chrysanthemum. She stepped back, her grip slackened, and she blinked. “Wh-what?”

Shikoth turned his avian skull to Maeve. “You heard me. He gone, dead, his Soul has gone to the Great Afterafter, baby.” He then turned to the Dean, completely ignoring the disheveled woman, who has gone through hell, staring at him with glassy eyes. “By the way Hakky, there’s this weird spider thing going on killing them. Um, you want to do something about that?”

The Dean blinked. Slowly, almost trancelike. “What?”

Shikoth sighed. “You heard me, didn’t you?”

The Dean cursed. “Quick. Get out of this room.” He turned to Maeve. “Leave the Siddivata here. You, Shemi, leave your palmnode here as well.”

“Wh-why?”

“NOW.”

They did as they were commanded. Kasu dropped her palmnode onto the desk, and Maeve laid Chrysanthemum on the chair. Quickly they shuffled out the door after that, and it shut tight behind them with a loud bang.

“Let’s get back to my dorm room,” Maeve said, on the other side of the door, but she didn’t feel like her words were her own.

 

* * *

 

“What’s going on, Hakky baby?”

The Dean turned to Shikoth. “Leave for now. Keep an eye on that same thing, and report back to me once you’ve seen the spider thing again.”

Shikoth nodded. “Will do!” And fell backwards into the air, and then up into the sky.

 

The Dean, now alone, closed the window with nary a thought. He snapped his fingers, uttered a snarling word, and a portal to Avalon burst open. Through it, he could see the disheveled room of Zinnia, vines everywhere, with her fiagai scattered about. The pillars were gone.

“Zinnia, come to the Mund.”

The firetree Siddivata turned to him, frowned.

“Come!” His voice rolled thunder.

Zinnia shrugged. She stood up, and walked through the portal. Her true nature and form peeled away as she stepped through the veil between worlds, replaced by something the Mund could actually understand. Her fiery red hair and emerald green eyes returned. “What is it, Hakky?”

Without another word, the portal to Avalon closed, and an invisible hammer of energy slammed Zinnia towards the wall.

Hakumethia glared at the Siddivata Baronness, and his eyes crackled with electricity. “Explain why a Hunter of the Wyld Hunt is here. And do not lie to me.”

 

 

Insomnia 1

“Knight Vigilant?” Kasu’s eyebrows furrowed, and she blinked. “That’s impossible.”

The belgar snorted. She didn’t turn to her. “Is it really?”

“The Knights Vigilant aren’t sellswords,” she said. She found that her voice quivered. “They’re, well, Knights. They follow a Code, and they… they’re not bad.”

Rexza raised an eyebrow. “Bad?” She shook her head. “You know what’s bad, Magicker? Is that if that rogue Siddivata isn’t brought back to that chimerical shithole she came from, or killed from the face of the Mund, it might very well spark the most intense wars between the Mund and the Realm of Avalon. We wouldn’t want that would we?”

Kasu still furrowed her eyebrows, but she didn’t say another word.

The Daystar dawned.

“And the thing is…” the Knight stared at the horizon: orange melting the deepest purple into lead. “…this really isn’t a job for just anybody. Other people? They’re just trying to get along, trying to get their jobs done, or trying to survive. It’s my duty, as a Knight, to do what others cannot, what others will not, what others must not.

“That is my Code.”

Kasu swallowed hard. She hadn’t moved from her spot, and she felt miniscule compared to this large hunk of muscle.

“Then if you’re so attached to that Code,” said Kasu, then she stopped herself. She did not go further.

The winds of the morning howled. It was not a welcoming howl. It was an angry howl. A distraught howl. A howl that seemed to grow louder and louder. Moaning deeper and deeper.

Then a cold gust of wind slammed against Kasu, and pushing her back onto her butt. The gale swept across the rooftop, bringing with it loose residue from yesternight’s rain, leftover plastic wrappers and tin can neon pops. Gray dust danced to the tune of the wind.

And then, the wind tightened, spiralling into a smaller, tinier spiral until —

A Rift in Reality EXPLODED into existence, sending Kasu forward, her body slamming onto the concrete parapet. Rexza rocked off of the parapet, but her nimble body turned, and she caught herself before she could fall, pulling herself onto the roof.

Out of the portal leapt out a myriad of figures. Firstly, two Huntsmen — their cloaks and robes and garments slashed and ripped and torn. Secondly, Chrys popped out, hitting the ground knees scraping the concrete floor, but she rolled and got her feet under her.

That same Chrysanthemum — her knees bleeding and scratched — turned around and reached out into the rift. Kasu blinked, finding herself moving too slowly.

Then she pulled someone out. Or more accurately, something. The body was vaguely human, albeit devoid of feet, and one could see straight through his visage. He seemed to be made of glistening, burning starstuff.

Right as the Portal closed, an arachnid… thing blurred out at a speed her human eyes couldn’t register. The blurring arachnid slammed against the block of concrete where their door to escape — to freedom — would’ve been.

The arachnid stopped blurring, and it showed itself… and all Kasu could understand about it was that it looked like a solid, moving shadow with a carapace of clear glass.

She blinked.

She shook her head.

She closed her eyes.

She didn’t open them.

* * *

Rexza dropped onto the concrete floor, off of the parapet, when that arachnid thing bolted out, just as the Rift sealed shut with a minor pop. Vaguely arachnid, with seven heads — each with 3 eyes and only one with a mouth — and seven appendages, signaled to Rexza that this was no normal Avalon dweller.

It was a Hunter of the Wild Hunt.

“Shit.” She dashed forward, past the two savaged Huntsmen, her target, and the Burning Soul of a Magicker. “Get back! This is too dangerous.”

Rexza watched the arachnid closely, as it examined her with its seven heads. It moved, and it was on the floor immediately, appendages digging into the concrete like dreorg-forged blades. It spoke, but it was incomprehensible.

Rexza let in a breath. It was fast.

But she could be faster.

She crouched low, going into a savage martial posture. One foot forward, another behind her, and both paws in front of her. Her claws, like every other “civilized” belgar, had been plucked off.

“Seven-Headed Dragon Style,” she breathed out, and the world tensed, like a strummed string. She shouted the next few words: “Head 5: Most Excellent Alacrity!”

“Wait!” shouted a voice behind her. It had the burning echo effect of one who spoke from the Soul. “Stop!”

She decided to surprise the the protean beast.

And the beast lunged at her as well.

The dust kicked up behind her, gray motes of dirt flurrying upward. As she burst forward, the motes of dust stayed up there, falling as if in slow motion.

She and the arachnid Hunter met and the world shook. Her right straight broke through the hunter’s defense — that is, it didn’t exactly focus on keeping itself alive — and crunched against one head.

Two blade-appendages of the Hunter moved, trying to pincushion her from both sides. She dodged backward, retracting her paw, and meeting both blade-like appendages with a foot and another paw.

Cursing, she twisted, bringing her foot up with her, and that slammed against the Hunter’s abdomen.

The two blades pulled back, and she let the momentum of that kick carry her, flipping herself backwards and a good amount of space in between them.

She landed on four arms, looked up to see the Hunter stopping itself from falling over. It looked up, and exploded into a mad dash for her. She burst into a dash as well, running to the right, aiming to perform a circle to avoid him, as well as look for an opening. She summoned her Gawa — the personal, potential form of Diwa, and — and pooled it into her legs, sending her faster and faster. Her legs pumping like bellows. Even faster despite already being in Head 5 of this Mystical Strife.

The arachnid saw her movement, and didn’t even stop. It simply used another set of appendages and moved the other way. She saw the subtle weavings of destiny and probability and chaos around it, shimmering glass spiderwebs, as it moved towards her at a blinding speed.

The Hunter cut in front of Rexza. With her Gawa-empowered legs, the Knight Vigilant launched herself into the air, flipping over the arachnid. It lunged at her with an appendage, and two heads. Her leap cleared over two heads, but the blade-appendage ripped into her, impaling her right stomach, skewering her like a delicious barbecue.

Rexza grimaced as the Hunter hurled her to the ground. She cursed as she hit the ground, and the bleeding hole only widened. She skidded across the ground, gray dirt intermingling with blood red globules, kicking up into the air, but never dropping.

She slammed against the door, and the pain exploded. Behind her, the door creaked, only a little. She barely stifled a scream. She couldn’t show weakness. Not now. Not ever.

Do what others cannot.

She rose to her feet, leaning against the wall. It stained with her blood, which immediately froze onto the dirt on the wall. The dirt puffed out sluggishly.

She allowed her scream to come, but she only allowed it to be one of defiance. Fueling her pain with her anger, she juiced up her legs with her Gawa, and hurled herself at the arachnid.

She shot through the air like a hairy, beastly bullet. The Hunter twitched a blade-appendage it was supposed to move, and then slashed two blade-appendages upon her. Rexza twisted in mid-air, allowing the Magick to take hold of her for the shortest while, allowing her to ignore the pathetic rules of Mundic Physics. She twisted as two blades came down upon her.

One blade cut only air, the other cut cleanly a gash on her upper back. She grit her teeth. Her maneuver was unhindered.

She slammed onto the Hunter’s black, arachnid chest. She raised a paw, and let her Gawa pool into the fist. She shouted and slammed it against the arachnid’s abdomen.

All of creation vibrated from the impact.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Rexza saw the ripples of power radiating from the points of impact, but no discernible damage had been done unto the arachnid. The Knight looked up, and saw that the Hunter looked down upon her, the strangest expression on its not face. The expression of confusion. It expressed it, somehow, by communicating its thoughts to her nous.

She let this be the opportunity. She slammed her empowered fist onto the Hunter’s speaking head, and it screeched, clawed at her and threw her away.

Rexza landed on all fours once again, looking up at the arachnid Hunter.

The Hunter’s speaking head shook, and looked about. It looked over to the right, and then to the left. As it did, most of the other heads simply looked up and down and left and right, and its seven appendages clacked and stomped against the hard, cold concrete.

Do what others will not.

Rexza moved in. She channeled her Gawa through her, and then let it pool into her fist and then let it overflow. It exploded in Diwal power, white and red energy bursting into flames. They trailed behind her, flaming brush strokes from a master scripter.

She launched herself toward the confused and dazed Hunter, reached up, and screamed bloody defiance one last time as she let her fist loose. It slammed against the speaking head, and the head burst into a vast cascade of red and black and iridescent brush strokes, streaking across the sky.

It fell backwards, its useless blade-appendages clicking against the concrete.

Do what others must not.

Rexza fell to the ground, looking away from the Hunter, and saw the rest of them safe, watching. One of them was stuck in mid-surprise, slowly moving backwards and stopping himself.

She let out a breath.

Behind her, one of the arachnid Hunter’s heads split open, revealing a large grin. It screeched. Its blade-appendages moved.

And all the dust kicked up, all the blood spilled, all the things hit, moved.

The dust fell onto the floor.

The blood splashed onto the concrete.

The door cracked open.

* * *

Quinen’s soulstuff shouted a burning word. “Wait!” And as he lunged forward, to try and stop what she was going to do, she disappeared. A billowing cloud of dust behind her.

All he saw were two blurs. Quinen saw in his periphery, in the split second they fought, Thackeray stepping forward as well, his mouth opening to say a word.

The besouled Warlock felt three gigantic vibrations that felt like it shook all of creation. He turned around to see what had happened.

The dust fell to the ground. A door shattered open. Bits and pieces of red splattered everywhere, intermingling with more motes of dust.

The Warlock and the Huntsman stopped, as they saw the belgar on the ground, in front of a Hunter missing a head.

They saw the belgar sighing. They saw her gasp for breath.

They saw the blade-appendages of the Hunter move, inhumanely quick.

They saw the belgar — the Knight Vigilant — fall to her knees. Defeated, and headless.

“Shit!” The Warlock eloquently put. He turned around, shouting at everyone to move. He reached for Chrysanthemum, but his hand passed through her.

His eyes widened, his Soul burned bright fire.

The arachnid Hunter’s now six heads turned to him.

* * *

Kasu saw Rexza, the Knight Vigilant, fall to the ground without her head. She blinked, and she pounced into action then, scrambling up to her feet. The sight of the dark blood splattering onto the floor shook her and chilled her spine.

She saw the Soul of the Warlock. She saw the arachnid thing turn to him.

She had to save him. He must be Quinen.

She reached for her palmnode and activated a protocol. Then, she reached deep into her Soul, and brought forth her Dataturgy. The palmnode exploded into colors — multiple blue gray lights streaming out of it like hazy, fizzing vapor. She ran forward, lifted her palmnode toward the Soul’s direction, and tapped something on the palmnode.

There was a sound reminiscent of a glass shattering. The vapors solidified, turned to Quinen, and reached for him, grabbed him, caressed him and then embraced him. Slowly, the Soulstuff of Quinen turned gray, and turned into little blocks of blue-gray data that surged through the streams and into Kasu’s palmnode.

“Wh-what the…?” His voice resonated throughout all the realms, burning soulfire.

She winced, the veins on the back of her neck throbbing as if she had an intense migraine. She held her ground, feet apart, one hand holding the arm that held the palmnode. The Datal energy seemed to push her back, as she bobbed back and then forward. Her legs shook.

The arachnid Hunter lunged forward, toward the burning Soul of the Warlock… and passed straight through the blue-gray fog of Data, slamming into the concrete of the roof.

“Quick!” The girl that wore the tattered clothes dashed toward the open door. “Through the door!”

The tattered man — his rock hard abdomen peeking through his ripped shirt — turned to the six-headed Hunter. One of the Hunter’s heads laid limp now, like a deflated balloon.

“Six Sacred Sacraments!” His hair burned golden white in an instant, and four extra arms erupted out of his back, materializing like an igniting fire. Kasu turned and ran straight past him, all the way to the door. Chrysanthemum was being carried by the black-haired girl with the tattered clothes.

As they ran through the shattered door, Kasu saw the black-haired girl turn around right at the last minute, raise her Scepter, and shout, “I call thee, Niveus!”

Everything around her suddenly felt chilly. Kasu, even in her warm sweater, shivered. The Dataturge peeked out of the doorway to find ice congealing about the Hunter’s seven blade legs, holding it in place, as the golden-haired boy flung himself toward it, swinging his six arms.

“Quick,” the woman said again. Kasu nodded, and they hurried down the stairs. The woman carried the unconscious Chrysanthemum.

The sounds of fighting and of an otherworldly echoing bounced off the walls.

Wake 15

“There exists a realm
of unbridled passion and
beautiful madness
hidden beneath all of us.”

— Beautiful Madness
by  Cordmn, dreorg poet.


 

Maeve cursed as a silver blade plunged deep into her gut. Intoxicating ecstasy turned her delirious. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she faded from consciousness.

Thackeray, screaming in defiance, threw himself at the thing that had stabbed Maeve. The thing was vaguely solid, an amorphous umbral blob that slithered out of the shadows between the trees. It didn’t have any eyes, nor did it seem to have appendages, but a blade as silver as the Nightstar erupted out of it anyway.

Thackeray’s six Divine arms ripped into the amorphous blob, and the shadow burst. The liquid darkness that fell onto the mutlicolored grass immediately congealed and rose into pillars of solid shade. Eventually, human figures walked out of those pillars as if they were stygian chambers. Thackeray grit his teeth, and the multitude of humanoid shades pounced.

The Huntsman managed to hold his own for a while, his four Divine Matter arms blazing gold-white, along with his two, natural arms. He punched one shade, vaulted over another, smashed one to the ground and broke four heads all at the same time.

He continued this brave bastion. A punch, evasion, a kick, a shout. The sweat had matted his shirt to his skin, his lungs grew tired. His arms and legs burned as he tried to keep himself, and Maeve, from succumbing to the wild hunt.

But for every shadow that receded, two more leapt to take its place.

Eventually, a hand slipped past the Huntsman’s valiant defence, and a cold sharp pain erupted from right hand. He cursed, and fell to the ground, and the shadows moved about him, congealing as if to reform.

The luminous sun that was Thackeray slowly succumbed to the eclipsing shadows.

All the while, the Wild Hunt watched from the Dark Between the Trees.

 

***

 

Time was very—awfully fickle in Avalon.

Quinen knew that he still retained Sympathy to the Fundamental Realms. But do I still have my Sympathy to Avalon…?

Zinnia’s voice crackled. “Know now that you have been beaten, Warlock.” The crackling of her voice echoed in three different silences. One light and vaguely human, another deep and hoarse, croaking like wood, and one monotone for a split moment before blazing into emotion the next. All three of them created the symphonic cacophony of Zinnia’s voice. “Know that my dear half-sister Chrysanthemum will fall into my lap.”

Quinen never looked up. He concentrated on the blooming sapling hugging the far wall. Its purple stem twisted out from the hard jade ground.

Zinnia made a sound reminiscent of someone smacking their lips. “But, then again, if she doesn’t, then what’s stopping me from charing into Throne City with the Wild Hunt as my sword and shield?”

Quinen licked his lips. He looked up. “You’re not that stupid, are you?”

Zinnia looked down at the Warlock from up on her throne, with eyes the texture of storms and with irises of blossoming roses. “What? You think the Collegium will stop me?” She shook her head, and cackled the same way a bonfire would flail wildly at a rogue wind. “Idiot. Fool. Moron. SImpleton. Mockery. Failed abortion. You dim-witted, single minded apespawn! The Collegium bows before me!” and her zephyr skin howled. Her flame-dress roared, her liquid snake-hair hissed. “None can stand against me, Baroness of Dwarf.”

Quinen, during this self-indulgent monologue, had turned back to that sapling, repeating the Mantra for Manipulate. “Herapher, herapher, herapher…” He performed the intricate hand Mudras behind him. When she finished her last, scene-consuming line, the sapling moved toward him… and then snapped in two.

Quinen grinned. “I can.” And he stood. A hot rush of Willpower and Resolve flooded through his Soul. He grinned like a wolf.

And then, behind him — just as he was about to perform some cool trick, for Adon’s sake — a portal exploded into life. The now alien sounds of shrill shouting of tenants and honking autochariots waked an intense nostalgia within Quinen. As if he hadn’t been in Throne for centuries.

Chrysanthemum stepped through the portal that had opened.

As Chrys’ Dwarf-Nymph blood mingled with Avalon, the room took on the aesthetic of a taiga. Crystalline snow over emerald jade.

The door, which had been sealed all this time, turned from the color of translucent green, to the blue-green of the sea, with a foundation of emerald. As the frost covered the material of the door, it burst open. An arachnid the size of two human males emerged into the room, wearing interlocking leaves of steel for armor. In two of its seven appendages hung…

…w-was that Maeve and Thackeray?

The silence that shook Avalon afterwards sang volumes.

 

***

 

The Darkness that engulfed Maeve and Thackeray tore away when consciousness returned to them. Horrid, sparkles of light behind the lids of their eyes flung them back into the flurry of reality. Of waking.

Of Avalon.

It was Maeve that came to first. The frost that had accumulated in her fingers had melted off. A few more seconds of sensation, and she realized that she was bound tightly, like a cocoon, with steel-strong threads.

She blinked, casting off the crust of slumber. She awoke to the sound of bitter fire, a sensation her limited, mundic perceptions couldn’t fathom.

The first few things she saw were the frozen walls of crawling vines and verdition. The next was the Warlock’s Soul, on its knees, looking up with wide eyes at her. The Soul’s eyes flickered over to the figure beside her.

She furrowed her eyebrows. Thackeray! She thought, craning her neck to look at the figure beside her. It was Thackeray, all wrapped up in a steel-strong cocoon like her. Thackeray blinked the unconsciousness from his eyes.

His sight recovered, the first thing he did was turn to his left, and then to his right, and shout, “Maeve! You’re okay.”

Maeve managed a smile.

“Cacophonous!” screeched Zinnia. “Make more noise and I will slowly turn every current of water within your body into seething hot brimstone!”

Maeve and Thackeray both grimaced.

The arachnid hunter that bound them in its appendages bowed a little bit too reverently at the Fey-princess. “Baroness Zinnia of the Aiobhan Fiefdom, fourth of her name,” it spoke with that serpentine hiss. “We’ve more Orderly Mundics spotted.”

Zinnia raised her liquid eyebrows. This was the first time she’d stood up. When she walked, flowers tried to blossom after her footfalls, but all they ended up becoming were frail little stalks of ice.

The Baroness of the Dwarf Court strode over to where the arachnid held the mundic prisoners. She took one glance at them and turned away, her liquid serpentine hair hissing like steam. “Abhorrently hideous. Execute them!”

All this time, the arachnid hunter never moved its seven bowed heads. Only when Zinnia issued the command did it animate once again. “As you wish,” Only one of its heads had a mouth. At least, one capable of coherent speech. It hefted Maeve and Thackeray just when a voice flared with a chilly fire.

“No.”

 

***

 

Quinen’s Soul-mouth quite literally hung open when he heard Chrys talk. The one place she had wished never to come back to, and here she is — and on her fucking own.

The Warlock turned to find Chrys standing there, feet shoulder-length apart, her miniscule stature proving to detract from most of her intimidating demeanor. Quinen turned back around to Zinnia, who was calmly regarding Chrys.

“Ah,” she said. “So you’ve come back to you senses, dear Chrysanthemum.”

The Dwarf Baroness turned and snapped her fingers — her blazing dress danced wildly in response. As if the dress reacted to her every dramaticization. “Very good, Daughter of Ice and Earth.” The ten Fiagai brandished their swords, strung their bows, and readied their spears.

Quinen grimaced; Chrys squeaked.

“Now…” Zinnia paused, turning to the arachnid hunter that hadn’t moved. “Well?”

The arachnid turned all seven heads to Zinnia, and then to Chrys, and then to Zinnia once again. “We are… confused, oh Beloved Baroness.”

Zinnia scowled a confused scowl. “About?”

The arachnid turned three heads to Zinnia, and then three heads to Chrysanthemum. The one unmoving head spoke. “She is… the Daughter of Nymph and Dwarf. She is of the same echelon as thee, Baroness, if not higher.”

“You are on my fief, Dushamigkhala!”

“Indeed,” said Dushamigkhala. “But,  she is the Daughter of Nymph and Dwarf. A holy union. Thou art just a Baroness. Indeed, which is higher?”

Zinnia rubbed her temples. She mumbled something audible only to herself. “Fine.” She turned to her Fiagai. “Fiagai, eliminate the bastard wench.”

 

***

 

The Warlock plunged his hand into the frostic ground. “Hepher da Avalon!” He snarled, which meant “I manipulate Avalon!” when translated into Shennin Speech from Ascendant Speech.

Heeding the Warlock’s Will, the ground beneath them rumbled for a split moment before the columns of erathen ice exploded from the ground like fat fingers erupting out of a wall. Billows of light gathered around the pillars, as if to signify that it was, indeed, Magick.

The pillars of earthen-ice obstructed the path of the flying spears, arcing arrows, and charging hunters. Quinen’s Soul flickered for a moment.

But he didn’t stop.

He burst into action, dashing over to the arachnid hunter and yelling out the same words. “Hepher da Avalon!” Ice vines launched themselves out of their frozen places in the walls and wrapped around the arachnid hunter.

The one, articulate head shouted indignities in a language Quinen couldn’t understand. The Warlock willed the icy vines to retract, and the animated vines hauled the arachnid toward the far wall.

Quinen, conjuring up his Will, manipulated Avaon again, focusing now on the cocoons of strange silk wrapped around the two Huntsmen. With another command of Hapher, the silk unravelled, and the Huntsmen fell like a sack of rice to the ground.

“Get moving!” yelled Quinen. “I’ll buy you some time.”

Maeve looked up at him, and blinked. Then she shook her head, nodded, and turned to Thackeray. She helped him up to his feet.

“Newts!” screamed Zinnia. “Fiagai!”

There was an uncanny sound as a blade sliced clean through a pillar — a hissing sizzle to announce its feat. Grimacing, Quinen turned to Chrysanthemum. “Chrys!”

Chrys blinked, shook her head, and looked at Quinen. Her eyebrows arced upward, worried and confused. “Chrys,” Quinen repeated. “Chrys. I need you to believe in your own power. In yourself, okay? Open up another portal for us, alright?”

Chrys blinked, and then nodded. A determined furrow of her eyebrows, a determined thin-lipped smile. She breathed and turned around.

Quinen turned back to the enemy. He saw the Huntsmen limping over to where Chrysanthemum was. Neither of them looking any good.

A Fiagai appeared in Quinen’s periphery. It carried a curving blade that screamed epithets of war and destruction and strife and conflict. He bounded over to Quinen and swung his blade.

Quinen cursed, turning to the direction of the attack. He stepped back to duck away form the blade, and intoned, “Hapher!” once again. The ground beneath the attacking Fiagai rumbled before it shot up, a pillar exploding underneath the Fiagai.

The blade had cut up into Quinen’s Soul-stuff but not too deeply. The earth-ice pillar smashed the knight of Zinnia onto the ceiling, and the gauntleted hand gripping the sword fell open, limp. It tumbled out of the Fiagai’s grip, and Quinen caught it.

The surprisingly spacious room now looked like some sort of game room. Various pillars bridged the floor and ceiling. There was no coherent structure or system to the placing of the columns. Two more Fiagai emerged into the space between the pillars.

Quinen cursed. They hefted bows and spears — weapons belonging in the Mid-Second Age. He raised his own, newly acquired blade. It burned an orange fire within its gray steel. It felt awfully heavy and much too solid, but the screams of death and destruction provided a boost to Quinen’s grip.

Right as the Fiagai with the bow nocked an arrow, the screech of the arachnid echoed across the walls. Quinen flickered, turning. The two other Fiagai paused for a bit. Chrys bit her lip. Maeve and Thackeray limped faster.

Quinen saw that it had broken free of its icy vine bonds and it seemed to be weaving something. Flame colored like the sea exploded out of its spinnerets, and its legs’ appendages wove the unbridled sea-green embers into a ball of flame, coagulating and hardening as if it were a ball of snow.

Quinen stepped back, risking a quick glance over his shoulder. Chrysanthemum stood, looking away from him. One hand stretched out, fingers spread, and another in a fist against her heart. Her face contorted into worry.

Cursing, Quinen turned to the three threats before him. The Fiagai with the bow pulled back the string, and loosed an arrow.

“Ah, Adon’s blue balls.” Quinen wheezed with effort. The wound on his shoulder spewed out more stardust soulstuff. Quinen dove out of the way, but he knew the flying arrow made of loyalty turned into killing intent would hit him.

And that was when another thing guided his soul-hands.

The rearing blade seemed to move of its own accord. It moved right as Quin dove out of the way, right as the arrow got too near. The roaring, orange within gray blade sliced through the arrow’s shaft, killing its momentum and its killing intent, and sparing Quinen’s life.

Quinen crashed onto the surprisingly stable ground. He winced as pain surged up the shoulder he’d been cut in. It was at that moment he realized that the Soul could still feel physical pain. At least, in a realm with such loose rules as Avalon.

Wincing, the Warlock managed to pull himself to his feet. He looked down at the gray sword, which now absolutely blazed with sulfuric vermillion. As if a powerful bonfire had been lit within the gray steel. Quinen breathed, and managed to grin.

The arachnid screeched again. Quinen swept his gaze to it — saw the Fiagai with the bow ready another arrow, while the other Fiagai hesitated on attacking. Probably because of the seven legged, seven headed menace barelling down the room toward Quinen with an honestly terrifying speed.

Seven legs scrambling toward him, six heads flailing around like loose threads of hair. One head — the articulate one — chewed something in its mouth.

Quinen blinked. He spotted that, in between chews, there was something sea green and bright and fulminating within its mouth. As if it were chewing a star.

It chewed the sea-colored fireball it had created.

“Shit,” the eloquent Soul of the Warlock said. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” Quinen looked down at the blade, and shook it, as if that would make anything happen.

Quin could’ve felt fear. Anger. Disappointment. He did, but one emotion overpowered everything else.

Embarassment.

Here he was. The Warlock. The one who had seemingly been able to create a Sympathy with Avalon. And he couldn’t do jack shit. Quinen grit his teeth and sighed.

Failure. All those tomes. Getting kicked out of the Collegium. Risking his life in Avalon for the first time. All for this.

What an ironic way to die.

Was this his Narrative? Or do only the denizens of Avalon have those? Made from those?

“QUIN!”

Quinen blinked.

Chrysanthemum’s call pulled him out of his ocean-like reverie. All this time, everything had been blurred. But now, his vision focused.

And all he could see was the arachnid hunter stopping its run, raising its head, and breathing out ungodly amount of sea-colored fire like a flamethrower.

The sword blazed. It sang again, and it moved on its own. Quinen had never practiced swordsmanship formally before — only the general self-defense class in Physical Fitness class — but the sword he gripped didn’t seem to mind that. It made every fiber of soul-muscle held the blade as if it had held it a thousand times before.

The blade moved, guiding Quinen, and they cut a six-pointed star in the air. The lines blazed, and then the sea-colored flames funneled into it instead of enveloping Quinen like what — he presumed — was the original plan of the arachnid.

The star drank up the sea-green fame. The Fiagai with the bow loosed an arrow. The sword moved, lightning fast, and the arrow bounced off the blade with a satisfying clang of concept against steel. The arachnid stared at the glowing star swallowing the insidious spray of fire. it blinked 434 different eyes, each in different parts of a second.

Quinen did the same thing — albeit, only with two eyes. He gawked and wondered just what in the hell the sword was.

The Fiagai with the spear charged then, stabbing at Quinen. The spear resembled a crooked branch rather than a weapon used to skewer combatants from a safe distance. A thrust of the spear, and the curved sword parried it. It flourished, and moved Quinen’s wrist in a quick whipping motion that cut twice into the Fiagi. It had to weave back to avoid the strikes.

The Fiagai came in for another thrust. Another parry, and the blade reached farther this time. A slash embedded itself across the Fiagai’s breastplate of silver steel leaves. Quinen grinned wolfishly. The Fiagai spear-divata cursed in another language.

And that was when the sweet dissonance of the Portal back to the Mund roared throughout the room.

Chrys’ voice rode that dissonance and caressed his ears. “Quinen!”

The Warlock turned to Chrys. She reached out her hand — she was already on the other side, with Maeve and Thackeray. She stood on a rooftop, and the sky outside was the murky black of late Descending.

The arachnid screeched. Zinnia screamed out something. Even the walls seemed to resound. But Quinen’s soul muted all noise. He ran. He ran as fast as his soul’s legs could carry him, a trail of stardust smoke billowing in his wake.

And Quinen finally reached the Portal, and grabbed Chrys’ hand.

The Portal shut closed.