Wake 14

“How bright does the fire
of absurdity burn. In hues
of cacophony,
in songs of crimson,
in blankets of brimstone,
in vistas of sweetness.
Such cackling symphony,
absurdity burns with
light.”

— The Symphonies of Avalon
by Invisible Palimpsest, alfr


Hakumatheia blinked. He leaned back on his desk, looking out into the gray, overcast sky. It wasn’t night time, he knew, because the warmth of the Daystar still glowered within the curtains of the gray.

The Dean furrowed his eyebrows and wondered.

Why isn’t Zinnia contacting me yet?

* * *

Thackeray and Maeve knew they had to run. They did. Their athletic bodies definitely helped as they wove through the steel wood and singing colors. Although it never rang again, the echoes of the bellowing horn bounced around their minds. Their utter souls rang from the tune, piercing through the physical and impaling the ethereal.

Thackeray spoke in between gasps. “D-do you know what that was?!” The Huntsman jumped over a fallen stump, and the stump turned liquid when he touched it. He would’ve fallen mid-vault, if it wasn’t for Maeve reaching out her hand and reflexively freezing the water. She winced as she did it.

Thackeray rolled as he hit the ground, and Maeve followed suit.

“I don’t!” Maeve said back, with the same heaving breaths. “But it’s not good!” The hairs on the backs of their necks were raised up, and there was the inherent feeling of wrongness. As if they had just seen a man’s face riddled with a myriad of holes, making him look like a pineapple.

Wrongness, dancing with fear.

They erupted out of the hedge and into a clearing, in the middle of which was a crooked tree, resembling a bonsai. Its leaves were made of steel, resembling blades, and they flailed about in a radial pattern in the solid, rainbow-colored breeze. The two Huntsmen never stopped moving, gasping for breaths as their legs carried them through the clearing. With each step, Maeve noticed, the blades of the grass turned into a different color.

As they stopped near the tree, the rapidly shifting colors of the grass stopped. Thackeray fell to his knees, gasping for air, while Maeve hunched over, sweat matting her hair to the sides of her head, sticking her clothes to her pale skin.

She looked down on her fingers, prying them from her knees. They shivered, tingled, and they emitted a frosty mist. She could hardly move them.

“Shit.”

And that was when they heard the bellowing horns again. The sound came from all sides of the clearing.

Thackeray rose to his feet, and brought out his yantras — his brass knuckles. He slipped them on, punched the ground, and began chanting the mantra.

Maeve blinked, turning to Thackeray. “Thack, I…”

“I’m not going down here, Maeve,” Thackeray said, in between chants. Maeve saw the golden particles as he called down the Divine Realms. They were ghastly at first, but when they met with the power of Thackeray’s will, they coagulated and solidified until they were wisps of burning power. The grass all about them — and even the protean air that shifted about them — responded to this show of power, turning into vibrant hues of orange and red and yellow and white, painting a picture of some sort of six handed avatar of some God. The mutlicolored blades of grass turned red and wilted away, as if afraid of his power.

Maeve watched in awe, as Thackeray finished the chant and turned to her — his eyes burned golden. “And I know you’re not either.” He turned to the sky and screamed, “Six Sacred Sacraments!”

Four extra arms made of solidified divinity exploded from his back, and immediately took up a fighting stance. Thackeray turned all about him, readying for whatever was coming.

Maeve nodded. She agreed. Going down here just wasn’t an option. Not now, not ever. She brandished her scepter and called forth the power of Niveus, his icy frost turning her blood into rime, before exploding into wintry mist about her, signifying her power.

Now they waited for what was to come. Maeve with Niveus channeled, and Thackeray with his Six Sacred Sacraments activated.

And eventually, they heard it come. The rumbling of hooves, the clanking of mail, the low bass of some sort of electronic instrument intermingled with the loud, rattling “BOOMS” of drums the size of lions.

They’ve come.

And though they did not study this admittedly apocryphal piece of information, they knew what they were.

As the first of the Hunters stepped forth, riding three different beasts for his rump was too large to fit one, and raised a bow with an arrow the size of a spear large enough to shatter mountains, the name rang through.

One by one, the shadows in between the hollows of the gargantuan trees opened their eyes, grew limbs and feet, came to life, moving toward them in fiendish gaits and four-legged prowls. Thackeray grit his teeth, stepped back, but shone brightly — the solid wind, like a painting, showing the avatar wrapped around him grinning defiantly.

Maeve clenched one of her fists, and the coldness in her fingers made her wince. She felt like they were gonna break off at any second.

And then, the third horn bellowed.

And the two of them knew, deep down, in their heart of hearts and soul of souls.

There was no escaping the Wild Hunt.

* * *

“Kasu.” Chrysanthemum’s voice shook, miniscule. “I feel… strange.”

Kasu blinked. She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Um…?”

What kind of strange? she thought deep in her mind. She licked her lips.

“Memories…?” Chrys whispered, and shivered. “Memories, Kasu. And they’re so… strange.”

Kasu nodded. “Mm-hm. I’m sure they are, love.” Chrys’ head was on her lap now.

The Datathurge tsked. A small voice in the back of her head kept reminding her how they haven’t got much time left. That belgar will break out, eventually. It was just the way the Datascape worked — if it wasn’t digital, then it didn’t belong in the Scape. Kasu knew that if they didn’t move soon, the belgar would eventually get them.

“Ch-chrys…?” she slowly nudged Chrys to get off her lap, but when she poked her, the Siddivata stood up on her own. “Chrysanthemum…?”

* * *

Chrysanthemum’s mind was in a rush. Memories, all she never remembered having — and most of it she couldn’t really decipher anyway — swam through her head. They drifted slowly, at first, before she saw a vision of a tall man. He had horns reminiscent of a goat’s curling out of his head, and wings hanging low — so low that they dragged across the floor like too long hair, or a cloak.

When she saw this man, something snapped, chugged, and then clicked.

The Siddivata let the rest of the flurrying, tornado-speed memories guide he rmovements. She walked across the concrete rooftop, and clambered up to the top of the rooftop.

She could hear Kasu behind her. That strange Dataphile called for a while, which eventually turned into ear-piercing screams when the Siddivata clambered on top of the concrete parapet.

Just like her memories, it took Chrys sometime before she could begin deciphering the desperate screams from Kasu.

“Chrys!” She called. She opened her mouth to say more. To encourage her not to do it, but no words came out. Her eyes stirred with fear, and she saw herself standing in Chrysanthemum’s place, many years ago.

Kasu’s heart fluttered when the girl paused, turned around, and managed a weak grin.

Without saying another word, Chrys looked away once again, back to the chilling view of the low-rise buildings of the Dirah Ward. Chrys thought it strange that she could only see five to six skyscrapers. Of course, it was because she was facing away from the Cathedra Ward, and consequently, the Spires.

The vista upon which she gazed didn’t offer a breath-taking sight. In fact, it offered something completely mundane. She could see the man walking his brown and yellow haired canine, the oversized woman yelling at someone from the lower floor. Through window she could barely peek her head through, no less.

The constant flow of autochariots zooming left and right on the bitumen road was dizzying. Much like her influx of emotions, she realized.

Chrys clsoed her eyes. When she opened them, before her — tinged with pink, giving it the impression that it hid behind some translucent pink veil — the visage of the swirling, curling, storming, coagulating, melting, dissipating, destroying, beautifying…

…madness.

Chrys let out a little breath, as she reached out with her hand, and ripped open the pink veil with a thought.

* * *

Kasu’s eyes widened. She stepped back, her hand over her mouth. Air exploded out of the rift in reality that Chrysanthemum had opened. With one hand. Without the usual yantras and mantras and mudras thing. One could see, reflecting off of her optics, the golden, blazing ring; within were colors incomprehensible, sounds inaudible, and smells improbable. Through it, Kasu could only see— wait. Greenery? Green and emerald foliage everywhere.

Kasu blinked, and immediately, the scene before her solidified into something understandable. Something her mortal, limited senses could make sense of.

Before her was strangeness. She could see through the perspective of someone from behind a vaguely human figure — a bit more translucent and made of wispy ethereal gossamer than a usual human, that was for sure — kneeling on the ground. Before him were ten knight-like figures with weapon and armor so ridiculous you would’ve thought they belonged in some animation from Sidef.

In between the ten knightly figures sat a weird woman on a strange throne. The throne was made of unmoving, steel-like wood; its gnarled branches more akin to girders of steel. Sitting atop the strange throne was something that looked like a sentient, autonomous tree… if the three could wear a blazing dress and have liquid snakes for hair and gale-force winds for skin.

Kasu slowly turned to Chrys. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but the pink-haired Siddivata turned to her, still with an arm outrstretched. Chrys muttered a word that sent chills reverberating within Kasu’s Soul.

“Avalon.”

* * *

Rexza could feel the grip of the Datascape weaken its hold on her physical body. The Scape eroded all about her — she could feel the inert, fundamental laws of the Mund and the Scape work together to peel away the digital haze. Electricity crackled about her, fur rising up. She could begin to smell once again the girl’s room. Stale pizza and cheap deodorant. The muted sounds gradually popped back into cacophonous vibrancy.

Eventually, the Knight Vigilant was back in the real world. She stood up, too abrupt — her head became a balloon, filled with air, and her vision swirled. A high-pitched bell rang within her skull.

With a deep breath, a quick shake of her muscles, the bell dulled into silence, and everything became clear. The rhapsody of the Third Age came popping back. The barking of dogs, shrill protests of disgruntled tenants, the squak of the auiboic birds… and then there was the exploding thunderclap that cut through all of it.

Rexza’s ears twitched, once, twice. She recognized the cacophony. As if somebody had opened a spinning washing machine that hadn’t stopped yet, and wasn’t stopping any time soon.

Rexza cursed. Shit. The Siddivata opened a portal.

The belgar bolted out of the room, scowering the hallways for the flight of stairs. There! The pressure made a popping sound within Rexza’s ears, as if she were in an airship, as she ascended up the flight of stairs. Closer and closer she got to the anomaly, the stronger the pushback.

The last few steps to the blue-green doors were agony. Her hypersensitive sense of paranormalcy (extramundic things that trespass into the world — was going haywire. With her body, she burst through the doors, grimacing as she stumbled onto the rooftop. She could only see the bewildered Datathurge, and the — surprisingly — just as bewildered Siddivata.

The two human girls turned to the Knight. There was a split second where silence reigned. Then, the Siddivata turned, eyes wide with alertness, and she leapt off of the rooftop.

Into the Rift.

The Dataturge watched Chrys jump into the rift, and it sealing behind he, the ring shrinking into a hole the size of a mole on the face of an anzu. Rexza’s fur stiffened, and her tail crawled in between her legs as reality — at least, the Reality of the Mund — knit itself back together.

Another silence. This time, it was true silence — even the shrill neighbors had gone silent, even the honking of autochariots, the blinking of neon signs — silent. As if they knew the significance of what had just transpired.

The Knight Vigilant blinked. She was quite stumped, as she lingered bodily into the silence. The contract WAS to kill her, right? There wasn’t any clause covering what to do if the Siddivata returned to its origin. The agreement was to annihilate the rogue Siddivata. If that Siddivata had gone back to her origin, can she still be considered “rogue”?

Inhaling, exhaling, Rexza walked over to the parapet upon where Chrysanthemum jumped off of, and sat.

Time worked differently in Avalon. Maybe, all she had to do was wait?

* * *

Kasu blinked.  The assassin of Oberen burst in here, and then suddenly was jumping into… Avalon?!

The Datathurge blinked again when the Knight walked across the rooftop, over to the parapet upon where Chrys was standing. She stood there, for a bit, and then clambered over ontop of the parapet, and then just sat there. A few seconds later, she dug into the pocket of her lune-iron armor — the liquid steel forming a hole — and she pulled out a palmnode. Huh, that one was quite…  was that a Halcyon Black Box 4? That was released back in 2070. Seven years ago.

Yeah, it was the retro design. A black box, with a clear glass screen across the front. No holographic or augmented reality functions — everything was on the screen. Unlike the newer models, which tended to be panes of glass — well, not really glass. They were made of Kronium, a type of magical alloy usually found in the Fundamental Traverse of Timespace, but can be recreated through Alchemical Amalgamation. Now Alchemists are in high demand, because of their ability to create Kronium, which can be made into nodes, which offer increased nodal power in channeling the Datascape. This allowed lots of graphical improvements, along with holographic screens without being a Datathurge.

Well, the Black Box models still worked, Kasu guessed. Just that they didn’t have the same nodal power as newer models. How can she access the newest Data Sectors? She thought. Lots of bottlenecking, I guess.

Kasu watched the belgar tap away, and she wondered what she was doing. Then she saw the blood stain on her armpit, and she realized that she stood in the midst of Oberen’s killer.

Activating her remote interface, Kasu thought of her options. She didn’t know how to fight, but, she figured if she could drag the furball into the Datascape — her turf — she’d have the same chance a Regito Animae would have against an ant. She’d be a god.

The belgar didn’t look her way. “H-Hey.” Kasu furrowed her eyebrows.

The assassin turned to Kasu, one eyebrow raised. Her irises were vertical slits, which the belgar shared with felix animals — cats, nyakins, the like. “Oh, you.” The belgar sighed, but didn’t move from her spot on the parapet. Her clawed feet swung in the air.

There was a deep, grating rush of air. An exhalation. “Look,” Rexza spoke. Her voice was still melodious, yet now it sounded… frail. Vulnerable. Her pitch was a bit higher, her voice more wearied and tired. “Look.” The belgar looked down on her fists. “Look,” she sighed. “I’m sorry about the boy. H-He was just in the way. I had to do a job. Nothing personal, okay?”

Kasu didn’t realize she had been scowling. She didn’t feel compelled to stop doing it either. She also didn’t feel compelled to turn off her remote interface. If she could just get the belgar to her Datagrove… “So you are an assassin.”

The belgar sighed. “That’s what I looked like, huh? Wouldn’t blame you. I don’t even know what I am anymore, either.”

The Dataturge raised an eyebrow. “You’re… not an assassin?”

The belgar shook her head. “Sometimes it’s part of my job.” She leaned back, supporting herself on her paws. She turned up to look at the sky, Descending, the Daystar sunk low on the east horizon, the serene, softer glow of the Nightstar could be seen on the far west. The intermingled blue and orange glows created the warm gray of the Twilight hour. “I’m a Knight Vigilant.”

“A… Knight Vigilant?” Kasu blinked. Twice. “Oath of Knighthood, diwablades, sixth sense, masters of the one hundred Mystic Strifes?”

Rexza grinned. It seems she’s been told a lot of stoires. She raised a claw. “One hundred and eight Mystic Strifes. And Diwablades are expensive to make these days, only half of us really have them anymore.” She sighed, and then nodded. “But yes. Those Knights Vigilant. The ones that fell into legend… and never rose again.”

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Wake 13

Thackeray and Maeve wandered around aimlessly. They could’ve sworn they’d seen that same multicolored bush made of bird’s tears for the third time now.

Thackeray looked down at the chronologically protected watch. As expected, it was moving at the same time as Maeve’s was, meaning some semblance of Magick still worked in this world. He bit his lip, knowing that one day had already passed, despite them only wandering around for what he thought was a few hours or so.

“Damn that Dean,” said Maeve. “He never told us where to go!”

Thackeray lipped his lips. He gestured for the two of them to take a rest on the same space framed by roots of a large tree. Sighing in effort, Maeve leaned against the steel bark, and it clanged hollowly when she banged her head lightly against it.

Thackeray sighed. He reached into the gym bag and brought out a bottle of water, which was already half-empty. He threw it to Maeve. “Maybe… maybe he didn’t know? Come on, we are the Huntsmen here after all. Weren’t we trained to use our surroundings to seek out our enemies?”

“Yes, but there are special Huntsmen for jobs like these,” said Maeve, sighing. “They’re called High-Ranking ones. This was a suicide mission, wasn’t it?”

Thackeray’s face went through a vortex of emotions. He didn’t know if he wanted to furrow his eyebrows or shake his head in denial. “M-maybe once we do find the Warlock, he might be able to bring us back?”

Maeve sighed. “Probably. He’s been here before, hasn’t he?”

Thackeray shrugged. “I’ve only heard rumors. He was our senior, remember? He was already in his Master’s Year while we were still in our Initiate’s year.”

The black-haired woman nodded. “Right. He never even finished that Master’s Year. That was the year when he got expelled, right?”

“For reasons unknown too…”

There was the large groaning of the wind. The groaning turned into whispers, and then into giggles, and then into seductions of hypnosis

Sleep…

It murmured.

Succumb to night…

“Shit.” Maeve rose. “Come on, Thackeray, we have to move.”

Thackeray nodded and slung on the gym bag. “I got that.”

And that was when they heard the basso, bellowing horns.

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum’s eyes were wide, and she looked at the floor with a glazed-over gaze. Kasu furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

The mauve-haired girl turned to the belgar. “Why? What did you do to him?”

The belgar turned for the first time to Kasu, noticing her. He looked at her from head to toe, before shaking her head. “Don’t interfere, human. I’ve got a contract to bring down that Siddivata. Her being here in the Mund will only cause trouble for everyone.”

“Wh-why?” asked Chrysanthemum. Her little fae hands balled into fists. “Wh-why did you do that?”

“He was in the way,” said the belgar. Still looking at Kasu, she continued, “And if you don’t get out of the way soon, you’ll suffer the same fate.”

Kasu grimaced, but held a determined stance. She saw the blood dripping from her underarm, drenching her lune-iron suit in blood.

Holy shit, lune-iron?!

“Now,” said the belgar, stepping forward. “I’m going to take the Siddivata, without hurting her, and you won’t get in the way. Is that a fine deal?”

“That isn’t even a deal.” Kasu inhaled. She blinked once, and with a thought, activated her desknode. It whirred to life, the holographic monitor popping up, showering the darkened room with a blue-gray haze. Rexza kept her eyes off of it.

Chrysanthemum still didn’t move, her eyes plastered to the wooden floor.

Kasu stepped forward in front of Chrysanthemum.

The belgar sighed. “For the love of Adon, woman. I’d prefer to keep my casualties to a minimum.”

“Wh-why…?” Chrysanthemum’s voice shook.

“I would too,” said Kasu. Her eyes were glimmering with the same, digital blue haze. From her perspective, holographic screens popped up around her periphery, and she was scanning the Database of Throne’s population to see who the belgar was.

She was unidentified. Kasu cursed inwardly.

“Then get out of the way, please,” said the belgar, and she took another step.

“Who sent you?” Shot in the dark, Kasu knew, but at least it would buy her enough time.

“The Dean,” the belgar said, waving a dismissive hand. “That’s all you have to know.”

Kasu’s eyes widened. Hakumatheia…?

In one of the holographic screens in her periphery only visible to her, a progress meter materialized in a torrent of datal numbers and scripts. It displayed the meter at 95%. Come on…

“Just get out the way, human female,” said the belgar, raising a paw and then placing it firmly on Kasu’s shoulder. She leaned in closer, and Kasu could smell her breath — it smelled of coffee with the tinge of alcohol.

“No.” And the progress bar reached 100%.

 

***

 

Rexza found the human lady with the glasses and the mauve hair to be cute. The kind of cute Rexza would prefer to have cuddled up with with a cup of warm cocoa during a wintry, Nymph snow day like this.

Alas, such things weren’t meant to be.

“No.” Her voice echoed once, and then it boomed as if she had spoken into a voice amplifier. Rexza furrowed her eyebrows, and found the walls slowly peeling away horizontally, revealing the blue-gray Datascape underneath.

“What the…?” Rexza turned to see the two women gone in front of her, and everything was replaced with the hazy hues of Kasu’s Datagrove, resembling a digital palimpsest. There was no way in or out, Rexza knew. So all she had to do was wait. She turned, and sat, and watched the walls fitz and glitch, as if it were attuned to a dead channel.

 

***

 

Kasu turned around and grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand. She hauled her out of their room, eyes wide and blinking. She grabbed and slammed the door, before heading down, still pulling the blank-eyed Chrysanthemum all the while.

Dammit, she said. I never asked for this.

She stopped in the middle of the first flight of concrete stairs as an idea came to her. There was no way that the assassin belgar wouldn’t think of searching down here, so she decided to go the safe route. Still gripping Chrys’ limp hand, she hauled her up the stairs until she reached the rooftop, six floors up. She grabbed the lever of the rooftop door and pushed. The blue-green door gave way.

The two of them stumbled out into a concrete rooftop area framed by a concrete parapet. Usually, these places were off-limits, but Kasu’s landlord couldn’t care less about what her tenants did, or what happens on the rooftops, or what happens below them.

Kasu closed the door behind her, and she heaved breaths. She hadn’t moved that much since Initiate-Level Physical Classes.

She walked Chrys over to one of the concrete parapets and sat her down in front of it, letting her lean against the cold concrete. Chrys still watched her surroundings without much acknowledgment of what was actually happening. She can see, but she didn’t look.

Kasu straightened herself, still breathing heavily. Beside them, the CRT zoomed past like a heavy, long bullet-snake. Kasu could feel the wind buffeting her as it flew past, the kah-klunk from its tracks creating a mundane symphony.

Kasu plucked out her palmnode. The Datagrove wasn’t going to last forever — two to three hours, tops. She had to get help. She tapped a few times on the palmnode and turned on a converse channel.

“Sygmun,” Kasu began, and she immediately remembered what the belgar had said.

There was the amplified voice of the Professor in the background. “What is it? Can it wait? I’m in class.”

Kasu bit her lip. “Right. Sorry.”

The converse channel shut off. She sighed, which was lost in between heavy breaths. “Dammit, I liked Oberen,” she muttered underneath her breath.

“Me too,” Chrys said. Her voice was weak, but rising in power, as if she had just awakened from a reverie. “Wh-where is he?”

Kasu turned, her eyebrows in a concerned arc. She knelt down beside her and told her the news. Again.

The pink glow of Chrys’ hair seemed to dull. So much so that it resembled a dirty dye job. “Oh.” She said. “I… I’m sad.”

“Me too,” said Kasu. “Me too.”

Chrys blinked, and Kasu blinked as well. Slowly, the Siddivata moved, positioning herself in such a way that she could be cuddled by the arms of Kasu. She laid her head full of pink hair against Kasu’s chest. It slowly glowed again.

Kasu blinked.

“You’re so soft, and warm, Kasu.”

Kasu blinked again. “Y-yeah. Thanks?”

“Kasu?”

“Mm-hmm?” Kasu didn’t want to move, but… well, she guessed that she could allow it at least this once.

“What do you think happens when people die?”

Kasu shrugged. “We stop living. I never thought much about it. I’m pretty sure our Souls just get reprogrammed or something.”

“Huh.” There was a silence, and another train zooming past, creating the same cacophony. When it passed and all was silent again, Kasu thought of once again calling Sygmun. She had to break the news somehow.

She just wished it didn’t have to be her.

“What do you think happens when I die?”

Kasu clicked her tongue. “Uh…” she shrugged. “Maybe your Soul goes back to Avalon?”

“Huh.”

 

***

 

Rexza sat, cross legged, in the middle of the Datagrove. She could hear the sounds of the Mund outside, but they were muted. She meditated in the middle of it all.

She… she had to finish this Contract. What other choice did she have? She already went too far. She was Knight Vigilant.

And they always fulfilled their promises…

Right?

 

***

 

Shikoth barrelled through Dean Hakumatheia’s open window, crashing onto the carpeted floor and spilling snow all over it. The Dean blinked a few times, before leaning over and watching Shikoth pick himself off the ground and turn to him.

“Hey, Hakky-Baby.”

“News?”

“Mission accomplished! Apparently.”

“Is that so…?” Hakumatheia raised an eyebrow.

Shikoth nodded. “Well, I didn’t really see what happened. Just that Rexza told me to report that to you.”

“Hm.” He leaned back into his chair. “The Knight must’ve been quite confident in her ability.”

Shikoth shrugged. “It was a Knight Vigilant against some Siddivata girl who didn’t know about her powers.” The skeletal bird sighed. “That’s weird on so many levels. How’d a Siddivata stay here and manage to keep a mortal form long enough? Why does she not have her memories? How’d you get a hold of a Knight Vigilant — weren’t they supposed to have been disbanded?”

The Dean shrugged. “Officially, yes,” he said. “But all one hundred and eight of them still lurk underground, preferring to do work without the eyes of the public trained on them. Apparently, it allows them to do the harder things without judgment.”

Shikoth nodded sagely. “Mm. I wouldn’t blame them.”

The Dean leaned forward. “And yes, Shikoth, quite sharp of you. A Siddivata girl staying here for longer than two days? Seems like they should’ve unravelled by now and turned to Gossamer, yes? But no. She’s stayed. Just what did the Warlock do, hm?”

Shikoth shrugged. “I’m no good at this Magick stuff.”

The Dean nodded. “I guess the only way he could’ve done that is through some sort of reality-breaking. That’s the only way that I know of. That, and… “

Shikoth raised an eyebrow. Which was strange, for a bird without a face. It was like Shikoth’s big pits for eyes grew bigger to emulate the expression. “And…?”

The Dean inhaled. Even he didn’t like the thought of it.

That was when there was a knock on the door.

The Dean raised an eyebrow, and turned to Shikoth. Shikoth nodded, and blasted out of the window, back into the freezing storm.

The windows closed with a flick of a wrist, and the doors swung open with another. Behind it was one of the Medic-Magickers, wearing the uniform of the Collegium’s medical school — a white flowing garment made of faux-leather, glinting with green highlights that shone like neon lights embedded into the fabric.

“Physicker…?” The Dean said, still with an eyebrow raised.

“Physicker Koto Lifara, Dean.” The woman walked in, adjusted her glasses. Her short hair was a dark shade of green, her eyes hazel brown. “It seems there was a… failure, Dean.”

“What is it?”

“The Warlock sir,” she said. “His physical body… is dead.”

The Dean blinked. “How?”

“It seems there was someone in his room the other day, sir. One resembling…”

The Dean blinked again, and white lances of pain surged through Koto’s body. She winced and fell to her knee. “One resembling not me, was it?” said the Dean looking at Koto with heavy lids, as if he were half-asleep. “Or I may have the entire Collegium shut down. I can do that, you know that, Physicker Koto? This is but one Collegium of many.”

Koto blinked. Her eyes watered. “P-please…!” Her voice was but a whisper. She tried to continue her sentence, but pain engulfed her.

The Dean inhaled, breaking away his gaze, and Koto gasped for air, as if she had been submerged in ice cold water. “I-It… It seems we cannot identify,” she grimaced again, “the perpetrator, sir.”

“Good. Now leave.”

Physicker Koto bowed by her waist, turned, and walked out. The doors had been open all this time.

When she left, the Dean shut them with a flick of his wrist, and then he ran a hand through his whitening hair. “Damn it.”

 

Wake 12

Chrysanthemum stepped lightly through the Datascape. The data below her feet billowed and splashed like water, and then slowed down to hang suspended in mid-air, until it dissipated back into the aetheric data of the Scape. Each footstep created this effect.

Kasu didn’t walk. She floated, moving a few feet above the pathway. She moved, wraith-like, leaning her body. “Shouldn’t be too far now,” her voice resounded. The data bobbed and moved along with her voice, like visualizations of sound waves, blossoming in technicolor scintilla. “I made sure my pathway to his Datagrove isn’t too long.”

Chrys followed along silently. As she walked, the liquids dissipated back into data; her footfalls blessing the ground with her consciousness. She realized that the pathway she walked on was but one of many, crisscrossing like an intricate loom of webs superimposed onto one another, endlessly crisscrossing above the desert of data.

Kasu turned and walked down a path that led them underneath another, and she followed.

She would be there, soon. She knew that much.

***

Rexza was surprised when Oberen launched himself at her. She didn’t think anybody would be stupid enough to get in her way.

She grunted, and quietly flickered, paws extending in the unbeatable martial art. She was surprised to conclude too that the man she was fighting seemed to be a Magicker, what with the weapon summoning and all that.

He flung himself at her with such a speed that surprised even her, but her jab was unstayed.

***

Oberen grunted as he lunged forward and the hulking mass of a Knight Vigilant casually lifted a paw. She didn’t even see him as a threat.

He frowned. He’ll make sure to change that preconception.

His straight, rapier sword flashed, and her jab met. The jab was too short, and Oberen wove down, twisted his rapier, and stabbed up. Thick hide met his blade. The belgar yelped in surprise as the rapier dug into her underarm. With a grunt, she seized the blade, wrapped a forearm about it, then kicked Oberen away. Oberen dodged the kick by jumping backwards and dematerializing the blade. He landed on his feet, and then summoned his rapier once again.

Blood dripped from it.

***

Shit. Rexza was surprised. She stepped back and turned, dashing into the hallway. Oberen raised a rapier and waited.

Surprising, Rexza said, her voice all too calm. This should prove interesting.

***

Oberen wondered if he should chase after her. He took another step back, and he felt Chrysanthemum’s limp body behind him. He cursed. He knew who she was after. Of course it was the Siddivata.

That meant he had to take the belgar out of her vicinity, to assure her safety. He sighed, looked out into the hallway, and peeked out.

He saw the belgar leaning against a window at the end of the hallway, blood seeping down and drenching her lune-iron armor in crimson. He peered out, took a step, and then breathed. He called down the Field of Force. “Transmute…” he said, for that was the highest Technique he knew for that Field. He performed a quick hand gesture, drawing a geometric shape in the air, before stepping forward and calling — “Transmute, Matter into Energies!”

He targeted down the air all about him, transmuting it into a burst of speed, force pushing him forward. In the next step, he reappeared in front of the belgar, but she had already opened the window and jumped out as Oberen’s rapier crunched into the wood of the wall underneath the window.

He cursed, dematerialized the rapier, and then materialized it again. He jumped out of the window…

***

And Rexza was there, a flurry of whirling fists, sending him back and forcing him into the defensive. She was fast, too fast for Oberen, and three paws met with his chest, sending him sprawling backward and against the railing of the steel staircase complex on the side of the building.

Oberen cursed. He had to do this quick, or else Chrys would be gone. He wouldn’t want that.

He liked Chrys. She was endearing, and… pretty.

Those were always worth fighting for.

Of course, he also had to survive. Sygmun was waiting for him back home too, of course.

***

Getting a bit desperate, Oberen gripped his rapier and lunged forward, summarizing all his protective and killing intent into a piercing strike.

Rexza frowned and stepped back, her paws quickly flurrying into the defensive. Oberen’s lunge speared through, and Rexza sprang like a trap, her paws twisting about the rapier, she then crouched down, pulled the rapier toward her and subsequently pulling Oberen along. She snapped her closed fist with the whipping movement of the Seven-Headed Dragon’s tail.

The fist crunched against Oberen’s chest, and Rexza continued the assault. Oberen flew backwards, bounced against the railing, and Rexza twisted, pouring her energy into her right paw turned into a fist. White and black strokes of power, resembling the strokes of a paint brush, swirled about that fist. She brought that fulminating mace of power upon Oberen as he bounced back towards her, shouting, “Draconic Fury Assault!”

Oberen’s eyes widened, and he swore he could’ve seen Chrysanthemum, lying unconscious and dead before her eyes. He cursed.

***

Rexza’s fist connected. Brush strokes of power warping reality itself exploded out of Oberen’s chest. The hammer force sent him flying through the railings, the rusted steel of it shattering as Oberen’s own bones cracked as well.

He was dead before he hit the ground, a gaping hole in his chest, as if it had been melted open.

Rexza sighed, watching the dead Magicker. She turned and slipped inside.

***

Chrysanthemum followed Kasu down the path, which swirled down like a slinky. The web of information criss-crossed in a confusing kaleidescope and Chrysanthemum lost all track of direction. Space suddenly became an illusion in this world of pure information and data and colors and timelessness and illusions and…

“Chrys,” Kasu’s voiced boomed through reality, and Chrys came to, her trance shattering. They stood in front of a large… castle? It was made of bricks each of a different color, and it was shaped like a castle, but there was no entrance. No doors, no openings that could act like windows.

It was a lone, data castle in the middle of the web of all things.

Kasu floated forward, pressed a few of the bricks in a sequence, as if a password, and the walls crumbled down. Kasu floated through, into the data castle’s courtyard. Chrys followed suit, her footfalls still making informational splashes.

Soon enough, they were both in the middle of a deserted courtyard, the lone ornament being the fountain made of hazy, gray blue data. Kasu walked toward it, examined it, and then nodded. “I remember now.”

She turned and walked into the throne room. Chrys opened her mouth to protest, and raised a finger, but shrugged and followed. She took deliberate, carefully placed steps, as if afraid to anger the castle itself.

The throne room was completely empty. Chrys’ memories told her of long throne room’s decorated with gold and platinum and aurichalcum. The throne rooms of her memories resembled more of hallways, stretching twenty feet long, with a red carpet embellished with woven diamonds and glass on the  sides. Pillars and columns of Thrapodian architecture, the great accomplishments of the zaretrych race.

This had none of that. All it consisted of was a throne, lone and cold and filled with webs, in the middle of the room, and doors on both sides.

Kasu was unfazed by this. She leaned forward and floated toward the library to the left, or the right-hand side of the throne. Chrys followed. The doors opened automatically, revealing a huge library that has to be five floors high, with stacks upon stacks of books, shelves filled to the brim, looking like the books want to get out of it because they hated being sandwiched with the others. The digital dust had settled upon them, causing them to glitch and haze.

Kasu walked up to the tenth stack to the right. Chrys followed. When she caught up to Kasu, she had already pulled out a book. Actually, no, it would be more right to call it a piece of folded paper.

“What is it?” asked Chrys, “Is it the contract?”

Kasu nodded. “Sure enough.” She folded it open, and she handed it to Chrys.

Chrys furrowed her eyebrows, reached for it, then pulled her hand back. Kasu shook the contract, urging her to get it.

Chrys sighed. “What will happen?”

Kasu shrugged.

Inhaling, the Siddivata took her contract and read it.

“THIS CONTRACT HOLDS SWAY. FOLLOW THE CLAUSES, OR BE PUNISHED BY FATE.

THIS IS THE CONTRACT OF THE DWARF COURT TO THE MATERIAL OF EARTH.

GEMS, SOIL, ROCKS ARE SUBJECT TO THIS CONTRACT.

EARTH SHALL BE OUR FAMILY FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES. BREAK THIS CONTRACT, AND EARTH SHALL BE DESTROYED AND BANISHED FROM AVALON, REVOKING THEIR HIGH DUKE STATUS.

ALL OF THE DWARF COURT ARE SUBJECT TO THIS PRIVILEGE.”

It was finished off by a signage at the bottom, written in soil glittering with fine jewels, “All the Anima of the Earth.”

Below that, was signed, “He Who Lives To Uphold and Destroy, King of the Court of Dwarf.”

***

“Well?” Kasu leaned forward, trying to peek into it.

Chrys stood, blinking, and then she closed her eyes. As she did, she folded the contract and gave it back to Kasu. “M-my head hurts.”

Kasu tsked. “Let’s go back.”

Chrys opened her eyes, and her irises glowed an emerald sheen. “Yes.”

***

Chrys’ eyes flew open in the real world, and Kasu began disconnecting her from her rig. Chrys’ leaned forward and looked about her, her eyes still glowing a terrifying green. “Wh-where’s Oberen?”

The Siddivata saw a huge, hulking shadow come into view from the frame. Soon enough, the shadow broke away, revealing itself to be a large belgar wearing lune-iron.

Rexza inhaled, and all the world seemed to inhale with her. “Dead.”

Wake 11

The Knight Vigilant known as Rexza watched as her quarry disappeared into the sea of humans.

Shikoth watched, and then patted Rexza’s snout. “Conflicted, I imagine.”

Rexza didn’t move. She looked up at the skeletal anzu. “How’d you know?”

Shikoth shrugged. “I can read people, let me just say. And you are just showcasing all kinds of conflictedness.”

More silence, as Rexza’s eyes watched the innocent Siddivata that was no longer there.

“Hey,” Shikoth said again, still patting Rexza’s snout. “I don’t know about you, but that’s still a job to do. ‘Do what others must not, right?’ Come on, I’ll give you some beer to take your mind off of it.”

Rexza inhaled.

“I know of,” Shikoth continued. “This great cafe place that serves coffee with alcohol.”

Rexza turned and walked down. The other people — humans, mostly — moved about her, trying to get to their destination, padding down the concrete road, completely oblivious to the Knight turned assassin in their midst.

“Come on. It’s just down the sidewalk.” Shikoth slapped Rexza to motion, and she moved.

She walked down the sidewalk as the Daystar slowly dipped into the horizon, washing the city with its halogen orange, and mixing the sky into leaden gray. As a response, Throne City began activated its lights, alchemical and neon. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, indigo in a psychedelic mesh of pigments. As the sun dawned, the sapient technologies turned on their concrete, mechanical bonfire, burning with technicolor flame.

Shikoth directed Rexza into the Lo-Fi cafe. The sound of a customer coming again, resonating from nowhere specific. “Welcome, to Lo-Fi.’” the melodious, almost purring noise that still had the heft and grunt of a belgar resonated from behind the counter. Rexza walked up to it. Shikoth never left his makeshift nest on top of Rexza’s head.

The black-furred belgar bartender blinked when she saw Rexza. The Knight regarded her with a tired expression, and then grinned. For her sake.

The belgar smiled. “Not much of the other xenians here,” she said. “What will you be having?”

The glowing emblem of the Knights Vigilant attracted the bartender’s attention, but she only glanced at it without offering a comment.

Shikoth grinned. “Two large cups of Bailiff’s Dissipating Special.”

The bartender opened her mouth, and then her eyes drifted up to the skeletal anzu. She sighed, and then nodded. “Please wait in your seats. What name should I write down?”

“Shikoth,” the skeletal anzu said.

She nodded. “That’d be 10 eagles, sir.”

Shikoth grinned. It was a strange expression, mostly because he technically already was grinning, being just a skeleton.

The Knight nodded, and plopped down ten 1 Eagle Coins. The flat, square pieces of thin copper jangled lightly, with a tinkling noise. The belgar bartender nodded, and dropped them onto the cup connected to a rectangular, holographic registry screen

The coins melded, folded, and then unravelled in datal haze, disappearing into the Datascape. A piece of paper jutted out, as if it were the result of mixing the coins together.

Rexza picked the receipt up and walked away from the counter, the human behind her watching her stomp to a lone table at the corner of the establishment before turning to face the bartender.

Rexza sat, and then slammed her face onto the wooden, circular table. Shikoth nodded sagely, stepped off, and then sat on the chair opposite of her. He leaned against the dark brown, hardwood wall of the Cafe.

They sat like that for a time. Shikoth, unmoving, a skeletal statue. Rexza, not rising from her little face. When the name “Shikoth!” resounded from behind the counter, Rexza stirred, and sat up. She blinked the sleep from her eyes, moved, bringing the receipt with her.

The human behind the counter didn’t ask for her receipt anymore. He just gave her the two mugs of coffee, the blackness tinged with a bright brown, mixing around it as if it were another liquid. Rexza grinned her most amiable grin, but the human only nodded once and turned away.

Rexza took the two mugs and moved over to Shikoth. Shikoth grinned, and then stared down at it.

Rexza sat and took a sip. There was the spike, then a cold intermingled with the warmth of hot coffee. It felt good, felt new. Shikoth watched the belgar, and said, “You liking that?”

Rexza nodded.

Shikoth imperceptibly grinned again. “Good, because you better enjoy it in my stead.”

Rexza grinned then. “Right. You’re a skeleton. Can’t drink this.”

“Yeah,” Shikoth said, the tinge of wist pigmenting his voice. “Yeah.” And he slid his own mug across the wooden table, trailing misty droplets of water on the wood.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Rexza began gulping, warm coffee mixing with icy beer. Soon enough, both mugs were empty, their coffee entrails a brown palimpsest. Shikoth watched her, unmoving, with large, black pits for eyes. “You done?”

Rexza paused, shutting her eyes, and then she swallowed. “Not yet.” And she rose to her feet, pushing the chair with a bit more noise than Shikoth would’ve looked. With blatant disregard to the humans all about her in the cafe, watching her, she turned and walked out of the dimly lit establishment. Shikoth waddled after her.

She emerged out into the pavement, where the Nymph snow set in a chill that froze the bones. She wasn’t bothered by it; her thick hide and fur protected her from the brunt of the elements, like always. Nevertheless, she walked onto the cold pavement, and said, “Reveal to me where they have gone.”

Shikoth nodded. “I still have their scent! Follow me!” And Shikoth took to the skies, bothered not by the slowly fluttering Nymph snow. Rexza nodded, clenched her fists, and followed immediately after the skeletal husk of a sapient.

In her mind, Rexza repeated the mantra of the Knights Vigilant as she turned the dark corner and walked down the neon burning concrete bonfire.

What others cannot, what others will not…

 

***

 

“Okay,” Kasu finished. She scratched the side of her face. “These implants should allow to you to Delve into the Scape. At least, your Consciousness.”

Chrysanthemum looked at herself in the mirror. Kasu had bound up her hair — which she loved — on top of her head and implanted three things that resembled complicated screws to each side of her head. They hurt at first, but when Kasu let her move around with them, she found them to be fine.

“Why can’t you just do that trick you did and send us into the Scape physically?” Oberen inquired, leaning against one wall.

Kasu shrugged, began typing scripts with the script-board. “Too much energy,” she said. “Dissonance. Generally, trying to do big things past my own Datagrove will mess me up. Gotta do it with proper tools.”

Oberen stayed silent, the answer sufficient.

Before long, Kasu had hooked Chrysanthemum up to wireless contraptions, and bound her down to a chair beside the holographic video screen. “Okay, so, I can send myself remotely. It’s my Magick after all. What we’re going to do is access the Pathways that lead to the encrypted datagrove of Rast, where he kept the recorded Contract files.

“Your consciousness is replicated,” Kasu continued, typing away. She straightened, and holographic discs of calculations and data exploded from her vision, reminiscent of Oberen’s mandala Sight trick. “So if you die in the Scape, you just get booted out. Still, be careful. And when we’re in there, make sure to stay behind me. The Scape is my place. I control lots oft things in there.”

Oberen grinned. Chrysanthemum nodded.

“Alright. You ready?” Kasu said, with a slight sigh.

Chrysanthemum nodded. “And here, we—“

All sound, feeling, taste and sight disappeared, suddenly made fuzzy and muted. It felt like falling into the ocean in the middle of the night. Lonely, dark, with the only source of light being the dim glow of the Nightstar. Chrys fell, sinking towards the darkness behind her, and she didn’t bother, she didn’t dare, to turn around. For fear of what she might see.

What a stupid fear. Chrys’ felt Kasu’s voice resonate within her Soul.

“—go.” Voice returned, and there was an aunnatural silence. Chrys found it weird when the punches of silence that would accompany usual conversations in the physical Mund was filled in by the white noise of autochariots ringing and voices from below, shouts of the Intelligent.

Open your eyes, Chrys. Kasu’s voice was deep, melodious, and seemed to resonate from everywhere. As if she was the God in this place, as if she spoke through the Scape itself.

Chrys opened her eyes, and she found herself in the place similar to Kasu’s datagrove. The digitized version of her room, physical components stripped away.

Chrys lifted a hand, and saw a hand composed of light and color and information and data. Was this all her consciousness was? Bits of information, of data?

Technically. Kasu boomed. Chrys understood that she can read her mind. Yeah I can. And yeah. Technically, everything in the entirety of Creation can be summarized as just bits and pieces of information. Nothing more, nothing less.

Chrys nodded. Her mind was a storm.

Anyway. Now the voice seemed to come from somewhere, despite there being an echo that reverberated through the very data of the Scape. Chrys turned around to see Kasu’s figure, made up of a black, glassy outline and poured with a cup filled with iridescent, harshly combining lights that constituted for complex calculations and information that the normal mind cannot fathom.

“Come on,” Kasu said. She turned and walked out of the door. The door here being where the desknode was in the physical world. “We shouldn’t waste time.”

Chrys nodded. She agreed wholeheartedly. She was already beginning to feel a bit fuzzy and floaty. She took a step forward, and followed into the door.

On the other side of the door, spanned the Datascape. And it was an unending storm of data and information, numbers and streams of color that eventually died down and stagnated, turning into fine bits of particles that accumulated below the translucent pathway Chrys and Kasu stood upon, creating a desert of Data.

“Welcome to the Datascape,” said Kasu without looking behind. “Purgatory, Heaven, or Hell. It’s up to you to decide.”

 

***

 

Oberen watched as Chrys and Kasu jumped into the Scape. Kasu stood perfectly still, but her eyes blanched, her irises turning that lilac color. Chrys shook once, and then went limp.

Oberen found that it wasn’t too different from Field Jumps, whenever one would access the Traverse of a particular Field mentally instead of physically.

Oberen whistled. He wondered what he would do to pass the time. He brought out his palmnode, which showed him a notification from his Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, that told him he had classes on the morrow. He sighed. He was beginning to wonder if he was skipping any classes, when he remembered that today was the end of their Nymph break.

Came a bit too late, he told himself, and pocketed the palmnode. He pushed himself off of the wall and walked over to the refrigerator. Opening it, he found an opened, but unfinished can of OchreOx, a drink that never failed in keeping cramming students awake. He grinned, took it, and downed it with a huge gulp.

He then went back to wondering what he would do to pass the time.

 

***

 

…What others must not.

Shikoth led him to the door of Kasu’s apartment. Rexza had to duck down. Of course they wouldn’t make the hallways fit belgar. She was in Throne, after all.

“You going to do what you set out to do?”

Rexza nodded. “I have one final favor to ask of you,” she said, the tinge of coffee and alcohol swirling like viscous mist in her breath. “Tell the Dean of the Collegium that I’ve succeeded in my job.”

Shiktoh grinned that impossible grin once again. “You got it, Knight, baby!” Shikoth fluttered down and out on invisible wings.

Rexza wasted no time. She knew this would be easy.

She raised a hand and snarled, “Draconic Fury Assault!” The punch that met the door exploded in brush strokes of white, red, and blue light. The door caved in, exploding inward, and shattered in mid-air before slamming against the wall far across the room.

The lune-iron wearing belgar Knight stomped in, with her eyes half-closed.

A man wearing a dark blue jacket over a cyan hoodie turned around. He raised his own eyebrow, peering at Rexza with half closed eyes.

There was a silence. Rexza watched, waiting for him to move.

Whatever he would do, Rexza would kill him anyway.

Oberen grinned a lazy grin. “Well I know what I’m doing in the meantime.” He raised a hand, and Channeled Magick. Rexza could feel it — the rolling thunder, the humidity, and then the knot in your stomach once you feel a person imposing their Will upon reality.

Rexza stepped back. A full, deliberate, rebalancing step.

The oppression, the weight set in.

Oberen raised a hand, and gulped down the last few drops of OchreOx with another. In that one outstretched hand, a ribbon of pure Diwal energy exploded.

And a rapier materialized into his grip. Oberen narrowed his eyes at Rexza.

Rexza clenched her fists, Oberen positioned his rapier…

…and they moved.

 

Wake 10

Quinen looked about him, at the ten fiagai — five on each side of Zinnia — that watched him from within armors of twining steel and glinting sap. Wielding bows of destiny and shooting arrows of sadness, brandishing spears of wrath.

The Warlock coughed out a laugh.

He laughed a wheezing laugh as he watched the chamber he was in pulse like a heartbeat. He watched as the walls writhed with symphonies, and danced with pigments. As the walls sang with spices.

“Seems like I’m back, huh.”

 

***

 

Thackeray and Maeve wove through multicolored grass and shrubs with leaves of wicked sharp daggers. They kept their wits about them, their combat Yantras kept close. Maeve gripped her scepter and Thackeray clenched his fists, his fingers suffocating his gold brass knuckles. The Huntsmen stalked the unfamiliar forestry. All round them, roots double their size and trunks thinner than their fingers surrounded them. The leaves burned with ice, sang with silence, rustled in stagnant air, made of chlorophyll knives and steel leaves. A wind passed by them, and they could see the particles of the wind, ever-shifting in color, always changing, never the same.

Maeve stopped and doubled over, retching. Thackeray leapt to her and held her shoulders. She felt horrible, but nothing would come out of her mouth. “You alright?”

Maeve nodded, waving dismissively at Thackeray. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”

Thackeray nodded as Maeve moved on forward, scepter held up. The scepter was made of gnarled wood, with branches spreading out like fingers at the end of the shaft and wrapping around the crystal on the head of the staff, glowing a bright blue. A mist of frost swirled about it, leaving trails of little frost as the coldness froze the air. Thackeray followed after Maeve, cautious steps. “Hey,” Maeve said. Her voice echoed, and then suddenly became muted, as the fickle winds amplified her voice and then muted it. “Help me up and over this branch.”

Thackeray nodded, and walked up to her, interlocking his fingers to give her a boost. She stepped on it, and Thackeray threw her up. She clambered over the branch, turned around, knelt and stretched out her hand. “Come on.”

Thackeray nodded. He readied to spring up into a large jump to reach for Maeve’s hand, when there was a sudden, amplified noise that resembled gurgling behind her. She gasped as something pulled her out of his sight. “Maeve!”

Thackeray cursed. He looked about him, but found nothing to use leverage. He grit his teeth, repeating to himself to think, think.

He wondered if Magick would work.

He shook his head. He could only Percieve and Transmute Force. And with the fickle physics of Avalon, he wasn’t quite sure if there were any forces in here in the first place. He’d have to create some Force first, and he hasn’t studied to that level. He switched over to a Minor Theory for his Martial Thaumaturgy, after all.

He had to get creative. He bent down and began Channeling Magick, calling down power from the Divine Realms.

 

***

 

Maeve turned around and pushed away whatever had pulled at her in the first place.

The weird, wet hand that clamped around her ankle let its grip loose fairly easily, and she scrambled to her feet. With a flick of her hair, she looked up, and saw a — no, three! Three black, hunched things with teeth the size of long knives and with eyes shining like candleflames. Their thick, black desiccated hide had a strange texture about them. Everytime they moved, the pattern upon the hide didn’t move, as if they were just empty video screens that showed an unmoving back screen.

Globules of spit dribbled down their huge underbite. Their eyes looked at her rapaciously. None of them had weapons, save for the claws the size of longswords on each hand. They looked like they shouldn’t be able to life them, but they did so anyway.

Maeve cursed.

The black creatures screeched and they all launched themselves at her, swiping at her with their wickedly sharp claws. Maeve bit her lip and tried to dodge the attacks by charging head first into the fray and jumping over them, creating a minor wall of ice underneath her feet.

She vaulted over four gripping talons that belonged to two of the creatures, but the last one lashed out longer, and managed to scratch her combat armor. She hadn’t worn too much — certainly not enough to hamper her mobility. The white long coat that shimmered with magickal power was magickally-enhanced by Eyth himself, who managed to get ahold of a few artificers.

The long claws bit into her, but didn’t tear through her white, frostic long coat. She landed on the other side, relatively unscathed.

As she soared through the air and landed, she Channeled her Magick. Calling upon the Heart of Niveus, coagulating his Animistic force into her own Magick, snow and frost and rime swirled about her, billowing through her long coat and sending her brown hair flailing wildly in the wintry wind.

“Niveus!” She turned and flung out her scepter. Knives of frost, like hornets of ice, solidified in the misty air that had appeared about her, imposing order upon the fickle Avalon. A myriad of ice arrows flung themselves toward the closest creature.

The ice fragments hit home, crashing onto the creature’s tough hide. The ice punctured its strange textury hide and stuck there, like darts on wood. The force of the projectiles was enough to send the creature flying back. The two other black creatures crept up, smiling their wicked slasher grins, and jumped at her.

“Shit,” she said, and prayed fervently for Thackeray to get there. As the creatures jumped at her, she twirled backward, bringing her scepter with her, sweeping it in a wide arc. A trail of rime mist followed the scepter, which then froze into a wall that jutted out from the ground. The creatures studded against the winter wall.

 

***

 

“Six Sacred Sacraments!” Thackeray bellowed, and four extra arms made of pure divine energy exploded from his back, glowing golden and white gossamer, radiating a light that fought back the fickle chaos of Avalon.

Thackeray grunted as he jumped up, and using his six limbs, dug onto the side of the root, and clambered up to the top in mere seconds. He saw a black-hide creature writhing on the ground, with ice spikes jutting out of his chest, and Thackeray smashed it with a golden arm. It paused, and then exploded in a cloud of fine gossamer silk, which eventually dissipated.

“Maeve!” he shouted. Three more of those black hide creatures came crawling out of the huge crevices in the bark of the humungous trees that were no less thinner than their finger, as if they moved through space itself.

Thee three new of these black hide creatures, with their wicked grins and sword claws, fell down in a sickening thud, and then picked themselves off the floor, prying their faces as if they’d been glued to the floor.

Thackeray cursed. He moved forward, grabbed two of the creatures that had thudded against the ice wall with two his gold arms, and proceeded to punch each of them in the gut with the other two of his golden arms.

The force of the punch sent them flying back, to the wall of ice, which shattered. Behind it, Maeve was already preparing another Working.

The other three creatures all pounced on him. He cursed, turning, and used his six arms to get out of the way, flipping backwards on golden arms. Divinity coursed through him, sending strands of gold as Avalon contended with another realm.

As he barreled backwards, sword-claws dug into his jacket-armor, and the strands of divinity were joined with strands of cloth that had been cut from his jacket. He cursed as he hit the ground, wincing.

The one creature that managed to hit him pounced upon him once again, and Thackeray used his Sacrament arms to launch him upwards, and the sword blades hit nothing but the wood of the branch, which seemed to be as hard as clay.

Maeve raised her scepter up high. “Niveus, hear me! I channel the breath of your soul, fuse with my Magick and send them to the rivers of pain! Breath!” She swung her scepter forward, and a huge gust of misty wind billowed in a cone in front of her, completely enveloping the five creatures in front of them.

When the mist cleared, the black creatures had turned into sculptures of ice, with frosty flowers decorating each display as chaos melded with order.

Maeve sighed, and sank to her knees. Thackeray fell to the top of the root with a light thud, and dismissed his four extra arms with a wave from both his arms. They dissipated into glows.

“Come on,” Thackeray said, walking up to Maeve. “We should keep going.”

She nodded. “Let’s try to avoid fighting first.” She wheezed. Thackeray offered to carry her. Maeve smiled. “That’d be nice.”

He picked Maeve up, and made his way down the other side of the root. He managed to find a loose vine that fell halfway to the ground. He clambered down, and then dropped the rest of the way. Wincing, he picked himself off the ground, and managed to walk forward. “Do we know where to go?” Thackeray asked.

Maeve looked at Thackeray, eyes wide and brows furrowed in confusion.

 

***

 

The city of Throne was crowded during the Zenith hour.

Of course, this was kind of a given. Throne City was the Capital of the Human Kingdom of Shen after all.

“I live nearby, so we can just walk.” Kasu had said.

And so they did.

They walked down a sidewalk path, with Kasu trying her best to explain what the Datascape was to Chrysanthemum, only to give up a few tries later. They wove through the dense population. People bumping with each other as they went out on their lunch breaks to try and get the cheapest place possible. Academia students bumped into workers that probably woke up only to enter into a cubicle, and then out again.

The three of them stuck close together. Oberen ruffled his already tousled dark hair as he followed the two of them. They crossed a wide street beneath the wide tracks of the City-Rail Transit. Above them, the tracks and structure of the Transit looked like an ominous structure of times bygone, with its stark black steel and occasional bright red and yellow and blue neon.

Eventually, they arrived in front of a building protected by a scissor gate that led into an open lobby. Kasu reached into her pocket and unlocked the gate, sliding it to the right. She beckoned the two of them to come inside, and they followed. She walked across the lobby, which was clean as a janitor swept the floor, and went up a flight of stairs. Chrysanthemum and Oberen followed Kasu to the third floor, wherein they entered.

Kasu removed her boots and slipped on comfy house slippers. The floor was immaculately clean, shining and reflecting the light fixtures on the ceiling. Chrys smiled and followed enthusiastically. Oberen smiled a lazy smile, raised both eyebrows as he watched Chrysanthemum, as if one would watch their own child. He closed the door behind him and slipped on the guest slippers.

They walked across a short hallway lined with a room and a bathroom, before it opened up into the living room. All the windows were covered in a blue curtain, and was barred shut either way by the two large stacks of Nodes that made up Kasu’s machine.

“Wow!” Chrysanthemum’s eyes widened as she stepped forward. Kasu grinned. She snapped her fingers, and the two stacks of glass cubes lit up with a digital, blue-gray haze. The visual feed erupted out of a small fixture on the bottom of the desk — it was a holographic display. Expensive, by today’s standards.

Kasu walked over to it and sat down on her chair. It swivelled a bit. She stretched her fingers, and when she lay them down a few inches off of the desk top, a holographic script-board materialized in a flash of blue-gray. Kasu began typing away at the scripts, and the visual feed began computing.

She typed a few things, and then reached up and tapped something on the holographic screen. A new screen popped out from that, and Kasu moved it around with her hands. She stood, carrying the new window off the desk and near Chrysanthemum. “Here,” Kasu said. Oberen looked and saw that the screen was showcasing the visual of what the Datascape looked like on the inside — a gray desert made up of fine grains of information, swept by a storm of blue-gray-green data, made up of scripts and numbers.

“That’s the Datascape,” Kasu said. “It’s a new sort of… realm that the modern races have made that allows us to send and receive and manipulate information and data. We can do almost anything with it. Even Magick.”

“Kasu is a Datathurgist,” Oberen said behind Chrys. Chrysanthemum turned around and nodded. “That means that — while I, as a Magicker of the Perfected Collegiate Theory, have my Soul Sympathetically Linked to the Fundamental Realms, Kasu here is Sympathetically Linked to the Datascape itself.”

“Which means I can do some neat things,” Kasu said, grinning. She turned and pressed a floating button to the side of the script-board. “Like this.”

The room began folding away, as if pieces of paper were being peeled off of the room. It was replaced with, well, the room of Kasu, but one made up of blue gray data and information. Chrysanthemum and Oberen stepped back, but was surprised to see that they were unharmed, their bodies trailing information like dust motes. Kasu began whisking data and then turning it about her hands. “This is my Datagrove, my own little encrypted space of the Datascape.” She trapped the small bit of data she whisked away from the air within her hands and clasped them together. With another breath, the layers of physical reality returned, stapling themselves back onto the walls and air of data and information. Chrys and Oberen felt their stomachs flutter for a bit as they materialized.

Kasu smiled sweetly and opened her hands, cupping something within. Inside, a small little bunny peeked out, made up of translucent blue-gray-green data. It moved about, a haze trailing after it like a translucent shadow. “And this is a rabbit. A data-rabbit. Only a Datathurgist can do these things.”

She laid the data rabbit down on her desk, and it began hopping around. “So that’s the Datascape. It connects all of us. Your Node taps into it, so that you can access, send, or manipulate information. You can contact someone from across the world, or manipulate data in such a way that you can abandon your physical body and live in the Datascape without dying. Sounds great, huh?”

Chrysanthemum smiled. But it was a sad smile. She didn’t like the sound of living forever.

Oberen chuckled. “Ever the dataphiliac, eh?”

“It’s just so amazing,” said Kasu, as she rubbed her cheek against the data-rabbit. She laid it down again, and waved a dismissive hand. It dissipated in a digital haze, back into her Datagrove. “Right. Anyway, your Contract?”

Wake 9

Chrysanthemum and Oberen walked out of the Librarium. They strode down the steps and came upon the end of the wide flight… and then stopped.

“Um…?” Oberen crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Can you tell me what we’re supposed to do, again?”

“Go to the Dean…?” Chrysanthemum said. “I really want to help Quinen. The Dean is supposed to be super-powerful, right? Maybe he can help us?”

“Well,” Oberen sighed. “Yeah, I guess. Hey, we’ve kind of been moving around a lot. Aren’t you getting tired?”

Chrysanthemum rubbed her eyes and yawn. “Now that you mention it…?”

Oberen chuckled. “I know of a good cafe just nearby. Come on.”

The two of them walked off, down the street, stopping as the pedestrian’s crossing was flooded with traffic.

***

Shikoth perched atop the gargoyle known as Gardya. “I wonder where they’re going?”

Gardya’s stone ears perked up. “They’re going to a cafe.”

“Ah,” Shikoth nodded. “I thought they were gonna take some action. There’s a reason why Hakumatheia sends a skeleton bird like me to do reconnaissance.”

“Probably not because you’re the quietest and most agile and most elegant.”

“Tsk.” Shikoth slapped the gargoyle’s stone head with his skeletal fingers. “No. I know how to move around without being spotted.”

“A flying skeleton anzu isn’t the most inconspicuous thing in the world.”

“Ah, shut up!” he said. “I come from a long tribe of anzu clans that specialize in this magick called ‘Shizu’. It’s basically the magic to manipulate sound around us — it’s an offshoot of the usual anzu Vayu magick, if my–”

“Don’t say memory. You don’t have a brain.”

Shikoth grit his teeth together. “I’ll leave you to your eternal tortu-este, ‘vigilance’.” And with that, Shikoth took off, leaping from the gargoyle head and flying upon skeletal wings. Gardya saw the faintest fluttering of winds circulating about the hollows of his bones. Definitely magick.

***

Oberen and Chryaanthemum stopped by a store by the side of the main road that connected to the Inner Interstate Road. The traffic was heavy, albeit moving at a regular pace. The cafe itself had glass walls, so one could see clearly through it. The nymph snow fell softly, pattering, but the walls were clear of humidity. Oberen raised an eyebrow, and he could feel the faint humming of Transmogrifier-induced heat.

Hanging outside the store, positioned in such a way so people walking down the street could see it, was the sign. It was simple enough: three squiggling lines that made it look like the steam rising from a coffee cup — one was red, one was blue, and one was brown. Below it, written in a modern font, were the words: “Low Fidelity Cafe”. Written first in the universal script of Shennin, and then the more thematic and arguably cooler runes of Sidefnian.

The two of them entered through the door. A bell rang, somewhere. Chrysanthemum looked up, and found no bell at all. Yet, there was a sound.

The smell of coffee was strong and aromatic. It made everything smell brown and feel cozy. The setup of the entire cafe was as such. While there were tables and chairs, comfy sofas and couches were used in excess. The Transmogrifier produced an arcane heat — enough so nobody caught the sniffles, but not too much that they couldn’t wear their sweaters inside.

The two of them approached the long counter. There wasn’t a line, and the cafe wasn’t filled to the brim.

“Good Ascending, and welcome to Lo-Fi Cafe! May I take your order?” The barista wore a white button up shirt and a skirt that went to her knees, finishing up with knee-high socks. She adjusted her red rimmed glasses as she tilted her head at Oberen. Her ponytail was set atop her head, but the tail itself still reached the upper part of her back.

Her eyes were green, her hair mauve. She opened her mouth in a surprised “o”. “Oh, Oberen!”

“Heya, Kasu,” he waved. “I’ll get the usual.”

She nodded once, and turned to the strange girl with glowing pink hair beside Oberen. “Who’s this? Another disciple, perhaps?”

Chrysanthemum grinned and waved. “I’m Chrysanthemum, and I’m a Siddivata.”

Kasu furrowed her eyebrows, and then turned to Oberen. Oberen grinned, closed his eyes in a grimace, and scratched the back of his head. “I’ll explain over some coffee. Care to join us?”

“Sure,” she said. “It’s break time for me anyway.”

“It is?” Oberen asked.

She nodded. She removed her brown apron and shouted to the employee’s area. “I’m taking a break! Seltha, take the front counter!”

“Y-yes!” Far behind the counter, Chrysanthemum saw a black furred belgar, a bit smaller than the usual belgar one would see, standing at 6 feet tall. She bowed and put on her own brown apron. Kasu took off.

“I”ll make your orders first, before we settle down.” She paused. “What will the… ‘Siddivata’… want for her break?”

“Ah! Um, chrysanthemum tea would be wonderful.”

Oberen had to make an effort not to laugh.

***

Shikoth glided over to a perch that jutted out of a low building. It gave him an adequate picture of the scene within the Low Fidelity Café, wherein he saw the Magicker, the glowing pink haired girl, and some other girl that looked like she breathed caffeine instead of life-nourishing zephyr like the rest of them.

The brainless husk of a bird sat on his haunches, watching below. He wondered if he ever had meetings like that in his past life, where he would just sit together with his friends and talk the world away. He would sip anzian wind-ale and get whisked away by its powerful contents, and spill things and make jokes and talk about girls.

He wondered if he ever lived a like that.

Hell, he wondered if he ever lived at all, or if he was just something Hakumatheia conjured up with his unlimited cosmic power.

He shrugged. It was kind of pointless to think about it. He’s here, now, and that’s all that mattered. What was the point in changing something that had already been done?

Shikoth watched them as Oberen laughed and Chrysanthemum snickered and the caffeine-breather shrugged and smiled sheepishly, scratching the side of her face absent-mindedly with her pointer finger.

He watched them from his perch above, as the crystalline snow of the Nymph season swirled.

“Shikoth.” Came the rousing voice of-

“Ah, Hakky-baby!” Shikoth turned to the floating rune that materialized out of nothing. “Miss me yet? I think our safeword should be Siddivata.”

“About that,” Hakumatheia began. “It should be quick, enough. A Knight Vigilant is coming there to assassinate the Siddivata. I want you to make sure she gets her job done.”

“Knight Vigilant!?” He snorted. “Ah, those hacks. Wastes, they are.”

“Make sure the Vigilant succeeds. That is all.”

“No worries, Hakky-baby!” and with that, the rune dispersed into free-floating motes that eventually dissipated back into the eternal cycle of the world.

And Shikoth sighed.

And the brainless husk of a bird went back to watching a life he never lived.

***

“So,” Kasu said as she sipped from her crimson caramel coffee. “What’s this talk about Siddivata?”

Oberen sighed. “We actually just came here to try and wind down but…”

“I am a Siddivata,” Chrysanthemum said as she put down her chrysanthemum tea. “But I don’t know much about being a Siddivata. I’m… a queen? Of Avalon? I have contracts?”

“Yes,” Kasu nodded. She crossed her arms. “Huh. I just realized how weird it must be for you. Do you have any memories before the time you, um, forgot you were a Siddivata?”

Chrysanthemum bit her lip, and then shook her head.

“Interesting,” Kasu leaned back. “So, how did you know who you were?”

She brightened up a bit at that. Just a bit. “Quinen told me! He told me all I needed to know.”

“Except for the fact that you’re a Siddivata?”

She shrugged. “He would explain how I still need a mortal body, and that I still am not part of this world, and how I shouldn’t fall in love, but I never understood any of that, so I never paid it much attention.”

“Understandable, I guess,” Kasu shrugged. Oberen kept sipping on his coffee. “So, you thought you were a…?”

“A normal human,” said Chrys.

“Hm, weird.” She shrugged and turned to Oberen. “You’re not Quinen.”

Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, thought for a moment, and then nodded. “Yeah. Um, Quinen got into a fight with a fiagai, it seems. His physical body is battered up. He’s in the Collegium’s Medicum for now. His Soul seems to be… not there either.”

“Transportation?”

He nodded. “Most probably. Maybe to the Field of Timespace.”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “Maybe, maybe, maybe.” She tapped her lip. Chrysanthemum watched her.

“How do you know about Siddivata, Kasu?”

“Well,” she sipped her coffee. “Rast? The dreorg I studied under? He was fascinated by them, saying that they were ‘Magick Incarnate’. Naturally, he’d ramble to me about them, and that’s how I’d learn a lot about them. Hell, he even digitized the contracts after he got a hold of them. Although, only the ones in the Dwarf Court.”

“He digitized the Contracts?”

Kasu nodded. Then she furrowed her eyebrows. Then she shrugged. “Well, a bit more like, he copied what was written on the Contracts. He got into a small friendship with a Siddivata of the Dwarf Court. Her Narrative was that she was a ‘Slave who desired to become a Lord.’ Rast wanted to help her with that narrative of hers, and he got some of the Contracts in return.”

“So did the girl become a Lord?” asked Chrysanthemum.

Kasu shook her head. “No. She was killed, along with Rast.”

“O-oh.” Chrysanthemum looked down into her tea.

“Yeah, it was kinda sad,” Kasu said. “But hey, it happens.”

“Yeah,” Oberen said, nodding. “That’s true. It does happen.”

Kasu took a sip of her coffee again. “So if you’re a Siddivata, and you don’t know your contracts, isn’t that dangerous? Contracts can help you defend yourself, you know. And you might suddenly lash out at something, verbally, not knowing that you have a contract attached to it.”

“Heh,” Oberen said. “That’s kinda specific, Kasu.”

“Well, contracts are specific, after all.”

Chrysanthemum nodded. “That is what I’m trying to do, Kasu. I’m trying to find out my Contracts, but… I don’t know how.”

“Yeah,” Oberen nodded. “I think she can manipulate snow by talking to it.”

“Hm.” Kasu pressed her lips together. “Well, I don’t know any Contract relating to snow. Maybe… maybe you’d like to try and read the Contracts from the Dwarf Court?”

Oberen thought. “I think that should be a good start. If I remember right. Zinnia said that Chrysanthemum was a daughter of both the Dwarf Court and the Nymph Court.”

“Ooh,” Kasu said, nodding. “Fascinating.”

“Am I?” Chrysanthemum asked. “That’s so… I don’t know. I don’t know anything that’s happening.”

“Don’t worry,” Oberen said. “I’ll help you through it, alright?” He placed a hand on Chrysanthemum’s shoulder. She squeaked, and looked at Oberen’s pale hand. She felt herself getting hotter, and she tried to hide bother her hands within her sleeves.

“U-uh, mm.” She said, agreeing.

“Well, if we need to access Rast’s archives, I’m gonna have to get home to my desknode. Can’t go into the Scape without the proper equipment.”

Kasu rose to her feet, one hand holding the cup. Oberen sighed. “So much for a break.” He turned to Chrysanthemum. “Hey, Chrys – Chrys? Are you okay?”

Chrysanthemum breathed hard. Deep breaths, as if she were trying to recover her air after running for too long. She looked up when Oberen spoke, but found that she couldn’t look into his eyes. She stood, turned, and walked after Kasu.

Chrys inhaled. “What is the Datascape?” She asked.

“Huh?” Kasu tilted her head. “You mean you don’t know?”

She nodded.

“Strange. Almost everyone knows the Datascape. You have a node? A palmnode?”

“Oh,” Chrys dug into her sweater pocket and brought out the rectangular piece of glass. “You mean this?”

“Yeah, that.”

“This is the Datascape?”

“N-no…”

And they spoke as they walked out.

Oberen watched Chrysanthemum with furrowed eyebrows. Then, he rose, shaking his head, and walked after them.

***

Knight Vigilant Rexza turned the corner and saw her Siddivata target in front of her. She was talking with another woman who wore glasses and sported mauve hair. A tousled-haired boy ran after them, wearing a dark blue hoodie and dark green pants. He raised an eyebrow when he noticed Rexza, but otherwise walked past her, following after her Siddivata target.

Rexza grit her teeth. She thought it would be harder to find her, but easier to kill her.

***

Shikoth watched from above. He saw Rexza, who sported the mantle of the Knights Vigilant. Shikoth hadn’t seen a Knight Vigilant in a while, he realized.

Shiktoh flew down, dropping off of the perch. He landed beside Rexza and tapped her back.

The Knight Vigilant turned, lumbering, seven feet tall and three heads taller than Shikoth. “What is it you need, skeleton?”

“I’m a spy,” Shikoth said. “And I assume you’re that Knight Vigilant Hakky hired?”

Rexza glared at Shikoth with hard eyes and untrusting furrowed eyebrows. Shikoth glared back with that deadpan expression only a skeleton would be able to do.

“Yes.”

“Cool,” Shikoth said, nodding. “Permission to ride on your head, Knight?”

“What?”

Shikoth flapped once, took to the sky, and then landed on Rexza’s wide head.

“Oh.”

“Now, kill the Siddivata!”

Rexza furrowed her eyebrows, and turned to the three humans walking down the sidewalk.

***

Hakumatheia approached the Medicum building. Various medic-mages bowed or greeted him as he passed by.

The Dean of the Collegium walked up to the front desk. “The room of the Warlock, Quinen Argist.”

He was given the key to the room, and he went straight up.

Hakumatheia locked the door behind him and walked up to the clear white bed that housed the Warlock. Quinen’s physical body breathed ragged breaths, but showed no signs of waking up. He was pale, and was slowly turning much too thin.

“Oh, Warlock. Your curiosity got the best of you.”

He Willed Power to become reality, and a scintillating ribbon of magick shone in his hand. When it dispersed back into motes, a flowing lance of white-hot Diwal energy crackled within his grasp.

“While you were fun… I suppose I have to get rid of all the hindrances.”

Wake 8

Thackeray and Maeve lounged about Eyth’s home, eating away at pizza slices. “It’s a good thing that pizza can still get delivered here,” said Maeve.

Thackeray shrugged. “It’s mostly because Holloway’s isn’t afraid of anything. They’re insane like that.”

“Hey,” Eyth said. “Give me another slice.” He worked with a stele in one hand, another hand with a floating rotating mandala hovering above his fingers, and with his eyes covered by a mandala of power that looked similar to a clock face.

“This is your fifth,” Maeve said as she handed him the slice. Eyth took it with his tail and took a bite.

“That’s not a complaint, is it?” He said as he rotated the wristwatch timepiece in midair.

“Not at all,” Maeve said. Thackeray looked down at the timepiece on his wrist. It ticked away, like any other timepiece.

“So,” Thackeray said. “This timepiece will only follow the Mund’s time?”

Eyth grunted. “It’s synchronized to the Timespace Field,” he said. “A few Manipulation Workings. Nothing too hard.”

“Not too hard for you,” Maeve said, grinning. She turned to Thackeray. “You think we’ve got all we need?” She asked, nodding her head at the gym bag lying on the floor beside him.

Thackeray nodded. He shoved the last bits of his slice and he zipped it open. “Medi-kits, extra foci, water, imperishable food, extra clothes, and some sleeping blankets. I think we’re good.”

“Speed is the important thing,” Maeve said. “We get in, haul the Warlock’s ass out of there, and then get out.”

Thackeray nodded. “Right. I haven’t studied Avalon much, so I don’t know what to expect.”

“Me neither.”

“It’s a place of dreams and stories,” Eyth said, blinking. His mandala dissipated into thin air, a torrent of diwal motes, as he turned around and lifted the timepiece to Maeve. He bit into the slice again with his tail. “There. Should be good now.”

Maeve nodded, walking up to him. She strapped it to her wrist and tapped on it a few times. “It’s so trivial, but important.”

Thackeray nodded. “If we want to keep track of the time, we can get out of there before we become part of their Narrative.”

“Two days.” Maeve echoed. She then sighed. She inhaled deeply, shutting her eyes, and then wrapped her hands around Eyth. “Thanks a lot, Eyth. For helping us.”

Thackeray’s eyebrows lifted when he saw Eyth turning pink. “Eheh, i-it’s nothing, really. Don’t die, now.”

“Yes,” Maeve said, standing up. She glanced at Thackeray and said. “We won’t. You too, okay?”

Eyth grinned at her direction, and then turned back to his desknode. “I’m signalling for a cab.”

“Much appreciated,” Thackeray said, rising to his feet. “We should get this over with as soon as possible.”

Maeve nodded. “Right. It’s seven ascending, right?”

“Right. The third time it would hit seven ascending, we would be goners.”

“We’ll be able to get out in time,” Maeve said, as they both walked out of the door once again. A brown box autochariot drove up to the curb. “We always do.”

Thackeray smiled.

 

They made their way up to the Dean’s room. The door opened on their own, before they even got out of the elevator, and the Dean grinned at them as they approached. When they entered his room, the doors slammed shut behind them.

“How are the preparations?”

Maeve smiled, laying a hand on her scepter on her right hip. “Well,” said Thackeray. He nodded to the gym bag he carried over his shoulder. “One day is all we need.”

“Good,” the Dean said. He nodded. “I wouldn’t want my best graduate huntsmen to be killed on the first day of their job, now would I?”

Maeve and Thackeray smiled. “Shall we?”

“We shall.” The Dean raised his hand, and snapped his fingers. Along with it, a snarling basso word, and the space in front of the window exploded into life, creating a rift within the fabric of reality, and opened a golden, shimmering, gossamer portal to Avalon. Beyond, it was amorphous, devoid of definition, only made up of incomprehensible dreams and looping narratives.

“Before you go,” the Dean said. “May I ask if that dreorg friend of yours knows about this?” He gestured with his hand — a casual gesture, that implied casual questioning. Power — undetectable — popped. Stars speckled Hakumatheia’s irises.

“Eyth?” Maeve nodded. “He does, yes. He helped us. He knows we’re going to be getting the Warlock from Avalon, and that we ourselves are heading into Avalon. I’m pretty sure he did not like the idea.”

“Right.” The Dean gave the Huntsmen a tight lipped smile. He reached into the drawer behind his desk and brought out two balls of what seemed like glowing clay, translucent like glass, with swirling Diwal power within, but rimified and frozen. “Tass,” the Dean said, giving it to both of them. “For your Magick. I’m foreseeing you might need it.”

Maeve and Thackeray took it, bowing deeply. “Thank you, Dean,” Thackeray said. Hakumatheia smiled.

“May the Vedina guide your path.”

“May power overflow,” replied Thackeray and Maeve, and they stepped through the portal.

It felt like plunging deep into the sea, and then having the sea flipped over, so that you realize that you never hit the water in the first place. That was what it felt like, going through the rift that took one to the realm of madness.

Multicolored skies, amorphous trees, and burning frosts, and black glows, and stagnant wind and flurrying stone met the Huntsmen in Avalon.

And then, with a pop of power, a burst of wind, the rift behind them shut closed.

Maeve and Thackeray nodded to each other. “Let’s get going.”

 

***

 

“Hello,” Hakumatheia said into a ball floating in between his hands. Through the ball, he could see both Maeve and Thackeray. “The balls are meant to be communication devices as well, so don’t try to use all the Tass up, okay?”

The Huntsmen nodded, surveying their surroundings.

“Good. I shall contact you later.” The Dean clasped his hand together, smashing the ball of power within his hands into iridescent motes, and then he picked up his palmnode.

It took a few minutes before the converse line with Rexza opened. “Dean?”

“Knight Rexza,” the Dean said. “I need you to do something for me.”

“I am scouting for the Siddivata, like you said.”

“Yes,” the Dean said. “But this is part of the contract, so that the news about the Siddivata doesn’t get out of hand. It prevents the rumors and chaos part later on.”

“Very well.”

 

***

 

The Knight Rexza walked through the Dirah Ward with her armor and weapons tucked away within the protean hide of lune-iron. Not that she needed weapons — her Strife only required her fists.

She walked through the various ghettos and alleyways of the Slum City, pinpointing the location of her target. She walked through stacks of flimsy homes, without much luxury. It reminded her of the Lower Trimester Strata of Jubh-Kan, with all the dirty trash-clogged streets, orange coloring, out of place neon lighting, and constant need for crime to survive. She saw an anzu flap down and steal a zaretrych’s only food — which was a few strands of silk from the ankiadi animal. The ankiadi animal was a delicacy for the insectoid, chitinous and segmented zaretrych. The silk of the ankiadi were usually regarded as the “juices” one drinks after eating the main meal. A light desert, one could say.

It was usually eaten by coiling the strands around and around until it formed a bulbous shape, reminiscent of cotton candy. The particular zaretrych Rexza saw only had ten strands in her legs.

And the anzu took it away from her.

Rexza ignored it. She also ignored a gang of humans circling around a sole female alfr, and a dreorg plucking the keys from an old anzu woman who had stumps in her back.

She was here for one reason only. One reason only. She couldn’t meddle with those — she couldn’t. Why not? Said her consciousness.

Because it would be inefficient to her mission, said her Knight Vigilant training.

But the Knights are about protecting people.

But it’s too late to protect them now.

Failure.

She arrived at the cul-de-sac where her target was. She had to get out of this slum city, fast.

The lower house was closed. No lights could be seen from outside. The house stacked above it had lights emanating from what seemed like a desknode screen.

Rexza walked up the flimsy, and small, staircase hastily bolted on to the side of the stacked houses. She knocked once, and then opened the door by destroying the knob. It gave way easily.

Eyth bounced up on his prehensile tail and turned around. His eyes wide, his optics drooping off of his small nose, his tufted ears pressed against his cheeks?

“Wha-who?”

Rexza closed her eyes, and she stepped forward. Through the door frame, into the much too small room.

“Who are you? What? What’s happening?” He sniffed. “I…?”

“I am a Knight Vigilant.” Rexza said.

“Knight Vigilant?” Rexza could see the confusion in his face start to falter, as he began to comprehend. “Oh, you… you need my help? The Knights Vigilant are supposed to be these protectors of good, right?” There was a grin on his face. “I’ve always thought that you guys were disbanded, but it’s good to see you’re still alive and kicking.”

Rexza nodded. “Yes. The Knights Vigilant are the protectors of good.”

But she was just doing what the Knight’s code said. “Follow the demands of the needy.”

Was the Dean needy? It was meant to interpreted as “help those who need your help.” The Dean asked for my help, so I have to follow his demands.

Rexza shook her head.

None of it mattered. She’d be failure either way. “I am a Knight Vigilant.” She said, as she reached out and tore the dreorg’s head from his body.

The glowing orange light at the tip of Eyth’s tail petered out, and the ore fell out, as if it had been set free.