Wake 7

Dean Hakumatheia sat, his elbows on his wooden desktop. His fingers steepled, and with him staring intently into the space between them. Then he breathed, and he pulled apart his fingers. There was a spark of Power, and Will congealed it. As he pulled his fingers apart, threads of Diwal Energy burst into existence, creating an intricate web in the space between his hands. He inhaled, and the webs of power flashed, congealed, and solidified into a glass sphere.

He breathed out. Stars rose from the corners of his eyes, like upside down tears.

Into the glass sphere, he spoke. “Shikoth-”

“Gah!” The Dean winced backwards away from the glass orb. “You scared the shit out of me, Hakky, baby! Next time, give me a heads up before you go into me, alright? Dammit, we don’t even have a safe word yet, Hakky.”

“Shut up,” the Dean said, his voice rolling thunder. “Give me a status update, you brainless husk of a bird.”

“Fuck you,” said the brainless husk of a bird. “They went into the Librarium Soph.”

“Librarium Soph?” The Dean tsked. “Dammit. Uthurja.”

“Who?”

“Nobody,” he said. “Keep your eyes glued on them, you hear me?”

“You got it, Hakky-baby!” And with that, the Dean clasped both ends of the glass orb, and clapped his hands, crushing the orb in his palms. He breathed out, and channeled the Astral Sea as he did, and the thing dissipated into nothingness. Reality shaped.

There was a knock on the door. He raised an eyebrow. He closed his eyes, and a mandala exploded from his brow, with a slit in the middle of the complex geometries. With another Will of Power, the slit widened and burst open, revealing something looking similar to an eye in the middle of the spinning visage of Power.

The Dean looked through, and saw, a lady belgar with dark brown, bristly fur, standing wearing a lune-iron armor, liquidly fitting to her armor. The belgar stood at seven feet, hunched over, with a large muzzle filled with teeth made to kill and tear and destroy.

The Dean opened his eyes, and the mandala disappeared. He waved his hand, and the wooden doors flew open, revealing the Knight Vigilant standing beyond his room.

“Knight Rexza!” The Dean said, smiling, but not standing up from his seat. “Come in.”

She did, closing the doors behind her. Her slit, feline eyes regarded him with caution, but… was that respect he saw? Hakumatheia watched as she walked over to the chair in front of his desk and pulled it away from the desk. Then, she set a long, cylindrical bag by the foot of the chair, and she sat. She was one of the leaner belgar it seemed, so she wasn’t too uncomfortable with the chair. “I trust your journey wasn’t too harsh?”

The Knight Rexza’s ears twitched, but otherwise she didn’t share any emotion through her face. She reminded Hakumatheia much too much of a non-urban alfr.

“We were attacked by pirates,” she said, her voice low and growling, yet somehow still monotonous.

“I’m sure you took care of it,” the Dean said, waving his hand. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his desktop. “My, you look dashing today.”

“I see.” Another twitching. The Dean figured out that the twitching wasn’t some social cue or tick — she was actively listening. “I’ve come per the request. I need details.”

“Of course,” said Hakumatheia. “As per the original request, I only want one thing done.” Hakumatheia breathed. “The annihilation of a rogue Siddivata romping through Throne.”

 

***

 

“I’m a Siddivata,” said Chrysanthemum, rising to her feet. The kalista glared at her, shooting her a look that told her to stay where she was. Chrysanthemum bit her lip, took a step back.

“Uthurja,” said Oberen. “She’s not hostile. I’m trying to help her.”

“Not hostile?” Uthurja shook her head. “The Siddivata are the Queens of Avalon, Oberen. Avalon! The place of fickle rules and dreams? The realm that stands nearest to Unreality?”

“I know,” Oberen said. “I know. But, she’s not like the others. She’s different.”

“How?” Uthurja turned to Chrysanthemum. The kalista’s face was haggard and drooping as she clutched the armrests of her chair.

“She…” Oberen tsked. “Okay, I don’t know the whole story, but she wants a Soul, it seems. She wants an identity. And Quinen wants to give her one. Says he found a way.”

Uthurja furrowed her eyebrows and turned to Chrysanthemum. “Siddivata are supposed to eat Souls.”

“I… don’t want to do that. I want to have a Soul of my own. I want to be Chrysanthemum.”

Uthurja frowned. “How in the hell did you end up having an identity of your own? Siddivata aren’t supposed to have identities. They’re supposed to have Narratives.”

“Wh-what?”

Uthurja scowled. She turned to Oberen. “So this is Quinen’s doing, eh?” Oberen nodded. “That man’s finding out too much for his own good. How’d he get a Siddivata with him? Did he create a Sympathy with Avalon…?”

There was a silence, before Oberen answered. “I have a lingering suspicion.”

“Adon’s balls,” Uthurja sighed. “I’d rather deal with thieves than you. What’ve you come here for?”

Oberen opened his mouth to answer, but Chrysanthemum jumped at the opportunity. “We were hoping you could answer some questions for us. I would like to know about my… being.”

Uthurja narrowed her eyes at Chrysanthemum. “You don’t… You don’t remember. Of course. Dammit. What did Quinen think he was doing with this?”

“I don’t think he even knew,” Oberen replied.

“Fine,” Uthurja said, mopping her face. “The girl wants to learn about the nature of the Siddivata? I’ll give her a rundown.” The kalista gestured for Oberen and Chrysanthemum to sit. “From the beginning?”

Oberen turned to Chrysanthemum, and Chrysanthemum nodded.

She listened.

Uthurja breathed. “In the realm of Fickle Fates and Resplendent Destinies, the Siddivata rule. They rule over the commoners, the Divata, and the land itself, Avalon. The Siddivata are nobles, kings, princes, queens and lords of Avalon, crafting contracts to bind the land to their will, and needing sustenance, lest they unravel into oblivion.

“This sustenance is known as Gossamer. And Gossamer can only be obtained by unraveling the fine threads of the Mundlings. By eating and consuming their Souls. This act of ritual feast does more than just sustain them — it gives them purpose, it gives them identity. They are compelled to continue their Narrative — their Narrative is what they are. You will be hard pressed to find a Siddivata who likes eating food, or a Siddivata the loves their family. Instead, you would find a Siddivata who is ‘eating their food, and in the morrow, they will ride to battle to protect the honor of their family’. The Siddivata are not people. They’re stories.”

Chrysanthemum wasn’t blinking, completely enraptured.

“They have powerful Magics that bind the land of Avalon, and to an extent, the spirits of such bindings cascade into the Mund. Contracting, they call it, whereupon they create a contract — an oath — with the Anito of something, and whatever clauses their contract holds, the Anito must abide. Of course, in return, the Anito get something in return.”

Chrysanthemum only let a gasp — faint like fairy wings — escape her breath. To her right, Oberen spoke. “Interesting. Can you give me an example?”

“Say the Siddivata Grace holds a court with the Anito of Fire. Their contract is as follows: ‘In exchange for receiving half of my Diwal Supply, Fire shall never harm me, and I shall have control over it, in Mund and Mael, for a year and a day.”

“Ah,” Oberen leaned backwards into his high-backed chair. “That’s… definitely something a Siddivata would conjure up.

“And since you’re a Siddivata,” Uthurja turned to Chrysanthemum. “You are most probably part of the clauses of your court’s Contracts. Do you have any idea of what your Courts are?”

Chrys opened her mouth, and then shook her head.

“Snow responded to her,” said Oberen.

Chrysanthemum nodded. “But only when I remembered that I was a Siddivata.”

Uthurja breathed out. “Strange. Odd. Arcane. Interesting. Did Quinen wipe her mind and find a way to turn her mortal?”

Oberen shook his head. “But he did speak of ‘a way’.”

Uthurja raised an eyebrow. “Whatever could that be?” There was a moment of silence, as everyone sat enraptured by knowledge.

“Then,” Uthurja said. “It would be in your best interests to look for the Contract. Why are you suddenly interested in learning about what you are, though?”

“Why not?” Oberen asked.

Uthurja turned to face him. “Most of us don’t question. Most of us like living with the thought that we just are.

Chrysanthemum made a face. Pulling her eyebrows together and frowning. “I want to help Quinen,” she said. Uthurja turned to her. “I want to heal him, and I want to not be a burden to him. If I can harness my… being, I can be less of a burden.”

“Noble,” said Uthurja. “But what if the ‘way’ Quinen had talked about was indeed what he had already inflicted? Wiping of memory. If you don’t remember being a Siddivata, then you might’ve turned mortal?”

Chrysanthemum’s eyebrows arced upward, but her lips drooped sad. “Really?”

“No,” Uthurja said. “But it would’ve been a nice solution.”

There was another silence. It was quite silent in Uthurja’s little sanctum. The only sound that could be heard was from the ceiling fan.

“Well,” Oberen said, breaking the thread of silence. “Let’s find a way to look for that Contract. Or maybe, you can find out by yourself?”

“Maybe,” said Uthurja. “Contracts can usually be found in the vaults of the Court that formed them.”

“So there’s no other way than going to Avalon?” said Chrysanthemum.

Uthurja nodded.

“If…” Chrysanthemum bit her lip. “If I can help Quinen, I’ll do it. I have to save him.”

“Hold there,” Oberen said. “You don’t even know what’s happened to Quinen. For all we know, he could’ve been Transported into a Dissonant Realm, and we won’t be able to pull his Soul back from there.” Then Oberen furrowed his eyebrows. “Unless, of course, he was Transported to Avalon.”

Chrysanthemum watched as Oberen’s eyebrows perked up, and his ears perked up as well. “The Dean. We might get some help from him.”

Uthura scoffed. “Hakumatheia? That hack. Limits himself to one Theory.”

“That’s why he’s good at it,” Oberen said, shrugging. “Many thanks, Master Uthurja. We are in your debt.”

“There is no need,” Uthurja said, shaking her head, but not rising from her seat. “You take care now.”

“We will,” Chrysanthemum answered. The two of them walked down the stairs, with Oberen taking the lead.

 

***

 

“Damn this snowstorm,” said Shikoth, the brainless husk of a bird, as he perched on top of one of the Librarium’s warden gargoyles.

“I like it,” the gargoyle said, his stone face contorting into a grin. “Most days, it’s just hot Daystar. But snow is just fine.”

“It’s kinda hard to fly through a snowstorm, Gardya,” Shikoth said. “The snow and the cold wind messes with your feathers and aerodynamics.”

“You don’t have feathers.”

“Shut up,” Shikoth said. Just then, from below him, Oberen and Chrysanthemum stalked out, heading for the curb. “Ah, finally. Took them long enough.”

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Wake 6

Maeve and Thackeray both decided to ask for more details regarding the mission. They went across the Diwapaths — saying hi to Eyth as they passed the Library — and arrived at the Dean’s office. They knocked, first.

The door opened without anybody opening them. Thackeray and Maeve waited for the beckoning of the Dean. “Hm? Ah yes, I thought you might come. Come in.”

Thackeray nodded, and he walked first, followed by Maeve closely behind him. The doors closed shut as they walked in. “The Warlock has been taken by Avalon through unknown means, although presumably it was because of Transportation Dissonance.”

Thackeray furrowed his eyebrows together, and raised his hand.

“Sorry, Dean, please hold on a minute,” he said. “I still haven’t quite grasped the depth of what you’re asking us.”

“Right,” Maeve nodded beside him. “Do you not think that it’s a bit too dangerous to send us, newly graduated Huntsmen, to go off on such a high-level hunt in an extremely dangerous place?”

“It is,” the Dean said. He leaned back, smoothing his graying beard and hair. “That’s why I’ve assigned the both of you. You two are the best in your class, yes? No other person is more qualified than the two of you.” The Dean waved his hand, and the faintest spark of power crackled.

“Besides, all the other Huntsmen I can call upon are out on their own Hunting Quests in various parts of Oeuvre.”

Maeve bit her lip and looked down. She stepped back. Thackeray raised his hands in a questioning gesture. “How much are we to be paid? What are the rewards?”

“Lots of eagles,” the Dean said. “And perhaps we can arrange something else? Tell me,” another hand wave, and another crackle of power. Faint, undetectable. “What do you want the most in life?”

“Well,” Thackeray sighed. “I’d like to live with Maeve peacefully, somewhere in the Western cities. The more rural areas.”

Maeve turned to Thackeray, her eyes soft. The Dean nodded and turned to Maeve. “And you, Huntswoman?”

“Mine is simple,” Maeve shrugged. “I want to live fighting to protect others. It’s one of the main reasons why I purposed to become a Huntswoman in the first place.”

The Dean nodded. “Yes, yes. Two very noble and personal desires. I shall grant them both easily, as long as you return the Warlock to me alive. Do you think you can do that, for me?”

Thackeray knit his eyebrows together once again, questioning, wondering. Wondering about what? He shook his head. Wait a minute–

“Will we get provisions for the journey?” said Maeve. “Preferably weapons?”

“You will get access to the Collegium’s armory,” said the Dean. “But I suspect that you won’t need much weapons.”

“A sword or two should work,” Maeve said.

“No,” Thackeray pitched in. “If what I read from those old Avalon Tomes were to be believed, then normal weapons won’t really do much in Avalon. We’re in their reality. Their domain.”

The Dean smirked. “Very smart and learned of you, Thackeray. Indeed, your only means of defense will be Magick, as your Magick will be something that they cannot control in their domain.”

“They…?” Maeve raised an eyebrow.

“The Siddivata,” explained the Dean. “Also, avoid the Wyld Hunt, and try not to anger too many Fiagai. They work on a sort of feudal system. Don’t just go around destroying everything in a massacring rampage to find the Warlock.”

“We’re not stupid,” said Thackeray, rolling his eyes. Maeve shot the Huntsman a nervous look. The Dean smirked.

“Then all the more better,” the Dean said. “The only preparations you really do need is your Will. Lose it, and you lose your soul forever. Also, do not stay in Avalon for too long. Two days is the breaking point. Past that… well, you will forever be part of their narrative.”

Maeve winced. “Dangerous.” She breathed. “While I find it flattering that you consider us good enough for the mission, I still do not think it is a very safe mission.”

“If you would like,” said Thackeray. “You may call upon the help of more of your friends, but their lives are in your hands, not mine.”

Thackeray looked down onto the ground. Maeve turned to look at him.

“Alright,” Thackeray said, shrugging. “How do we get to Avalon?”

“That’ll be easy,” the Dean said standing up. He lifted his hand and pointed at the window. “I can open up a portal for you. Whenever you’re ready.”

“We’ll need some sort of timepiece that won’t be affected by the different reality of Avalon,” Maeve said, turning to Thackeray.

“Right, and food, maybe some medical kits for when we get injured.”

“If,” said Maeve, raising a finger and smiling smugly.

“Right,” said Thackeray. “If.”

“We head to Eyth, then?”

“He can help us, most probably.” The two Huntsmen said goodbye to the Dean, and the Dean sat back on his seat.

“You could just ask from the Repository, you know?” The Dean muttered to himself as he closed the door.

“What do you need an Unalterable Timepiece and Magickal Remedies for?” Maeve raised her eyebrow.

“Right,” Eyth said, shaking his head. “Well, my shift’s about to end. I’ll whip something up for you back in the house.”

They waited for a few moments. It wasn’t long before Eyth bounded out of the back of the Library, and the three of them walked out one of the portal chambers. They had recalibrated the portals to transport them to the parking spaces.

They walked across the large, rectangular piece of land, paved with bitumen. Eyth clambered onto the driver’s pit in front of the two-seater carriage in the back. He turned it on, and the autochariot hummed with a low sound. Soon enough, they zoomed out of the parking lot and hit the Outer Interward Highway. The black box autochariot of Eyth cruised down the wide roads alongside larger, rectangle autochariots — those built with larger carriages to haul larger and more numerous cargo than just passengers. There were also longchariots, which allowed for a crowd to fit within, serving as an alternative to commute in between Wards as well as a means to get to the place outside of Wards.

Soon, they changed lanes and entered into a spiralling road that led to the Dirah Ward.

It was called Slum City for a reason.

Imagine the Corners, but much larger. So large, in fact, that it was an entire city.

Makeshift “apartments” filled the areas in between the large roads. The daystar was setting, so the orange glow only added to the grimy aesthetic of the Dirah Ward. The apartments were actually square houses stacked atop each other, with walls made of hammered together galvanized steel plates, flimsy and brittle. Those that lived in the bottom lived the most comfortable lives, the others that lived higher up — up to thirty storeys high — had the short end of the stick. To get down from their abode, they would have to learn how to climb down acrobatically, be an anzu with wings, or install some sort of lift mechanism.

Thackeray watched as a saurian humanoid, standing at seven feet tall, with a tail permanently cut so that it didn’t destroy anything when he turned around, gripped such a lift and pulled it off of its wirings. There was a shouting from a top — an old woman. The saurian humanoid, a lakerto, paid no mind to the shouting woman. He lumbered away, and not a lot bothered to fight him to get it back.

Thackeray watched the half-closed eyes of the passerbys, of those that lived in this ward. There was a spark of fear, but otherwise, they viewed the lakerto thief as an everyday occurance. Once he turned a corner, disappearing into an alleyway in between two stacks, they went back to their daily lives.

Kids — both human and non-human — ran across the street, so bored that they played with the cars. The anzu found this game the easiest, as they could just leap into the air acrobatically, or take to the skies with their wings. Maeve winced as she saw a brown cab slam into a human kid. A belgar boy screamed in fury and ran after the driver. The driver opened the car and brought out a slugslinger, aimed it at the kid.

Maeve looked away.

Eyth turned and drove the small box autochariot into a small space that conveniently was big enough for him. They drove into a narrow road flanked with two absurdly wide and large stackhouses with a concrete bridge to connect them together, providing an arch overhead. Eyth parked the car at the end of a circular curb — a cul-de-sac — and he got out. Thackeray and Maeve followed suit.

“Mornin’ Lady Yalla,” Eyth saluted a hunched over anzu. She smiled up at Eyth, and then to Thackeray and Maeve.

“Welcome, young ones,” she said. “Hope you like your stay. I’ve done so much to keep it safe.”

Thackeray smiled. Maeve smiled as well, but that faltered when she saw the two stumps on her back.

“Her…” Thackeray gripped Maeve’s arm, and they followed Eyth up a set of stairs tacked onto the side of a wall. On the top of the stairs was a door, which Eyth unlocked with a key he produced out of thin air with a flick of his hand.

He opened the door and gestured for Maeve and Thackeray to walk in. “Timespace Workings,” he said, grinning. “They’re convenient.”

Thackeray walked in, admiring the… “view”. It was a small place, only one room. A video set on the far side — small, with a nodal antenna still connected to it. There was a mattress on the floor, and then a wooden table on the far side with a surprisingly modern desknode set up. A rectangular box, seemingly made of some sort of blue gray glass, sat beside a holographic screen and a script input device.

“How does that work anyway?” Maeve asked as they walked in. Eyth locked the door behind her.

“It’s a Timespace Manipulation Working,” Eyth said. “You make it so that every time you perform the hand gestures, it apports the keys into the drawer over there,” he said, pointing at the drawer below the desknode setup.

Thackeray walked over to it, raising an eyebrow, and opened it. Sure enough, the brass key was there.

“More experienced Magickers can Create a pocket dimension where they can put it, but I can’t really do that yet.”

“We didn’t study Timespace,” Thackeray said, closing the desk and turning to Eyth. “So that’s some interesting stuff. Might have to pick it up later on as a Graduate Class.”

Eyth nodded. “Anyway. You needed a Timepiece and a some remedial stuff?”

The Huntsmen nodded, not really sitting down or anything, since there was nothing to sit down on. Eyth gestured to the floor, and then grimaced sheepishly. “Sorry for the small place. It’s good enough for me, but that’s because I’m a dreorg.”

“It’s fine,” Thackeray said. “What surprises me is how you manage to sleep here all the time. Why not stay in the dorms like the rest of the students?”

Eyth shook his head. He didn’t answer any further. The dreorg walked up to his desknode set and began tapping sigils and navigating the Datascape.

There was a moment of silence. The occasional beeping sound and the occasional pop of air.

Then, “Okay,” Eyth said. He leaned back at the two Huntsmen, who still haven’t sat down. “I’ve made requests to the Repository to grant you a bunch of combat medicine. As for the Unalterable Timepieces… get me a couple of Timepieces and I can manipulate the Timespace within them to stay constant and tethered to the time here on Mund. I… It will take me a day or so, though.”

“It’s fine.” Thackeray smiled. “Thanks, Eyth. You’ve been a great help.”

“No worries. Go and not die.”

“We won’t.”

“Careful out there in Slum City. You want me to call for a Brown Cab?”

Maeve nodded. Eyth turned around to his desknode and typed more scripts.

They headed out then when their Cab arrived. Maeve followed Thackeray, but her eyebrows were furrowed and she pressed her lips together.

“Let’s get some food. Preferably imperishables. Maeve…?” He turned around as they stepped to the ground floor. Miss Malla was inside her home again.

Maeve looked up at Thackeray. “It’s weird.”

“What is?” Thackeray balled his hands into fists.

“Why didn’t we just ask for the remedies from the Repository?”

There was a blank moment of silence, before Maeve started giggling. Thackeray laughed along with her. “What kind of Huntsmen are we?” Maeve asked.

Thackeray shrugged. “Ones good enough to go into a top-dangerous Realm, apparently.” And with that, they entered the brown cab.

***

In the darkness of unconsciousness, Quinen awoke to memory.

Infinite Sights looked down at him as he taught. Within those rooms that had rows of semicircular long tables that rose up as it got farther from the teacher, he’d listened as intently as he could, despite the throbbing pain on his chest which he had gotten when he tried summoning a Jack Frost spirit without proper training. Every move he made jerked at his heart, as the frosts threatened to take hold of the seat of his soul once again.

“I’m sure you’ve learned your lesson by now,” Professor Sights had said. His teimach was a dull gray, his face blank and nondescript. His hair fell down to the small of his back. His teimach resembled that of watercolor paintings, brush strokes scrawling down his arms and legs and back. “And I’m also sure that you’ve learned the Fundaments of the Perfected Collegiate Theory. You should, if you want to graduate this semester.”

Quinen shivered in response.

“Don’t let the power get in your head, Quinen. That’s what separates man from god — hubris.

Quinen managed a grin, and then winced. “Who’s the hubristic one?”

Sights turned to him, blinked. His teimach was a perfect serene blue. “Why, man of course.”

Quinen shivered again. Infinite Sights sighed, and then clapped his hands together. “Since you missed the test last Eroding,” Sights began. He brought out a notebook and said, “What is the Great Mandala of Reality?”

Quinen opened his mouth, but his teeth chattered too hard. With an effort of will, he forced his teeth stop chattering by raising his body temperature a bit, reflexively calling upon the Field of Energy with a complicated finger gesture sequence he performed underneath the table. “The Mandala is the foundation of Magick. All of Reality is composed of the eight fundamental fields, which are malleable through the Techniques. The Techniques can be invoked with the Forms.”

“What are the Eight Fundamental Fields of Reality?”

“The Corporeal Fields govern the Physical World of Mund. These are Timespace, Life, Forces, and Element.

“The Ethereal Fields govern the Gossamer World of Mael. These are Destiny, Death, Mind, and Spirits.”

“The Five Techniques,” said Infinite Sights, with a monotone voice.

“Perception, Transmutation, Manipulation, Destruction, Creation, in order of difficulty and succession.”

“The Four Forms?”

“Mantra is the verbal form, incantations to channel Magick. Mudra is the gestural form, hand gestures and katas to perform Magick. Runir is written form, scripts and runes to call down Power. Yantra is the tool form, usage of tools and instruments to call upon Magick.”

“And all of this together makes…?”

“The Great Mandala.” The cold crept up to Quinen’s chest. Another Mudra to keep the heat up.

“What is this Theory of Magick called?”

“The Perfected Collegiate Theory.”

Infinite Sights never looked up from his notebook. “And is this the only true Theory of Magick.”

“No.”

“What is one of the reasons why?”

“Because this Theory cannot account for Power being drawn from other places.”

“Such as?” Now Sights tore his eyes away from the notebook’s pages and looked down his optics, at Quinen.

Quinen breathed. Another Mudra. The cold was getting stronger. He needed to rest. “Such as Avalon.”

Quinen ripped himself out of his memories as he was awakened. The world was black, blurry for a few minutes, before a cascade of light and fire and earth and wind and sounds and objects overloaded his senses. So much that he found his mind blank for a few moments.

When he came to, he blinked his eyes rapidly. He peered through the veil of lights and sounds. He found himself kneeling down, his hands and feet completely gone. He found that he was looking down upon a carpet that burned with a frozen fire. He followed the length of the carpet until his eyes set upon a throne made of inert wood, of growing steel.

And sitting atop it, was Zinnia, her emerald eyes glinting, her true form menacing. A moving, voluptuous tree with hair made of liquid snakes, with bark moving ever so superfluously, made of zephyr winds. She wore a gown made of dancing flames, shining darkness.

“Welcome, Warlock.”

Wake 5

Chrysanthemum shook her head as the autochariot drove down the wide streets of Throne. They took another brown cab, leaving the Dirah Ward and heading for the Crihilox Ward. The Dirah Ward was to the South of the Cathedra Ward, which housed the Spires. The Crihilox Ward lay directly to the right of the Dirah Ward.

Oberen and Chrysanthemum rode within the autochariot cab. It was shaped like a box, with a smaller box in front that housed the driver. There was a hatch that allowed them to see the driver’s box. They paid by inserting eagles into the cup beside the hatch, and it transmogrified the coins into energy, as well as dissipating some of its data into the Datascape, so that the cab driver could expect his money in his Scape bank account.

“Why did you start learning Magick, Oberen?” Chrys asked. She sat on her side, while Oberen sat on the other side. She had changed her clothes, now wearing a dark blue hoodie that and a t-shirt that belonged to Quinen underneath. The white shirt spilled out from under her hoodie. She wore her short, glowing pink hair in a tight knot on top of her head. She had resorted to wearing denim trousers and ulrics. Ulric being a brand of shoe known for their low cut sneakers and general “antiquated” aesthetic.

Oberen sat on the other side wearing a white dress shirt and black dress pants. His tousled, curling black hair seemed to frame his face, causing his sea green eyes to look brighter than it was.

“Well,” Oberen smiled. “That’s a rather difficult question, isn’t it? I’m guessing you want the short answer.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I want the long one.”

Oberen sighed. “Alas, I can’t, Chrys.” He gestured to the window outside. The brown cab they were in turned a corner, and they drove into a wide street that had a long pedestrian lane on both ends of it. To the cab’s left was a large brick wall opened up by a large, blacksteel gate. Past it, once can see the marble columns and shiny marble tiles of the Adonisian Academy of Erudition. To the right, one would see long, rectangular building made of adamant and it glowed subtly gold with the reinforcements of orichalcum.

The adamant ore used to construct it gave it a gray-steel basalt look. It looked like a monument for learning. The two large glass doors made of the hardest materials stood stalwart on top of a tall flight of wide stairs.

“Why?” Chrys asked as the brown cab stopped.

“Because we’re here, in the Library.”

The two of them stepped out from the cab. This entire time, the world outside had been an almost depressing mix of gray and white — the gray overcast of the gloom clouds mixing with the cascading light snow. As they stepped out, Oberen held out a hand. “Snowstorm, maybe?”

“Snowstorm…” Chrysanthemum looked up. “Is that bad?”

“Usually, yes,” Oberen grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand prompting a gasp from her. He hauled her into the library.

 

The glass doors shuddered open, and there was the tinkling of welcome chimes. “Welcome to the Librarium Soph!” A sound from beside them. “Otherwise known as the Throne Library.”

Chrysanthemum turned to the right to see three different women sat behind a marbletop counter. The damnedest thing about them, Chrsyanthemum decided, was that they all looked the same. Each woman had brown hair that framed their face like a, well, a frame. Each one of them had green eyes, perfectly white teeth, and a fair complexion. Each one of them also had a mole underneath their right eye. The three of them wore a black vest over a white shirt. The emblem of the Library — an opened book with a tongue of flame within a shield crest — was knit onto the right chest of the Library.

Oberen walked up to the third one, farthest from the door. Each one of them had a plaque on top of the counter in front of them. The first one had “Library Help” inscribed onto it. Another had “Other Services”. The one Oberen walked up to had “Information Area”.

Chrys furrowed her eyebrows at the labels.

“Hello!” the girl said as Oberen neared her. Chrysanthemum didn’t need to follow — she found that she’d been holding his hand the entire time. “May I help you with information?”

“I need some information about the Siddivata.”

The girl’s smile didn’t falter. With a practiced motion, she gestured to the Library Help girl. “If you need help looking for books in the Library, please go to the Library Help woman for more info!”

“No,” Oberen said. He released his grasp from Chrysanthemum and put his palm down. With a discreet movement, he pushed his Vedina medallion to the girl. “I’m a Student Magicker from the Collegium. I need information of more esoteric origins.”

The girl’s smile never faded, as if it had been stapled onto her face. “Then if you are a member of the Collegium, I would suggest heading over to their Librarium!”

“I need help from an expert, dammit,” Oberen said. “Look, call up Uthurja, and tell her that Oberen’s here to ask something important. She knows me.”

The smile never faltered, but the girl nodded. She reached down under the counter top. After a few digital beeping noises, she spoke. “Miss Uthurja, there’s someone here to see you. A Student Magicker named Oberen. Should I apprehend or…?” She paused. Her eyes flickered over to Oberen, and then to Chrysanthemum.”

“She’s with me,” Oberen said.

“Yes? Yes. Okay.” The woman straightened and looked at Oberen. Her smile was unfailing. “You may go to the Madam’s room. Please work clandestinely.”

“I will.” Oberen said. He waved, plucked his Vedina medallion and shoved it into his pocket. He grasped Chrysanthemum’s hand again, as if he were afraid of her suddenly turning into mist and then running away, and they walked down the length of the long Library. They walked down left the carpet that cut in between stacks and coffee tables and reading chairs, known as “Reading Sites” in the Librarium. Within, one could see the multitudes of students from the Academy, tapping away on lapnodes as they gulped down bucketloads of caffeine and tea and reading books. Some of them talked but mostly in hushed tones. They wore long robes that reached their knees, that had large yawning sleeves, and hoods. Perfect for the weather. Some of them kept a Tass battery with them, to power their nodes or their heatshirts.

Oberen knew how those heatshirts worked. There would be a Runir — a magickal script that envoked the Fields — that they would knit onto the shirt. Then, there would be a transmogrifier device knit somewhere that would make it look fashionable. On their backs, on the back of their hands, on their chests. Then, the transmogrifier device — which had its own supply of Tass, although it could use Tass from external sources — would transmogrify the Tass into Diwa, thus powering the sigil with Magickal Power. The sigil would then activate, causing a low, comfortable blanket of heat to materialize from the shirt.

“Create Forces,” Oberen found himself muttering. “Likhjana Takatun.”

“Hm?” Chrysanthemum had to skip a bit to match Oberen’s stride.

“That’s the Ascendant Speech for Create Forces,” he said. “It’s the Mantra of the Runir, so to speak.”

“Hmmm?” Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side. Oberen smiled and shook his head.

 

They reached the end of the hallway, reaching the comfort rooms, and they turned right. They followed down the path until it reached a point that said — in floating Neon lights that hung in mid-air, as if someone had picked up a neon pencil and had written on the darkness — “NO ENTRY WITHOUT PERMISSION”.

Oberen raised his hand and it met the floating scrawling neon ink as they walked through it. It diffused under his touch, but as they walked past, it congealed into the words once again.

The two of them walked down the increasingly darker path until they reached a dead end. Oberen closed his eyes, muttered something indiscernible, and he commanded Magick. When he opened his eyes, two circular mandalas burst into iridescent material in front of his eyes. The wall in front of them burned with Magick, and he saw the runir etched onto the front of the wall. He deciphered it in a quick second, and with a hand, he reached for the curving runir on the lower left, and then the far north, and then the center. He muttered, “Sa-java-dakon.”

The wall shuddered, and Oberen closed his eyes. The mandalas dissipated into motes of Diwa. “Open when order correct.”

“How?” Chrysanthemum watched with amazement as the wall disappeared, folding in on itself, disregarding the rules of space. “How did you do that?”

“Uthurja is skilled in Magicks,” Oberen said. “She used Narrow Runir to achieve a specific Effect. Something novices like me wouldn’t be able to understand. Luckily, I’m an ace in Runir Classes.”

He smiled. Chrysanthemum watched as the wall revealed a stone staircase spiralling up into a level above. “Come,” said Oberen. Chrysanthemum skipped in front of him, and dashed up the flight of stairs.

“Hey! Wait!” Oberen dashed after the fickle Siddivata — this child was an actual alien being? Oberen scoffed at the thought — until they both emerged into a room at the end of the stone staircase.

It was a circular room, which seemed to suggest that they’re in the spire-like structure that jutted oddly out of the end of the rectangular Library. High up above, they could see — even Chrysanthemum — multicolored Runir bouncing about, phasing through glowglobes that floated lazily to the points in the room where the darkness was the greatest.

The walls of the room were decorated with shelves and stacks of books, tomes, and magickal charms. “Whoa,” Chrysanthemum said as her gaze caught sights of tentacles made of shadow, lightning sealed into a bottle, an eyeball made of mooncrystal, and a blade of grass that changed color every few seconds.

Her gaze settled upon a being in the middle of it all. Round optics nested atop her ursine muzzle. Her fur was a gray that bordered on blue. Dark blue ink scrawled about her, similar to Chrysanthemum, decorating her in tribal curves and wicked geometries. She wore a large robe similar to the robes the students were wearing downstairs, only this one was made of some kind of different material. It shone and glittered a bright blue, but it seemed to be made of silk.

When they burst into her room, she stood, reached for a gnarled wood staff she had implanted onto the wooden floor. She turned around, revealing a menacing ursine face with eyes dark blue — colder than Oberen’s. When she saw Chrys and Oberen, she squinted through her optics.

“Why,” she began. “If it isn’t little Oberen.” Her voice was basso, but melodious.

“Hello, Master Uthurja,” Oberen said, slowly, reverently. He inclined his head in a bow.

“Oh shut up,” she said, waving a clawed hand that had thumbs. “No need for reverences and masters here. Only Magickers. C’mere.”

Oberen grinned. He walked up to the bearwoman and jumped up to hug her. Chrysanthemum decided it looked like falling onto a fluffy fur carpet. And so she ran up to her and hugged her too.

“Oh! Haha. Who’s this little lady you’ve brought?” She set Oberen down, and grabbed Chrys with both hands. She held her up as if she were some ten year old child. “Don’t tell me…? I thought you liked boys.”

Oberen snickered. “I do. She’s just a friend of mine that I like to help out.”

Uthurja furrowed her eyebrows. She closed her eyes, muttered three indiscernible words, and opened her eyes. Five mandals exploded from both of her eyes, blossoming out like an intricate arcane chrysanthemum. They shone incandescent iridescence, and she peered into Chrysanthemum’s very being.

Oberen had seen Uthurja do it more than once, and it’s something he wants to be able to do as well. The Magicker’s Sight was a powerful thing, but to be able to see past just Magickal Semblances, one would have to hone it. Uthurja was known — among many other things — as the Spirit-Seeker. This is one of the reasons why.

The blossoming mandala dissipated into Diwa a few moments later. She set Chrysanthemum down gently, and then she walked over to a large, velvet chair. She fell onto it, clutching her head, and removing her optics. “My dear Oberen,” she began. She turned to Oberen, and her eyes were bloodshot, veined with red. “What have you brought me?”

Wake 4

The airship lurched. There was a loud, screeching noise. One akin to pressure seeping out of a tank. The difference was that sounds that resembled chimes accompanied the whistling noise.

Knight Vigilant Rexza turned around to look at the human. “What’s going on?”

The human didn’t answer. His eyes went wide as he turned and ran up the stairs to the captain’s room. Rexza cursed, turning and following after him. With her large gait, she cleared four steps of stairs with one stride.

As the human burst into the captain’s room, Rexza followed in. The captain’s room had a table in the middle, upon which a navigational skychart floated around in holographic images. The captain himself, wearing a four cornered hat and showing off a braided hair and beard combination, turned to the human as he hurtled in.

“It seems we’ve got a case of parasites,” said the captain, his voice so low and growl-ish that Rexza was surprised it came from a human.

The captain noticed her, and then the mantle she wore. “Vigilant. I am Captain Hamoya.”

“Knight Vigilant Rexza,” Rexza replied, with a curt nod. “Problem?”

“Pirates,” said the Captain, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “One small ship — a skyjunk, it seems from the visual feed.” And as he said that, a holographic screen popped out from the tabletop. The tabletop itself seemed to be composed of various crystalline glass nodes that have wires connected to somewhere within the inner workings of the ship.

Rexza watched as a junk powered by what seems to be more classical means of achieving shipflight attacked the large, protected engine of the ship. On the far back side is the circular transmogrifier, wherein a large sphere of Tass is stored. The pirates have launched harpoons that have punctured the glass sphere of Tass.

The pirates were readying for another shot. Rexza watched as crewmates of her own ship came across the starboard and pulled out slugslinger rifles, aiming at the junk’s sails. Rexza frowned — that wouldn’t do a thing.

“If the pirates managed to puncture the Transmogrifier Engine, we’ll be easy pickings.”

Rexza turned and walked out before he finished saying that sentence.

She followed the path down the large ship, until she saw the throngs of men firing their rifles and using the side of the ship as a barrier. Rexza ran. She ran on all fours, the belgar might strengthening her.

“Where are they?” she growled. The human she was speaking to jumped at her voice, but otherwise turned and pointed.

Right beneath them, firing at the ship and readying the harpoon once again, was the pirate’s junk. Rexza saw a crewmember get hit by a flying slug. She cursed as he fell backwards, blood spreading.

Humans have always been so fragile.

She breathed, inhaling as deep as possible, and with her large lungs that was very deep. Rexza clenched her fists, and as she exhaled, as she unclenched every muscle in her body, she launched straight up into the air.

She spun around in the sky, falling down, down, and straight past the passenger ship and toward the skyjunk. She released her claws, making a harsh, wicked sound as they burst out from the tips of her fingers. She used the sails of the junk to ease her fall down, slicing the sails clean into ten parts. There were shouts of horror and surprise, and Rexza didn’t let them get the better of her.

She leapt off the sail midway down, dropping onto the quarter deck where she clawed down the pirate manning the steering ship. Three others in the quarter deck with her. She reached for one with her leg, kicking him, and she used the momentum of that quick to lift herself to the air, spun, and brought a claw down onto another. The third one raised a slugshot and fired, and it rang hollow against Rexza’s lune-iron armor.

The Knight Vigilant cursed in irritation as she turned. She went down on one hand and spun in a move that resembled a breakdance maneuver, and her lune-iron shoe slammed the pirate off of the junk ship and sent him plunging to the endless blue below.

She turned to the rest of the crew. Judging from the slight bristling of her hairs, there were Kifetic Dwarfoturgists causing this ship to stay afloat. It wasn’t powered by Transmogrifiers. Her gaze swept the entire deck. She saw thirty crew members, two harpoon launchers, a dozen swords, axes, and slugslingers, and a man with white hair brandishing a thin rapier. They were all humans.

But no Dwarfoturgists. Or so she thought.

Rexza stepped up to the deck, and she bellowed, “Allow safe passage for this passenger ship!” Her gravelly voice echoed throughout their spirits.

The man with the white hair and the rapier shook his head. “Or what?”

“Or I will be forced to show you the promise of a Knight Vigilant’s Protection.”

The white-haired man shook his head. He raised a hand, which was formed into an intricate hand gesture. He shouted out a snarling word, and then moved the hand in a star-like motion, as if creating a polgyon in the air in front of him.

There was a silent slash of stagnancy, before a huge gout of electricity exploded from the air in front of him and slammed straight into Rexza’s chest. She heard sizzling as the lune-iron kept the electricity from shocking her, and kept the static to itself. It was lune-iron, not normal steel. It didn’t conduct electricity.

But the pain and the force of the impact were all there. She was sent hurtling backwards, smashing against the gunwale of the ship. Rexza cursed, forcing herself up. She saw the white haired man perform another hand gesture in front of him, and he launched into mid-air, as if bending the dwarfic force underneath him.

He then landed on the ship’s quarter deck in front of Rexza. “Severi Cerva,” he said, grinning. His moustache was black, as were his eyebrows. “And I am the Captain of the Silverwing Fish. Please, say hello to Kirahl for me when you reach Hell.”

Rexza grinned. “Don’t let your guard down, Captain.”

Severi raised an eyebrow.

Rexza snorted again. “You’ve never met a Knight Vigilant before, have you?” And then she followed that up with a quick muttering. “Seven-Headed Dragon Style: Head 5 — Most Excellent Alacrity.”

She was gone.

Severi stepped back, and bumped onto the steering wheel. He raised his rapier, and another hand he raised a hand gesture — a Mudra. He performed another sign in the air, and a ball of flame erupted around his hand.

He turned around when he heard the sound of one of his men gasp.

 

Rexza reappeared in the middle of the ship, amidst the thirty men that were foolish enough not to leave at the first mention of a Knight Vigilant. When she reappeared, she reappeared with the force of a hurricane. The wooden floor splintered about her, wind billowed like a bursting bubble.

Rexza didn’t waste time. Methodically, she flickered to the nearest man and punched, turned to the next and kicked, flickered again and ten of them were down. The most foolish of the twenty had the brilliant idea to fire a slug at Rexza.

The shot hit the gunwale of the ship. The man who fired the shot fell to the ground.

Rexza examined her pointer finger’s claw, which was soaked in blood.

The nineteen men that were left all turned to each other.

“What are you doing!” Severi shouted. “Kill her!”

Seven-Headed Dragon Style: Head 2 — Breath of the Beast.” She turned in midair, and then opened her palm. A gout of flame burst from it, a multicolored incandescence of destruction. It washed over half of the remaining men, and the other half started running.

“Bitch!” shouted Severi. He jumped down to the deck as it cleared of men.

Rexza cocked her head to the side. She didn’t have any pups yet.

Severi threw the ball of fire he had been holding in his right hand, and Rexza stepped backward. “Seven-Headed Dragon Style: Head 7 — Perfect Manipulation of Secrets.” She invoked another form of the Martial Art, and she caught the ball of fire that hurtled toward her. She performed an intricate redirection kata that ended up with her throwing the ball of fire away from the junk and the passenger ship and it exploding far off.

She turned, and Severi stepped forward, grinning widely as he lunged with his blade. “Die!”

Calmly, Rexza stepped back. A deliberate, full-footed step that grounded her. With one paw she turned away the incoming rapier, and then with another planted a palm firmly into the chest of the human.

Severi opened his mouth to shout something, but Rexza pushed with the paw she had laid on his chest. He stumbled backward, and Rexza continued. A punch, two punches to the solar plexus, a quick cracking elbow to the chin, liquidly turning into a low kick.

And in the breath of time between his launching into the air and his falling to the ground. In the split second in midair, Rexza muttered, “Draconic Fury Assault.” And she launched a final punch.

Diwa burst out in multicolored strokes of light from her fist as Severi crashed to the cabin underneath the quarterdeck. A hole in his chest indicated that he was very much not alive anymore.

She turned around, and saw that most of the crew had jumped off on hang gliders. The skyjunk lurched as it slowly capsized in the air and fell out of the sky. Rexza, on all fours, ran up across the starboard, up to its gunwale, and she jumped into the sky.

She spread her hands out like wings, and said, “Seven-Headed Dragon Style: Form 4 — Exalted Wings of the Drake.”

The winds obeyed her command, rushing up her and sending her up across the sky. The winds let her ride their current, and she rose up, and up, and up to the deck of the passenger ship.

She sighed in relief as she touched the steel deck. “Is everyone alright?”

The human crewmembers all nodded. In the periphery of the belgar knight, she saw tall spires and neon lights piercing away the night sky, like a watercolor painting slowly being drawn to life. She turned, and her eyes widened. Throne City.

 

Wake 3

…DEATHANDDESTRUCTIONSEEKSTHEWARLOCKTHESEVIOLENTDELIGHTSHOUNDSTHEEINTHINESOULSANDDREAMSDONOTCOMPREHENDFORFENDTHEDEADGODS…

came the incomprehensible babbling of the Wyld Hunt. Quinen sprinted, huffing, balling his hands into fists. His footsteps thumped against the grass — red, blue, green, yellow, indigo, orange.

He reached the tree. Up close, Quinen could see that the leaves hung low from their branches, as long as his arms. They glinted viridian and silver. Quinen wove through the low-hanging leafblades, wincing as the blades lacerated his being. His soul screamed in pain.

THOUDOSTENGAGEINSENSELESSPURSUITSWHYDOSTTHOUATTEMPTTOESCAPETHEINEVITABLEYOURSTUBBORNNESSWILLDESTROYDECIMATEANNIHILATEYOUINTHEENDWHYDOSTTHOURUNFROMINEVITABILITYINTOFUTILITY…

Quinen turned around to face the Wyld Hunt. From behind the curtain of leafblades, he could see the army of shadow figures atop a host of beasts. Each one was different — one scampered on five feet. Instead of paws or hooves it stood on blades. The beast didn’t have a head. Another steed resembled a hunched over man, carrying a bulbous Wyld Huntsman on his back. His white beard fell to the floor and trailed after him like a river of silver. Antlers sprouted from where his arms should be, and that was where the large obese fey riding atop him held him and steered him.

Quinen winced. He called deep into his Soul, Willing Power to come to him. Do not doubt, he thought. Do not fear. Fear is the opposite of power. Will Reality.

He willed Power from the Field of Energies to come down and answer him, forming it into a gigantic gust of tempestuous flurry that would knock the blades off of the glass branches and straight into the Wyld Hunt. He screamed as he used up the last of his Soul.

Quinen’s Soul exploded with radiant light as the Field of Energies flurried into the Realm of Avalon. He grimaced as pain lanced through his Soul, but he felt the building storm. He felt it bubbling beneath the surface of his power. All that was needed left was to direct it.

Quinen flung his arms forward, and shouted defiantly. The Wyld Hunt stopped in their tracks, looking at him with eyeless, featureless faces. Thunder rolled from his soul. A powerful wind blasted from behind him, his Soul flickering from the force. The blades flailed wildly on their hinges, before they burst from their branches, hurtling straight for the Hunt.

Some of the blades struck true, stabbing a round, obese gut. That Huntsman looked down, featureless face and body made of unilluminable darkness bleeding out some sort of iridescent smoke. It looked up at Quinen, and then fell. Slumped to the floor, it exploded into a mist of incandescent, showering colors.

Quinen paused, grinned. Even that faltered away when a Huntsman in an armor that seemed to have the entire night sky within its alloy stepped off from its steed: a lion-headed, eleven footed dragon. It moved with a certain grace — something akin to a shadow slinking across a wall. It stopped, halfway between the tree and from its host, and it raised its hands.

The blades that circled about their branches and the wind that still blew from behind Quinen, stopped. Everything snapped stagnant, as if its word had paused their dance. It lowered its hands, and the wind died. The swords fell to the ground, blades first, so that they struck the multi-colored grass, steel spires jutting out of the earth.

The Huntsman turned to Quinen. It stepped forward, and then another, and then it was in front of the Warlock.

Quinen flinched back. His flaring Soul died down back into a low glow.

The Huntsman raised a hand.

…THESEVIOLENTDELIGHTSDELIGHTMEDELIGHTYOUDELIGHTUSWEWILLNOTKILLYOUBUTWHATWEWILLBRINGYOUISARGUABLYINDUBITABLYPOSITIVELYETHALFLYWORSEMOREMOROSEMOREMACABRETHANEXTINCTION…

The Huntsman’s hand flurried toward Quinen. All became black.

***

Captain Urie and the anzu Gharth took the electric lift. It zoomed down to the underground parking lot of the Spire they were in. “It seems that the Dean needs a proper, personal visit before he gets off his ass to do anything.”

Gharth didn’t reply, air circulating through his hollow bones. Urie grunted as the doors opened and stepped forth. “Have you got your sword ready, Gharth?”

The anzu nodded, keeping his wings folded close to him, folded about him like a cloak. He was just as tall as Captain Urie, which was saying something. Urie stood at six-five.

Urie walked up to the autochariot. Its wheels made of rubber, its sleek rectangular body colored the blackest of blacks. The Transmogrifier engine was tucked underneath the autochariot, and it was shaped similarly to chariots in the older ages — a driver’s chamber in front, and a box carriage that contained the passengers behind it.

Urie brought up his palmnode and tapped the side of the driver’s carriage with it. It lit up, the Transmogrifier engine underneath it working its magick. It glowed a bright blue as the Transmogrifier burned the residual Tass within. The front driver’s chamber swung open, revealing a steering wheel and other such controls. Urie jumped into it, placing his node onto the navigator’s depression beside the steering wheel. It glowed brightly as Gharth opened the door to the passenger box and sat within.

“Collegium of Throne,” said Urie, and the autochariot sped off, turning sharply, and then moving at forty miles per hour, it went into the road. It drove without being steered.

There was fortunately no traffic on the way to the Collegium. Urie switched to manual as he parked the car in the lot underneath the floating buildings of the Collegium. They got out, walked up to the Celestial Lions that blocked the swirling star portal, and Urie frowned. His gruff, bearded face looked rather tired when he spoke to the heavenly guardians. “Captain Urie of the Naphli. We’re here to speak with the Dean. Hakumatheia.”

The Celestial Lion looked down at him, flowing star mane and intense starfire eyes burning into Urie’s soul. The captain stood defiant, raising an eyebrow. The Celestial Lion then opened its mouth, and it rang hollowly — as if somebody within.

“OBSERVE THE RULES OF THE COLLEGIUM,” it said. And then, it returned to its upright sitting position. Gharth had been looking at the other Celestial Lion on the other side of the portal all this time — it didn’t move, although its starfire eyes seemed to gaze into Gharth.

“Let’s go,” said Urie. Gharth turned and followed the Captain into the portal.

The portal vomited the Naphli out into the Dean’s room. Urie and Gharth stumbled into the carpeted floor. Gharth was able to regain his balance much quicker than the bulky, lumberous brick of a man that was Urie.

Hakumatheia sat behind his wooden desk, writing. When the two Naphli stumbled in, he raised an eyebrow, released the pen he had used to write, and it floated off to join its orbiting brothers above the inkwell.

“And what brings you here, dear Naphli?”

Urie retched, but nothing came out. He shook his head. “Damned portals,” he said. He blinked a bit, and then walked up to the chair. The Naphli captain sat.

“Yes, you may,” said the Dean, bemused.

“Let’s cut the pretexts shall we?” Urie said, sitting upright now. He shook his head again. Gharth walked over beside Urie, keeping his talons on the starsteel sword slung across his hip. His wing-cloak covered his tic. “A ‘Warlock’ has been detected. Some sort of Magickal Incursion. Incursions don’t happen much, Dean Hakumatheia.”

The Dean looked down on his wooden desk. He spoke without moving, “Yes. I would know.”

“Unless one of your students has racked up enough Dissonance to burst themselves into a Dissonant Realm.”

The Dean nodded this time, silent.

“And it comes to my attention that a student only registered as a ‘Warlock’ has been the center of such a Magickal Incursion,” said Urie. He turned to the anzu next to him. “Isn’t that right, Gharth?”

Before Gharth could reply, the Dean spoke. “The Warlock: Quinen Argist has been the victim of a terrible Rupturing. Transportation.”

“Ah,” Urie said, nodding. “Well that confirms my suspicions. That would be all. I’ve only come because you wouldn’t answer my bloody call.”

“My palmnode broke, Captain,” said the Dean, smiling now.

“Better get it fixed then. Being one of the most powerful Magickers in Throne is bound to get you a lot of contacts, so best not to keep them waiting.” There was an edge to the Captain’s answer.

“But there is one slight problem,” the Dean spoke. “This Transportation was an unusual one.”

The Captain sighed. “I’m no fucking Magicker, Hakumatheia. How would I know if it were unusual or not?”

“Well,” the Dean breathed through his nose. His beard flared. “When one is the subject of a Transportation Rupture, then you would be sent to a Traverse that seemed connected somewhat to whatever spell you’ve been doing. As if Reality itself was telling you that all the Magick you’ve been doing is too much an affront to it.”

“Our Warlock…” the Dean pressed his lips together. “Seems to have gotten himself Transported not to a Traverse, but to a different Stratum of Reality entirely.”

Urie raised an eyebrow. “Get on with it.”

“Quinen Argist has been transported to Avalon.”

Urie looked at the Dean, knitting his eyebrows together. “Are you fuckin’ serious? That’s not safe! Avalon might wage war or… or worse!”

“Calm yourself, Captain,” the Dean said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve already sent two of my best Huntsmen to retrieve the Warlock from the Stratum.”

“And? What good is that going to do? Avalon, by God. We need to contact the Vigilant.”

“No need,” the Dean waved his hand. There was a slight flicker of power in the Dean’s eyes. “My Huntsmen are the best in their line of work. Tracking the Warlock down and getting him is going to be as easy as picking an egg from an avine’s nest.”

Urie breathed. Gharth looked to Urie, and then to the Dean, nodding. “Okay,” said Urie. “Hrm. Alright. Get your damn node fixed, okay?” He jabbed a finger to Hakumatheia. “Out.”

The Naphli Captain stood from his seat and walked back through the portal in which he came from. The anzu followed suit, pausing once to look at the Dean, who smiled at Gharth.

A beat passed. Wind blew in from outside — a cold snowy draft. The Dean closed his eyes, and the windows closed shut.

Then a laugh pierced the silence. “Hooey boy, boss!”

The Dean frowned. “Who let you out of your cage?”

“It’s my free day today, you forget?” An impish creature hopped up to the desk. It was… well it was a skull. An extremely designed and painted on skull, covered in runes and sigils carved into the yellow bone, yet it was an otherwise ordinary anzu skull. Except for the wings on the sides, of course, but that was another matter.

The bony wings fluttered, and it somehow got the skull off of the desk and up into the air. “Oh man. I heard everything you said to that Naph and to my livin’ brotha’. Lyin’ so openly to them.”

The Dean shook his head. “The Siddivata must be hunted down.” Hakumatheia leaned back into his chair. There was an edge of exasperation to his tone. “Else she will awaken to her true power, and ravage Throne City.”

“And the Warlock, hm?”

“A wild card,” said the Dean. “That’s been taken care of. Navarre Thackeray and De Laqua Maeve, though both exemplary, will not make it out alive from Avalon. They will fail, as intended. I’ve already sent word to one of the Knights Vigilant that there is a Siddivata loose in Throne City. They should come back in a few days.”

“God’s fiery spit, you are cruel, Hakky!”

The Dean groaned. “Better make yourself useful, Shikoth. Spy on the whereabouts of the Siddivata. Make sure she isn’t doing anything that would get her more power. Or worse – remember who she is.”

The anzu skull, long beaked, and with wide eyeholes, twirled around in glee. “Will do, Hakky-baby!” Shikoth paused. “Er, what if she is up to no good?”

“Report back to me,” said the Dean. “And I’ll make sure that Vigilant gets here faster.”

“Gotchu, gotcha!” Shikoth twirled around again. “Open the window and let me free!”

“Do you want your whole body?”

Shikoth turned to the Dean, mouth agape in awe. “Can I…” ephemera resembling tears welled up from his eyes. “Can I really?”

“Yes yes,” the Dean waved. As he did, Power flickered, and from somewhere within the infinite spaces and vectors of his room, a completed skeleton of an anzu popped out. Roughly six feet tall, with six limbs — two of which were large wings. Its bones were light as feathers, but within the bones glowed something orange, as if a fire had been ignited within.

Shikoth did another somersault in the air, and it landed on the head of the skeleton. The skeleton danced jauntily after a few moments of complete stillness. “I feel alive again!”

Another wave of a hand, and a black cloak flew out from within the confines Hakumatheia’s room and draped itself over the skeletal anzu. “Don’t get caught.”

“Will do!” said Shikoth. It walked over to the window and blasted it open. It folded its skeletal wings within its shadowy cloak, concealing its entire body. It then stepped off of the window and into the Nymph night. Snow flurried Shikoth’s cloak, and when it spread its wings, the cloak billowed free.

And, against all known laws of physics, the skeletal anzu flew through the snow.

***

Upon a brass ship shaped like a triangle rode one of the Knights Vigilant. She sat with her back hunched over. Her body covered in sleek brown-red fur. Her hand-claws and feet-claws polished to a point, which she promptly retracted when she saw a scared human boy point at it.

She shook her head, her muzzle clean and groomed. Her large, pink nostrils flared. She blinked, and her feline eyes pierced through the darkness of the lounge, only illuminated by the faint glow-lights that lined the walls. She rode upon an economic transport ship, so she had to ride with other people, which she didn’t prefer.

She stood from her seat, walking over to a door that slid open. Outside was the cloudy gray of the sky beginning to open up floodgates of Nymph-snow. She walked out onto the balcony that overlooked the sky itself. The air was chilly, but she’d lived near Yxis before. Her fur could withstand all kinds of cold.

She turned and walked up the side of the balcony, her amorphous lune-iron armor adapting to her shape so that she moved unimpeded. Over the silvery armor she wore an asymmetrical mantle that covered her right shoulder more than the left, with a brooch that clasped the two parts of the mantle together. The brooch glowed with a self created blue light. The light glowed through a symbol of three swords crossed, pointing upward and wrapped around by a steel laurel.

The symbol of the Knights Vigilant.

She inhaled. Cold air filled her lungs. “Do what others cannot, what others will not, what others must not.” She muttered the mantra of the Vigilant. Her voice was low and guttural, yet otherwise had a feminine tone to it, light and melodic.

When she opened her eyes, there was a short man in front of her, smiling up at her. No, he wasn’t short. She was just tall. She stood around seven-five, the man was probably six feet in height.

“Vigilant Rezxa?”

Rezxa nodded.

“We are to land soon. Please stay seated inside the ship. Thank you.”

Vigilant Rexza nodded, turned, and walked into the ship, sparing one last glance at the clouds, which looked like the calm before the storm.

Wake 2

Navarre Thackeray walked up to the podium when his name was called. A distringuished, well-suited man smiled at him. Wrinkles flanked his eyes. Thackeray strode forth and bent down as the old man hung a medallion about his neck. A medallion of an octagonal shape, within the polygon were a cross and an “x”. The Vedina.

“Navarre Thackeray,” the announcer behind him boomed, using the voice-enhancer device which resembled a black flat stick. “First Class. Officially a Hunstman.”

The crowd before him cheered. Navarre smiled, waved his hand.

He turned and walked down the podium. De Laqua Maeve — wearing a simple white shirt and black pants, with a cloth black jacket overlaying the outfit — jaunted over to him and encircled her arms around his neck. Navarre hugged her back.

“Good job, Thack,” she said. She smiled. Her Vedina medallion also shone.

Thackeray shrugged. “All in a day’s work.”

“Well,” Maeve smiled. “More like four year’s worth of work.”

Thackeray chuckled. “Let’s get?”

She nodded.

The two of them walked out of the auditorium of the Collegium, leaving the rest of the graduates to their own desires. Thackeray and Maeve hadn’t planned on finishing the entire ceremony. It was on the zenith hour, after all, which meant they had skipped lunch.

They never skipped lunch.

They took the stairs down from the tenth floor of the structure, and walked into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was mostly populated by empty chairs and tables, with a few students on their breaks grabbing a bite as well. Thackeray and Maeve walked over to the chair and table set on the far corner, behind a concrete pillar.

“They couldn’t get your name right again, couldn’t they?” Maeve snorted.

Thackeray shrugged. “Well, I never told them the right way to pronounce it.”

“It’s Na-vah-rey, right?” she said, tentative.

“Yeah,” he said. “But I don’t care anymore. What should we get to eat?”

“Anything,” Maeve said, letting the side of her head hit the table. “I’m hungry.”

“Aren’t you on a diet?”

She shrugged. With her head on the table, it was a funny gesture. “Diets be damned, we graduated.”

Thackeray grinned. “Yeah. Right right. Graduated, huh,” he leaned into his chair. “Kind of great, that. I wonder if we’ll get a Contract soon.”

“Hopefully,” Maeve said. She picked her palmnode from her pocket and began scrolling through it. “I’m moving out, soon. I need to get enough money for the rents.”

“Why not just stay in the Dirah Ward?”

“Slum City?” Maeve angled her head to look up at Thackeray. She raised a delicate, groomed eyebrow. “I hope you’re joking.”

“I don’t get what’s so bad about Slum City,” a voice resonated behind the pillar. The source of the voice emerged a second later — a dreorg about the height of Thackeray’s waist. His hair was tousled, curly, and he wore the scholarly robes of an Apprentice-Librarian: embellished gold threads upon green and brown silk that cascaded down to their knees. From the way the silk reflected the light, though, it was synthetic. “I’ve been living there for the past two months. Nothing bad’s ever happened.” He smiled, and his flopping ears perked up a bit, reminiscent of a rabbit.

Maeve perked up, grinning. Thackeray chuckled. “Hey, Eyth.”

“Eyth!” she said. “Glad you could make it.”

He shrugged. “Wouldn’t miss messing up your lunch dates,” he said. He grinned through his square optics. Underneath one small arm, he carried a book that would’ve been half his weight. His tail, tipped with an orange ore, curved about, flailing and wispy like seaweed in the ocean.

He slammed the leather-bound tome on the table. He whispered a word, and he crossed his legs as he began to rise up into the air, as if riding on some invisible chair. “Congratulations, meat-heads.” Eyth smiled.

“Why, thank you Eyth,” Thackeray said. “I’ve never known you to be the congratulatory type.”

“Well becoming a Huntsman is a particularly stressing undertaking,” said Eyth. “Congratulations are in order.”

“How’s the books going?” Maeve asked.

Eyth shrugged. “All well, all good. Switched over to reading Fiction for this one.” He placed a finger on the leather bound book. “A Rhapsody of Frost and Flame,” he said. “Fascinating world-building. Great overall story. Confusing way of telling it.”

Thackeray shrugged. Maeve was a bit more interested. “Ooh, tell me more about it.”

“I can’t,” he said, shrugging. “It’s an experience. You have to experience it. The plot is hard to explain anyways, because of the multiple point-of-views.”

“Ouch, multiple perspectives?” Maeve shuddered. “Tap out.”

Eyth nodded. “Indeed. Anyway, isn’t Thackeray supposed to be getting us food by now?”

Thackeray sighed. He got up out of his seat and walked over to one of the booths that lined the walls of the cafeteria.

He walked over to one that sold grimu feathers. Crispy and delicious when eaten. He also ordered three sets of rice bowls. He paid his eagles to the otherwise nondescript vendor and turned around.

A man wearing grand, ceremonial crimson robes that cascaded onto the ground about him stood beside Maeve. He clasped his hands behind him. Maeve and Eyth both sat upright, rigid. Their eyes open, but with smiles on their face.

Thackeray furrowed his eyebrows. He brought his tray over to the table and bowed before the man. “Dean Hakumatheia,” said Thackeray. “How may we be of service?”

“Congratulations are in order for your Huntsmanship,” he said, his voice low and sonorous, like rolling thunder. “You’ve made me quite proud with your achievements, Navarre.” He pronounced it right.

“Thank you, Dean,” he said. “I am happy that you think so.”

“Same with Lady De Laqua here,” he gestured to Maeve. Maeve smiled, pressing her lips together. “You both have done marvelous jobs. And so, I repeat, congratulations.”

“Thank you, Dean,” said Maeve this time.

“Now with you two being Huntsmen, are you looking for Contracts?” He asked.

Thackeray didn’t sit down. Maeve and Eyth both looked up at him. “We are, sir, yes,” she said.

“Excellent,” he replied. “I have a Contract for you two prodigious Huntsmen. It seems that all other Huntsmen are out on their own Contracts or their Pilgrimages, and so I contact you.”

“What are the details of the contract, Dean?” Thackeray asked.

“I need you two to go into Avalon.” Eyth audibly gasped. Maeve’s eyes darted between Thackeray and the Dean. Thackeray’s eyes were fixed upon Hakumatheia. “And I need the two of you to hunt down the Warlock. Alive.”

***

 

Oberen watched Chrysanthemum stir awake. It was slow at first, with her moving about and messing the blankets, and then sudden. She sat upright, and Oberen feared she was going to jump out of the closed window.

“Where…?” She looked around. “Oh. Oberen.” She sighed.

Oberen stood. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head. “I dreamt of nothing again,” she said. “Why do I dream of nothing?”

“Well, Chrys, if you dream of nothing, then you aren’t dreaming at all.”

“Is that so?” Chrysanthemum’s eyes focused outside the window. Once again, they were full of wistfulness.

“Are you okay, Chrysanthemum?” Oberen asked, walking over to her and sitting next to her on the bed. “Have you come to terms with who you are?”

“Siddivata…” the word lingered in her lips. “What can the Siddivata do? What are the Siddivata?”

Oberen shrugged. “I don’t know much about these creatures, unfortunately,” he said. “They are powerful, mythic in their might. I only know the legends, Chrys.”

“Tell me about them.” She hugged her knees against her chest.

“I’m going to say here that they won’t help you much.”

Chrysanthemum shrugged. “I think much can be learned from myths and stories.”

Oberen couldn’t help but smile. “The Siddivata are the greatest of the Divata. They are the gods, one could say, ascendant in their power, and have the ability to forge Contracts with the Realms, which is how they get their powers. They rule Avalon — everything their is whim to their whimsy. It is said that they’ve been living during the time when the Gods were still alive.”

“Was that long ago?”

“From what various archaeological finds tell us,” Oberen replied. “Yes. Very long ago. Two million years, to be exact. But that’s only because the relics and the great treasures the Gods have left for us when they still walked our lands are incorruptible. Impervious to the effects of Entropy.”

Chrysanthemum let out a breath. “Wow.”

“But what I don’t know, even with the Legends,” says Oberen. “Is how Oberen managed to remove you — a Siddivata — from your realm, stuck you into here, and removed all your memories. You are Siddivata — a God in many senses.”

Chrysanthemum shrugged, looking out at the window. “I need to know more about the Siddivata.” She sighed. “I need to know more about myself.”

“Me too,” said Oberen.

They were quiet for some time, before Chrys pulled up the sleeve to her hoodie. “Maybe it’s these tattoos?”

Oberen glanced at them and shrugged. “I don’t know anything about ink magicks, unfortunately. Do you remember where you got them from?”

She furrowed her eyebrows. She looked down, and then, she shook her head. “I… don’t.”

Oberen’s eyebrows arched upward. He didn’t speak. The silence was deafening.

“Books!” Oberen’s sudden smile broke the silence, like a sword piercing a veil. “We can go into the Public Library. Maybe we’ll find something there.”

Chrysanthemum looked up at Oberen. “You think so?”

He nodded. “Well, hopefully. I haven’t been to the Public Library too much. The Librarium in the Collegium always had me covered.”

Chrysanthemum didn’t move from her position. “Come on,” Oberen said. “Introspection is good and all, but it won’t do you any good if that’s all you do.”

Chrysanthemum smiled. She nodded, her glowing pink hair bobbing. “Right. Let’s go.”

Chrys hopped onto her feet, lightly, like a firefly dancing. Every step she took, something tugged at her mind. Oberen walked out of the room, briefly stopping and glancing behind him.

He saw Chrysanthemum, eyebrows furrowed, looking down at the floor.

“Something wrong, Chrys?”

She turned, and walked over to the window. She opened them, looking out as the white snow fell softly. “Snow.” Her voice lingered through the white. Oberen furrowed his eyebrows.

“Snow.” She said again. Oberen closed the door and reached out for Chrys.

“Snow. Answer me.”

And the snow outside flurried toward her. White snow burst in through the window. “Don’t hurt me!” she shouted. The snow flurried into the room, like white light, but it fell about around her, as if she had a bubble.

“Snow, return.” She said again, and the snow that had fallen into the room rose, defying all known laws of physics, and flurried back outside, falling again.

Chrysanthemum yelped and shut the windows. She turned, her eyes wide, her irises iridescent.

“What was that?”

Oberen shrugged. “Hopefully, we’ll find out in the Library.”

 

***

 

Quinen walked, naked, through the multi-colored grass of Avalon. He winced as a gold wind buffeted him.

He called down power and Will from… somewhere. He called down the Field of Energies, and bright flame erupted about him. He willed it to disappear, and it did. He walked through the field of blue, now red, now green, now purple grass. He should hide, somewhere, he knew. Out here in the open, in Avalon, things did not bode well.

Every step he took hurt him, as every blade of grass pricked his soulfeet. The golden wind pushed him to and fro, as if angry at him.

Quinen saw a tall tree in the distance. It’s trunk and branches were seemingly made of glass, it’s leaves moving about in a radial pattern. The leaves did not bend — they were solid, and shaped like blades.

He ran towards that. Quinen didn’t know why, but he ran anyway. Pain throbbed into his feet in staccato bursts. Every step he took changed the color of the grass. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, indigo…

Then there was the sound of a loud horn. It echoed throughout the entirety of Avalon.

Fear. Absolute fear echoed through Quinen’s soul. Not chemical interactions that plagued his physical body.

True, spiritual, soulful fear flooded him. He knew what was coming.

He ran.

But he knew, when he heard an arrow being released from a bow.

When the arrow crashed beside him, the soil erupting as the arrow — the size of a large spear — embedded itself into the ground. A deliberate miss.

He knew.

That there was none escaping the Wyld Hunt.

 

Wake 1

The night sky echoed. The only thing inheriting the soaring blues was a thick smog that rose up from the dirty streets of Throne like a mist. 

A flapping, winds billowing. Something glided across the night sky, splitting it with its large, feathery wings. It flapped once, putting into motion the tender muscles that make up its entirety. Its sharp, avian eyes swept the city of Throne, flying even higher than the tallest of the Spires. Its feathers flapped against the wind, and the starlight reflected off of the shiny scales that lay underneath the layer of feathers. Its beak opened, lined with razor sharp teeth, before closing again.

It wore nothing to cover its top, but it did wear tight cloth pants made of carbon fiber. The anzu flapped once again, and then folded its wings, plummeting to a balcony jutting out one of the taller Spires.

It opened its wings just before it landed, cushioning its fall. It fell on the ground, and its wings folded about it like a cloak. Mesmerizing patterns, radial and geometrical and tribal were splattered onto the outside of the anzu’s wings. They used it mostly for mating. They didn’t really need clothing.

The anzu looked up. “Gharth. Report.” A human stepped forward. His right hand replaced with a mechanical limb that shone with lights. On the cybernetic limb was a floating holographic image which the human typed on.

“Magickal incursion, Captain Urie,” Gharth replied, his voice hoarse and squawking. Shennin was a human language developed by and for human. When those that didn’t have the same vocal chops as an human spoke the language, its sound becomes akin to that of a grater grating steel.

Urie frowned. He gestured for the anzu to continue.

“High Dissonance Tension,” Gharth continued. “Implosion might be eminent if the Magicker in question does not stop.”

“Who is the Magicker in question?”

“A certain Warlock,” Gharth replied. “I do not know his real name, but my database has registered him as thus.”

“Very well,” the human nodded. He turned, tapping something onto his mechanical arm. It had been outfitted with a weavenode, so he could connect to the Datascape through it. He tapped on a contact that only said, “Dean.”

 

***

 

Hakumatheia, Dean of the Throne Collegium of Magick, sat behind his wooden desk. Various pens floated around an inkwell. The three-storey high-room was completely clean of dust. Gloomlight from the Nightstar filtered in through thin curtains. One couldn’t see a single mote of dust.

The Dean sat with his elbows on the desk, his hands steepled. His eyes glowed with a low light, as if there were a sun behind his irises. He held his lips in a thin line, tense.

There was a rippling in the serene calm of the dimly lit room. It was weak and faint at first, wanting not to be seen. Then, it was stronger. A shimmering in front of the glass window.

The window burst open, and on the other side was not the night sky, but rather, the chaotic wild of Avalon. Winds both scorchingly cold and freezingly hot gusted in. The old bathrobe that Dean Hakumatheia wore billowed away from the heat. The curtains that dressed the windows were thrown back, afraid of the otherworldly portal.

A sound echoed from within the portal. It was a quivering sound, that shook through the rapidly flowing air of the room. A laugh. The laugh subsided as a shadow stepped through the portal and onto the carpeted floor of the Dean’s Office.

Zinnia closed the door with a nonchalant wave of her hand. The Jade Princess turned her unnerving green eyes upon the Dean, Master of Magicks. She walked, moving up to the front of the Dean’s desk.

“You did a good job, Hakky,” she said, her voice low and sultry. “But it seems you ‘ve messed up. Just by a bit.” She placed both hands on the desktop. The floating pens shook. “That Warlock intruded, and has banished one of my fiagai back into my realm. He seems really dead on in protecting Chrysanthemum.” She frowned. “At this rate, the wedding will be canceled, and the power of the Dwarf Court will ebb.”

“I did what I could,” the Dean said. His eyes were steely with resolve, unmoving and looking straight into her eyes. Straight into an alien fey’s eyes. “But the Warlock is a fickle pawn in this game of yours.”

“And you are my King,” she said, leaning forward. Her eyes danced with beautiful madness as her lips met with the Dean’s. The Dean’s eyes did not change as she pulled away, an iridescent smoke wisping out. “Such delicious power. You are the reason I live.”

The Dean managed a smile. “But now you must go, for a court meeting shall be held soon, if I remember correctly?”

She nodded. “A… pickup, actually. You always were good with time,” she leaned back, stretching. “I do commend you, darling, on the rather unconventional and inadverted way of attracting the Warlock’s attention. I shall try to take care of him from here.”

The Dean scowled. Had his Dissonance been that powerful? Had he actually connected his Soul to Avalon…?

The thought raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

Zinnia grinned. Her eyes danced with humor and rage. She turned, clapped once, and the portal reopened, a golden tear in reality. She turned and gave the Dean one last flying kiss before stepping into the portal and closing it behind her.

The Dean’s smile turned to a scowl. He cursed, inwardly. He leaned back, slumping into his high-backed chair. What in Adon’s name had he gotten himself into?

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum remembered what had happened next.

Once the fiagai fell away, an intrinsic part of her sensing that he had been banished back to where he belonged, she huddled to a corner and cried. Her head lanced with pain. Tears soaked her cheeks. Confusion wracked her body. Quinen had walked in and hugged her, and the warmth of his coat against her was enough to lull her to sleep.

She dreamt of nothing. For the first time, she dreamt of nothing. Usually, she would dream of the most esoteric and strange things. Talking trees, neon animals, dancing buildings. But she dreamt of nothing, and when she awoke, she awoke feeling like she had been submerged in deep, dark water.

When she awoke, Quinen was no longer next to her. It was cold, despite the blanket on. She stared out of the window — it had been closed, and the air was painted by snow.

The first snow of Nymph Season.

She sat up slowly, the blanket sliding off of her. Her glowing pink hair had dulled, just a bit, and made it look like as though she had only dyed her hair.

“Awake, I see,” a familiar voice echoed through the empty room. How Chrysanthemum didn’t notice him at first sent shivers up her spine. She turned and saw Oberen, wearing dark blue hoodie. He peered at her through rectangular optics. On his right hand, he gripped a cup of coffee, small little brown droplets dribbled on the mouthpiece.

“Oberen,” her voice cracked.

“Don’t strain yourself,” he said. He stood, looked at the empty space beside Chrysanthemum, and then shook his head, He sat back down. “You weren’t injured or anything.”

Chrysanthemum shook her head. “What about Quinen? What happened to him?”

Oberen raised an eyebrow at that. He sipped on his coffee. His breath came out as visible steam. “He’s alive,” he replied. “But hurt. Real bad. Both physically and metaphysically.”

Chrys cocked her head to one side. Oberen sighed.

“He’s lucky to be alive,” he said. “He’ll be good in a few months.”

A deadly, heart-wrenching silence cut through the room. Chrysanthemum bit her lip, looking down. She blinked rapidly, pressed her lips together, and then shook her head. “It was my fault.”

Oberen inhaled. His breathing could be heard through the silence, which seemed to be frozen into the room by the Nymph weather outside. “Not necessarily. Don’t blame all of it on yourself,” he said. “You’ll never get anywhere nice with that.”

“Then why?” she asked. “Why did he go that far to protect me? To keep me here? Did he… did he remove my memories too?”

Oberen shrugged. “Doubt it. Quinen’s never been good with Psychemancy,” he said. “But it’s possible he could’ve asked someone to do that for you…” he stopped. “Or you could’ve lost you memories because of your… transition to this physical realm.”

She stopped her blinking. She looked up at the boy with the sea-green eyes. “What do you mean?”

Oberen couldn’t help but melt a little — just a little — from her gaze. She was so pale and small. Her nose, button and cute, was flaring red from the cold. Her eyes were the strangest mix of green and blue. Not too far from the color of his own eyes, he realized. Her lips were chapped and white from the temperature. Oberen stepped forward and gave her the coffee in his hand.

Chrysanthemum stared at it. Oberen gestured for her to take it. She did, eventually, bringing it up gingerly to her lips and letting the warm coffee down her throat. “You’re not human, are you?” Oberen looked down at Chrys. “The glowing pink hair would’ve ticked me off, but those kinds of wigs are popular these days.”

Chrysanthemum sipped again, and then looked up at Oberen. “What am I, Oberen?” Her eyes gleamed with innocence.

Oberen’s own voice was shaky when he spoke. “You’re…,” he inhaled. “You’re a Siddivata.”

Something within her broke. As if a ball of glass had been dropped onto the floor in the middle of the storm, and the cacophony of the shatter was so loud that all noise seemed mute. Her eyes, blue and green, suddenly flared and contrasted each other. Black splashed into the whites of her eyes, like tendrils reaching for her irises. They were getting closer. Ever so closer.

Her grip on the coffee faltered. She let go of it, but the cup stayed in the air, suspended by some invisible force.

Oberen cursed. What did Quinen do to this girl that she had repressed all this power? Why did he get her from Avalon in the first place?

She wanted her own Soul. The words resonated within Oberen’s brain. He cursed, stepping back. He lifted his hands, Willed Power into his Fists. The most basic technique of Martial Thaumaturgy.

Then, everything was gone. The black pools that her eyes had become turned back into white, dissipating. Streams of chaotic iridescence streamed out from her orifices — her nostrils, her mouth, her eyes, before she collapsed back onto the bed.

The coffee cup exploded. There wasn’t much left in there, but warm brown caffeine splattered onto Oberen’s trousers and hoodie. He frowned, and set to cleaning the room while Chrysanthemum returned to her sleep.

 

***

 

Quinen found himself in pure darkness. He sat up, a blanket of pure shadow enshrouded him. He placed a hand on his heart — something he always did whenever he woke up — and found that, well, there was no heart.

He inhaled. Quickly, and then he realized he wasn’t breathing. He looked down on himself. He was naked, but his skin was made of glimmering, incandescent starfire.

His Soul.

He got up quickly. Although “got up” might be wrong term. He willed himself up in a standing position, and his Soul followed. His feet floated on solid nothingness, and only when he willed something to be solid underneath him did he stand correctly.

Where was he?

He walked around just a bit, trying to regain his thoughts. Yes, that Siddivata. Zinnia? She found out about him and Chrysanthemum. He scoffed. He wasn’t fooling anybody — he knew that the Siddivata would find out sooner or later. He began rifling through many different options in his head. How to deal with the situation.

If he wasn’t careful, he could get the Wyld Hunt down his throat. Nobody wanted that Hunt down their throat.

He walked about even more. This was no Traverse. He’d been to Stygia before, the Traverse of the Field of Death. That place was less… empty. It still had hope, it still, ironically, had life. This place of pure nothingness, nil and void, made him empty.

He looked down upon himself. His right shoulder burned weakly, as if the fuel that had been powering the fire in that specific area had run out. Other parts of him also flared much weaker than the others.

Then the realization hit him. Dissonance. He had used Magick way above his reach in that melee he had gotten into with the fiagai. He overextended, he was too proud. Especially with that last Banishment spell — that was sure to attract some attention.

He looked down upon his Soul again. Some of the spots that burned weaker were being wrapped around with multicolored vines.

Quinen’s eyes widened as he began to realize where he was. Or rather, where he was going. He went through his mind palace, trying to recall everything he knew about Dissonance. It seemed like immediate information had left him, and he had to go deep into the recesses of his memory to get them again.

“Dissonance. The backlash of Fields against the unworthy Soul,” he began muttering to himself. No words flew out — all he heard were his thoughts. “The more power you reach out for that is out of your reach, the more powerful the backlash. Many levels of Dissonance. One of the highest possible levels is…”

His eyes opened, and everything around him exploded into a chaotic cacophony of beautiful madness. Of cold fires and burning frosts. Of singing colors and hued songs.

Quinen fell to his knees, the grass around his knees flashing red. “Transportation.”

Avalon.