Dream 9

Oberen and Quinen made their way out of the Collegium. They hailed a brown cab and headed for Diys’ apartment. “So what are the assumptions? The hypotheses?”

The brown cab barreled into heavy traffic. Quinen sighed. “Lyn took Angel Dust with Diys,” he said. “Diys might’ve been able to concoct some of this Angel Dust, but how she did it is beyond me. The Field of Avalon isn’t something you connect your Soul to with a simple Sympathy Rite.”

“I’m guessing it’d be dangerous too,” Oberen said, leaning back a bit.

“Right,” Quinen nodded. “Sympathy to a Field does provide a two-way connection after all. That’s why I’m hoping she just got the Angel Dust off of some alchemical dealer and that she hadn’t concocted it herself.”

“How’d you know that a Simple Sympathy Rite couldn’t work with the Field of Avalon?” Oberen inquired.

Quinen stayed silent.

The brown cab turned a corner, tires squeaking on the bitumen road. The air became heavy between the two magickers; the silence binding them together like a red rope pulled taut.

Quinen eyed Oberen as he stretched. “You’re not going in there without your usual Yantras?”

Oberen grinned at him, and he tapped the hilt of the rapier. “Martial Thaumaturgy,” he said.

Quinen rolled his eyes. He took out another cig, lit it up, and the two Magickers went up to Diys’ door.

 

***

 

They’re coming, aren’t they? They’re coming. Oh Dear Adon, they’re coming.

A shadow on the wall spoke. “Would you relax, little dreorg? Your thoughts are loud. Shut up.”

The shadow blinked, revealing almond-shaped cat eyes. “I am sure they will be much delighted to meet me.”

Diys didn’t respond. She sat against her window, muttering again and again over to herself. About how she was going to get expelled, how she had wasted her mom’s inheritance on the Collegium, how she didn’t want to die, how she was going to kill herself anyway for connecting to the Field of Avalon.

 

***

 

The hair on the nape of Quinen’s neck stood up. He stopped right before knocking, leaving his hand there in mid air. He furrowed his eyebrows. Oberen raised an eyebrow at him. Quinen only nodded. “Something’s here.”

The Warlock took a step back, tapped the timepiece ring, and a creeping, glowing iridescence congealed into the shape of the pistol. He kept his left hand behind him, flicking the inhibitor off.

He knocked. The door opened midway after the first.

Surprised, Quinen stepped back and jerked his left hand just a bit, but he controlled himself. Oberen’s hand had already been resting on the hilt of his rapier, and when the door opened, he simply pressed his lips together and squinted.

Something that looked like a woman with a voluptuous figure grinned at him, peeking through the door. She was around the same height as Quinen, grinning with her perfectly human teeth. Her emerald green skin betrayed her anthropic origin; her white hair tied up in a tight bun above her head. Her red lips peeled back as she smiled; her cat eyes, gold and full of lunacy, danced with jest.

She wore a gown of stars, which hugged her figure tight. She looked up at the two Magickers and said, “Oh, guests. How wonderful!”

Quinen looked at her, and then at Oberen, who just so happened to look at Quinen at the same time. When their eyes met, they came to the same conclusion. She was no human. Quinen turned to the green-skinned woman. “Where’s the dreorg?”

“Ah, little miss Diys,” she said, nodding. “My precious puffcake is there somewhere in the corner, talking to herself. I do hope she shuts up some time.”

Diys was perfectly silent.

Quinen’s scowled. He set his jaw, but hid his Diwaslinger. “Who are you? What are you doing in Diys’ property?”

The woman raised a delicate, thin eyebrow. “Her property?” the woman shook her head. “No, I own Miss Diys, and therefore, whatever she owns, I own as well. By extension of right.”

Oberen cut in. “And may I ask just what may we have the pleasure of conversing with tonight?” He shook and smiled, correcting himself. Quinen tensed, just for a second. “I’m sorry, ‘who’.”

The emerald-skinned woman didn’t seem to notice the blunder. “Zinnia,” she said, grinning and hugging the wooden door tight as if she were some shy ten year old. “Zinnia of the Dwarf Court. Baronness of the Aiobhan Fiefdom in the Vast East. Jade Princess, Daughter of the Spring King, fourth of her name, after Zinnia, my mother before me.”

“What a splendid, beautiful name,” Oberen said, bowing.

Something clicked within Quinen’s memory vaults. Right. Beauty. That’s what the Dwarf Court was all about. Quinen silently thanked the little flirting rascal.

“Indeed,” Quinen caught the momentum of the conversation, his voice sounding a bit stiff, yet commendable. “In fact, you might just be the most beautiful little cut of jade I’ve seen in the West, Miss Zinnia, Jade Princess.” He took the Baroness’ hand and brushed the top of his lip against it. Her hand felt like a piece of ice.

“Oh you flagrant flatterer,” she said suppressing a smile; her cheeks dimpled. “Do come in.”

Quinen pressed his lips together in a forced smile. He turned to Oberen, who raised both eyebrows at him to tell him to go in. Quin breathed through his nose, shoved the Diwaslinger into his back pocket, and walked in.

Inside, the room was in an immaculate state. Clothes once strewn on the floor now lay folded on top of a wooden desk, alongside flasks and vials and the bong that she had been using. Food and drinks disappeared, and the sink from the kitchenette had been scrubbed clean. Quinen’s gaze swept across the spotless apartment until it came across the window. The tall window that showed the view all the way up to the Spires in the Cathedra Ward. Rain tapped softly against it, glazing it in a precipitous glow.

Before the window sat Diys, the dreorg. She hugged her knees against her chest, and her prehensile tail made of shimmering crystal wrapped around her like a comforting friend.

Quinen set his jaw.

He turned to Zinnia, who lifted up a teacup. “Tea?” She held a tea set in one hand.

Quinen looked at her in askance for a moment, took the tea, and thanked her. She did the same for Oberen. Quinen gave Oberen the glance of doubt.

Oberen nodded, closing his eyes and snarling softly in another language. He opened his eyes and a mandala of creamy white Power blazed in front of them. Like optics, it gave him a magickally enhanced sight, allowing Oberen to see if the tea was spiked or anything.

He shook his head.

“Ah, Magickers!” Zinnia clapped her hands together in three rapid strikes. “How delightful! Weaving the very fundamental forces of Creation into Reality. I like you lot, you chaotic lot.”

Oberen bared his teeth and the corners of his lips curled down in a grimace, as if to say, “my bad.” Quinen shook his head.

“So what is it that brings you here to my humble abode?” Zinnia asked, turning around and sitting on thin air. Her weight rested upon air, suspended, as if she sat on an invisible box.

Quinen shrugged. “Well, I’m going to assume you don’t like lies.” She’s a Siddivata, Quinen thought. Thought reading’s like listening to music for them.

She grinned.

“I’ve come to bring Diys back to the Collegium for guidance counseling,” he said. Diys didn’t look up; she kept silent, quietly quivering. “Because alchemical substances like Angel Dust can ruin your very Soul.”

“Ah, is that what she used to get into Avalon?” Zinnia turned to Diys, and then back at Quinen with a grin. “How convenient everything is in the Tekhnika Era of Oeuvre. You can go into our realm with nary but a drug.”

“We get lazier as we go,” Quinen shrugged.

“That’s not the whole truth,” Zinnia snapped, sudden. “Spit it out.”

Quinen heard Oberen breathe in through his teeth. Quinen sighed. “I’ve come to the conclusion that Diys took the substance with her best friend, Lyn, who had died because of the substance.”

“Lyn?” Zinnia put a finger on her lip. “Oh, yes, Lyn! But, she didn’t die. Her Soul is alive and well in Avalon.”

“Where she is being tortured, I’m sure.” Oberen cut in. There was an edge to his voice.

“Not tortured,” Zinnia said, smiling indignantly. “More of… being taken care of. Being groomed for a special purpose.”

Quinen frowned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Okay,” he said, nodding. “That’s enough from me. Your turn. What are you doing here? I thought people like you hated the physical stability of the Mund?”

“We do,” she said and nodded. Her voice trailed off, fluttering, sultry. “But it’s come to our attention that you stole something from us. It’s been five thousand years, Quinen. You didn’t think we’d notice?”

Quinen suppressed a smirk. In Mund, it had only been five weeks. “No, I did, actually.”

“Then you must be stupider than I’ve thought,” she said. She paused, looked down, and then up again with a smile. “Why, I like that word — stupider. It’s very beautiful.”

Oberen tensed at this point, but still had the calm and awareness of a trained martial thaumaturgist.

“What did I steal from you?” Quinen asked.

Zinnia scoffed. “Oh don’t play dumb with me,” she said, turning to Quinen. Shadow covered her face, as if the umbra moved at her command, as if the shadows were tangential things. Zinnia’s cat-eyes sliced through the darkness. “We want our dear baby sister back, of course. Chrysanthemum.”

 

***

 

A knock. Chrysanthemum looked over her shoulder, wondering if it was Quinen. Deep within, she hoped it was.

More knocking. Chrysanthemum sighed. The night still lingered on. She didn’t feel like sleeping, nor was she drowsy. Her coffee had gone cold and stale, tired of waiting for her to stop her eternal wondering.

She turned from her cross-legged position on the windowsill and walked across the wooden floor, faerie steps dancing lightly. She placed her coffee cup on the kitchenette, and opened the door.

Behind the door stood a tall man. Lithe and muscular, with a rugged jaw covered in a fine stubble. His hair fell about him like a tousled mophead, albeit brown. He wore a hoodie and pants with too many pockets within them. His boots squelched as he fidgeted around. Probably a fault of the first few snows of the wintry season of Nymph.

“Chrysanthemum?” He spoke with a hint of a Zirrrinae accent. His bronze skin also made him look very much like a human born and raised in Zir.

Chrysanthemum huddled close to the door, only letting one side of her head and her hand out of the door. “Y-yes?”

“I would like to speak with you,” he began. His eyes were cat-like, Chrysanthemum noticed. “Do you have the time?”

Chrysanthemum pressed her lips together. Didn’t Quinen tell her not to let anybody in? But the man seemed friendly. She looked up at his eyes, and they shimmered with golden amiability. He grinned, and she couldn’t help but feel that she could let him in. That she would be safe with him. “Yes. Please, come in.”

The Zirrinae man smiled a genuine smile. The Magickal Wards vanished like an ebbing wave when Chrysanthemum said those words.

 

***

 

There was a tense silence. So taut was the tension that you could cut it by just looking at it with a sharp enough gaze. Oberen froze, his mouth hung slightly open. Even Diys looked up, eyes wide, at Quinen.

Quinen looked the least perturbed.

“What is it…” his voice wandered, his grip on the diwaslinger loosened, as he shoved it into his back pocket. “That you Siddivata value the most?” He asked.

Zinnia raised a delicate, arching eyebrow. “Enlighten me. I’ve never been one to indulge in self-diagnosis.”

Quinen spread his hands, palms forward. “Identity,” Quinen said. He put his hands behind him. “The Siddivata value their identity the most, which defines the chaos that they live in.” He sounded like he was quoting something off of a book.

“Yes…”

“And the method that you gain that identity? Soul-feeding,” he said. “Taking Souls and chewing on them and siphoning them ever so slowly, so that you can experience all the Soul has to offer — memories, time, hurts and pain. You suck the identity of people.”

She nodded. “It is our only sustenance, especially here in the world of the stable.”

“Chrys didn’t want that,” Quinen said. “She told me she wanted to make her own identity. She wanted to be Chrysanthemum.”

Zinnia squinted her eyes, and then smirked. “But you yourself have been drained.”

Oberen coughed.

Quinen didn’t move. “Like you said, she needed sustenance. Just a bit. Until she has her own memories — her own identity. Her own Soul.”

“None of the Siddivata have their own identities. That is now how we are. We only run on Narratives.” Zinnia shrugged. “It is not beautiful either.”

“It can be done,” Quinen said, frowning. “I know of a way.”

Zinnia pondered on this for a while, looking straight into Quinen’s eyes. Quinen tried hard not to pull away. Another silence. It stretched on forever. “I’m sure there is…” Zinnia whispered. “But that hardly matters now. Chrysanthemum is to be wed to the Prince of the Salamander Court, so that we may reconcile Salamander and Dwarf.”

“Chrys is of the Nymph Court,” Quinen said, furrowing his eyebrows.

She nodded. “She was born of the reconciliation of Nymph and Dwarf, yes.” She shrugged and stood. “Anyway, what a wonderful chat, Mister Quinen. You’ve given me a particularly beautiful piece of memory and ponderance to chew on.”

“Literally,” Quinen snorted.

“But now, I must go. My fiagai must have found her by now.”

A pin-drop silence. Something shattered within Quinen’s mind. He probed his mind palace for what the word meant. Fiagai…?

Memory boomed in his mindspace like a thunderclap. Quinen whirled around, his mageweave coat billowing before him, synthetic lights humming.  He didn’t turn to Oberen as he shout out the door. “Oberen, apprehend and bring Diys back to the Dean. I have to save Chrys.”

“But what about-”

“Now!”

Oberen turned and found Zinnia gone. The window had been opened. He scooped Diys up into his arms — she was light, being a dreorg and all. When he turned, the door had swung open, and Quinen was nowhere to be seen.

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum sat on the bed, cross-legged. She had one of Quinen’s oversized shirts on again. She looked up at the shadow of a man, who stood with his back straight. He had closed the door behind him, and walked up to the window. “Princess Chrysanthemum,” he began.

“Princess?” Chrys tilted her head to the side.

“I am Fiagai Basil,” the Fiagai said. “Loyal to Zinnia, Jade Princess, Fourth of her Name, of the Dwarf Court.”

Chrysanthemum bit her lip. “I… I don’t understand.”

“You are not meant to,” it said. “Not yet, at least. Just come with me, and your family will refresh your memory.”

“Family?”

Basil nodded. “That’s right. I’m here to take you home.”

“I have a family?” Chrysanthemum asked, tilting her head to the side.

“And they do dearly miss you,” it said, reaching up to Chrys and stroking her arm. Chrys fought the urge to move away. It was a calming touch. “What are you doing here, my Princess? What are you doing here in this wretched steel and stable world?”

“I…” she looked out the window wistfully.

 

***

 

Quinen ran as fast as his human legs and his non-fit physique could take him. He knew the CRT line was the quickest way to his neighborhood in the Felghoun Ward, even this late in the night.

He got on the CRT, and it sped in between the tall skyscrapers of industry. Not much people in the train at this time of morning, but the ones that were there watched the heaving, fidgeting Warlock.

When the doors dinged open, Quinen flew out of it. He vaulted over the railing and landed on the concrete with a roll. An autochariot came to an abrupt stop in front of him; horns resounded, accompanied with curses in more languages than just Shennin. Quinen was unapologetic, dashing off uphill to his apartment.

When he managed to open the door, there was a great billowing, like a powerful gale heralding the storm.

 

***

 

Basil turned, looking at Chrysanthemum. “Let me show you home,” it began. The fiagai waved its hand at the window. The glass fixture shuddered violently, and a large rushing-in of wind forced Chrysanthemum to close her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw a land of beautiful madness beyond. Trees and rocks and grass and animals and people and humanoids and spirits of all colors, tastes and sounds burst out from the portal within the window. A world of madness made form, of form turned into madness. A chaos so indescribable that words falter it’s discordant beauty. Clashes of color and themes and concepts. A realm of fey and dreams. “Avalon,” said Basil.

Chrysanthemum looked up at it, her eyes glimmering with reflection. “Avalon,” she echoed, entranced. She stood, and took a step toward the portal. Then another. Every step she took, the tattoos slowly receded, like scrawling vines. Her mouth hung open as she stepped, like a faerie in an intricate hypnotic dance.

That was when the door burst open and Quinen raised his diwaslinger. Not another beat before a shot crackled through the air.

Basil turned, and a slug of pure creational force slammed into the Fiagai’s chest; the slug exploded into a sphere, which tore at the Fiagai’s very being, fraying the strands that kept it together. Its flesh burnt off and became nothing.

The portal shut abruptly, the lights and the sounds and the colors and the smells and the emotions that echoed from the place vanished. Avalon was replaced by the more ambient and familiar noise of honking autochariots and shouting citizens.

Basil growled in bright agony. The hunter turned to the Warlock, who scowled at the intruder as he lowered his slinger. The Fiagai looked down at the point of impact, and saw a smoldering crater where his chest should’ve been. The flesh unburnt around it crept back like growing vines to refill and regenerate the annihilated tissue.

“Magicker,” Basil spat.

Quinen fired another shot. Power and force pooled around the barrel for a bit, as the Transmogrifier within the diwaslinger activated and churned. Then the pooling power burst out into strokes of white and black, as the slug of Diwa shot through the air. White vapor wafted from the barrel as Quinen’s arms folded under the recoil, and he had to take a step back.

Basil was quick this time.

A flash, and the Diwa slug melted into the steel of the curved, single-edged slashing sword of the Fiagai.

“Don’t interfere,” Basil said, stepping forward. The Fiagai blurred, and in another step he was in front of Quinen, grabbed him by the neck, and hurled him out of the window.

Quinen flew, twisted in the air… and then pain.

Blunt force slammed onto his back. His mageweave armor did its best to absorb and spread out the damage. He turned to his side and winced as he lay on the rain-slicked curb. When the Fiagai came blurring out the window, eagle wings spread out from its hip, the Warlock forced himself to stand.

The Avalon Warrior landed on the ground next to Quinen, and his sword clanged against curb. The Fiagai raised it again and swung at Quin.

The Warlock snarled a word and pointed with the timepiece, using it to channel the power of the Field of Timespace like a torrent of power. The mechanisms within the timepiece activated, and it channeled the rote within it, despite Quinen having no ability in the Field of Timespace whatsoever.

The wicked sharp sword clanged onto the concrete of the curb. Quinen rematerialized a few yards away, twirling in midair. Another bullet burst from the barrel of his Diwaslinger, an explosion of black and white strokes like an invisible god had stroked with a brush. Quinen barreled backwards from the recoil, but managed to hit the ground on his knees.

The bullet exploded into a sphere in Basil’s chest, annihilating yet another part of his flesh from the existence. The Warrior screamed in agony.

Quinen breathed and fired again. Basil blurred to the side, evading it easily, and then forward. Its eagle wings vanished in a puff of iridescent clouds, and the Fiagai’s sword sang a song of blood.

The Fiagai’s blade sliced into the meat of Quinen’s right bicep. The Warlock cried out, wincing. With a force of will, he pulled the trigger of the Diwaslinger as the Fiagai was close to him — the barrel pushing against the hunter’s abdomen.

A sphere of annihilation exploded within the Fiagai; air was eradicated from that area. A clap of sound exploded from the sphere of nothingness as air then rushed in to fill the vacuum.

The Fiagai flew backwards, manifested its wings once again, and landed on its feet. The Warrior grit its teeth, looking down at the hole of nothingness its stomach had become. There was no blood — only a wispy, iridescent smoke trailing from the wound.

Quinen twirled in midair and slammed against the concrete of the curb. Blood spread. He grit his teeth and stood. From his periphery, he could see people raising their palmnodes and taking holographs. At this rate, the Naphli would be coming. He should do this quick.

Quinen raised his hand and found that the Diwaslinger was gone from his hands. He cursed as the Fiagai stepped on it, cracking it. White vapor steamed from underneath his greaves. The Diwaslinger was broken. And that cost me a thousand eagles too…

The Warrior’s cat-like eyes focused on him, with the deadly intent to kill. Its lips peeled back into a vicious grin, ready to maim and kill its prey. The Fiagai knew that it had Quinen cornered.

Quinen wasn’t going to survive this if he fought like this. He chewed on this fact, as the Warrior’s body began to mend together its stomach once again.

Quinen cursed. If annihilating the Fiagai from existence won’t work, what will? The Warlock looked about him to see what he could manage, what he could use. His mind worked double time, scrolling through lists of rotes and theorems to find a Working that would actually work. Dammit, I’m bad at Rotes.

The Fiagai stepped and blurred. His sword shot out, like a scorpion tail lashing. The mageweave armor tried to block the sharp edge of the blade, but fell short, only managing to curb the kinetic onslaught of the strike.

In a lithe movement, Quinen twisted to his right, evading the strike, and he snarled another word with his timepiece. His vision tunneled, a flash, and then he was a few feet away again, timespace bowing before his Will. Or more precisely, the power of his timepiece. But Quinen cursed as he heard the ticking of the timepiece getting slower.

Dissonance kicked in. His mind wracked, a throbbing that began from the base of his head near his neck, and eventually grew all about him. All around the Warlock, the buildings loomed impossibly higher, as if stretched, and the raindrops fell slower. The effects of Timespace Dissonance. He’d forgotten that this particular Charm didn’t contain a Dissonance Buffer.

Quinen shook off the Dissonance and turned. The Fiagai blurred toward him, and in a few more flurrying steps Quinen’s body would be the sword’s new scabbard.

The rain had matted both of their hairs. The drops of condensation splashed off of the blurring hunter.

With a defiant shout, Quinen pulled out a cylindrical, foot-long shaft of steel.

His defiance manifested.

The shaft of steel exploded into color: two burning blades of fulminating incandescence burst out on either side, forming into a double-bladed weapon. With his left hand, Quinen twirled it, and winced as he caught it with his right hand.

The Fiagai’s sword fell upon the Warlock. Quinen grit his teeth, and parried.

The Diwa eating blade clashed brightly with the blazing edge of Quinen’s dynamostaff. A sound reminiscent of the noise made when a wind kicks up a fire resounded. Heat billowed up all about Quinen, but he didn’t feel it. The sound of sizzling water; the smell of burnt flesh.

The Warlock pushed the Warrior back, and he jabbed twice with his blade.

The Fiagai Basil blurred, parrying both, stepped back and returned the strike. Quinen evaded with a lithe weaving back step, the sword grazing the fabric of his mageweave. Moving like a wave, he connected the dodge to an underhand strike with the second blade.

The blade nicked the Fiagai, and the solid flame sliced a blazing wound on its arm. Basil didn’t holler in pain. Instead, it pushed forward, blade flickering, an implacable predator. Quinen wove out of the way, but the Fiagai was a trained fighter. The sword was too fast. Blood soaked the blade of the Warrior as it sank into the Warlock’s flesh, piercing through the mageweave coat.

Quinen managed to kick out, but Basil stepped away and swiped, managing to slice deep into Quinen’s ankle. Quin grimaced, but he grit his teeth. Pain will not bow him.

Not now. Not yet.

In the small second that Basil rebalanced from his attack, Quinen called upon the sympathies within his tattoos. His Inks facilitated the channel. His Soul called to the Field of Energies, and he lashed out with force, allowing his Will and Emotion — his Soul — to supercharge his attack. The tattoos in his hands danced in flame. He had Burned a part of his Personal Diwa.

A wave of pure kinetic force blasted out from his hand, catching the rebalancing hunter off-guard. The Fiagai grunted as the invisible hammer of force sent him flying, and he crashed onto the building on the other side of the street.

The rain poured. Quinen forced himself up, keeping his dynamostaff ready. The droplets of rain sizzled and evaporated when they met the unrelenting heat of Quinen’s dynamostaff. Everything slowed. He felt his insides burning, sizzling.

Thw Warlock winced, turned, and saw the Fiagai move forward. Basil grimaced in pain as the healing factor of its supernatural nature strained to heal so much damage — especially when the majority of it were damages to the Fiagai’s very existence.

Quinen watched as Basil sprouted wings again, shaking its head at Quinen. The Fiagai’s cat eyes cut through the mist of the rain. It crouched, and then its wings flapped, billowing wind and water about him. Basil streaked toward the open window of Quinen’s house.

Quinen scowled. Oh no, you don’t. His bicep bled as he forced his hand up, aiming at the flying Fiagai with the timepiece. He snarled a word, and the timepiece called down the Field of Timespace, to weave reality about him, to transcend the illusions of correspondence.

This next spell could unravel him. The Dissonance he had built up cackled with voracious power, like electricity cackling underneath a flimsy glass ceiling. But Quinen took the chances. He had to.

The Warlock shouted the word — a basso, gnarled word. A word incomprehensible. A word that belonged to a time long forgotten by even the most ancient of Magickers. A word a Magicker could only really use once in his career.

He disappeared. The buildings loomed over him like shadows, the rain droplets halted, like a video paused. He felt his fingers folding into unnatural angles. Quinen’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to say something.

And then, he rematerialized in front of Basil, slamming into the Fiagai. Quinen’s dynamostaff blazed as it went straight through the hunter’s abdomen. Quinen’s momentum canceled Basil’s, and they plummeted onto the curb, with Basil hitting the ground first, his wings sizzling into nothingness.

Quinen grit his teeth. There was only one way. The Warlock brought out his lighter and snarled the incantation of Banishment. Banishing a Fiagai would be harder than banishing a lowly jifarin, but he had to try. He gripped Basil’s skull with his left hand, leaving the fulminating dynamosaff in the Fiagai’s abdomen.

The Fiagai opened its mouth and emotions rushed through its eyes. Fear, anger, madness.

He reached out with the last remaining vestiges of his Will and Soul, opening the Sympathy he had made to Avalon to perform the banishment. He uttered the Mantra.

“Back!” Quinen shouted, as the echoes and madness and dreams of the Divata filled his soul. “Back to Avalon with you!” An incomprehensible, basso voice echoed after him in a language he did not speak.

The Fiagai screamed silence as he exploded into a vast cloud of golden butterflies. They swirled about the rain, and the rain slipped off of them as if they were rainproof material. Quinen didn’t look up as the golden butterflies rushed past him like a torrent of running water, billowing his coat, his hair, blinding him.

And then, one by one, they vanished.

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum hugged herself and rocked back and forth in the corner. The door opened and Quinen, battered and bleeding, walked up to her. She didn’t look up; tears glistened down the sides of her face, wetting her cheeks.

Quinen fell to his knees and pulled her into a hug. “It’s alright,” he said. He closed his eyes, and surrendered into blackness. His soul frayed.

The rain fell relentless.

 

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Dream 8

Adon’s jakin arse. Quinen pushed himself off of the wooden floor. He looked around, blinking the slumber and fatigue from his eyes. He fumbled around for a cig. Found none. He cursed.

The nightstar hung lowly in the grim night sky. He reached into his pocket for his palmnode and checked the time. 3 Ascending.

He turned around and found Chrysanthemum sitting down, cross-legged, on the window sill. She looked out into the night sky, the Astral Sea of Stars hanging low. The cold night air wafted through neon pink, puffing it in the breeze.

She wore a dark sweater, and she held a cup of coffee in between her hands. She sat there — staring. Her eyes watched every star as they twinkled. An awfully anthropic sight, Quinen pointed out.

He stepped forward, and Chrysanthemum turned back behind him. There were no lights on, other than the illumination of both the city and the stars — fighting to give the room radiance and luminescence. Chrysanthemum’s eyes glittered mauve as she looked over her shoulder. Her eyes were half-closed; she looked down, unwilling to meet Quinen’s eyes.

Quinen didn’t move. He stayed, silent, quiet. He balled his hands into fists. Then, he took another step forward. She spoke then, behind her shoulder. “Why am I like this, Quinen?” She asked.

“Why do I do that?”

“What am I?”

Quinen sighed. He voice cracked when he answered, “I don’t know about you but all that just sounded incredibly cliche.” He grinned. Chrys looked down at the windowsill, and then she sipped on her coffee. The detective walked up to her, leaning on the window. “Are you alright?”

She looked down again. Her eyelashes were long, Quinen observed. Her face, small and elfish. She looked so… vulnerable. So normal. So human. So mortal.

Quinen knew she was none of these things.

“Why do you never answer my questions, Quinen?” she asked, looking up at the city lights. Quinen sighed. He didn’t answer for a moment, looking out at the same lights that Chrysanthemum beheld. Halogen light rose from them like a wave of illumination, trying to blot out the stars. He saw the little aircrafts that moved through the skies between the higher levels of the Spires and the Collegium. He saw the anzu soaring through and about the skyline, nesting on the higher levels of the Spires. Or on the floating steelnests that have been built for them. He watched the taller buildings pioneer the blasphemous march to pierce heaven.

“If I do,” Quinen said. “You’ll just get more questions than be satisfied with my answers.”

She looked down again, at the bustling cars below them in the building. Nothing. She said nothing. Quinen’s eyebrows fell. He inhaled, touched Chrysanthemum. She burned hot, and she pulled away. She didn’t show any pain. She pulled her hand away and laid it down.

Quinen bit his lip, and he stepped back. “I have to finish this case.”

She nodded. Her glowing pink hair had turned dark and flat.

Quinen breathed, turned, and walked out of the room. He patted his trench coat for his necessities. He sighed and turned around before he closed the door. “Come back,” Chyrsanthemum said, with a somber smile. “After you do it.”

Quinen managed a half-hearted smile in response. He left the building, walked out of the door, and headed up a few blocks to the convenience store in the corner of the street. It shone a bright blue, with pink typography gleaming within it, spelling out: “Quick-Shop.” He walked in and bought a couple of Fine Silk packs.

Quinen stepped out, reached for the lighter and lit a stick. He stuck the cig in his mouth and dragged. He stuck his hands into the coat and walked.

The statement of “come back” made Quinen shudder. He didn’t have to go back and go through the long arduous process of keeping Chrysanthemum.

But he wanted to. And that was good enough for him.

“Where’d you go?” Oberen asked, spreading his arms. He had a strange, anachronistic rapier. A weapon that belonged to the late Second Ages. On his right hand he had a bangle made of twelve different stones. Of course, he held a three-foot long wand focus in his left hand — the stereotypical wand focus for those studying in the Collegium. Especially those specializing in the Kifetic Arts.

“I…” Quinen sighed. At least he didn’t feel heavy anymore. “I had to do something important. Don’t ask, Oberen.”

He shrugged. “Alright” he said. He turned and showed his golden badge to the Celestial Lions. The starmade beasts bowed down and let the Warlock pass without harming him. “So care to tell me why you called me out here three in the jakin’ Ascending?”

“The Dean never sleeps, right?” Quinen asked as they walked out of the torch-lit room and into the almost barren center of the Collegium. There were still students out here, practicing small, quiet Magicks, as well as doing more mundane things. Like playing the guitar, or finishing a project on their lapnodes, or kissing.

“Yeah,” Oberen said, following Quinen to the Tasspaths once again. “He doesn’t need to.”

“That’s perfect,” said Quinen as they took the Tasspath to the Dean’s room. Quinen led Oberen, with the only times Quinen stepped back being when he needed Oberen’s clearance.

Soon enough, they appeared in front of the Dean’s wooden double doors. Quinen gestured for Oberen to knock, and he did. “Care to tell me why we’re going to the Dean so early in the morning?”

The door swung open, revealing the elderly Dean tapping away at his palmnode with one hand and performing intricate gestures that shaped a strange, gray material resembling carbon with another. He moved his fingers, and the gelatinous mass became a stellar polyhedron.

His eyes flittered between the feed of the palmnode and the strange gelatinous blob itself. Now it was a strange moving beast with seventeen wings. “What brings you here so late in the night?” He raised an eyebrow and spoke without looking up from his work. “And stop smoking. Smoking is not allowed in the Collegium.”

Quinen breathed out a huge draft of smoke. He dropped the cig onto the ground, and stepped on it. Then, he pulled out another cig from his pack and lit it. He dragged on it as he stepped forward. “I know who killed Lyn, Hakumatheia,” he said, flexing his muscles and stretching. “I know what killed her, and what the motives were.”

Hakumatheia couldn’t help but look up at him. Both his eyebrows were raised now, but his eyes were half-closed and heavy-lidded “Is that so? Tell me. If you’re wrong, then get out. You’re interrupting my meditation. If you’re right, then maybe you wouldn’t be so bad of a detective.” Quinen’s mouth hung open.

What did he mean by, “if he was wrong or right?” It’s not like he knows what actually happened.

Quinen bit back a small anger building up within him. Of course he knew. He was the Dean Hakumatheia, Elder Master of the Fundamental Fields. Of course he’d know. He just decided not to tell him.

Of course, Quinen thought.

But he should get on with it. His Yantras were on the line. “Right. Diys, one of your little Magickers. Lyn’s a good friend of Diys, yes? Yes. They did drugs and substances together. They eventually get bored of normal chemical substances, so they resort to something more exciting — alchemical substances. Magickal substances.

“Angel Dust,” Quinen said, turning to the Dean. “Ever heard of it? Strange, powdered thing that you can snort or burn and inhale? The smoke it produces has a certain, rainbow color. It leads you on a most peculiar trip — to a land of pure Chaos. I am right?”

The Dean nodded, giving Quinen the eyebrow.

“It wasn’t Angel Dust that killed Lyn, Hakumatheia,” he said. “Not Angel Dust, but the beings that live within that place of Beautiful Madness. The land of Avalon. The Siddivata.”

Oberen looked up at Quinen, eyes wide yet confused. The Dean gestured for Quinen to continue.

“Diys didn’t want to kill Lyn,” Quinen continued. “She was just lucky to be able to leave the damn place. Lyn wasn’t. So she got her physical body — which was still in the Mund and left it in the park, to make it look like Lyn had died of other causes. Good thing I was around.

“So she didn’t have a motive. She didn’t want to kill Lyn — she was her best friend after all. But she did have something wrong on her part. You do know this, don’t you Hakumatheia?”

Hakumatheia nodded. Oberen felt compelled to say something, “What, that Angel Dust is not allowed to be manufactured?”

Quinen nodded. “To have gotten the specific alchemical recipe to be able to cook up Angel Dust is, well, illegal, and found only in the deepest parts of the Collegium’s datagroves. So how did she get it?”

Hakumatheia, wordlessly, signaled Quinen to tell him the answer.

“I don’t know,” Quinen said. “That’s really the only part I’m stumped on.” The detective, hot on his blazing line of logic, looked up at the Dean. “Care to enlighten us how the drug actually works?”

He looked directly into the eyes of Quinen. There was a soothing calm within, but a broiling defiance underneath it, like raging water underneath a thin sleet of ice. As if he didn’t want to tell him, but he had to. His soul-piercing gaze almost forced Quinen to shiver and fall to his knees, and he realized that he needed no magick to actually be able to do that. His eyes shifted a bit to Oberen, leaving Quinen with some space to breathe.

“It is a conjoined working,” he said, turning to Quinen once again. “One that includes the study of Matter, Mind… and a Soul Sympathetic to the Field of Avalon.”

Quinen crossed his arms and scowled. “Suicide,” Quinen said. “Sympathy to Fields outside of the Fundamentals will destroy you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed, Warlock. I’m sure you would have known all about it.” The Warlock nodded.

“A Sympathy to Avalon?” Oberen cut in. “That’s… That’s possible? A magickal sympathy to a Field that is not Fundamental?”

The Dean nodded. “You know the fabled Astrathruges, yes?” Oberen nodded.

“Powerful Magickers that change all of reality with a thought.”

“And what do the stories say about their Sympathy?” Quinen continued, as if helping out the Dean.

Oberen shrugged. “That they’re Sympathetic to the Astral Sea — b-but we all know the Astral Sea has been debunked! Thoroughly explained by the Perfected Collegiate Theory.”

Quinen couldn’t help but smile, although he repressed it. The Dean nodded. “You, a Magicker, should’ve known by now that such explanations are not thoroughly true. In fact, all explanations are but just one side of a larger, bigger truth. That is Magick, my boy.”

Oberen furrowed his eyebrows and snorted. “Oh, you’re going all sentimental. I get it. Going all stereotypical ol’ wizard from the folk tales like Herlifaliore the Thrice-Wise.” He scoffed. “Okay. Fine. Why did you bring up the topic of Astrathurges?”

“They’re real,” Quinen said.

“Bullshit,” Oberen said, smugly. “Show me a Rote that channels the Astral Realm. Maybe then we’ll talk.”

The Dean looked up at Quinen, worried. Quinen shook his head. He knew that one couldn’t just show the Astral Sea. You couldn’t codify workings that rippled from the Astral Sea into Rotes because the Astral Sea is the Greater Reality. No, there was another way to explain this, quicker, and so that Quinen could get what he needed already. “Technothurges,” Quinen said with a dismissive wave of a hand.

“Yeah?”

“What do they call power from? What is their soul Sympathetic to? What is their Magick?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t study the esoteries of technology,” he said. Quinen smiled. Just a small, ample smile.

“Technoturges call their power from none other than the Datascape, using it similarly to the Fundamental Fields. Is it a Fundamental Field? No. Go ask a technowitch. I won’t wait,” he turned to the Dean. “Now if I’m facing a Magicker with a soul Sympathetic to Avalon then, I’m gonna need a few more of my Yantras. You know how I sucked at the other Forms, Hakky.”

“Ah yes,” the Dean said. “And don’t call me Hakky.”

Quinen rolled his eyes. The Dean backed up a bit and dug for something underneath his desk. “Mantras need memorization, Mudras take too much physical power, I suck at drawing so no Runir for me. Yantras are just right. Tools meant to be used to weave Magick into Reality.”

The Dean pulled out a glass card and handed it over to Quinen. “This is the identification node for it in the Repository. You know what to do, yes?”

Quinen accepted it into his hand and read it over. Scrawling lines of text fit together in a barely readable font in the pane of glass. He read something regarding the “Ring of Temporal Accuracies,” a “Mageweave coat,” a “dynamostaff,” and finally, his “diwaslinger,” which he had mostly inherited from his older Teacher.

All these breath-taking magickal constructs, but no sign of his Astral Yantra — his fabled staff.

He frowned, turning to the dean. “You know,” he said. “I find it funny that you allow me to recover my murder weapon instead of my Astral Yantra.”

The Dean looked up at Quinen, with a look that intended to say, “I don’t have to answer that question.”

With a slight roll of the eyes, he stepped back and gave a forced curt nod before heading off to the Repository.

***

“Oberen,” the man behind the counter smiled up at him. The bespectacled man gave Quinen a shallow nod before bending over the Repository counter and kissing Oberen on the cheek. Oberen smiled and ruffled his hair, tousling his already very messy, coal black hair even more. He leaned back and looked up at Quinen, who was impatiently tapping the glass card for his loadout.

“Ah,” he began. “Right. The Dean had told me about you coming to pick up your arsenal. You must be doing something huge to be able to make the Dean look over your Warlock reputation and give you back your entire loadout.

Quinen smiled at the false truth.

“I’ll be right back,” the coal-black haired boy said. He turned, the unbuttoned tails of his waist coat fluttering behind him, and strode into the starswirl portal. Quinen waited with the patience of a spider approaching a trapped insect. Oberen’s hand shot out to make him stop tapping his finger on the marble counter of the Repository.

The Repository wasn’t a huge place. It was simply a small store next to the booknodes one would get from the library. One would go into a nondescript, rectangular shop with only two things waiting for them — the marble counter and the Repositor. The Repositor changed every week, and for this week it seemed it was Oberen’s other-half, a human boy named Sygmun.

Behind it all was the large, circular starlit portal that led to the repository, a land of space and vectors and angles that break the common perception of time and space that only special Magickers — the aforementioned Repositors — could use them.

Sygmun came out and Oberen’s hand flashed back to his side. Sygmun was holding up the glass card and reading out the contents of the bag when Quinen grabbed the bag out of his hands and placed it on the ground.

“You’re welcome.” Sygmun frowned at the Warlock.

The Warlock retrieved the contents of his bag. He brought out his Timespace Yantra first — a small brass watch that fit within your finger — and slid it into the middle finger of his right hand. He slung out his Mageweave trench coat and threw it up into the air. He left his arms up there in the air, like a magician waiting for the prestige of his trick, and the Mageweave coat flew onto him, inserting his arms into its armholes until it was a snug fit. It looked like it was made of synthetic leather, and there were several lines that ran down the length of the coat. When it snuggled into his form, the lights activated, a bright white that looked like neon lights woven into the fabric.

He took out his dynamo-staff next, a small little wood staff no longer the size of his forearm, and shoved it into his front pocket. Then he pulled out his diwaslinger. Oberen frowned at him when he pulled out what looked very much like a rectangular semi-automatic pistol slugslinger. The only thing that separated it from the rest was the cartridge, which was transparent, and one could see the iridiscent mixtures of light that blended together so perfectly that one could only see a flowing cascade of white. Diwa, Creational Force harnessed as a Destructive Force.

Quinen spun with a playful flourish, and then he tapped the diwaslinger on the timepiece ring. The timepiece ring sung with a bright light, a sigil of a language long gone, and the diwaslinger was gone. A basic enough Manipulate Matter and Timespace Working — he Manipulated the slugslinger into a small folded space within the timepiece. Something he learned immediately when he began learning the basics of Timespace.

Quinen took the bag of folded space and put it on the counter. Sygmun took it. “What are you doing with the Warlock again?” Sygmun asked Oberen.

Oberen shrugged. “He’s a friend of mine, remember? And he said he’d helped with the whole Lyn shenanigan.”

“Ah,” he said as he picked up the bag of folded space and threw it into the portal. “Yes, I know that, but why are you sticking with him?”

Oberen leaned against the marble counter. He sighed, turning a gaze to Quinen. “I have to look over him, just in case he doesn’t go do anything stupid like before. Besides, he’s a friend. He helped me out before.”

“Ah, yes,” Sygmun nodded. “But, what you’re doing is very dangerous.”

“I know,” Oberen said. “I know. Coffee first thing tomorrow?”

“You pay,” Sygmun said, winking at him as another customer walked into the repository.

 

Dream 7

Chrysanthemum looked at the strange man. Standing with a crooked back, the stranger looked more like a vulture than anything. His hair swept up into a spiky mohawk, and tattoos scrawled every inch of his exposed skin, as if he were afraid of being naked.

The strangest thing, though, of course, were his ears. They were but stumps on the sides of his head, covered by a white gauze strap. Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side, reminiscent of an owl, as they walked into the man’s house.

Chrysanthemum’s boots thudded against the wooden floor. She took a few steps and her foot hitched on a piece of brass lying on the ground. She picked it up, and it gleamed with a golden heat, as if a flame had burnt it off of something. She placed it back and looked around her even more. The only mundane thing was the random clothesline strung across two wooden poles, and dry articles of clothing hanging from it. There were floating balls of brass, moving about by some impeccable force that kept it levitating. One bumped into Chrys, and she let out a small squeak. “Oh, much apologies,” she said.

The ball looked up at her, nodded once, and then turned and floated over to where the no-eared man and the two Collegium people spoke.

She kept looking around. She found a couch with one of its springs jutting out of the foam, a turned off television, and a peculiar flower that bloomed petals without any connection to the stem. They floated like little flower-shaped planets orbiting a star. She furrowed her delicate eyebrows at this. She gazed longingly, and then, without warning, a flash of memory.

She gasped and stepped back. Three more flashes of memories long-gone. Delusory, illusory phantasms of a life she never lived.

An entire garden of these kinds of flowers. Silhouettes of tall figures with antlers on their heads. A large archaic sword being brought down a poor old creature that looked like those flowers.

“Are you okay?” Oberen stood above her, shaking her, gripping her hand.

Chrys nodded tentatively. Oberen helped her up, and Chrysanthemum let herself be whisked away by this dark-haired, ocean-eyed boy. “Thank you muchly,” Chrys said, smiling up at him.

Oberen gazed into Chrysanthemum’s eyes for a split second. A second that seemed forever. The unnerving sight of another soul looking into her own froze Chrysanthemum. There was a fleeting, wistful memory. A whispering reminiscence that echoed down the floods of her soul, echoing feelings of alienation and vehemence. She stared into Oberen’s soul, so well-structured.

So delicious, she thought.

The second ended. Oberen blinked. His worried expression melted into a smile. “Quinen’s looking for you.”

Chrysanthemum blinked. “Right, right. Yes.” She nodded, turned and walked across the wooden floor of the slum house.

Quinen was looking down at the no-eared man as he worked. He turned and saw Oberen assisting Chrysanthemum, sharply inhaling when he saw Oberen gripping Chrysanthemum’s hand. Oberen, seeing Quinen’s disapproval, broke away and walked up to him, still smiling.

“So what information have you gotten so far?” He asked, a smooth transition. An abyssal black crept across the white of Chrys’ eyes as she looked at Oberen. Quinen exhaled, and Chrysanthemum gasped. The black receded, and vanished.

Quinen blinked and turned to Oberen. “Akyrie doesn’t make Angel Dust.”

Akyrie nodded, turning to Quinen. “That’s right. I don’t make those — those are made by Alchemy. I only do Chemistry, see? Only mundane drugs, nothin’ magickal. But I have experienced it before.”

Quinen gesticulated for Akyrie to continue.

“Okay you see things, man. You see things.” A flash. A color pulsed through the vine-like markings that criss-crossed the aflr’s skin like railway lines of a city. A pink color of reminiscence and memory. Then, it faded, the color turning into the black that made it blend so well with the rest of his tattoos. “You go to sleep, and you go through this place of pure chaos, man. Like, you don’t remember what happens, just that it felt fuckin’ good, right?”

Chrysanthemum listened, her eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know what place I went to, and I’ve only done it once.” Akyrie continued. Quinen raised an eyebrow. “That’s because I also remember the feelin’ o’ bein’ chased, you know? It’s like in those dreams where you’re bein’ chased by some black shadow, but this one felt real.” A flash of color again through the markings that weren’t his tattoos; A dark blue: fear. “It felt real. I still feel it ‘til now,” he gripped his arms, hugged his chest. Some very anthropic gestures. The cold dark blue color hummed darkly within his markings. “I feel like it’s gon’ jump out anytime and get me, you know?”

“You get this from just one instance of taking the drug?” Oberen asked.

Akyrie nodded. “That place isn’t something you go back to. Half the people I know that took Angel Dust never came back.”

“What happened to them?” Quinen asked.

“Well,” he began. He scratched his mohawk. His glowing markings slowly faded back into a neutral black, but not before one final, intense flash of dark blue ran through them. He shivered.

All this time, Chrysanthemum realized, Akyrie had been conveying his emotions through his markings, but he still performed very anthropic gestures like scratching the back of his head and shivering in fear.

The alfr she remembered never showed emotion — their markings did that for them. She also remembered that alfr had pointy ears.

“Well?” Quinen urged the alfr to continue.

“Well their body parts would turn into different things, like animal parts or plant parts, just sprouting out every part of ‘em.”

Oberen’s eyes widened. He turned to Quinen, who had squinted and just nodded. “Do you know any alchemical drug dealer?”

The alfr shrugged. “I’m sure lots of them were from the Collegium.” Chrysanthemum found herself watching Quinen as he listened. His eyebrows were furrowed — there was a slight part in his auburn brows that weren’t quite right. As if something had cut him. His eyes were strange too. Dark brown, as black as angels. She bit her lip. She furrowed her eyebrows. She remembered her dad telling her that — that only angels had the blackest of eyes.

Wait. Did she have a dad?

“Thank you very much,” Quinen said, bowing a bit. “You’re a great help, Akyrie.”

He grinned. His teeth were surprisingly well-cleaned. “Don’t mention it. If ya need anything, especially concerning stuff you need to get fuckin’ blasted out of your mind, I’m right here.”

Quinen managed a soft smirk. “Yes,” he said, nodding.

They went out of the slum city and picked up another brown cab. Quinen told the cab driver their destination, as if he didn’t want Chrysanthemum to hear their destination. “Where are we going now?” Chrysanthemum asked. Quinen’s eyes widened a bit, and he nodded. He turned to her as the brown cab moved forward. He sat between Oberen and Chrysanthemum.

“Listen, Chrys,” he whispered. “I think you should go back home right now. I don’t think you should be coming with us anymore. It wouldn’t be safe.”

Chrysanthemum furrowed her eyebrows. “What do you mean?” She asked. “Are you going to murder?”

Quinen breathed, and he shook his head. “No. No don’t think that. I won’t. It’s just… there might be some stuff that wouldn’t be too good to see, you know? I don’t think you should come along. I just want you safe.”

Chrysanthemum stared into Quinen’s eyes, as he gazed into hers. There was nothing for a bit, before a vicious lust and desire consumed her. Her heart and spirit hungered for his lifeblood, for his essence, for his very core. Her mouth hung open as she slowly leaned forward into Quinen.

Quinen blinked thrice, and then Chrysanthemum came to. She had to shut her eyes tight as she realized what was happening. She pressed her lips together. She could feel Quinen’s cold hands cupping her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

Quinen didn’t answer. When Chrysanthemum opened her eyes, she saw Quinen looking down, still holding her face, but he wasn’t meeting her eyes. His own eyes were closed, and his teeth were gritted. He puffed through his nose and looked up again at Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum’s eyes defocused from Quinen for the quickest second, looking over at Oberen, who gazed out of the window with his chin on his fist. Quinen shook her, and she looked back at the Magicker.

Quinen gripped tighter.

The Warlock snarled a word, incomprehensible and basso. Power surged through Quinen, tempered by knowledge and directed by his Will. Then, Quinen stared intently into Chrysanthemum’s eyes, gritting his teeth. Chrys looked into Quinen’s eyes and was immediately struck by a vision of the void. She saw a pure blackness in Quinen’s eyes. She saw herself gazing at the void, and the void gazed back at her.

She gasped. It looked like she was going to scream.

Then, Quinen reached up, and opened the cab door. He turned to Oberen and said something Chrysanthemum couldn’t make out — their voices muted. As if she were listening to them through a feathered pillow.

Oberen just nodded. Quinen helped Chrysanthemum up and out of the brown cab, and it drove away from the curb of their apartment. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum’s arm, bare skin gripping bare skin, and a white heat burned on her flesh.

Quinen popped open the lock of their flat with a handwave and a magickal Mantra. The door closed, and Quinen locked it behind them. Then, the Warlock slammed Chrys against the wooden door. Chrysanthemum felt no pain.

Gritting his teeth, he said, “I’ve always hated this part.”

Chrysanthemum’s eyes were wide, with her sclera turned into the most abyssal of blacks, void of stars. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum’s arms. “Why’d it have to be now?” With another, snarling incomprehensible word, there was a popping sensation. Chrys looked into Quinen’s eyes and found his soul once again, filled with the Creational Force of Diwa. The beautiful essence of the very universe. The only thing that could sate Chrysanthemum’s hunger.

Quinen knew why. The Angel Dust. It must’ve triggered something within her, to spark off her monthly Hunger.

She growled an inhuman growl, deep and scratchy, making Quinen wince.

Then, Chrysanthemum leaned forward, and their lips touched. Quinen’s heart skipped. His vision swirled about him, the picture of Chrysanthemum on him swirling out of view. He had to close his eyes. As they held their position, an iridescent smoke wafted of their kiss, floating up and disappearing, as fleeting as it came. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum as his legs buckled. He fell to his knees, and Chrysanthemum followed after him, their kiss unbroken.

Quinen opened his eyes, and before him flashed the locus of beautiful madness. Their ritual was completed, and he collapsed onto the floor. A little piece of his soul eaten away once again.

Quinen slumped onto the ground, while Chryanthemum stayed up, on her knees. The spots from where Quinen had been gripping her burned with a white hot glow, like the surface of a star. Her arms fell limp. She looked up, and her eyes burned technicolor neon, as if the black in her eyes had been tar set ablaze.

She looked up into nothingness, as she ate yet another part of Quinen’s soul.

 

Dream 6

Chrysanthemum looked about the area, doing her best to look away from the corpse. A feeling she didn’t like crept all over her, settling in the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t just the dead, soulless corpse that lay on the ground, but the strange resonance she felt from it.

It was unnervingly familiar.

Quinen frowned. He stood up, gripping his bone scepter. When he turned to face Oberen and Chrysanthemum, his eyes remained bright green. The green emanated from his eyes, and as he moved, the green glow trailed after him like wisps of verdant smoke.

“Something’s wrong.” Quinen frowned.

Oberen raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

“A Perceive Death Working,” he said, stepping forward. “But I saw nothing. That’s impossible. How long has she been out?”

“A day, now,” Oberen said. “Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head. “So, look. I was just sort of joking when I hypothesized about that whole her body might’ve been taken by Avalon stuff-”

“I know.”

“But looking at it now, it might be true.”

Oberen crossed his arms and placed a foot back. “What do you mean?”

“Well, do you know Thanatology? The study of the Field of Death?”

Oberen shook his head.

“Thanatology covers most of the popular theorized after-afters. One theory’s been widely accepted.” Quinen said, but there was that tinge of skepticism in his voice. “But apparently, when the body dies, the Soul goes through the ten different realms before it dissipates back into the Astral Realm.”

“Mmhm? You mean the Upper Soul, right? The one that only the intelligent races have?” Quinen nodded.

“Right. The Lower Soul simply fades away, a product of temporal, cosmic coincidence instead of higher things.”

Oberen sensed a short lecture incoming, so he sat down on the warm gray rock. Chrysanthemum jaunted over and sat beside him. “Go on,” said Oberen. “I’m not stopping you.”

“Right, so, the Upper Soul starts off from the Field of Life, right? And then it goes through the rest of the Corporeal Fields: Matter, Forces, and then Timespace, where the Soul stops experiencing time. Then it goes into the Ethereal Fields. It starts at the Field of Fates, and then the Field of Death, and then the Field of Spirits, before finally reaching the Field of Mind. Once it gets there, it goes straight up to the Astral Realm, completely purged of all of its material burdens.

“Now here’s the thing though: when the Upper Soul passes through the Field of Death, it leaves behind a Ghost of itself at that current time. This ghost is unaffected by luck or probabilities and looks exactly like it was when it died, because it already passed through the Field of Timespace. But it hasn’t become fully ethereal yet because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Spirits, and it still has its memories and consciousness and personalities because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Mind.”

“So what are you saying?”

“That I should’ve been able to easily call upon her Ghost.”

Oberen raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Wait, but, wouldn’t that mean that if the Soul already went through the Field of Mind, it would’ve been completely erased and would have no semblance of itself?”

Quinen shook his head. “The Perfected Collegiate Theory states the Ghost is a different entity from the Soul entirely. It also exists almost indefinitely, because it is no longer bound by the Field of Timespace.”

Oberen inhaled. “Wow.” He said. “I… understand. So what you’re saying is that you should’ve been able to access her Ghost?”

Quinen nodded. “If she truly has died, she’ll most definitely have left a Ghost behind. Probably in the Traverse of the Field of Death, Mort. Unless…”

“Unless she didn’t die or…” Oberen’s eyes widened as realization dawned upon him, fire burning away ignorant darkness. “Someone took her Soul before it arrived at the Field of Death.”

“Yes,” Quinen replied, his fingers in a steeple. “With that out of the way, I’m gonna need you to take me to the suspect.”

“Which suspect?” Oberen asked as he stood, straightening himself. He went over and removed the red fence blocking the way.

“The dreorg.”

 

It didn’t take them long to reach the dreorg’s flat. Oberen had told Quinen that she cooped herself up in the Karoley Ward, in a dormitory near the floating Collegium, above an old pawn shop. They went up to the apartment building and reached her room — on the second floor, numbered 2.

Quinen raised his hand and tapped the door softly, sending a probing sense. No Wards of any Field. Satisfied, he knocked on the door using his bone-scepter.

A few moments, and then there was the sound of footsteps, heavy and dragging, across the floor. The door swung open. A bespectacled dreorg girl, her height reaching up to Quinen’s waist, stood with her eyebrows furrowed. When she saw the three of them, she crossed her arms. Her prehensile tail wagged, unravelling its grip from the doorknob. “Yes?”

Quinen turned to Oberen, and then at Chrysanthemum, who stood beside Oberen instead of him. “Diys?” The detective said.

She nodded, her dark red hair bobbing. She had tied it up in a strange top knot which sat over her head, forming some strange makeshift bangs. Her face was round and young-looking.

“That’s me. What do you need?”

“Some of your time.” Quinen shouldered his way into the student’s dormitory, ignoring her consequent protests. The single room only had a bed, which lay beside a tall window that showcased the Wards opposite of the floating landmass that was the Collegium. Off to the horizon one could see the steel structures twined together with neon, magick, and money. One would need to have a lot more money than what it cost to afford the tuition of the Collegium to get to be part of the Spires.

“I’m here on Collegium-sanctioned business, Miss Diys,” Quinen said. His eyes flickered over to Oberen. “Cooperate, and nothing bad happens. I’m not gonna harm you, just ask you a couple of questions.” As he droned this off — as if he’d said this same exact line a million times before — his eyes gazed along the top of the desk she had. Papers upon papers of Substantial Theory and Psychoanalysis.

Quinen turned when he saw that he couldn’t glean anything from the papers. “Understood?”

She bit her lip. Oberen walked up to her and showed her the golden badge. “We won’t hurt you, okay? I bind our word by the Sacred Oath of the Vedina.”

Magick popped, whizzed in a buzzing sound one can only feel, and then the oath was bound. The air felt heavy for a few seconds, before it turned back to normality.

The dreorg swallowed, and then told the rest of the gang to come inside. With a nonchalant thwip of her tail, the door closed. “What are you going to ask me?” Diys walked over to her bed and sat.

Oberen and Chrysanthemum stayed a respectful distance away from her. Quinen stood right in front of the window. He eyed an aircraft, powered by the infinite resource of Diwa, floating through the sky like dust motes in the air. If one squinted hard enough, one would be able to see some rainbow-colored feathers of the anzu, splitting the skies with their wings.

“What is your connection to the human named Lyn?” Quinen didn’t turn. His eyes flickered to something clumsily hidden under her bed. A strange contraption resembling a glass sphere with a circular tube extending out of it. At the end of the circular tube was a mouthpiece.

Quinen smirked. That wasn’t a Yantra. At least, not of the Collegium.

“Lyn…? Does this have to do with her murder?” She managed to normalize her voice. It no longer shook with uncertainty. “She was a good friend of mine — one of my best friends. She treated me like she would treat any other human.”

Quinen nodded. “When was the last time you met her?”

“Not too long ago. A few days ago? I don’t remember. I was too busy catching up on my studies — I had a big intercrossed Matter and Mind exam coming up.”

“When did she die?”

Silence from Diys, then “When I was having my exam.”

“You enjoyed any substances with her?”

She scoffed. “Substances? Hey, old man, we’re in academia. We do drugs, yeah.”

“I’m going to assume mostly hallucinogens and greenleaf and the like, yes?”

She nodded. “Yeah, the usual.”

“I see,” Quinen said, turning around. He eyed the vials on the corner of her desk, put in a meticulous order. “You ever messed around with stimulants?”

Diys eyed the same rack of vials as Quinen. “Not yet, no. I want to, in the future. I have some alchemical combinations that can make me immune to pain.”

“Heard of the Garda Tonic?”

“The one that makes you sprout wings?” Diys said. “Yeah I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen anyone skilled enough to be able to mix them up.”

“Yeah,” Quinen said, nodding. “It takes some equal knowledge of the Fields of Life and Matter to be able to make something like that.” He paused. “Pertaining to hallucinogens, have you ever heard of Angel Dust?”

A pause. Quinen heard her breath cut short. Not very good at hiding things, was she? “I have,” she said, suddenly confident again. Quinen activated her palmnode and scoured Datascape about information on Angel Dust. “Haven’t tried it, though. It’s a bit too expensive.”

Quinen nodded. “I can sympathize,” he said, smiling. Diys looked up at him and smiled as well.

“That’s good.”

The information nodule about Angel Dust flashed into Quinen’s palmnode. A gray window, and then lines of Shennin script.

A powerful hallucinogenic substance created by being an expert in the Fields of Matter and the Fields of Mind. It puts the user into a narcotic state in which their body is rendered asleep for a few hours as they undergo a potent psychic trip.

“But, anyway, I’ve got an exam tomorrow,” she said. “I need to be a Dean’s-lister this year, so that I can keep it up next year. Then I’ll be able to graduate with the highest honors, and I can get out of Throne!”

Quinen’s ear perked up. He chuckled. “Okay, alright,” he said. “You might be called in for further questioning, though. Is that fine?”

She bit her lip, her eyes flickered to the left, and she nodded. “Absolutely fine,” her voice was completely calm. “Here’s my Scapelink, so you can contact me anytime.” She tapped her palmnode against Quinen’s and a buzz went through it. Their nodes linked together, her information on his palmnode.

Quinen smiled. “Alright. Have a nice day, Diys.”

“You too,” she said, smiling so wide her eyes were slits. She closed the door with her hands.

The three of them made their way downstairs. “I like dreorg,” Chrysanthemum said as they emerged into the pavement. “There were a lot more dreorg in my memories. Where could they have all gone?”

Oberen grimaced. “It’s better that you, uh, learn it from the history books.”

Chrysanthemum nodded. The Human Impergium that Quinen had taught her still bounced around her mindspace. If that were true…

She turned to Quinen. “Where are we going to now, Quinen?”

“To an old friend of mine,” he said, shoving his palmnode into his pocket and hailing a red cab. These were the resident ones of Karoley Ward, costing less than the brown ones that could go through the entire megacity of Throne. The red ones, however, were confined to traverse only around Karoley Ward.

“Friend of yours?” Oberen asked as he helped Quinen hail a cab.

They rode the red cab to the Corners, a refuge of houses all huddled against the corner of the great wall of sideream and orichalcum that defended Throne from all sides except the south, where the great Thronian Woods resided. Almost a small complex of their own, the Corner beganwith the Squatters, the area on the ground. From the Squatters, one would take the many bridges and stairs crisscrossing and winding about and through the houses, like an intricate snake caught in a spider’s web, to reach the second level of the Corners, the Jumpers. There lived the poorest of the poor, as well as various avian who could afford to live there because of their aerodynamic abilities.

While Squatters were so named because they “squat” into their houses below, the Jumpers are so named because of, well, the way most of them decide to finally leave Throne for good.

The Corners sat against the grandeur of the Great Wall like a strange, bulging hive of grime and scum. It jutted out to the sides of the Great Wall, huddling close to it. a strange scab that had infected the cleanness and majesty of the Wall.

The cabbie refused to go past the first street, so they had to drop off. It was for good reason, Quinen knew. He held Chrysanthemum close as they walked through the cracked bitumen roads that crisscrossed the ground of the corners. Street urchins ran around, playing with sticks and rocks, wearing nothing but shorts or undergarments. Behind them shouted their mothers, large-gutted or with mismatched teeth. They wore the bare minimum that would cover their skin, probably because that’s all they could afford.

Quinen knew the fathers of these children mostly just lazed around all day within, watching with their visionnodes that provided cheap entertainment through the Datascape. The three of them wove their way through them, like a trio of paper boats flowing upstream. Eventually, Quinen entered into an alleyway in between two houses made of hodgepodge materials. The alleyway had sluice running down its concrete. It ended in a small open cul-de-sac with various Squatter houses piled on top of each other, blotting out the sun.

Within, little boys played bugball. They would punt little caterpillar like creatures that roll into a dense ball known as circopedes. They were generally harmless, and rather enjoy being punted around and hit with sticks by small, shirtless children.

Quinen led the three up to a Squatter house on top of another. He knocked on the door once, and he was immediately answered. The door protested as it dragged across the ground. The man inside pulled once, twice, and then thrice before the door finally dragged open, making an unpleasant noise all the while.

Behind it, a skeleton of a man stood grinning. The vine-like markings on his body glowed with a complacent gray. His collarbones sprung out, looking like knives trying to puncture his sickly gray skin. He looked so thin and deathly that if one would put a finger through their cheek, their finger would pop through.

The man’s green eyes, so reminiscent of a wood-life long gone, were half hidden under black clean rings. The man had no ears.

Which was for the best, Quinen knew. Whatever it took to keep your alfrian self out of the shade and wrath of the human.

“Akyrie,” Quinen said. “I’m gonna need your expertise.”

Akyrie grinned a yellow-toothed and foul-smelling grin. Chrysanthemum scrunched her nose up and looked away. If Akyrie was offended by this, he showed no sign. “Ah, if it isn’t my old friend the warlock. Come in, come in, the Mixer is working today.”

Dream 5

Quinen crossed his arms and tried very carefully not to erupt into laughter.

The Dean beckoned the both of them in with a waving gesture. Quinen’s vision warped and twisted. When his vision cleared, he was standing on top of the carpeted floor, a few feet from the desk. The double doors shut behind them. Quinen tensed, his muscles moving on pure instinct. He was able to control his body. “Have a seat.”

Quinen held his jaw in a firm line. Oberen deferred, and he took a seat. It took Quinen a bit longer to oblige.

“So,” the Dean of the Collegium grinned, looking down at his palmnode. The screen reflected off of his round spectacles. “What have we here? Why does the Warlock return?”

Oberen opened his mouth. “Is that really what I’m called here now, ‘The Warlock’?” Quinen cut in, smiling. “Because that’s pretty awesome.”

“Dean Hakumatheia,” Oberen said, as if Quinen hadn’t spoken at all, “we’ve come to tell you that the Warlock has accepted the grave responsibility of investigating upon his step-sister’s death.”

The Dean raised a silver eyebrow. He turned to the Quinen. “I suppose you know what happens when you undertake jobs from the Collegium?”

Quinen leaned back on his high-back chair. Ooh, pillows. Comfy. “All too well,” he said.

The Dean stared at him with green and blue eyes. His gaze was with intent, hard and glaring. After a few moments of staring, he leaned back. “Success means you retrieve all your Magickal Instruments from the Repository, and maybe I’ll order my Huntsmen to turn a blind eye to some of your doings,” he said. The Dean raised a delicate white eyebrow when he continued. “Failure means that your Warlock status will be enforced. You know what that means.”

Quinen struggled not to bite his lip or ball his hands into his fists. Signs of weakness. Of fear. Never show it.

But retrieving all his Magickal Instruments? “Does that mean all of my Yantras?”

The Dean nodded. “All of them. Including the ones obtained… not so legally.”

A moment’s silence. The Dean and Oberen were both looking at him expectantly, their gazes fierce. He set his jaw. All his Yantras back would mean that he would be able to channel the Astral Realm once again, as well as call upon the Field of Death and gain his Mageweave coat back — his main form of protection.

“Fine,” he said. “You know if I had my Scepter, I would be able to conjure up Lyn’s ghost for questioning.”

The Dean nodded. “Very well.” He turned to Oberen. “File a retrieval notice from the Repository. The Scepter of the Warlock. Now.”

Oberen nodded, sparing Quinen one last dubious glance as he stood and walked out the door. It was just the Dean and Quinen together now.

The silence was choking. They sat in it for a few moments. The Dean’s eyes plastered against his palmnode. Quinen decided to check out his own palmnode, and found a message from Chrysanthemum.

— From: Chrysanthemum

here at collegium’s gymnasium

A wind of relief passed through Quinen.

“How have you been lately, Quinen Argist?”

Quinen smirked, and raised his eyebrows. His thoughts swirled. Why was he being so amiable, when he was the one that voted he be expelled in the first place? “Getting by,” he said, with a shrug.

“You’ve become a Private Investigator, I see?” The Dean smiled, somber. “Still seeking information and truth.”

“My curiosity is both a blessing and a curse, it seems,” Quinen said.

“What have you learned ever since you left the Collegium?”

“Paying taxes is hard,” he said. “As well as finding a decent place in Throne that’s not in the Slums. Also, jifarin are vulnerable to fire.”

“And you’ve been able to channel Power without your usual Yantras?”

Quinen shrugged. “It’s easy to conjure up a few of your own,” he said. “Other than the usual Mudras and Mantras — and you know how much I hate runir — I’ve been doing magick with a zippo lighter and tattoos as Yantras.”

The Dean’s eyebrows shot up, and he nodded impressed. “Very resourceful of you.”

“I learned a lot from here,” Quinen said. A smirk crept up to his face.

The Dean smirked. A smirk that meant to say his remarks bothered him not at all. “But you are not able to channel the Astral Realm without that peculiar staff of yours. How you’ve managed to do that is still unknown to us.” The Dean’s smirking face turned into a scowl. He looked back into his palmnode.

“You don’t know how to channel the Astral Realm?”

The Dean looked up, frowning. He brought up a ball made of rubber, and placed it on his desk.

With a wave of a hand, the ball turned into a bonsai tree.

Quinen shrugged, looking straight out of the window.

“All knowledge about the Astral is incomplete by its very nature,” the Dean said, snapping his fingers and dissipating the bonsai tree back into Diwa. “For we are Mortals. We do not deserve the power of God.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow at that. The doors swung open then, and Oberen walked in, holding a Scepter. Its shaft was made of bleached bone, and its head was a black obsidian stone. All around it were twined feathers of a blackbird.

“I’ll hand this to you once we get to Lyn’s corpse,” he said as Quinen rose from his seat.

 

***

 

When the mist cleared from within the glass square, Chrys hadn’t been quite sure what she just watched. Without any knowledge about what they just did, it looked like they had just exhausted themselves in a flashy show of magickal power.

The piskie-haired woman stood up, walking over to the exhausted Thackeray. She put her hand out, smiling. Thackeray gripped it with his own and stood. The two of them walked out of the glass square together.

They retreated to locker rooms. Chrysanthemum had to wait a while before either of them emerged into the non-partitioned area of the Gymnasium. When the door opened, it was the piskie-haired girl who walked out first.

Chrysanthemum skipped over to her and grabbed her hand. “You were amazing!”

“Oh,” the piskie-haired woman stepped back. She scanned Chrysanthemum, and then pushed her optics up her nose. “Oh, thank you…?”

“Chrysanthemum,” Chrys said, pouting.

“Nice to meet you, Chrysanthemum.” She smiled. She wore a regal blue leather coat about her now, embellished with vine-like designs, and brought a gym bag with her.

“What’s your name?” Chrys asked. “I know Thackeray-”

“Of course you did.”

“-But I don’t know you.”

Grinning, she said, ”De Laqua Maeve. But you may call me Maeve. First Magus of the Kifetic Order.”

Chrysanthemum shook her head. “No. Thackeray is the First Magus. You must be the second-”

“Oh no,” Maeve chuckled. “First Magus is but a title for those who have achieved exemplary magickal levels.”

“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded. “Neat.”

The doors swung open again, and Navarre Thackeray stepped out. His lean, muscled body was quite clearly seen through his slim-fit tank top and white jogging pants. His blonde hair he tied up in a messy bun on top of his head. He had a towel on one hand, and a gym bag on the other.

Chrysanthemum smiled. “Oh, Thackeray!”

Thackeray paused, and then looked up at Chrys. He furrowed his eyebrows, opened his mouth, pointed a finger. “Um…?”

Maeve chuckled again. “It’s Chrysanthemum.”

“Right!” Thackeray snapped his fingers. “Chrysanthemum. Right, right.”

Chrysanthemum walked up to Thackeray. “You were so amazing. You were like a god.”

Thackeray’s head bobbed backwards, and then he just smiled. Maeve turned to Thackeray, and they exchanged a knowing smile. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that. We were just sparring, after all.” Thackeray shook his head. “A-anyway, little lady. Why are you still here? Haven’t I already brought you to the exit?”

“Chrysanthemum’s not very good at following.” Chrys bopped her head and stuck out her tongue, winking.

“Okay,” he said, shrugging. “Well, we’re just about to leave the campus. We can take you with us.”

Maeve walked to Thackeray’s side.

Chrysanthemum tilted her head. “Are you committed? What tradition are you adhering to?“

Thackeray and Maeve turned to look at each other, and then turned Chrys with their lips pressed together and their eyebrows furrowed.

She opened her mouth to say something, but the words that came out were different. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“Um, we had Martial Thaumaturgy classes together,” Maeve answered. “We’re on our last year. We’ve just finished our license exam and are on our way to becoming Huntsmen.”

“License exam?”

There was another blast within the partitioned part of the room. Thackeray turned and whooped at the fight, presumably to encourage his sparring friend. “To become Huntsmen,” Maeve said.

“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded, mouth hanging open. “What do you hunt?”

Maeve shrugged. “Well, you know, monsters, creatures not safe for the City, those in the hinterlands.” She looked up past Chrysanthemum, and her face turned into a scowl. “Warlocks.”

“Warlocks?” Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side.

 

 

***

 

Oberen held Quinen’s Scepter as they walked down the Gymnasium. He told him that he needed to pick up Chrysanthemum before he set to work.

Quinen smirked as he walked up to Maeve, straight past Chrysanthemum. Maeve had a pretty athletic physique, so she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Quinen. “Hey, De Laqua.”

Her scowl burned. “Warlock.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow and opened his palms. “What’s with the hostilities?” Her hands were balled into fists, her stance rigid. Her jaw was set in a line.

“Why don’t you leave the campus? You are not needed here.”

Quinen snorted and turned around. “Yes, I am, actually.”

Thackeray returned after cheering his friend on. “Aw man, that last working was…” His voice trailed off when he saw Quinen.  His face turned stoic, his stance straight-backed and ready to pounce. “Warlock,” he said.

Quinen sighed inwardly. “Navarre!” Quinen smiled, spreading his hands out. “I hope that Huntsman thing is getting along well.”

“It is,” Maeve said with a shrug. “And soon enough we’d be hunting people like you.”

Grinning, Quinen said, “But not today. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to get going.” He gripped Chrysanthemum’s arm and hauled her away. Oberen followed suit, not making eye contact with the two Huntsmen-in-training.

Chrysanthemum broke Quinen’s grip once they came out of the Gymnasium door. She held her arm. “Ouch.”

Quinen inhaled, kept the breath and composed himself, and then released it. He smiled, but that quickly faded. “Don’t leave my side.” He then grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand again and hauled her away.

As they walked back to the East Park, Quinen spoke. “Are there any people connected to Lyn?”

“A few have been suspects the last few days,” Oberen said. “This belgar named Dajud, an human Inker, and a dreorg named Diys.” Chrys squirmed. Quinen cursed and let her go. She stayed a few feet from him, walking while cradling her hand.

“The belgar is crossed off as a potential suspect then,” Quinen said. “Belgars can’t be in the Collegium.”

“That leaves the Inker and the dreorg.” Quinen frowned. They walked down the stairs to the East Park. “What does the dreorg do?”

“She’s a Magicker.”

“What Sympathies?”

Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, thinking. “To the Fields of Matter and Mind.”

He paused, his mind lurking up to a piece of information he had read in an obscure, banned textbook somewhere in the public library. “Ten eagles says it’s the dreorg.”

Oberen stopped in his tracks. He raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

“The Field of Mind is, metaphysically, close to Avalon,” he said. “At times, they intersect.”

“Sure,” Oberen said. “But Fields intersect all the time. A lot of magickal workings cross their beams so to speak.”

“Not the Material Fields, no,” Quinen smiled.

They walked into the sectioned-off center of the Park and up to Lyn’s dead body. More greenery had begun sprouting out of her corpse, and flowers were blossoming with a speed only a time-lapse would be able to replicate. The three of them watched with befuddled gazes.

Quinen walked up and knelt in front of her. “Give me my Scepter.”

Oberen handed him the bone-staff. Quinen gripped it, and a familiarity washed over him. He breathed in a deep wind as he held the staff close to him, as if a key had suddenly opened up yet to another door. As if a long dormant piece of hardware had just clinked back to life, cobwebs dusting off.

He knew for a fact that he didn’t need this specific Yantra to do his Workings, but he’d been the lowest in his class when it came to Mudra, Mantra, and Runir Forms. He couldn’t perform the Mudra hand gestures fast enough, speak the Mantras properly, and create the perfect lines with the Runir geometries. He found that Yantras — physical tools — were his best bet, and he’s never looked back.

Although some proficiency in a Mantra would be nice, he thought.

He put the Scepter in front of him, sticking the obsidian stone into the soil. He snarled a sentence,

incomprehensible, yet perfect. He gripped it hard and then, for the first time in three years, connected his soul to the Field of Death.

A cold feeling washed over Quinen, and he welcomed it. He found that if you tried to fight the fear and cold of death, you’d just end up hurting yourself instead. He tightened his grip as he Willed Power to come down and change Reality.

And Power did come. As it surged through him, he formed a spell. In his Imahen, his Mind’s Eye, he created the image of a summoning spell, to call the ghost of Lyn. As the spell formed, he pulled the obsidian stone from the soil, and struck Lyn’s corpse.

He snarled a word. Power released from him in a surge. Death answered his Will. Magick came to be.

A silence. A beat.

There was no answer.

Quinen opened his eyes and frowned. Had he done something wrong? Had his hiatus from channeling the Field of Death made his connection somewhat weaker? No. He shook his head. Do not doubt. Doubt is the enemy of belief. Belief is the fuel of Will. Will is the way to Magick. Quinen repeated it in his head, chanting it like a mantra.

Then, there was an answer. Quinen’s eyes opened, and he looked up. His irises glowed a sickly green. Above Lyn’s body was… a void. An emptiness. A nothingness. A something that should’ve been there, but is not. There was no ghost.

And if there was no ghost, where was her soul?

 

Dream 4

“You don’t think the Divata could be so stupid as to intrude upon the bounds of the Collegium, right?” Oberen sneered, but his eyebrows were furrowed.

Quinen raised an eyebrow, still looking down at his half-dead sister. The dark-haired detective began twirling a loose bang that sprouted from his messy bun. “Then what do you think it is?”

The other Magicker walked up beside him. “We’ve been thinking it’s an intricate Spell, but despite our best efforts we haven’t been able to detect any Magickal Semblance.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow. He scratched at his growing stubble. “Have you asked Ciera?”

The dark-haired Collegiate paused, and then looked up at him. “You still remember her?”

Quin nodded.

Oberen shrugged. “Well, she graduated now, but yes actually. We have asked for her expertise. No trace of Semblance.”

Quinen sighed. He dug his hands into the pockets of his leather long coat. “The Collegium is either getting lazy, or is looking for a reason to get me killed.”

Oberen raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“This is obviously not the work of a Magicker, yeah?” Quinen said. A chill wind blew through the branches of the trees. “It’s obvious and easy. Far too vulgar. No Magickal Semblance, even with Ciera’s workings, means no Magick has been used. This is clearly the work of another entity entirely.”

“What entity do you propose?”

“The most likely candidates are the most obvious ones,” he said. “Daemon, an Anima, or a Divata.”

Oberen snorted, looked down at the dead step-sister, and his sneer faded away.

 

***

 

“Beg pardon sire,” Chrysanthemum said. The golden haired man smirked at that. “I am Chrysanthemum.”

“Okay, Chrysanthemum,” he said nodding. He glanced down at his palmnode, and then glanced back up. “If you’re not doing anything here, I’d suggest you leave the premises.”

“Oh!” she said, sounding and looking like someone had stepped on her foot. She turned to Quinen, who was too busy arguing with Oberen. “ Actually I’m…” She turned to him again, and his smile was that cute half smile that Quinen didn’t do too much, but which she absolutely adored. “Uh, what is you called?” She gesticulated to the golden-haired Magicker.

“Navarre Thackeray,” he said, bowing a bit. “Born of Algol. Now a First Magus of the Kifetic Order, elah Aurelius Magna.”

Chrysanthemum smiled at that. “That’s a long name, Navarre Thackeray, born of Algol, now a first Magus of–“

Thackeray laughed. “No, no. Please. Just call me Thackeray. That’s my given name.”

Chrysanthemum peered at him, imitating a conspicuous look. Then she broke into a smile. “I believe you. I shall leave.” She turned once more to Oberen and Quinen, and then turned and followed Thackeray out of the red fence. He waved a gold badge similar to Oberen’s and the red fence vanished.

When they stepped through, the red fence reappeared, and soon there was a dangerous boundary between her and Quinen.

Thackeray turned, his golden locks waving. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”

“Oh, no wait please!” she said. Chrysanthemum didn’t know why she was saying this. But something tugged at her. He was awfully beautiful. “I’m awfully terrible with directions. Would you be so kind as to lead me to an exit?”

Thackeray bit his lip. He turned to the blocked off portion of East Park, and then turned back to Chrysanthemum. “But we must make it quick.”

Chrysanthemum grinned and nodded. Thackeray turned and led them out of the park. She followed suit, a little bit too eager. She followed the golden-maned man out of the park, through the paved walkway they had gone through before, and to the stone-walled room. There stood the starlit portal once again, guarded by the Celestial Lions. Thackeray bowed to her, and said, “Now I must leave.”

Chrysanthemum bit her lip, watching as the golden-haired lion of a man swung the door closed. She was suddenly alone, her feet against the stone. The crackle of torches filled the room. The unmoving, alien Celestial Lions watched vigilantly.

 

***

 

“Adon’s sake,” Quinen cursed, looking around. “Where in the Malach* is Chrysanthemum?!”

Oberen snorted, placing a hand on Quinen’s shoulder. Quinen roughly shook him off, stalking to the far side of the closed off area. “Relax,” Oberen said. “She probably went to the cafeteria or something.”

Quinen frowned. She doesn’t know what a cafeteria is. He pulled out his palmnode and tried to link to Chrysanthemum. “She’s not answering,” he said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

“What is she to you anyway?” Oberen walked over to the red fence and waved the golden badge again. The red lights faded away. “Why are you so troubled about her?”

Quinen breathed in through his teeth. “Let’s just say… she’s special.”

“Special…?”

“Just…” Quinen shook his head. “She’s different, okay? She’s not like us.”

“What are you talking about?” Oberen said. “She looks just like any other human to me.”

“Okay, whatever.” Quinen shook his head. His gritted his teeth, balled his hands into fists and looked around the place. He should give Chrysanthemum some space. Some freedom. He couldn’t keep an iron grip on her all the time. The Collegium was a safe place anyway, for the most part. It was bound to be, when the walls literally have eyes.

He inhaled. Then he said, “Alright. Okay,” he said, shaking his mind off the amnesiac girl, “if I take this job, would I get paid for it?”

“Paid for it?” Oberen grinned. “Quin, you’ll get more than just being paid. Let’s get to the admin’s office.”

Oberen and Quinen walked at the same pace. They walked to the center of the Collegium once again, turned right, passed the Vedina and walked into a large structure, made with glass walls and ceilings, refracting light and keeping it in to keep warm during the cold Nymph nights. They walked across the glossy marble floor, past students and savants carrying booknodes, along with actual physical books. Librarians, studious guardians of knowledge, sat behind waxed wooden counters. Behind them were stacks of booknodes, and in front of them were lines of students.

Quinen snorted. “They still have their textbooks in encrypted nodes?”

Oberen nodded. “Yeah, well, since everything is in the Datascape these days, they need a way to keep the arcana secret.” He glanced at the Librarians. “The textbooks are just for mundane subjects.”

Quinen smiled. “Librarians.”

They reached a frosted glass door. A square lock kept it closed, with a little raised square. Oberen pressed his golden badge against that raised square, and the glass doors slid open.

“I haven’t been here since forever,” Quinen said. They walked into the Tasspaths, a glowing tube of pure energy and power, crafted by the most intuitive and intelligent of Magitechts. They made it so that Diwa, the creational particle of everything, was solidified into Tass, and turned into a bridge of pure arcane energy. Within these tubes of power, were timespace magicks that moved you forward in time and space by a few seconds. A Manipulate Timespace Working.

Quinen took a step and zoomed forward. When he put his foot down, he was twenty feet forward from his original position. He looked up, and saw the criss-crossing of other Tasspaths connecting and leading to different parts of the Collegium.

The tube had numerous people walking up and down within it. They all flash-stepped forward, for the gap between the Collegium’s two buildings was a few kilometers. Quinen walked across the golden tube and reached the other glass door on the other side in a matter of seconds.

Oberen was already there when Quinen arrived. He closed the door behind him. They stepped into a carpeted floor, walked across the room, and up to the highest floor of the building. As they stepped out of the lift it zoomed down, operating on the same principle as the Tasspaths instead of a system of lever and pulleys.

The only thing in the small room that they stepped into were wooden double doors. Quinen smirked. “It’s like being called to the Principal’s office.”

Oberen chuckled. He stepped forward and flung the wooden doors opened.

Another room welcomed them, carpeted, enclosed by a circular marble wall and its windows six feet tall. It had three floors, with a wooden staircase, its steps carpeted as well, that spiraled up into those floors. About the room were stacks and shelves of physical, leather-bound tomes.

In the center stood a desk, draped over with an embellished red and gold linen. A floating orb that shifted across the spectrum of colors floated above a small wooden platform. A concert of pens floated around an inkwell.

Behind the desk was a man with a silver white hair tied up in a bun above his head. His chin was clean of any facial hair. His green and blue eyes softened when he looked up to see Quinen and Oberen.

“Ah,” he said. His voice was high and nasal. He had been poring over an old tome. He closed it, locked it with a wave of his hand. He brought out his palmnode, raised it up, and pressed. There was a flash that erupted from the middle of the node’s back, capturing their image and then saving it on the device. “Warlock Quinen and Magicker Oberen. Come in.”

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum walked out of the door, instead of the Portal. She went up to the Vedina statue and looked around, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Throngs of students walked around like busy ants. She spotted a blonde person, but saw it was just a female human.

Why am I looking for him?  She thought to herself. She stalked up to a young boy, with dark cropped hair and glasses sliding off his nose as he typed on his lapnode.

“Excuse me, good sir,” she said, leaning forward a bit. “Do you, perchance, know of a fellow named ‘Navarre Thackeray’?”

The boy pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and looked up at Chrysanthemum. He stared for a good three… four seconds. Chrysanthemum knocked on his forehead. “Hello?”

“Oh,” he shook his head and looked away. Chrysanthemum pulled back, standing straight, and repeated the question. He answered. “Y-you might find him in the Gymnasium.”

“And where is that?”

He pointed the way. She nodded, smiled at him, and went off on her own merry way.

She managed to find the Gymnasium on her own. It was down a set of stairs off to the side of the floating island of the Collegium. Built upon a floating isle of its own, the gymnasium was annexed to the Collegium’s, held close by a steel bridge that kept it unmoving.

Chrysanthemum walked up to the bridge. When she stepped onto it, she felt a humming of power. Disregarding the view of the skyscrapers and buildings, jutting out like fat fingers and steel spines, she looked down. She saw small Tass orbs that seemed to… do something. She didn’t know. But she was sure it kept the bridge safe and firm.

She crossed and walked up to the steel doors of the gymnasium, opened it just a creak — enough for her body to fit through — and slipped in.

The gymnasium was a spacious. The floor was mostly covered in padding. Hard enough for sure footing, soft enough so that it didn’t hurt too much when you fell. All the windows were open, and there was a partition of the large gymnasium blocked off by a glass wall.

Outside the glass wall, people ran around obstacle courses, performed gymnastics, and lifted weights. Some of them practiced sports, others practiced weapon training. A class of young Prentices were drilled by a beer-gut sports teacher.

Within the glass wall was something far more amazing to Chrysanthemum’s eyes. She could see the faintly humming glow of sigils and runes scribbled with Magick upon the glass wall to strengthen it. Past the glass wall, men and women — some of them in layered carapaces of flexible steel, and some in just workout clothes — jumped all about. They flung fire from their fingertips, shot lightning from their mouth. Some of them summoned blades of ice from the tips of their swords. Magick used for Conflict.

Chrysanthemum ran up to the glass wall. A heavy hand stopped her from putting her face against the glass. Turning, Chrys saw a man with a neck the size of a tree stump. He was scowling, but his eyes were neutral. “Not past the red line.”

Chrys blinked, looked down, and saw a line fulminating with some sort of crimson energy. What kind of energy it was, she didn’t know, but it was dynamic and liquid, like plasma. She turned to the man and nodded. The man had looked away.

Chrys turned to look at what tree-stump-necked man was looking at, and saw the golden mane of Navarre Thackeray.

He spoke, but through the glass wall she couldn’t hear anything. There was a smug grin on both of the combatant’s faces, the other combatant being a woman with hair cut short, boyish, making her look like a Piskie Divata. Her eyes literally flared with an icy flame. In her right hand was a quarterstaff. She opened her mouth to retort, with a smirk.

After said retort, Thackeray stepped forward. The girl snarled.

When Thackeray’s foot hit the hard ground, he disappeared in a flash of light. He reappeared in another golden flash of light, reminiscent to a star twinkling, a second later. The piskie-haired woman had already twirled her staff before Thackeray moved.

Thackeray’s kick met with the woman’s staff. Grinning something fierce, Thackeray blurred in the air, twisting and turning, bringing his legs with him. The woman wasn’t even looking. She moved her quarterstaff as if this were a carefully choreographed dance, blocking each strike.

Thackeray planted both feet against the staff and jumped off of her, using her as a springboard. The woman shook her head, twirled her staff, and then struck out at Thackeray. A quick movement, like a snake leaping out.

Thackeray crossed his arms in a defensive position as he flew through the air, hair flailing. An invisible pounding force slammed against him, and he flew higher into the air. Thackeray curled into a fetal position, and then disappeared in another twinkling star.

The piskie woman frowned, knelt, struck the ground with her left hand, and spikes of ice radiated from it. The spikes broke off a few inches right before they hit the wall. Jumping onto one of the ice spikes, she tapped it with her staff, magickally directing the ice spike upwards with the enchanted instrument. The spike rose up from the floor, and she skated in the air, wintry frost trailing behind her.

Thackeray flickered into vision on one of the ice spikes jutting out of the ground. The woman continued slinging sparks of ice from her staff towards Thackeray. The golden-haired Magicker clasped his hands together, and his golden mane glowed with the intensity of the sun. The icebolts zipped towards him, and he moved.

Not away. His fists flashed. It met the fastest, closest projectile and shattered it into a million tiny fragments of frost. The rest of the icebolts followed and Thackeray slammed his fist against each one.

The piskie woman crouched as she skated about in midair on top of the ice spike. She tapped it with her staff once again, and she flipped, kicking the shard forward.

Thackeray opened his hands, and grinned widely. His eyes burst a flaming crimson. When the spike came in a few feet of him, he clamped both of his bare hands together, pinning the spike between them.

Golden flames erupted around Thackeray, enveloping him like some sort of aura. He shouted loud enough for Chrys to hear on the other side of the glass wall. His golden mane floated upwards, forming a crown of gold about his head, as the woman fluttered to the ground on an invisible chariot of frostic winds.

Thackeray screamed something, and four arms made of pure golden light erupted from his back. They each grabbed a part of the spike, and he turned. He rotated and threw the shard back at where the woman was in the air.

The spike of ice shattered against the magickal strength of the glass walls. The woman was gone. She turned into a fine, swirling mist of frost and bolted toward Thackeray. She crashed into him, square in the chest, sending him sprawling to the ground, and she congealed into being once again.

Thackeray was up on his feet before he knew it. He pulled back all of his six fists and stepped.

In the breath of time it took an eye to blink, he was in front of the woman. His hands became a blur. Fists flying.

The woman fought smart. She stepped back, made a gesture with her hands, and a misty circle swirled into being. She used that and her staff to block each of the strikes. Her hands became a blur as these two fighters, so evenly matched in speed and strength, traded blows and never landed a hit.

Then a golden fist slipped through the ice, and shattered the woman’s armor. The fist connected, and time seemed to stop as everything registered. She was hit so hard that it seemed like she disappeared and reappeared a few feet away.

Her body crashed against one of the ice spikes, but she managed to twist midair and land on her feet. Aside from a couple of bruises and scratches, she was perfectly fine. Cold beads of sweat dripped from her forehead.

Her staff had shattered. She spread both hands behind her, as if she were spreading out her wings, and then balled them into fists, as if she were crushing something. The ice spikes shattered, turning into smaller pieces of fragmented frost. Spreading her arms back again, she uttered more words and her eyes flared icy hues. She had three bangles on each wrist, Chrysanthemum noticed, and each one shivered and shuddered.

The woman swung her hands forward, and the ice spikes bulleted toward Thackeray.

Thackeray grinned defiantly. He stepped back, his foot sinking into the ground, creating a crater as gold flame enveloped him. And, impossibly, his six arms collided with each of the million fragments of ice.

Each time ice shattered, it dissipated into mist. A fine mist erupted around Thackeray, but a barrier of clear air formed a dome about him as the fierce wind from his flurry of punches kept the icy mist from him.

Thackeray stopped as the mist dissipated, replaced with glittering as the little fragments of ice reflected light. Thackeray released his fists, and he fell to a knee. Golden brass knuckles shattered from his grip.

The woman was on her knees as well, breathing heavily. Her eyes had ceased flaring.

 


 

*Malach are seemingly mythical creatures that none have seen for thousands of years. Saying this in modern times is like saying, “Where in nothingness, or where the heck.”

 

Dream 3

Quinen wasn’t quite sure what to expect anymore when he came into the Collegium. Would they welcome him back? Would everyone be hostile? Or would everyone that knew him already graduated, and had moved on to actual Savant jobs like Magitechts and Physickers?

Oberen had told him that the mangled body of her sister was in the East Park of the Collegium. He didn’t respond, grimacing instead when he walked through two bronze and brass statues of lions. Their eyes glimmered with a radiant arcane power, and their mane flowed like stardust streams, floating about like tendrils in water.

Oberen raised something in his hand — something that looked like a glinting circular piece of gold — and the Celestial Lions stayed silent.

Oberen turned to Quinen, and then to Chrysanthemum. She gazed up at the Celestial Lions, standing on her tip-toes to get a closer look.

“Right inside, please,” Oberen said. Chrys peered a few seconds more into the flaring wicks of flame burning within the eye-sockets of the Celestial Lions, before turning back and walking close to Quinen.

Quinen sighed, gripped Chrysanthemum’s hand, and–

“Ow,” she said, and she pulled away from Quinen’s grasp.

“What?” Quinen asked, pulling his hand close to him, afraid he had done something wrong. Chrysanthemum looked up at him. A breath escaped Quinen as he stared into her iridescent eyes, reflective of her homeland of beautiful madness. He shook his head. “N-nevermind that. Come on.”

She nodded. Quinen turned to the Portal — a large arch with swirling nebulous magic within, resembling the night sky on a clear night, complete with astral stars and sidereal clouds. Quinen clenched his fists and turned one last time to Chrysanthemum. She looked away from him, rubbing her hand.

Could it be that— No. The Warlock shook his head. No time for that. He turned and strode into the Portal. The murky, yawning arc ate him up like a stone sinking into a river, its blackness enveloping him.

***

Chrysanthemum sat on the bed, looking up at Quinen. “Step… sister?”

Quinen rubbed his eyes with his hands. Oberen looked at him, raising an eyebrow. He opened his mouth, but then Quinen waved dismissively. “Lyn was the daughter of some other man my mum married.”

Chrysanthemum nodded slowly though her eyebrows were still furrowed. “Ah, yes. Marriage. Tradition? A commitment…?”

Quinen breathed in, and said, “To one another, yes.”

“What does this tradition eat?”

Quinen bit his lip; Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, and then turned to Quinen, his face demanding an explanation. “She’s just being jokey,” he said, hoping that that would’ve been enough. He turned to Chrysanthemum, whispering: “We don’t ask those questions, right now, okay?”

She paused, then turned to Oberen. Black was beginning to seep in from the corners of her eyes, like ink shrouding the whites of her eyes. Quinen noticed this and bit back a curse. He turned to Oberen and said, “Hey, Oberen, we’re going to need some privacy. She needs to get ready for the trip to the Collegium.”

Oberen raised an eyebrow at that. Quinen sighed and shook his head. “That just means she needs to take a bath.”

Oberen turned to Chrysanthemum, who was now looking at her fingertips. Blotches of ink exploded from the tips. He shrugged. “I’ll be downstairs.”

The Collegium Magicker shut the door behind him as he walked out. Quinen waited for the sound of his boots to fade away, and then he locked the door with a wave of a hand; a ring of glyphs burst out around the doorknob, revolving around it in a hypnotic rhythm.

Quinen walked toward Chrysanthemum and pulled his shirt off of her. Thank Adon she was wearing some undergarments.

The ink he had implanted upon the back of her neck had begun to snake back into its origin, like a flower receding into its bulb, reverse-blossoming. The snaking, vine-like tattoos that twined about Chrysanthemum moved with a vigor usually reserved to human beings.

“God’s balls,” he said, frowning. He stood and walked over to his wooden workbench, situated by the foot of the bed. He pulled a drawer open and grabbed a small, black stick with a tip of crystal.

Dras,” Quinen whispered beneath his breath. The snarling word brought action, and the tip of the crystal burst into a stellar yellow blue.

He walked over to Chrysanthemum, who watched the tattoos of her body squirm, receding like snakes returning into a hole. “Quin,” she said. Her voice was strange and melancholic. It sounded like it echoed from the caverns of her heart. “What’s happening?”

“It’s the tattoos again,” he said. “Remember? They allow you to keep this Mortal form until you’ve earned the right to get one.”

“I’m…” she faltered as she looked about her body once more, from her shoulders and her chest, down to her feet, and eventually finding herself gazing at the window. She stopped at the sight of her reflection. Her eyes reflected not the beaten down brick apartment that stood across the street from their own flat, but of a place of cold fire and burning water — of perfectly constrained passions and unbridled calm. “I’m dreaming of a place somewhere else…”

“Don’t focus on that,” Quinen said. He did his best to keep the small panic rising in his voice. Every time the tattoos receded, he concluded, the threat of her slipping into the Avalon gets larger and larger. “Don’t focus on that.”

She reached a hand out to the window. Vine-like ink scrawled and slithered up her arm.

A scrawling glyph appeared on top of the glowing yellow crystal. Then, he placed the tip of the inkwand on the end of one of the slithering tattoos. The crawling tattoo stopped, as if held back by the inkwand, suspended by the commanding tip. Wincing from effort, Quinen pulled the tattoos back into place.

The vine-like tattoos moved, as if being charmed by a snake-charmer. It scrawled up Chrysanthemum’s arm again until it returned to its previous place, burning with an arcane light, an iridescence that matched her shifting eyes perfectly. Quinen continued to do the same with the rest of the receding tattoos until he had brought back the tattoos to their rightful places, all in the noble cause of keeping Chrysanthemum anchored to the Mund.

With that finished, Quinen leaned back, huffing out a breath. He stood and walked over to his workbench, returning the inkwand back into its drawer.

Chrysanthemum blinked. The black had gone from the whites of her eyes, as if she had been purified of something. “Quinen…?”

Quin turned and walked over to her. She held out a hand, as if she were blind, and Quinen caressed it. He gripped her hand with both of his own. “I’m here.”

“What am I?” she said. Her voice quivered, her eyes still focused on the window. She was still seeing a place far away, distant.

“You’re a flower,” Quinen said, with a voice much lower and much more caring than he ever thought possible. “A beautiful flower that needs to be taken care of.”

She didn’t answer. She looked out of the window, almost wistful. Her eyes reflected a place of beautiful madness.

* * *

Chrys was vomited into the stone floor by the starry-sky portal. She stepped lightly on her feet, managing to find her balance before completely toppling over. It was already Nymph Season — it was bound to get cold and the snow wasn’t even setting in yet. This made her grateful of the surprising warmth within the Collegium.

She found herself in a square room; Celestial Lions still guarded this side of the Portal. The room looked like it belonged to the Late Second Age — stone walls, torches planted on each of the four walls and wooden tables.

Oberen waited for them on top of the stairs, right across the room. Chrysanthemum flittered over to the foot of the stairs and walked up him. She would take two steps at a time, and then she would get tired and only take one.

When she came over to Oberen, she felt obliged to ask, “Why is it that one would need a Portal to enter the Collegium?”

Oberen snorted. He didn’t look at the fey girl. “Did that need to be a question? Have you seen where we are?”

She had.

Even before they entered into the Portal — hell, while they were taking the service car over to the Karoley Ward to the East of the City — Chrysanthemum could already see the floating archipelago of the Collegium, interconnected by a criss-crossing complex of arcane beams. There were little black dots that walked atop these streams of pure energy. The little black dots were people, Chrysanthemum deduced to herself, nodding.

Yes. They were people. I’m smart.

“I suppose I have. Disregard my question.”

Soon enough, Quinen was beside Chrysanthemum. He walked over to Oberen. “East Park, right?” He asked. Oberen nodded. At that nod, he walked out of the room they were in and out into a large, round courtyard that seemed to be the middle of the Collegium.

Students, Savants, and teachers alike walked across the massive courtyard, rushing to and fro to their various responsibilities. In the middle of the circular space was a statue. A strange one at that, Chrysanthemum noted to herself — it was a bunch of broken stones that were held floating together loosely by some ethereal force. It made the statue look like it had been shattered into pieces, and then glued back together loosely and imperfectly.

The statue itself depicted a singular symbol — one that resembled a cross with an “X” across it, giving it eight points. A glowing, silver line of humming power traced the tips of these and formed an octagon about it.

Chrysanthemum tugged at Quinen’s sleeve. “What is that?” She asked, pointing at the strange symbol.

Quinen turned, and then said, “Ah, that’s the Vedina, a symbol of Magick and the symbol of the University,” he said. “And that’s the longest I can take the job of being a tour guide. Let’s head over to the East Park.”

Chrysanthemum followed Oberen and Quinen through the courtyard, weaving through various throngs of students. A few were facing each other, performing intricate hand gestures and shouting out words that only grated against her ear. They were incomprehensibly understandable.

Somewhere, in the mass chaotic blob of students, a flower fell from a tree. The next instant, a cut sliced it perfectly. Chrysanthemum stopped and turned around, trying to look for the source of the sound, before she saw a long-haired woman with a sword sheath her blade, and a pink flower falling from its branch, cut in half.

Chrysanthemum turned to Quinen, but they were already a few feet away. She had to dash to catch up to them.

They walked as they talked. Chrysanthemum did her best not to get distracted by everything happening around her, but there was just so many things. Another grating, magical word, and frosty winds wrapped around her.

Turning, Chrys saw another girl jump in front of a flying fireball. The girl performed a series of lightning fast hand movements and the fireball struck her hands. The fireball burst in a grand display of green and blue, embers of color dancing about her like loose butterflies, and then it dissipated back into Diwa.

Chrysanthemum followed the two Magickers as they descended down wide stairs of stone, capable of accommodating everyone walking up and down. Chrys observed strange trees that didn’t much grow in the concrete jungle of Throne. A forest of twisting trunks and gnarled branches that seemed to support the heavens itself, colored white, black, brown, and red.

Soon enough, they reached the bottom of the stairs, away from the Courtyard and its tall, square buildings and hallways. The East Park still had other access points and exits to other parts of the Collegium, but the middle of it was sealed off by a few strange, pole-like contraptions emitting a red light from an orb on top of the pole. It resembled a picket fence, if the horizontal slats had been replaced with twining beams of crimson.

Oberen walked over to the fence and waved his hand; the small, golden badge he brought with him glowed gold, and one side of the fence petered out. There was a pop that Chrys felt more than she heard, and the space between the two, colorless poles was crossed by Oberen.

Quinen and Chrysanthemum followed soon after.

The lights of the fence exploded back into existence behind them.

In front of them, in the midst of a circle of neatly arranged trees, was a body lying against the stone concrete of the East Park. It was a lady she hadn’t seen before. The fact that her face had been mangled beyond identification could be a probable reason for that.

Quinen walked up to the body, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His eyes scanned the body, with an intense glare.

There was a tap on Chrys’ shoulder. She turned, and saw a man with hair gold like the sun. His eyes were feral, painted crimson, reminding her of a lion. He didn’t smile down at her or anything. He just turned to Chrys and said, “I don’t think you’re allowed in here.”

Chrysanthemum stared up at him. She was staring at something beautiful; her stomach fluttered, her hands got jittery, and she, without thinking it, took a half-step back. She thought herself mad.

 

***

 

No Magick could’ve done this. Quinen completed his forensic gaze, and theories began popping about in his mind palace. He shook his head and said, “She’s been twisted by something.”

“Twisted? By what?” Oberen asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Made different. Maybe by something from the Mael. Or maybe something deeper than the Near Shores.”

“What, like Avalon?”

Quinen didn’t answer, and his gaze turned back to the mangled body of Lyn. Her nose had been turned into an ivory tusk, her hands turned into eagle wings, her right leg turned into the roots of a sprawling oak tree. Her hair had turned into blades of grass and a trunk of a tree grew from her back, as if her body had been earth.