The Dean Hakumatheia found himself transported in front of the large wooden double doors. He looked about him, and saw he was in the small holding area for guests of the king, which was still beautifully furnished. He sighed, looking about as he realized that the Vizier of Magick wasn’t there with him.
He closed his eyes and felt out his Magickal Perceptions, and saw Astrally-strengthened wards of the Cathedral. Only those with proper access to the Wards could Magickally transport someone in and out of the Cathedral.
“Unless…” the Dean thought of brute forcing through it, but decided the Dissonance would be too much a hassle to contend with.
The doors swung open behind him as he sensed out with his Magickal Perceptions. The Commissioner Haliyn was there, holding both doors open. “Dean Hakumatheia. So glad that you could join us.”
* * *
Kotoro laid the coins onto the coin tray and they digitized, disappearing into hazy, turquoise smoke. Most cabs in Jubh-Kan were like that, he remembered.
“Thank you, sir. Have a good day!”
“You too,” said Kotoro, as he got off the cab and closed it behind him. He walked up to the apartment building of Namana and through the first door. A close, narrow hallway with one room to the right, and then up to the second floor. He walked up and turned left. The room to the right was loud, booming some sort of cacophonous music. Kotoro wondered how Namana could manage to rest.
He knocked, and waited. A few minutes passed. He pulled out his palmnode and tried to contact Namana once again, to no avail. He wondered where she could’ve gone.
Kotoro tried the doorknob. It was open. He blinked.
He twisted it and walked in. Darkness swam throughout the room; the blinds blocked out any warmth or daylight. Kotoro blinked as the stench of fresh corpse hit his senses like a truck.
“Sidereans guide me…” He reached for the light switch, tapping the rune that activated the mechanisms that turned on the alchemical light above them.
Bright white light washed out the darkness, but only showed the gruesome fate of Namana Sahnie.
Kotoro’s mouth gaped, and the first thing that ran through his mind was: “Who could’ve done this?”
* * *
Aravin turned to Priestess. “Deloreia. I’m going to go get information from the Dirah Ward again.”
Deloreia nodded. They walked up and out of Old Javio’s Pub. The streets were sparse, but the brown cabs were still in full force. He hailed one. “I know,” Del said. “It’s that zaretrych, right?”
Aravin nodded. A brown cab flew past them. He sighed. “Jyrrz’sk,” he said. “I know he unnerves you-”
“No. No he doesn’t.”
“Oh, well, then we’re meeting him. He’s hacked into every almost every node in the city. He’s sure to know something about the Warlock.”
Deloreia nodded. “I only agreed to come with you because you can become brash at times. The others need time to heal. You need time to not fight something.”
Aravin winced and nodded. A brown cab approached. He raised his hand. “Yes ma’am.” The cab stopped for them, and agreed to drive them to Dirah, but asked for a fixed 100 eagle price.
Deloreia opened her mouth to protest, but Aravin said, “Fine. I’ll pay.”
Del shot him a look.
“We’re getting to the bottom of this mess,” said Aravin. “No compromises. We’re Knights.” Deloreia rolled her eyes as they got onto the brown cab. The cab drove through the upfalling rain. It seemed even the chaotic, upfalling rain had phases. It was but a light drizzle now.
“It’s a weird Nymph season we’re having, isn’t that right folks?” The driver spoke, his voice stilted in that weird, almost robotic way that automata tried to replicate human speech. This particular cab driver seemed friendly to casual conversation. Unsurprising, Aravin thought, since with the latest developments there must not be a lot of passengers and workers that needed a cab.
“It’s a dangerous time,” said Aravin. “You’re still working, though?”
The man nodded. Aravin realized that the driver was an alfr. He wore a heavy white hoodie over a gray sweater that thoroughly covered his teimach markings, and he kept his hood up as well for that same reason.
Aravin felt a biting sympathy.
“Anything to get by,” said the driver. “At least I don’t live in Slum City, you know?”
Aravin shrugged. “That is nice. Do you have a family? People you’re supporting?”
The man shrugged. He was quiet for the rest of the trip, as he drove into the intertwining scab that was the Dirah Ward. Despite the looming threat of Transplanar invasion hanging above, most of the people that lived in this Ward still went about their daily lives. Kids still played bugball and the usual gangs wearing uniform scarfs walked around. There were less humans now, Aravin could see, and a hell of a lot more of the other Races. The occasional zaretrych, a lakerto surfacing from the underneath the rivers and the bridges.
“I can only drive you guys here.”
“That should be enough,” said Aravin, plopping two fifty eagle coins onto the coin tray. They digitized.
“You stay safe now,” said the alfr as they moved out of his cab.
Aravin nodded. “You too.”
With the two of them out of the cab, they started making their way into the slithering back alley streets of the Dirah. Stay plastic, paper bags, and tin cans littered the streets, a lot of the trash detritus being tossed to and fro by the wind. Deloreia stood close to Aravin as shadows appeared on the windows above them in the shantytowns. Shadows that seemed to watch them.
Aravin made sure Deloreia stood close to him, and he wound through the confusing labyrinthine slums. He turned a corner, walked down a small flight of stairs made of corrugated steel that rang hollowly under his feet, stepped over a wooden wall, and then vaulted down onto a stone balcony, helping Deloreia down as welll. They kept on moving, turning right and then across a slight crack in the stone road. They entered into another alleyway, and didn’t stop their trek. Aravin walked with confidence and stride, while Deloreia stood behind him.
It didn’t take long before they had to climb down again onto another stone balcony. This time, Deloriea saw that the balcony looked out to the plains east of Throne, outside the city, were there were even more shanty towns, and past the shantytowns was a vast deserted plain, and then little pocks of chaotic storms roiled outside of those, intermingling and messing with the local fauna and flora.
“Come on,” said Aravin. Deloreia took his hand as she jumped down once again into another balcony, grunting as she hit the stone.
As she stood, Aravin walked up to the glass sliding door behind her, and tapped thrice. Deloreia turned and watched for a few moments. The darkness past the glass was seemingly impenetrable.
Of course, Deloriea was set to be disappointed in that assumption, as six almond shaped lights pierced the pall of the dark and pressed up against the transparent glass sliding door. Del blinked and stepped back. She turned to Aravin, who waved. The six almond shaped things bobbed in the darkness.The sliding door slid to the side quickly, and the six eyed thing disappeared into the darkness.
“Stay close to me,” said Aravin. Deloreia nodded, and she followed the Emperor into the darkness.
It seemed for a long time that they were walking through a pure sheer darkness, walking past what seemed to be a hallway of black, a nebulous void. The only indication that they were actually walking on anything was the soft clanging of their hard leather boots against steel. Deloreia had to cling to Aravin to not bump into any walls, or fall down any pits, or whatever resided in the darkness that she could not see.
Then a soft light broke through the gloom. Aravin strode forward still, without the fully placed, cautious steps of Deloreia. Priestess followed suit after him and they both appeared out into the light.
It was a clearing. Not too big, not too small. It was a circular clearing, and in the soft fuzzy light of at least six desknode monitors, Deloriea could see that the walls, floor, and the roof were all made of steel. It was like walking through a ventilation shaft.
Within this circular clearing, in the smack middle of it, was a strange thing. Something that resembled a cocoon hung from the ceiling, except this cocoon was made up of thick pipes, with the thickest one seemingly the girth and width of Vikrus’ arm. They writhed like leathery carbon snakes.
The thick vines seemed to twine around and writhe, as if alive, until a portion of it disappeared, seemingly impaled, into the body of a zaretrych. An arachnid body with an abdomen now riddled and seemingly becoming some sort of node for all the rest of the thick pipes. Its two arm-appendages moved about, tapping and pressing things on the six feeds it had placed in a circular position around it, making some sort of hexagon. Sometimes it would drag an item out of a screen, moving it through the air as a holographic projection without any monitors, and then it would place it back into another monitor feed.
One of the zaretrych’s arm-appendages, Deloriea noticed, was not organic at all, but a magitechnical proesthetic shaped like a human arm, as opposed to the usual arms of a zaretrych being almost blade like with a sticky adhesive pad so that they could things.. Another thing Deloreia noticed was that its feet hung almost uselessly as it was connected to the pipes, but since it was able to open the door for them, Deloreia didn’t assume that it couldn’t use them.
“Jyrzz’sk,” said Aravin.
The six-eyed head, shaped like that of a spider’s with six large blinking eyes, moved erratically as it tried to turn to Aravin. It was as if the zaretrych could not control its head, but as past experiences with other zaretrych would tell her, this was how they usually looked.
Then it spoke.
The mandibles of a zaretrych disallowed it from talking in any of the tongued races’ languages. Instead, thanks to their innate psychic ability, or some technology — Deloreia could never distinguish between the two, nor remember which one was the true one — they spoke in a strange way.
Jyrzz’sk’s disembodied voice rang in their heads. “Knights Vigilant. A pleasure I’m sure. You are here to ask information about the Transplanar Resonance, yes?”
The voice continued, “In exchange, you will give…?”
“Extended protection of the Knights Vigilant, as well as monthly tribute.”
“Acceptable.” Its voice was robotic, and sounded like it was a person talking from far off through some sort of radio filter. “Bind the Oath, mortal.” Aravin snorted at that last word.
“It is sealed,” said Aravin, shrugging. “By the word of the Knights Vigilant.”
“Very well,” the head turned around and looked up at the various feeds overblowing his perceptions. “It should not come as a shock. There is a Transplanar entity converging into our world.”
Aravin stepped forward. “What Transplanar entity? Tell me.”
The head turned to them, and in the most matter of fact voice, with the wrongest inflection and stresses of syllables, Jyrzz’sk said, “The Wild Hunt.” A pause. The slightest of pauses, as if letting the levity of those words drop onto the Knights like a ten-ton anvil. “And if you don’t move soon, they will invade our world.”
“How do we stop them?” Deloreia was surprised that that came out of her mouth.
The zaretrych turned to her then, and said once again, in her mind, “The Sidereans have to reestablish the barrier. Hurry, or it might be too late.”
“Sidereans…” Deloreia’s mind ran with possibilities. Could it be? She thought. Could something have gone through them, past them?
Aravin spoke grimly. “How long do we have?”
“Not long. A day,” said the zaretrych, and in a weird mechanical motion, looked up. “It has begun.”
They had run out, out of the building of Jyrzz’sk after saying their thanks. Aravin hauled Deloreia up and out of the balcony. From this point, on the walls of Throne, they could see the highest point of Throne City — atop which had the broiling storm clouds.
Aravin and Deloreia watched as lightning struck…
…and then little, minute things flurried out from within the storm cloud, as if people roiling out of a portal.
“Hobgoblins,” said Aravin. He grabbed Deloreia’s hand and shouted, “Come on! We have to gather the Knights!”
* * *
From the highest point of Throne, lightning struck.
Almost everyone that could look up saw it. Captain Urie watched as lightning struck the antenna of the highest point of Throne.
Kotoro could see, as he rode a cab on the way back to Captain Urie, as the lightning heralded another world striking another world.
Rune, the Throne’s Vizier of Magick, saw the and felt the aberration that was another plane converging into their reality. She looked up and saw the lightning strike the tower, even as she walked across the rooftop, following after the trail of the rogue Siddivata.
Chrysanthemum and Kasu saw as they rode the CRT on the way to the Cathedral, as lightning struck the tower and carried with it a deep rumbling within their soul, that seemed to say, an ancient reckoning has been heeded.
Indeed, all saw the lightning strike.
And all saw the little things with wings and cloven hoofs and sharp tusks jutting out from their mouths, and eyes as black as night, as they flurried out of the storm clouds like a vengeful hurricane, reaching a density that could block out the sun.
The flurry of beautiful madness descended upon Throne.