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.”

 

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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.

 

Dream 2

Quinen didn’t have the best feeling in his stomach. He hopped off of the CRT, watched it zoom off into the weaving system of rails of Throne, and walked down the black steel stairs onto the curb. Once he had both feet on the bitumen, he grabbed another cig and lit it with a snap of a finger.

He walked on, dress shoes clacking against the concrete sidewalk, turned a corner, and moved up a steep road. At this time of the day, there weren’t a lot of people, much to Quinen’s relief. He walked, brooded, and scowled as he made his way up to his apartment.

The two-story brick building wasn’t much to look at. The paint chipped, the lightglobe poorly illuminated its porch and blinked in an irregular beat. Quinen walked up to the flickering lightglobe and touched it with the tip of his finger. The cigarette he had in his mouth flared up, burning up most of what was inside as the lightglobe glowed brightly, a steady luminescent hum scaring away the gray of the Ascending morning.

He opened the door and walked inside.

Running a dirty, gloved hand through his tousled hair, Quinen removed the cigarette from his mouth and scowled, opened the door and threw it outside.

Up the flight of stairs to the second floor, where his room was. He was still brooding. He liked doing that.

He made his way to the door at the end of the hallway. It was a simple door – nothing on it that would signify that it was his only home ever since he got kicked out of the Collegium, but he liked it all the same. He cracked his neck and then reached for the door but stopped a few inches from it.

A strange, dull throbbing nagged him from the nape of his neck. His eyes narrowed into slits.

“Who…?”

***

Chrysanthemum bit her lip. The boy beside her looked out the window past her, with earbuds in his ears. She liked music, but only if it had voices.

Sighing, Chrys turned and looked out the window with a bored look. The bus turned a corner and she saw a familiar landmark that she and Quin had passed almost a hundred of times before. A tall, needle-like monument with a hairless man having six haloes floating about him was engraved onto the side of the needle. As the sun rose in the Ascending, one of the westernmost Haloes glowed, lighting up, as if to signify the movement of the Daystar across the sky.

She remembered the time Quinen had brought her to that place before. She hadn’t seen such a beautiful structure, and he told her the “secret” of the structure – that there was a device that tracked the movement of the Daystar and followed as the Daystar rose. It was a neat, though antiquated, way of telling the time. It sure beat looking at a timekeeper. It was beautiful and pleasant to the eyes.

“It’s Magic,” she’d said back then as Quinen explained to her.

Quinen had shrugged. “It’s Technology,” he’d said, stepping back.

“What’s ‘Technology’?”

He’d looked up at the monument and said, “A way to make Magick available to everyone.”

A cough snapped her out of her reverie. Chrys blinked. She saw her own hazel brown eyes staring back at her from the window. “Excuse me, miss?”

Chrys opened her mouth slightly and turned to the boy with the dark hair and sea green eyes. She narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. “Yes?” Chrys pouted. “What is it you want?”

The boy hesitated for a bit, lost in her eyes. When he found himself, he shook his head. “I’m sorry I…” he grimaced. “Can you tell me where the next station is?”

There was a beat. She narrowed her eyes again and said, “Why do you ask?”

He shrugged. “I’m not too terribly well-versed with the Cathedra Ward,” he said. “I’m from the Collegium, you see, and-”

“West Cornerstone Stop.”

The boy blinked. “Ah,” he nodded. “Thank you. Much obliged.”

Chrys nodded, and then leaned her head unto the window once again. She did her best to concentrate on the passing landmarks Quinen had marked for her. Floating disc, shattered glass, tall tree…

“Where are you going?” she couldn’t help herself, and she hated herself for it. She turned around and asked the question to the boy with the dark hair and ocean eyes. “Why are you heading to West Cornerstone?”

The boy smiled. The dimples on the sides of his face created a great chiaroscuro of his features. “Um… to see an old friend.”

“An old friend?”

He nodded. “He’s a warlock now, but we studied in most of the same classes in the years in the Collegium.”

“What’s a Warlock…?”

***

Quinen’s Sense Magick Working would be the first spell he would cast for the day, during his morning rituals. A hodge-podge spell that was, surprisingly enough, not wholly from the Perfected Collegiate Theory. He had learned it from an old Wyckpath practitioner: the usage of purple crystals rubbed over the body to make one’s body react when there was some sort of magickal interference, as if to imply that something was upsetting the natural order of things. It could also be a way to sense the other Magickers.

And now his back was throbbing.

He was tired. He couldn’t fling any more spells until he could get sleep. Dissonance does that to you. And if you ignore Dissonance, well, you might suffer Transportation.

He’d done that before. He didn’t want to do it again. Once was enough.

Quinen sighed, stepped back, and patted the knife he had concealed in his back pocket. As long as you lived off those big buildings with the fancy metal detectors, nobody would ever catch you with lethal weapons on your body.

With a tense air about him, Quinen raised a hand, brought it back…

And knocked.

There was the sound of thumping, feet against a creaky and noisy wooden floor. Then, the sound that reminded Quin of a thousand nights between the highest of the Nightstar and the lowest of the Daystar. Where the entire night would be awake, speaking in silent tones that only those who listened could hear.

Quinen smiled as that silence spoke to him. “Yes?” came the voice of Chrysanthemum, muffled by the door in between them. He couldn’t help but smile wider. “What’s the password?”

“The earliest tibisen,” said Quinen, still smiling, “is the gift of the lune.”

“To his love, the sun,” she replied. The door unlatched, unlocked, and swung open.

Chrysanthemum, all wiry and thin and pale moonlight, stood on the other side. Her pink hair that curled around her cheeks in kisses of stars framed her dimples. “You may enter, Quinen.”

And he did. The dull throbbing turned into a hammering onto the back of his neck. He looked up at Chrysanthemum, who was wearing nothing but one of his too-big-for-her shirts. “Chrys?”

She raised a delicate eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Who’s with you?”

“Your friend,” she replied, grinning. Quinen scowled. Chrys saw him do that, and she copied his expression. “Quin, I told you to stop brooding.”

He scowled even more. “I’m not brooding.”

“You are!” she said, pointing a slender finger at him.

Behind the door, shoes thumped against the wooden floor. A boy in a deep blue jacket and hair as dark as the abyss looked up at him, sea-green eyes always catching Quinen somehow off-guard. He grinned as he looked up at Quin. “Argist Quinen,” he spoke, his voice just as melodious as his looks. “Good to see you again.”

The dull throbbing went away. Quinen pressed his lips together, but couldn’t help but give the slightest of smiles. “Roeser Oberen,” he said.

He smiled and shrugged. “The one and only, Quinen.” He turned to Chrysanthemum. “And your little girlfriend here’s right. You do brood a lot now.”

Quinen smiled, but it had no hint of humor within. He stepped through the door and went straight to the refrigerator, where he brought out a glass can of some fizzing liquid. He pressed the glass top downward, where it popped and tore apart. He took a huge gulp, inhaling abruptly when he finished. “With that out of the way,” he said, looking up at the newcomer. “What in Adon’s name are you doing here, Oberen?”

He shrugged. Chrys was still at the door, pondering, with a finger up at her lips. Oberen took one look at her, then walked over to a nearby chair. “How long have you had this place?”

Quinen shrugged. “About the same time I was branded Warlock.” The Warlock nodded at the backpack leaning against one of the posts of his bed – a gray backpack with way too many pockets for Quinen’s comfort. “So, what, like six years ago? How long have you had that backpack?”

Oberen shrugged. “I like this backpack.”

“Yeah,” he said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Because it was the only time you were able to cast that Timespace spell, yeah?”

The sea-eyed man grinned. “Hey, Timespace spells were never my thing.” Quinen rolled his eyes.

“I’ve never liked that Field.”

“What’s a ‘girlfriend’?” Chrysanthemum finally spoke after an eternity of pondering.

Quinen breathed out through his nostrils. “Ignore that term.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

Oberen snorted. “You’re horrible and terrible, Quin.”

“Yeah? Guess who I picked it up from.” Oberen chuckled at that. “Now what in God’s name are you doing in here?”

Oberen sighed. “Can’t I just come here and talk with my good old friend Quinen?”

Quinen rolled his eyes even more, sighing. “Collegium-folk don’t just come down from their floating school to this Ward. You’ve come here for a reason, so just cut the fint*.” He inhaled, and then said, “Please.”

Oberen grinned. “Anger management’s doing wonders for you, huh?”

“Yeah. Thank Adon for actual people who want to help me, right?”

Oberen sighed. “Okay, so, here’s the deal.”

Quinen folded his arms in front of him and leaned against the cooler. Chrysanthemum jaunted over onto Quinen’s bed and sat. She brought out her palmnode and began tapping away, never raising her head from the information within the screen. “A Collegium girl’s been found dead.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow. “And what’s that have to do with me?” He briefly thought of money, but he wasn’t so sure on any case connected to the Collegium. He didn’t want to do anything with the Collegium anymore.

“Yeah,” Oberen shrugged. “It’s Lyn.”

A pin drop silence. Chrysanthemum read the atmosphere. She paused from tapping, and looked up at Quinen. When he kept staring at Oberen, she asked, “Who’s Lyn?”

Oberen sighed. Quinen was the one who responded. “An old friend.”

Oberen bit his lip, and then said, “It’s his step-sister.”

Quinen took another gulp of the can. Chrys looked up at him, eyebrow raised and head slightly tilted.

*fint is a common crass word meaning “nonsense”, coming from the old Language of Tondonian.

Dream 1

The City was a neon bonfire.

The girl’s pink hair glowed. She furrowed her eyebrows when she looked down upon her hands. Strange, scrawling inks climbed up and down her palm, twisting and turning about her fingers in an intricate dance. They resembled snakes, or dragons, or jifarins in her mind. She smiled. She hadn’t seen a jifarin in quite some time.

She looked up, and saw the Star of the Day begin to rise. Her vision beheld the dark, cool sky – the stars invisible and hidden by the strange lights that mortals have created below – seared away by the glory of the Resplendent Daystar. She smiled as she saw the darkness fight back. The dark blue of the night sprinkled the sky with ash gray blood. In the end, the Resplendent Daystar always won. But she knew that the Night would return, with their glorious Empress General, the Abyssal Nightstar.

The leaden sky was a welcome sight resembling a mirror. The buildings below her were a shade of gray. She remembered when she was but a little girl – back when Throne City hadn’t even been built yet. Back when she lived in one of the Shires in the continent of Choma. Fierthe Shire if she recalled right.

Back then, the stars shone ever bright, not afraid of the strange mechanical lights below. Back then, she worshipped the Tass Hallows as givers of power, not merely sources of infinite energy to be harvested. Back then, wars were fought over territory and power. Now, it’s fought over money and energy.

Chrysanthemum looked down on her leather boots. A sad smile shadowed her face.

Despite the Daystar washing over Throne City, the clouds were thick. The sky kept that gray hue for most of the morning. A cold, fickle wind danced about her, encircling her and inviting her to play. It danced away, ever-changing, always looking for people who would respond faster. Chrysanthemum frowned.

Chrysanthemum dipped her hands into the pocket of her leather coat. Despite having worn a warm, fuzzy gray sweatshirt, the chill of the first few days of Nymph Season was something that only a house with a heater could fight against. She turned, moved her foot to walk… but decided to lean back on the gray slab.

The pink-haired girl inhaled a cold breeze of air. Her breath came out as steam.

She liked the cold. She decided that she would stay here for a while. Besides, Quinen wasn’t going to be back home anytime soon.

Chrys leaned her head back, her strange, glowing pink hair cascading behind her, and she basked in the coldness of the leaden sky.

***

Quinen hoped that Chrysanthemum was back home.

He closed his fist, grit his teeth, and then raised his hand. He uttered a snarling word, a word that rippled through creation, grasped at the realm that governed the reality of time and space, and he called it down. With a word of pure magick, time and space itself bowed to Quinen, and it shifted before him. The jifarin’s massive hammer of a fist, instead of hitting him, slammed instead into the brick wall beside him.

Quinen’s heart hammered in his chest. Exhilaration pumped through him. He grinned.

The jifarin swung its other hand toward Quinen; he responded in kind. He shook his left arm. The tattoos he had implanted onto it glowed, humming with an esoteric energy. It burned in iridescent hues of white, pink, and blue and gold and silver. Shouting, Quinen pulled his hand back, and slammed his fist against the jifarin’s second punch.

Ribbons of colors exploded out of the point of impact as magick met madness.

Quinen felt his entire body shake in effort. His left shinbone almost cracked under pressure, making him wince. Cursing, Quinen pushed the creature’s fist away, and followed it up with a magickally-empowered jab.

Increasing the kinetic force of the jab, Quinen blew the jifarin. The serpentine creature flew back twenty feet landing at the opening of the grimy, piss-smelling alleyway. The lights faded into shadow, accompanied by a lancing pain up his left arm. Quinen winced, but he shook off the pain.

He turned to the floor where he had dropped his cig, and found that one of the bricks knocked loose by the jifarin’s assault had crushed it. He sighed. “Waste.” He dug into each of his pockets until he found a new one. He set it up to his lips, snapped his fingers. Manipulating the vibrations from the snap and transmuting it a small wick of flame erupted in the tip of his fingertips. He lit the cig and walked up to the squirming jifarin.

Frowning, Quinen examined the jifarin. Its abdomen had caved in, and iridescence bled out of its orifices.

Removing the cig out of his mouth, he huffed out another puff of smoke. Catching the smoke with his other hand, he uttered a prodding word. He used the tattoos snaking up his arms, and commanded the smoke with his fingers. The wispy smoke moved as if an ethereal puppet on invisible strings.

He uttered a twisting word then, and the gray smoke turned black, angry and demeaning. Soon, the black smoke turned into angry embers that danced about in his fingers, waltzing in an intricate dance. As the dance reached its height, the embers dancing to the climax of the silent beat, Quinen crushed the glowing motes within his fist. “I manipulate Energy.” His voice echoed and ripped through creation, and Magick obeyed.

He tapped his cigar into the end of that fist, and then pulled it away, flame trailing after it. He pulled the cigar around him and lashed it onto the jifarin, like a whip.

The fire blazed, whipping the jifarin. It screeched in agony as the flame burned against its skin. Quinen pulled the cigar back and lashed it again, this time with a larger flame following the tip of the cigar. The flame swallowed the mad creature.

In a matter of seconds, the serpentine monster burned to a crisp. Quinen released his fist, and the embers danced away, red and orange motes dissipating into the mists. He put the cigar back in his mouth. He placed a hand on the jifarin and uttered, “And back to Avalon with you.” A basso voice echoed his words in another, indiscernible language.

The jifarin exploded in a cloud of golden butterflies, so small that they seemed like specks of light. The jifarin’s gossamer rose up and flew up high into the sky, past the leaden sky as the daystar rose.

Quinen breathed deeply. He walked out of the alleyway, bringing his overcoat closer to him as the Nymph chill set in. He Manipulated the heat of the cig, coaxing it all over him to warm himself a bit as he walked down the sidewalk. Autochariots whizzed past on the asphalt road beside him. Other people travelled up and down the sidewalk alone or in sparse groups. The early morning of 5 Ascending wasn’t really the abode of the normal Throne citizen.

He dug his hands into his pockets and breathed through his cig. The Nymph chill was going to make him sick. He was sure of it.

A few blocks down and Quinen arrived at the apartment of his client. He walked up the front porch and pressed the buzzer that rang up Ms. Lahlia’s flat. In a matter of seconds, Quinen heard thumps on the floor as Lahlia Quira opened the door. She was in a cozy sweater, her auburn hair undone and sticking up on all sides, and she didn’t have any cosmetics on. The bags under her eyes and the red tint on the sides of her pupils suggested that she had either just woken up or hadn’t been sleeping entirely. Quinen looked down on her. It wasn’t that Quinen was tall – he was on the average side of the height spectrum – it was just dreorg have always been short.

“Oh,” she said, smiling widely. Her round spectacles helped the bubbly image. Quinen smirked. “You’re back. What did you find?” As she asked, her ears — short and reminiscent of a rabbit’s — twitched. Her prehensile tail wagged behind her, the pink crystal ore glimmering at the end of it.

“Wasn’t a belgar stalking you,” Quinen replied. He pulled out his palmnode — a rectangular piece of what looked like glass — from his pocket and tapped on it lightly. An image visualized and showed the serpentine body of the jifarin, walking around with four legs and two arms. The green scales shimmered gold underneath to them. “It was a jifarin. A Divata changeling, more precisely.”

The dreorg lady crossed her arms. “Why would a jifarin be stalking me?”

Quinen shrugged. “I didn’t study the Divata in the Collegium, Miss Lahlia.” He put back the rectangular glass screen into his pocket and stuck out his hand, palm facing up. “And I’m not getting paid for that, am I?”

Lahlia nodded. “Right, right of course not. Here, one second.” She dug into the pocket of her denim pants and fished out fifteen whole eagles. “Fifteen plus your down-payment of ten makes twenty-five eagles, yes?”

Quinen nodded. “Much obliged, Madam.”

She smiled, scrunching her cute button nose. In the cold weather, her skin had turned pale, punctuating the freckles on her face. “Now you take care.” She stepped back and closed the door.

Quinen smirked, hung his head, and said, “You too.”

He turned around and walked down the apartment’s porch. He pulled out his palmnode again and made a call to Chrys. It took three rings for her to pick up.

“Hey, Quinen,” her singsong voice sang from the other end.

“Chrysanthemum,” Quinen said. “Are you back at home?”

There was a noticeable pause, before Chrys answered, “Nope.”

Quinen would’ve gotten angry. Instead, he sighed. “And why not?”

“The sunset was pretty,” she said. “It’s hard to find pretty things nowadays. It’s all hidden.”

Quinen grinned at that. “I think that makes them even prettier.”

“Hm?” Quinen could see Chrys pouting on the other line. “I don’t think that makes sense.”

Quinen shrugged. “It does to me.” He coughed, and sent another wave of heat over his body. “Hey, you better go back to the flat now. It’s getting bright.”

She sighed. “I know.” There was a pause. Quinen waited. He knew what happens when she got like this. “Do I… why do I have to keep hiding?”

Quinen sighed again. Steam blew out, dissipating into the gray. “Just a little longer.”

There was another silence. “Okay. But…” there was a desperate hopefulness in her voice. “Why can’t you just keep putting these tattoos on me?”

Quinen walked down the sidewalk, heading to the closest City-Rail Transit station. The closest one to him was Juvakin Station. “Because they hurt you and I don’t want that. And because they’re temporary.”

“Hm.” Quinen held his breath. “Okay. I’ll… I’ll do my best.”

“Attagirl.” Quinen smiled. “I’ll see you in the flat. Don’t-”

“Don’t fall in love,” Chrysanthemum cut him off. “I know, I know.”

***

“Good,” Quinen said on the other line. Chrys smiled.

“I’ll see you,” she said, ending the call. She shoved her palmnode into her pocket once again and walked across the cement roof she had climbed up to. She lowered herself down a rusty set of metal stairs that scaled the side of the building. When she reached the last few rungs of the last ladder, she hopped down. The back-alleyway was windy. Her boots didn’t make a sound when she hit the cement.

She turned and walked up and out of the piss-smelling back alleyway.

A neon sign shone above the shops, showcasing different signs and words for different utilities and vices. Other people wearing coats over coats huddled against trash fires, while others slept within dumpsters of green and grime.

Chrys moved through the little colonies of homeless that lay against the alleyway. Her glowing, pink hair seemed to shimmer at the morning. The homeless looked at the hair, blinked, and then went back to whatever they were doing — sleeping, twiddling with little wooden pieces, cutting their hair…

She reached the end of the alleyway when her palmnode buzzed in her pocket. She slowed her walk, pulled the palmnode out, and read the message.

— From Kiether:
hey. i really miss you, chris. i still have that spot for your bed. i still have that perfume you love. come back
please.
If you don’t… at least tell me why you left in the first place?

Chrys scowled, slipped her palmnode back into her pocket. She saw the city bus, about to leave the station. She ran faster than any girl her size could manage, and she jumped right into the closing doors.

“By Adon’s Teeth, girl!” The driver beat his chest once with a fist, as if to shake him off from a reverie. “I could’ve killed ya. Don’t do that.” His beard was long and puffy. Chrys liked it. She liked guys with beards.

She smiled at the floor. “Sorry,” she said, her voice small. Her lungs heaved and her heart hammered against her chest.

The driver sighed. He pointed behind him. His arms were short and stubby, but muscular. “Well get a seat before the bus starts tossing you to and fro.”

Chrys nodded and walked down the aisle. There was an unusually small crowd today, but then again, it was Fifth Ascending. Not a lot of people commute at this time. She saw a young belgar sitting near the back. A white-haired human sat in a chair next to a young female alfr.

She sighed. She noticed that she could only see the other Races in the wee hours of morning.

The story about the Human Impergium bounced within the confines of Chrysanthemum’s mind. She shuddered and waved the thoughts away.

Chrys soon found a seat near the window, where she wanted. She sat and leaned her head against the window, her hot pink hair pressed against the glass. The bus moved through the asphalt streets of Throne City. They passed by low buildings of brick, tall buildings of brass and steel which were ornately decorated, and the occasional café or ice cream parlor that she so loved to go to. Slums and cardboard houses hugged the foot of glinting glass spires that pierced the sky. The City-Rail Transit slithered through the city like a river of ink, adorned with flowery textures and sharp spires of black ore. Other autochariots passed by them. The leaden sky was slowly turning into a warm orange, despite the crisp cold of the Nymph ascending.

At the next stop, another passenger climbed aboard. He had the intelligent searching eyes of someone from the Collegium. His hair was dark, almost blue, and his eyes were the color of the sea. His skin was light – not too pale, not too dark. But with the cold of Throne City, it might as well have been white.

Chrys couldn’t help but give him a sideways glance as he picked his way through the aisle. The boy kept one hand on the strap of his backpack and the other hand on the earbud in one of his ears. He looked as if he was going to pass the seat right next to Chrys, much to her relief.

Wait, she thought, why am I relieved that he’s going to pass me?

But the bus jolted forward, and the boy with the eyes of the sea more or less stumbled into the seat right next to Chrys. She breathed, and then looked out the window. Chrysanthemum watched as the concrete buildings, neon lights, and holographic screens blended with the rain

 


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