Lunacy 4

Rune, the Vizier of Magick to the High King of Throne, felt a strange presence as she let her Magickal Perceptions writhe through the Collegium.

There was one resonance that didn’t feel like usual Magick at all. The vibration of Rhythmchasing, nor the abrasive, intrusive Magick of the usual reality-bending Collegiate Magick, were absent.

There was some sort of Transplanar Entity… but the Entity’s resonance was all botched, as if some sort of… mundanity was stapled onto its resonance. This troubled her greatly. What troubled her even more is the fact that she could somehow pinpoint the resonance coming from the Dean’s room.

So when she told the Dean that they had to go to the High King’s Cathedral, she changed her course and instead went to the Dean’s room, using the fabric of his clothes to create a sympathetic connection.

She had sent the Dean to the Cathedral alone.

Rune decided that the Dean would manage.

The Dean’s room was not quiet, at all. There was a little girl — who was still, somehow, taller than Rune herself — walking through the stacks of books behind the Dean’s desk, a leatherbound tome in her small, slender hands. She wore a peculiar hoodie that fell to her knees, and her hair glowed of a certain pink hue. It was no magitechnical implant nor fashion statement — her hair actually glowed pink.

Rune smirked, and crossed her arms across her chest. She waited for the girl to turn around. When she did, Rune’s smirk turned into a grin for a flash second, and then into a forced state of impassive judgment. The girl had squeaked, and the book had fallen from her hands. The leather slapping against the ground resonated throughout the entirety of the room.

“Girl.” She made sure her Mantle could be seen. “What are you?”

The girl blinked. She held her hands close to her chest and walked backward until she hit a stack. She leaned against it, looking at Rune like a kitten not hoping for a fight.

When the girl didn’t answer, the Vizier sighed. She flicked her hand towards her, almost sleepily, and a gust of wind blew the pink-haired girl past the wooden desk. Her leg slammed against the wood, sending her spinning in mid air before crashing on the carpeted floor before the Vizier. The girl had screamed, and then said, “Owwww.”

The little, fae-like girl caressed her shin. Rune resisted the urge to apologize or heal her. “You heard me.”

The pink-haired girl sniffed, but didn’t look up. Her hair glowed brighter. She still didn’t answer.

“Are you a Siddivata?”

Still no answer.

Rune sighed. With another flick of her wrist, a sudden force slammed the girl to the side. She squeaked. It was but a weak push, but having trained in the military, Rune realized that her definition of weak must be different from the girl’s.

Again, the Vizier resisted the urge to apologize.

“Are you? You have Transplanar resonance. From what Realm do you hail?”

The answer was weak: “I don’t know.”

But Rune heard enough.

There were many realms that existed within the Mael. It was a vast sea, after all. While Rune may have studied about the Near Shore Realm of the Phantasm — the home of the Spirits — and the Far Shore Realm of Zivana, the realm of the Messengers of the Theito, she knew next to nothing about the Far Shore Realm of Avalon. It was populated with stories, with narratives, with coruscating nonsense and paradox. It was beautiful madness.

That’s all she knew.

Rune frowned. “There are Transplanar Entities converging on the Mund. Have you any idea why that may be?”

The girl shook her head.

Rune sighed. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Then why are you in the Dean’s Room?” She waved her hand, and winds flurried, spinning into a razor sharp lance before the girl, aimed directly at her head. Everything around the lance flailed wildly as the gale winds blew everything around. The girl’s hair, clothes, and even Rune’s mantle. The Vizier had to raise her voice to be heard by the fey-girl. “Do NOT lie!”

“I don’t know! I was just waiting for Quinen…-” She quieted.

Rune blinked. With a wave of her hand the winds dissipated. She wondered how much Dissonance she’d accrued. “Who?” The girl didn’t answer. “Who is Quinen?”

“I… He was…”

“Who?!”

Chrysanthemum’s hair, all this time, had been a rising glow. It burned hotter and brighter, until finally, it danced like a flame, rising above her head like a transplanar crown. “I DON’T KNOW!”

The windows of the Dean’s room exploded open. Ice and snow and shards of glass burst in, somehow conjured through the upfalling rain. Rune’s reaction time was quick — with a step back, and a slight tense, she’d conjured an invisible shield of force.

“Leave me alone!” The fae-girl’s voice echoed, and her hair blazed. Rune forced herself to keep the impassive face.

“So you are Siddivata?” Rune shouted over the flurrying winds.

“I don’t know!” shouted the girl back. “Where’s Quinen? I’m going to find Quinen! I want Quinen!”

Rune scowled. “No you don’t!” With a flick of her wrist, the winds twisted, and began to funnel and furl into a razor sharp wind-lance, but Rune found herself wrestling with a Transplanar Will. “Well well well!”

The girl shouted back. “I will!” With another scream, the girl summoned even more wind to blast frost and rain upon the Vizier of Magick. Rune squinted. The winds writhed as they tried to form funnels, looking like disembodied limbs bleeding lightning.

The girl turned around then, her body obscured by the vast sheet of white confounding Rune. She disappeared then, and Rune summoned all her power to counteract all of the effects. She called upon the Field of Diwa, and tried to extinguish the flames of magic.

But it was to no avail. To unravel magick, one had to know enough about it. As of that moment, Avalonian sorcery was unknown to her. With another cry, Rune simply forced the shield of force to expand to the total length and width of the room, and then pushed that force forward and outside.

That was when she felt a hammer-like force slam into her chest as well, and she grunted as she was flew back. The shield of force dissipated, and the snow flurried inside. All was white, and the Vizier performed a Manipulate Energies working to keep herself warm as ice blanketed over her, burying her in her own white grave.

Then her back met the wall. The wind was knocked out of her, and everything was white again. She closed her eyes, and struggled to keep the flaming warmth spell going.

It was a long time before she heard the sound of flurrying snow vanish.

The soft storm sound of flurrying snow was suddenly replaced by a small, indignant hissing as Rune’s warm body spell tried to melt through the sheet of white she’d been buried in. Eventually, she fell forward, down onto a white sheeted ground. Blinking, she looked up and saw that the Dean’s entire room was blanketed by that feathery, yet heavy, white. Many books had been soiled, and the wooden desk had been frozen over, icicles hanging underneath the edges.

The window of the Dean hung open, shattered by the otherworldly sorcery of that fae-girl. Rune walked up to it, and stood right at the mouth of it, looking out to the vast mechanical corpse that was Throne City.

She closed her eyes, and quested with her Magickal Perceptions. She fine-tuned her Perceive Diwa Working to sense Transplanar Entities.

It wasn’t long before Rune opened her eyes. Golden magick hummed beneath her irises. She fell forward, plummeted, and with a flick of her hand, called upon the winds to carry her forward and sail across the sky, after that wafting Transplanar smoke trail.

* * *

Kasu walked on the concrete rooftop. There had fortunately been a Medicker inside Lo-Fi Cafe with them, who offered to patch up the scrapes and cuts she had gotten from that chaotic outburst. It was not a fun experience. She thanked the man, and immediately ran straight for home.

I shouldn’t have gone out in the first place, she thought to herself.

But now she found herself wandering the rooftop of her apartment building. Where she had met Rexza. Where the portal to Avalon opened. Where everything basically went to shit, and something that she shouldn’t have been part of suddenly pulled her into its chain of events. It was like fate, maybe. Or some sort of discordant coincidence.

She had heard vast, sweeping theories — so absurd that they may as well be conspiracies — about how Fate, or Probability, as the more Material Savants would insist, is actually an infinite amount of intertwining threads and strings. Then it is said that these strings all intersect or intercross or intertwine here, in the Mund, and some strings even begin in the Mund.

Kasu always thought that absurd. She’d seen and studied — albeit as cursory as they get — about other Realms. Why would the Mund be any different?

She shrugged, leaning against a concrete baluster and staring up at the converging thunderclouds above the tallest Spire in Throne. The upfalling rain was already weirding her out. The violent, random and chaotic outbursts of angered matter didn’t help.

She sighed. She should be safe in her room for the time being. She briefly considered jacking back into the Datascape again, but decided against it when she walked through the door and down the stairs, and almost slipped on the first step. She blinked. Had she been sleeping lately?

She shrugged. Sleep is for the weak. Something she had been muttering to herself during her Collegiate days. At the thought of that, her mind lingered to the possibility that maybe she should continue her Magickal Education. She had been able to manipulate Soulstuff… was that possible? Was that normal? How did she do that with her Data Magick?

A great many questions she asked herself, but none of them she could answer. As she reached the last step of the stairs, she grinned. In one way or another, this was what a Magicker’s life was about — solving mysteries.

* * *

Chrysanthemum sailed through the air, breathing heavily. She still felt her nose was clogged, and her eyes burning, but she couldn’t think about that. Her hair still blazed about her like a fuschia conflagration.

She didn’t know how she did it, but she was flying — well, more of gliding, really, as her flight had a slow descent. She directed this flight toward the Felghoun Ward. It wasn’t hard — all she had to do was follow the City-Rail Transit and landmarks Quinen had told her.

The strange Siddivata Entity had jumped off of the window and asked the snow to carry her where she wanted. Snow flurried about her and brought her up, carrying her through the sky like a storm of frost. She leaned forward, with her hands splayed to her side, as she fell slowly towards the Felghoun Ward.

Much of the sky-travel had been suspended thanks to the looming threat of that transplanar storm. She thought back to what just happened back in the room of the Dean. She had gotten anxious, waiting, and as usual got curious about what all the books were about. A great many books were on there, and she saw an interesting textbook written by a dreorg philosopher (as he described himself in the book) named Gyeras, which had been translated into Shennin by a man named Infinite Sights. “A Shout from the Soul to the Stars”, the leatherbound tome was titled. A title which most definitely caught her — and many others, she was sure — attention.

The writing was dreadfully thick and lumbering, without much coherent thought as he jumped from one topic — left it for a minute as he went on a tangent about how his broom may have its own soul — and then went back to the topic of the function of Stars and the order of the Celestial Sphere. She hadn’t read much, and she’d only gotten to the part about Souls right as when that horrible Magicker woman — who was somehow shorter than her — attacked her.

She shook her head. That woman must be looking for her this very second. She had to move quick.

Before long she found Quinen’s apartment. She thanked the Snow for carrying her and told them to put her down onto the concrete. As the concrete frosted over a bit from the presence of the Snow spirits, Chrysanthemum’s bare feet danced over the sidewalk and she moved to the door of the apartment. She muttered, “Please be here, please be here, please be here…” again and again like a chant, as she walked inside.

When she opened Quinen’s apartment door, she saw the window was still broken, and the room itself was still in disarray. They hadn’t gone back to it ever since the first Fiagai had assaulted the two of them, she realized. Along with that realization was the lightning bolt clarification that Quinen wasn’t here either.

The thunder rolled. She wasn’t safe alone. Quinen had told her that. Even if she had access to both of her contracts now, she still didn’t know the extent of them, how far she could use them to protect herself. She was much too weak to keep herself safe…

She realized, though, that she had managed to fend off that nosy Magicker when she was in the Dean’s Room.

Chyrsanthemum shook her head. She had to keep moving. If she stopped, she would sink. Another person immediately popped up into her mind — Kasu. That dark-haired, almost quirky dataturge who had helped her before. Maybe she can help her again.

The fae-girl hurried down the stairs and out of the door. “Snows, please, take me to where I need to go!” she asked, and then jumped into the air. A flurry of snow and ice caught her, and lifted her higher from the ground. She glided again, in the direction now of Kasu’s house, in the Crihilox Ward. She used the the easily recognizable adamant material of the Librarium Soph’s walls to guide her way. She realized that only a few humans dotted the concrete corpse below her.

She found that looking for that specific apartment building was harder than she thought, as she sailed above the CRT line. Especially when a bunch of other apartment buildings stood scrunched up next to each other, and their features were almost all uniformly the same.

The snow spirits flurried and faltered as they neared the concrete sidewalk. “Thank you, Snow. You may put me down.” The snow spirits put her down on the sidewalk near the CRT.

A bunch of pedestrians walked around her, giving her a wide berth. Some of the younger ones gawked and marvelled. There were no Naphli officers to scold her. She remembered this street, but it had been filled with people in her sea of memories. Now it was almost empty.

She quickly looked for an alleyway to hide behind, angry at herself for slipping up. Thunder rolled again, reminding her that she had to find someone that could help her quick.

A thought snapped up into her mind. She got onto one knee and placed her palm onto the ground. The earth reverberated underneath her touch, vibrating and churning. “Earth Spirits, Dwarf Court. Please, show me where Kasu is.”

There was a pause, a long silence. A silence that scared Kasu, making her think that she had failed, or the Dwarf Court contract was fake…

Then the earth beneath her opened up. It was as if the concrete had suddenly liquefied, and she sank into it. There was a moment of darkness, as the Earth spirits moved and changed and burrowed. The next moment, the earth spit her out, and she was standing in front of an apartment complex barred by a scissor gate.

Chrysanthemum grinned. Once again, pedestrians walked around her, most of them making sure not to disturb her. She leaned down onto the sidewalk and whispered, “Thank you, earth spirits.”

Then, with an inhalation of cold, almost Avalonian air — something she couldn’t quite understand nor describe — she walked into Kasu’s apartment building.

Up on the third floor, there was one room that had no door. It looked like it had been blasted off of its hinges. From that room spewed out datal lights of hazy turquoise and gray blue. Chrysanthemum walked up to it and saw Kasu staring at her desknode setup, eating a tub of chocolate ice cream. “Kasu.”

The hacker didn’t budge. She scooped and dumped more chocolate ice cream into her mouth.

Chrysanthemum said her name again, a bit louder this time. Kasu stopped mid-scoop then, and she swiveled her chair around. “Yes?” Her eyes widened. “Chrysanthemum?”

Chrys nodded. Her hair had calmed down now to a low humming pink. She had the saddest, most tired expression on her face. Kasu put her ice cream tub aside and walked up to her. “Chrys! How’d you manage to get out?” The Dataturge hugged her.

“I…” Chrys hugged her back. “I don’t know. I– Where’s Quinen?” Chrysanthemum noticed, up close, that there were scratches and wounds on her, and her right arm seemed to be moving in a weird, spastic fashion. As if she didn’t quite have full control over it. “Are you okay?”

Kasu pulled away and nodded. She caressed her right arm. “There was some sort of chaotic blowback when the rain began falling upwards. I don’t know why, and there wasn’t any news of it, so maybe I had been singled out or maybe the lashes had been sparse.” She paused, and then stared at Chrys’ right shin. “Okay, now are you okay?”

Chrys hugged Kasu again and nodded. “I fell and bruised my shin. It is nothing. Quinen says humans get it all the time. Oh Kasu.” Chrys realized that they were roughly of the same height.

Kasu nodded slowly. “Well okay. I’m fine, really,” Kasu said, breaking away again. “Maybe I should be sleeping, though.” She perked up then. “Oh, but wait. It seems you forgot this.” The dataturge turned around and walked back to her desknode. She raised a palmnode, translucent and turned off. “This is yours, I believe. I think you left it here, behind the screens of my desknode, so it was hard to find. I sorta just saw it while I was wiping my tables.”

Chrysanthemum blinked. She took the palmnode from her.

“I know, I know. It doesn’t look like I clean.” And her eyes glanced at the state of her room. “But I’m a good girl. I swear.”

Chrysanthemum giggled, and realized that she found that complex, multi-layered implication funny. Kasu harrumphed.

Chrys eventually shrugged off the laughing fit, and sighed. “Oh, Kasu. I need your help.”

Kasu raised an eyebrow at that. Her eyes flickered to her desknode’s screen — data and information and statistics changed and flickered. “What is it? Anything I can do about it?”

“I need Quinen.”

Kasu blinked. “Well, right. Oh right! Of course!” She rubbed her eyes. “Quinen was trying to get to you too, but you were inside the Collegium, and he couldn’t contact you.”

“Do you know where he might be?”

Kasu nodded, dropping back down to her swivel chair. She entered a few commands with the scriptboard, and then a map of Throne City showing a purple blip materialized onto the screen of her desknode. “He’s in… oh shit. What’s he doing in the Cathedral?”

“The Cathedral?” Chrysanthemum asked. “That’s where the King and the Priests reside, right?”

Kasu nodded. “I see Quinen’s informed you of that.”

“I need to get to him. Can you help me?”

Kasu rose to her feet. She reached for a bottle of Dampener pills and stuffed them into a messenger bag. “Of course–” she hesitated. Chrysanthemum blinked, opening her mouth to say that she didn’t need to. “Yeah,” continued Kasu. “Yeah. I can. Don’t worry about it.”

Chrysanthemum paused for a bit, her large, elven eyes staring innocently at Kasu. Then she said, “Then we need to hurry,” Chrysanthemum said. “There is a horrible Magicker that is chasing after me.”

“Is that so?” asked Kasu, raising an eyebrow. She packed the messenger bag with the folding lapnode and two different palmnodes. “Leave whoever that is to me.”

“No. You don’t understand. She’s powerful.”

“All Magickers are powerful, Chrysanthemum.” Kasu walked forward and grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand, dragging her out of her room. “Now let’s go.”


If you liked my work enough to get to the latest chapter, then consider supporting me by voting on topwebfiction!

 

Advertisements

Lunacy 3

Old Javio’s Pub was silent. The wooden floors didn’t do so much as creak. The ceiling fans spun overhead, but their whirring was slow, dampened.

Behind the bar, the Barkeep had finished his cleaning rounds. He stood, looking outside the window and at the strange chaotic rain that fell up. He leaned against his bartop, and sighed. The neon lights reflected in his eyes.

Off to the corner, Aravin’s voice echoed. “They’re here, aren’t they?”

The Barkeep nodded.  Aravin grinned in the slight darkness that the corner provided. “Get some rest, Young Javio.”

“And miss this?” The Barkeep, Young Javio, shook his head. “I don’t think so. Not yet.”

The doors to Old Javio’s Pub swung open; a bell rang. Five figures walked in, wearing vastly different clothes. In fact, they looked like they had just been out shopping in a mall somewhere, save for three of them, who had scratches and such on their bodies.

Aravin rose to his feet and grinned. “Ah, good day to you.” Three of them wore their mantles, while the others did not. The Knights Vigilant Emblem was proudly emblazoned on their chests.

A belgar — tall and lean, black-furred yet hunched over and with a massive overbite — growled like rocks were being churned in the bottom of his throat. “The rain is falling the wrong way, Emperor.”

“Astute observation, Strength.”

“I think he got bopped on the head a bit too many times,” said a tall woman. She grinned at Strength. The belgar shook his head and moved over to the barkeep, grinning and asking for his usual. Young Javio moved.

Aravin smiled. The woman wore a red tank top and denim jeans that embraced her figure. Strapped on her back was a five foot long blade, a foot wide in span, looking horribly impractical to carry. “Hey now, don’t be too harsh on Strength, First Lancer,” Aravin said.

The woman rolled her eyes at Aravin and made her way to one of the tables.

“Are you sure you are all okay?” The voice was soft, almost angelic in its faintness. Aravin knew it to be their healer. “No wounds or deep cuts or…?” The woman that spoke wore a long white leather hoodie that reached her knees. It was fashioned in such a way that it wrapped around her, which — in Aravin’s eyes at least — was very fashionable. Small sigils and runes — no doubt Magick work — floated across the ivory fabric, as if the fabric was the sky and the sigils were the clouds.

She kept the large, billowy hood up, but Aravin could see the pale skin underneath, and the dark — almost violet — hair that she had cut short. That she had cut herself. Her eyes were the color of leaden sunfall, and she stood quite a lot shorter than First Lancer and Aravin.

“Priestess,” said Aravin, but he didn’t move otherwise.

“Emperor.” Priestess nodded, but didn’t look at him. She moved past him and walked up to the dreorg that had bounced over beside First Lancer. “Second Lancer. Take it easy. You have cuts on your feet and your ears are bleeding.”

“I know,” said Second Lancer. He shrugged, and didn’t even wince. Even if the bleeding looked like it should’ve been bad. “It doesn’t bother me that much.”

“It should,” said Priestess, as she walked up to Second Lancer and knelt down in front of him. She laid hands on the wounds, and Aravin felt the Reality-twisting Resonance that vibrated and tinged space and air when a Magicker called upon one of the Fields by prestige of their Sympathy.

A high, nasal voice spoke behind Aravin. “I say, Emperor, we should really recruit more Medic Magickers. Healers are incalculably important.”

Aravin inhaled and smiled. He turned to greet the dark-feathered anzu that wore his wrapped his wings around him like a cloak. The feathers had been drenched in blood. Aravin tried to share the anzu’s nonchalantness, but the fresh blood didn’t help. He fervently hoped that it didn’t belong to the anzu.

“Ah, Third Lancer. I’m trusting whatever mission you undertook went well?”

Third Lancer tried to move his wings, but that effort only resulted in a pained grimace. The anzu shook his head. “I… It did. We managed to apprehend a herd of Barren Beasts that had managed to escape,” said the anzu.

Aravin grimaced. The Barren Beasts did not spew out blood. “Priestess-”

“Emperor. My wings have been broken.” The same serenity permeated the anzu’s face. “I’m afraid I will not be able to join you for a while.” Third Lancer’s gaze flickered to Priestess. “Thankfully, we have Magickers.”

“Don’t stress yourself, Akito.”

“I won’t,” Third Lancer, Akito, said. “I won’t. I’m indebted to the Knights, and I am one myself. This is my duty ‘til I die. Do not worry.”

“I’m worrying about you-”

But Third Lancer had moved past him, his footsteps so light that Aravin could barely hear it. He walked up beside the two other Lancers and sat. Priestess worked furiously; magickal Resonance made Aravin’s hair stand up on end.

“So.” Strength’s voice echoed across the room as Priestess and the other Lancers’ talked amongst themselves. With a sigh, Aravin turned and walked up beside the black-furred Belgar. “Why’d you call us here, Aravin?”

Aravin glanced at the Barkeep. “I want to investigate…” he gesticulated to the rain outside. “That.”

“Truly,” the belgar said nodding and then downing another mug. It was his second. “So when do we start?”

Aravin smiled. “Well, we have to make sure first who can be part of the party. That way I can gauge what we can do. Then…”

“You killed someone, didn’t you.”

Aravin paused, then his eyes turned to the bloody emblem still on the bartop. “I thought I told you to clean that.” He turned to Young Javio.

Young Javio sighed, and shook his head.

“Javio, I call the shots here and I told you to clean that!” His voice didn’t rise too high, so as to not interrupt the Lancers and the Priestess, but he’d managed to convey the bite in the tone. The Barkeep leaned back.

“It must be-”

“Don’t apologize, Javio,” Strength said. “And don’t do that, Aravin. You have to prove yourself first.”

“There’s a reason I’m Emperor now, Strength.”

“There’s a reason why we’re called Knights Vigilant, Aravin.”

Aravin shook his head. A chuckle rose from the bottom of his throat. “This is ridiculous. ‘What others cannot’, remember? We have to do these things — we have to resort to pragmatism, to keep ourselves alive.”

“That’s hardly-”

“So that we can keep doing what we do, Vikrus. So that we can keep doing what we do.” Aravin composed himself. “It belonged to a Knight from another country.”

Strength, Vikrus, clenched his fists. He sighed. “And here I thought the Throne Knights were the last ones.”

“Maybe…” Aravin shook his head. “Maybe we can get in touch with them and build the Knights back up to what it was.”

There was a silence. Javio picked up the emblem and began to wipe it clean. Neither Aravin nor Vikrus stopped him.

After a while, Vikrus spoke. “Emperor. Let’s get to that later. Continue what you were going to say — we’re going to investigate this phenomenon?”

Aravin nodded. His movements were sluggish now. He asked for another glass of Wyvern’s Venom. Vikrus scrunched up his nose when he heard it. “Yes. I… Young Javio and I have spoken about it. It’s most likely connected to that recent event with the Magicker being chased by that-”

“Transplanar Entity.” Strength nodded. “It adds up. That other Transplanar Entity arrived and fought with the Naphli, right? From the newsfeeds, I saw that same Magicker.”

“So they are somehow connected.”

“They are.”

Priestess walked up to the bar and asked for some pure alcohol. “It’s for the cleanup. Cleaning the wound is easy enough without Magick.” Javio obliged.

“So what would be our first plan of action?” asked Vikrus.

Aravin shrugged. He downed a cup of Wyvern’s Venom. “Maybe… the Naphli?”

“Maybe.”

 

Soon enough Priestess had cleaned and closed up most of the wounds of the Lancers. When they were all settled, Aravin convened with the five of them. They were missing three. Aravin, having his duties as Emperor, pressed on as if a normal meeting. He couldn’t waver.

He shared the information about the Transplanar Entity. Immediately after he finished, First Lancer raised a hand gripping a bottle. “So what exactly do we do? Do we, what, go off in an intel gathering mission? We should look for Hermit!”

She took a swig.

“You know, if we had a Hermit.”

There was a beat of silence. Priestess looked up at Aravin, her face in a stern command of telling him to keep the conversation moving. “Right,” Aravin began. “We… might try looking for information amongst the Naphli.”

“What do we do?” asked First Lancer again. “Walk up to one of the officers and ask politely? It doesn’t work that way.”

“I know it doesn’t,” said Aravin, gritting his teeth together. First Lancer simply raised an eyebrow and grinned insufferably. “We should…” he sighed, exasperated. “We can’t reveal our identities to the public. They’ll just end us. We should expand our grounds, try to establish more connections, gain intel without a Hermit.”

“It would be easier with a Hermit,” said First Lancer, pushing her chair back and shrugging.

“I know.” Aravin closed his eyes and breathed. When he opened them, he saw Vikrus, staring at him. Those beastly belgar eyes judged him, scrutinized him, but somehow, helped him.

Aravin exhaled. “I know. I’ll try to get to my contacts tonight. Maybe… we can even find a way to identify who that Magicker is.”

Priestess nodded. “I’ll go with you.”

Aravin smiled a tight lipped smile. “That would be nice.”

Second Lancer spoke. “I’m gonna take tonight to rest up. Hope that’s alright.” Aravin nodded vigorously, as if to say that yes, indeed, it was perfectly fine. “I’ll be back and at ‘em in no time. Buzz me when you need me. I’ll be right there.”

Third Lancer only looked down. Aravin spoke again. “Only those that are able to go with me should. Don’t push yourselves. Keeping the Knights alive is important — it’s the only way we can continue the mission.”

There was no response.

“Are we clear?”

A beat, before Vikrus — Strength — said, “Clear.”

And the others followed. First Lancer surprisingly followed right after Strength.

“Good,” said Aravin. “I’ll buzz you all when needed. Priestess and I will head out soon. Dismissed. Keep yourself safe, Knights. What others cannot.”

 

* * *

 

The Captain awoke an hour later. His eyes opened slightly, and when he saw that Kotoro was sitting there, cross-legged, his eyes widened. “You. What are you…?”

Kotoro straightened. “To report back, sir.”

“I’m off-duty today,” said the Captain, closing his eyes again. “Report back tomorrow or to whoever’s in charge in the HQ.”

Kotoro bit his lip. “Uh, Captain. I… may have a personal inquiry afterwards?”

The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Personal… inquiry?” Kotoro didn’t answer. He stared and stayed absolutely still. The Captain sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine. Get it over with.” He reached for a bottle and found none still had their contents.

Kotoro nodded. “So the death of Oberen Roeser, sir, might be connected to the Warlock.”

Urie raised an eyebrow. “The Warlock…?”

“Yes. Apparently Oberen’s been seen with him before.”

“I’ve seen the Warlock once,” replied the Captain. “I… haven’t seen him since then.”

“Strange.”

“Indeed.”

“Then… wait, what about the Magicker that was being chased by the Transplanar Entity?”

The Captain blinked. He turned and, with a strange, new found clarity — as if for the first time he’d managed to blink away the haze of sleep and booze — he stared straight at Kotoro. The detective instinctively straightened up.

“That might be the Warlock.”

“But does his physical description match?”

The Captain shook his head. “He’s a Magicker. It doesn’t matter.” Kotoro opened his mouth in a silent ‘ah’. “Can’t you do your Sight thing to ascertain who he really is?”

Kotoro nodded. “But I’d have to be there with him.”

“Damn.” The Captain leaned forward. “He’s with the Commissioner right now. I’ll contact you if I ever get a hold of him.” He sighed, leaning back again into his chair and mopping his face. “Is there anything else?”

“We might be able to learn the entire truth if we get to the Warlock, sir.”

The Captain nodded, silent. “Right. He’s the next target then. We have to get the answers from him.”

“That’s it sir.” Kotoro licked his lips. “Sir, as for the personal inquiry…”

“Spit it out before you or I doubt.”

Kotoro nodded hastily. “Right. Sir. About Sahnie. Namana Sahnie. The Detective I was paired with?”

“Yeah? What about her?”

“What’s been the news? I haven’t seen her since a few days ago.”

“Well,” the Captain scratched his stubble. “She hasn’t reported back at all.”

“How many days?”

“One? Two? I don’t keep track of that shit.”

Kotoro nodded. “Right. Um. I am going to go to her then and see how she’s doing.”

The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Son, you don’t have to tell me about your love life.”

Kotoro smiled. “I’m just a concerned friend sir. Sahnie was with me during the airship ride from Jubh-Kan.”

“Ah. So you’ve grown attached?” asked the Captain. “LIke a little dog?”

Kotoro pressed his lips together. “As long as I am a cute dog, then yes.” He transmuted that almost-grimace into a smile.

“Alright then. Go ahead. You didn’t need my consent I’m not her father.” He rose and made his way to his fridge, pulling out another cold beer. “You want one?”

Kotoro was on his feet. He waved his hand. “Oh, n-no. I’m fine, sir. Thank you for the offer.”

“Suit yourself,” said the Captain, as he uncapped it and took a swig. “You take care now.”

“You too, sir,” said Kotoro, glancing over to the two Naphli that he knew fought in what happened in the HQ. He closed the door behind him, and ventured out for Sahnie’s apartment. He’d gone there before.

 

* * *

 

All the Masters had convened once again in the meeting room. The fickle Ivahl ruffled the head of the short Eiv. She harrumphed, but responded in a manner that suggested that she’d gotten used to the gesture. Her round face had burnt up into a bright pink, and her tail wagged indignantly.

Aster spoke with Smide about their lesson plans and how they’re planning on collaborating on a few experiments. Ssryx’ryxh, the zaretrych, nodded his head as Idurgam talked about the current state of the Storm Court: he said that the Courts had no idea what was happening.

A flurry of ribboning winds whipped various articles of clothing about as the Dean appeared next to his seat, which he immediately took. The other Masters greeted him, and immediately followed through and sat on their respective seats. They Sealed the Circle, and quickly went into the meeting.

“Masters,” spoke Hakumatheia. “We all begin this with a very present problem. The Wild Hunt is coming. We must take up measures to ensure the safety of the Collegium, and Throne.” All of them looked at him and nodded. Save for the alfr, who flashed a colorless white in agreement.

“I suggest summoning the-”

A knock on the door interrupted him. The Dean closed his mouth, and furrowed his eyebrows. Not a lot of things can interrupt a Master’s Meeting. The Master closest to the door, Smide, shrugged and rose to his feet. The Dean watched him as he swung the door open.

There, by the doorway, stood a short, seemingly twelve year old. The Grand Master of Matter towered over the small child, who walked straight into the Meeting without another word, effectively cutting through Smide’s imposing figure. The Dean was silent, watching this young girl with dark caramel skin and white hair stride straight up to him.

That was when the aurelian gold glint of her Mantle caught all of their eyes. Smide seemed to have seen first, because he was watching the girl with wide eyes.

The Dean’s only reaction was a lazy eyebrow slowly rising at the fact that she was the King’s Vizier of Magick.

“Dean.” Her voice was high, yet soft.

“Vizier.” The Dean made no gestures to respect.

“The King needs to speak with you.”

“I am in the middle of a meeting, Vizier.”

“Then I’m afraid it must be cut short. You may return at any time.” She turned to the Masters. “By royal decree of the King, the Dean is needed. It is with the Protocol of great urgency. You all understand.”

She turned back to the Dean. The Dean felt her immense magickal resonance. Something that easily rivalled his. She was questing with her Magickal Perceptions. “Now then,” she said. “Shall we?”

A ribbon of wind, which tightened, tensed, and then snapped into a clap of thunder, and then they were both gone.

 


 

If you’ve read this far and liked it, why not consider voting for the serial on topwebfiction!

Lunacy 2

One could hear the clanging of chimes in the City of Throne.

The upfalling rain demanded silence and reverence. Most of the mortals in the City could do naught but watch the strange rain, and shudder at the foreboding thunder.

A sleek, black autochariot turned a street and fell in line with a congested lane. In the Cathedra Ward, near the center, there were always people working. Industry and labor didn’t stop in the face of supernatural threats, it seemed.

“Now have you ever seen the King, or any of the Royal Family Members before?” asked the Commissioner as they drove through traffic.

Quinen laid back on his portion of the seat, as far away from the Commissioner as possible. He removed the stubby cigarette from his lips and Transmuted it into a flash of light. With another flick of his fingers, he pulled out a cig from his pocket, and lit it up by nearing it to the tattoo of Energies on his right hand.

The Commissioner waited for an answer.

“No.” Quinen puffed out a slow waft of smoke. “They don’t do much, do they?”

The Commissioner sighed. “The Viziers take care most of the governing, surely. But they are still important. The King is more than just a face, and the Royal Thaumaturgy runs deep in their veins.”

Quinen rolled his eyes. “The ‘Royal Thaumaturgy’ is just Manipulation to strengthen physical capabilities. Life and Substance Fields.”

“I care not for your wretched Magickry,” said the Commissioner. “But…” she sighed. “Try to be at least a bit courteous before him. He is the symbol of Order and Law now, and if we garner his favor, we will be able to stop this mess before it erupts into something that spills into all the world. Tell him the truth. We are putting our foot forward. If the Wild Hunt completes its Transplanar Voyage, then it will spell bad fate for the City of Throne.” She twitched a bit, and then muttered a silent uttering. Quinen strained to hear the verbal workings of a nigh-silent prayer.

The Warlock sighed and rolled his eyes. “As if I didn’t know that already.” He still hadn’t gotten back his physical Instruments and Tools, so working with these makeshift tattoos and inks were guaranteeing a higher chance of Dissonance incurring every time he cast a spell. He shook his head.

The streets closer to the Cathedral in the Center of Throne were more congested. They came to a stoplight, and the traffic seemed like an impenetrable lot of parked cars. On either side of him were the tall Spires, and on their bases were the humans — with the one or two token races — walking about and fulfilling daily quotas and finishing tasks.

Quinen leaned on dragged on his cig. He saw his blurred reflection on the glass window — the long hair, the sharp features, the slowly growing back stubble. He realized that his new body didn’t look too far from his old body. Except, maybe, for the build. He was a lot leaner in this shell; his old shell was a bit more squat and stubby.

His thoughts lingered even further into what had happened and finally dabbled upon the forefront memory of Chrysanthemum. She was inside the Collegium, yes? Surely the Dean would know of her, or of her nature. Hopefully she was still safe. Hopefully.

Quinen shook his head. He should stop hoping. It never did anything for him. He realized the worst now, and decided that if Chrysanthemum had been killed, or had been sent back to Avalon…

No. He shook his head again, looking like nothing but an indignant boy who had lost his favorite toy.

“What troubles you, Warlock?”

Quinen didn’t answer. “I need you to come with me to the Collegium after this.”

The Commissioner lifted an eyebrow. “Why can you not go inside?”

“The moniker of Warlock isn’t given out as participation awards for not graduating, Commissioner. I need somebody of your stature as ah, how do I say this, a buffer.”

“You need to get through the Celestial Lions, do you not?”

Quinen was silent, but nodded in response.

“Very well. But I shall schedule another interrogation with you once again afterwards. You being chased down by an Transplanar Entity and now an entire Transplanar Army coming is too convenient to be ignored.”

“I understand.” Quinen knew it would get to this, one way or another. He knew the risks. “Just let me into the Collegium.”

The Commissioner stared at the Warlock, and Quinen looked away. From his periphery, he could feel her soul-gouging eyes. Quinen shook his head.

 

* * *

 

The Naphli HQ was being rebuilt. Most of the Top Command Crew officers and sergeants were given rest days, while the work continued on for the rest of them.

Captain Urie wasn’t much physically affected by what happened. He paid for the donut, pizza, and neon pop combo meal the fast food chain ‘Wantinables’ had. “Enjoy your meal, sir.”

Urie opened his mouth to reply, but saw the red eyed, chrome-skinned automaton standing behind the counter turn to the next guy in the store. “How may I help you, sir?”

The other guy — who asked for a burger combo — was the only other guy in the entire Wantinables shop in this corner of the street.

Urie walked out and into the deserted street. His eyes had almost glazed past the fact that the rain fell upwards. The strangeness of wondering where the water came from was not lost on him. The Storm Gods made sure the Water Cycle was well maintained. They must be toiling in the Spirit Courts right now.

The Captain walked down the block, to a four story tall apartment building squished between two twenty floor buildings. He walked up to the third floor, where the gaps between the room doors were sparse.

With a knock, the door swung open. Sersha and Gharth both lay on the makeshift beds the Captain had fashioned for them. Gharth, being the larger sized one, lay on the floor. Sersha lay on the couch. The smallest seeps of gray light flecked softly onto their cheeks through the gray blinds.

“Did they have pizza?” Sanami asked. The Captain walked past her, put the pizza on the congested wooden table with short legs, and turned to her. He had to look down again to see Sanami; her dark blue hair had been tied up in a bundle on top of her head. She set both of her hands on her hips, squishing the silken gray hoodie that fell to her knees. Until now, it was strange to see such a short human. At least, to Urie.

Urie gestured to the pizza on the low table. Sanami looked up at her captain, and then shook her head. She walked over to the table and picked up a slice, while the Captain walked over to the fridge and pulled out a chilly glass bottle. He opened the cap with a satisfying fizz on the edge of the table.

Falling onto the comfy, inviting leather chair beside the couch, Urie sipped on the bottle of Karnak — cheap chilled beer, but enough to give him the spike that he needed. It wasn’t much, and it would probably still take a few more bottles, but…

He looked over to the two sleeping non-humans beside him. They were dedicated to their badge. They protected the Naphli and the people, despite being not-human.

Urie sighed.

“They fought well.” Sanami’s mouth was full of pizza.

“I know.”

A silence cut through the room, a peach-flower cut buffered by the noise of sipping and chewing.

“The Transplanar Entity is out of our depth,” said Sanami, now gobbling on her fifth slice. “Maybe the King might bring out a Deathsworn again?”

Urie raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never seen one of the Deathsworn before. They’re as shadowy and as murky as the Phantasm in the Lake.”

Sanami nodded. “I’d like to believe that they exist. But… well Urban Legend never helpd me.”

Urie rolled his eyes. “I’d be more damned if I see one of the Knights Vigilant again.”

Sanami raised an eyebrow. “They’d seen a badge that purportedly belonged to the Knights.”

The Captain sighed. He realized his bottle was empty. He put it down beside the chair, and it clanked against the rows of bottles that he had tucked away in the same place. He rose and came back to his seat with another opened bottle. “I fake. The true Knights don’t exist anymore.”

“Do they not?”

“Even if they did, what use will they be? Political spears. That’s it. Maybe even initiators of a war with Zir. They’re gone. Useless. I don’t even remember what it was they were formed for in the first place.”

“It was for the culling of the Demonic Forces that were surfacing,” said Sanami. “I… well that’s all I know about that. The Twisted.”

“Ah yes,” Urie rolled his eyes. “The Spawn of the Elder God Kirahl.”

Sanami bit her lip. “That’s contested…”

“Of course it fucking is. With you Magickers, everything is contested.” He swigged from his bottle.

The thunderclouds and the upfalling rain was causing an unusual tension to brew about the entirety of Throne City. Like a string stretched too taut, but with a large hammer slowly falling down upon it, and all that saw what was happening could only watch as the inevitable unfolded.

 

* * *

 

The street was empty. There were still buses and trams and autochariots that drove slowly down the road, but other than that, it felt like the Outer Streets of the Karoley Ward had been deserted. The neon lights still danced across upfalling rain.

Underneath an empty bus stop, Kotoro buzzed the Urie’s frequency. He realized that the places where rain wouldn’t usually splatter and hit, the upfalling rain wouldn’t hit either. It was as if some sort of rewinding of past events, or maybe a phantasm conjured by some otherworldly force.

The Captain picked up after five buzzes. “Captain Urie, this is–”

“Hello? Hi. This is Sanami. Are you the Detective from Jubh-Kan?”

Kotoro blinked, and then nodded. “Y-yes. Are you…?”

“This is Sanami. The Captain isn’t available right now.”

“Oh.” Then a gasp. “Oh no–”

“He’s passed out, drunk. What do you need from him?”

A beat. Kotoro swallowed internally. “I need to speak with him. To update him and…” He thought that the next few words might better fit the Captain’s ears.

“Hm. Okay. Come to these coordinates.”

 

Kotoro knocked on the door of the strange brick building squished between two taller buildings. The door swung open to reveal Sanami, shorter than Kotoro, and wearing a gray hoodie that made ambiguous if she was wearing any underwear.

“H-Hello. Good day, miss. May I come in?”

Samani blinked, and then nodded. Kotoro bowed by the waist and closed the door behind him. “Where is the Captain?”

Sanami pointed at the sleeping Captain. He wore a clean enough gray shirt and black sweatpants. He looked like a person who never left their room, instead of a Captain of the Naphli themselves.

Urie scratched his belly and snored.

“I tried everything,” said Sanami.

Kotoro sighed. “I guess he is tired. With all the work he’s doing, I am not surprised that he hasn’t collapsed yet.”

Sanami shrugged. “The Captain’s a strong man. He lives for the work, for the hustle. It’s like… it’s like if he doesn’t keep working, the tension breaks and everything falls apart.”

Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

Sanami nodded.

A moment of silence passed between them. Kotoro eyed the pizza. “Would you mind?”

Sanami stared at the pizza as well. There was only one slice left. Sanami licked her lips.

“Did you finish this all by yourself?”

Sanami shook her head. “The Captain helped. But I’m a hungry badger.”

Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “We could cut it…?”

“Sure. Why not.” And they did so. A sliced pizza, cut in half lengthwise. They both enjoyed a pizza not fully. Sanami felt so guilty she offered Kotoro the first two donuts from the box.

Kotoro chuckled. “It would be my pleasure.” And he wolfed down the two doughy treats. He wondered if Sanami regretted her strange little bout of generosity.

“So,” she said, watching him eat. “You’re from Jubh-Kan?”

Kotoro nodded. “It is… darker there than here.”

“Ah yes,” said Sanami. “The Tri-Layered City.”

“It is a strange city, for sure.”

“For sure.”

Kotoro looked out past the blinds and noticed the gray skies that blotted out the Daystar. “But, with these thunderclouds, it might as well be as dark.” Kotoro turned to look at her, and noticed the various different earings and rings and bracelets that hung from her as if she were an inside out jewelry box. Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Are you a Savant?”

Sanami smiled, and she moved in such a way that made her bracelets clank against each other. “I’m an Adept at both the Fields of Matter and Diwa. I’ve studied Elementology and such, as well as Diwatology. If you were thinking of asking about the current state of events, I’ve no idea. The Storm Courts might be strangely angry to make this strange weather come to pass.”

“Yes,” said Kotoro. His eyes lingered on a bit more at the Instruments, before he turned back to the brooding clouds. “It was much too abrupt a change — and unpredicted by our Meteocasters — to be the natural order of events. The Storm Theito must’ve done something.”

“But none of the Spiritspeakers have reported anything,” said Sanami.

“Yeah.” Kotoro dusted his fingers on his dark jacket and said. “You studied Elementology?”

“I did. You have the dense Resonance of a Matter user.”

“I am,” said Kotoro. “What do you think of the newest model that’s been submitted for Elemental States?”

Sanami scoffed. “Hirem-Ya and Adaniro are hacks.”

“But you don’t think they have an interesting point? What about Lightning? What about light? What about the properties of Fire? Of blood? Are all liquids Water? Then what about superheated lava — they flow like viscous liquid. Are all gases air?”

Sanami shrugged.

“I think,” continued Kotoro, “the Iotic Model is better. Right before the cusp of Diwa, they are Iota — inorganic things of the smallest scale that when grouped with others of different iotic colors, they form amalgams, which then join together to create the different states. Fire, Water, Earth, Air — they’re just states now.”

Sanami blinked, raised an eyebrow and leaned back into a more comfortable position on her chair. “Then why are there Spirits for those?”

“For the elements? Don’t Spirits represent concepts, after all? It’s a matter of time before the Gossamer of the Mael spits them into being as we realize more about the Mund. Hell it’s even debated whether the Mael creates them or just brings them into light. The Mael is far vaster, and Timespace is a strange concept that might not exist to that expanse.”

“Yes, sure, but most spirits we have now have been there since the beginning of time. How can there not be concepts for the Iotic models? Everything has a Spirit, and those that have Spirits are the best way to scrutinize matter.” Sanami swallowed a donut.

Kotoro grinned. “What about Dwarfic Forces?”

“Dwarficity isn’t a force or matter,” argued Sanami. “No spirit represents it because it’s simply the pulling down of the Earth–”

Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “Actually, it’s the Binding of the Mund-Soul to the Souls living here. It’s been tested and verified. It’s why there are no Spirits — no Sprito, no Anito, no Theito, of Dwarficity: because the Spirit might be the Mund itself. Have you not read the latest papers on Energies? It’s why Dwarfic Studies is now a joined effort of almost every Savant. It’s crazy. The Mund-Soul might be a way to explain all the different Realms, and maybe even to survey if there might be something past the stars.”

Sanami rolled her eyes. “The Mund-Soul was conspiracy when I first heard it, but sure. I’ll take it. But going past the stars? There’s a reason Adon set up the Firmament.”

Kotoro shrugged. “There have been reports of Magickers reaching past the blue sky and reaching a bordermarch of pure darkness.”

Sanami rolled her eyes. “Also conspiracy. Don’t believe EVERYTHING you hear, Savant.”

Kotoro smiled. “And you too, Savant.”

Silence followed. Kotoro watched the Captain stir in his sleep. It was going to be a wait he’d have to endure.

“I’m going to go out,” said Sanami, rising to her feet. “Watch over them for me.”

Kotoro nodded, as Sanami opened the door and left, locking it behind her.

Now he’d have to wait alone.

Lunacy 1

Zinnia wore nothing but an emerald dress of flowing water. It began as a thin sheet of sidereal silk, eventually becoming trees, and then grasslands, and then turning gray as the grasslands rose up and danced into a raging storm.

Within the folds of Zinnia’s astral storm dress, the Wild Hunt thundered and roared, silhouettes appearing and dancing behind thunderclouds.

Beside the flaring redheaded Baroness was the feminine figure with the aubergine eyes. Her writhing, living wood figure grew out from the dress of trees of Zinnia as they travelled through the endless black in between.

“Hyacinth,” said Zinnia. “I task you with the job of bringing the Dushamigkhala to me once again. Give to Pixiu the task of killing the Dean Hakumatheia. He will be prepared, and he has powerful Magicks. Are you sure he is capable of taking down the Dean?”

Hyacinth nodded. “May I ask, Zinnia, Baroness: through what cleverness have you managed to break the Ancient Accords?”

Zinnia shrugged. “It was easy,” said Zinnia. “They are Mortal. They are human. They always make mistakes.”

Hyacinth pondered on this, but her mind was a cesspool of thoughts. She shook her head, and began to shrink, surrendering back into the ravaging storm Zinnia brought with her.

Zinnia stopped her with a hand. “Actually, no. Pixiu will be going with me.”

“To where, Baroness?”

“To the Dean, of course.”

 

* * *

 

Shikoth was, once again, a disentangled mess of bones.

Before the great spider had chased after the Warlock, the Wild Hunt Soldier found the boneful Anzu spying on it. The Transplanar Entity jumped up and decapitated the Anzu spirit with frightening ease, slicing through both Shikoth’s corporeal bones and ethereal gossamer. As the bone clattered and scattered into the wind like ash, most of them cut so fine that they were like ground bits of dirt, Shikoth’s spirit flew back — almost instantly — into the many Container Hex Globes the Dean kept in the great library behind him. Shikoth was silent, yet Shikoth was alive.

 

Outside and above the wardrobe, on the second floor upstairs, were the Dean and Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum’s pink glowing hair floated up on all sides, looking as if she had installed a glowing pink crown. Her eyes crackled. The Dean looked abrasively at the young Siddivata.

“They are nearing. You must stay here, inside. You will be kept safe here.”

Chrysanthemum sat on the couch. She had fallen asleep again, and realized that the Dean didn’t really sleep. She had slumbered under the monotone mutterings of a planning man, and woke up to her entangled mess of hair.

“What is happening?”

“Another world,” said the Dean, without looking at her, “Is coming to ours. I must mobilize the Glaves.”

Chrys tilted her head to one side. Then, she said, “Where’s Quinen? I want Quinen.”

The Dean stopped, and turned to her then. Staring deep into those soulless… the Dean blinked. Were they really Soulless?

He shook his head, clearing them of these thoughts for now. He’d have to wonder about that later. “Quinen is… somewhere. Outside.” The Dean swallowed, and almost had to roll his eyes at the next few words he — much to his surprise — managed to mutter, “I will find Quinen for you, but you have to stay put. Okay? You have to stay in here where it’s safe. Deal?”

The pink haired girl bit her lip, and then nodded. “Okay.”

“Good.”

The Dean left the second floor, down to the first floor of his office, and pressed on a rune on his wooden tabletop. “All Masters, convene in the meeting room. Now.”

As he said these words, thoughts of a failed Accords rushed through his brain in dizzying scenes. If the Accords failed, then what could protect them? And if they found out that Magick was part of the problem, the Viziers would surely advise the King to remove the Magickal Department of Throne — and of Shen. That would not bode well.

Above all, sitting on the throne of this mountain of thoughts, was the idea that he might be found out mingling and talking with one of the Siddivata. Even taking one as a lover. He should’ve known better.

They’re going to strip him of his Deanship. All of his Magickal Accolades.

The Dean shook his head. He straightened his back, turned around, and stepped forward. There was a blast of zephyr flurry, whipping around the entire room, sending cloth and papers up in a whirling maelstrom, and then he was gone.

 

* * *

 

The night crackled with the foreboding bass of thunder.

It was not a normal night, the Man in the White Cloak knew, as he walked through a sidewalk sparse with pedestrians, yet still lit with the jarring and bright neon lights of this particular street. The pink and purple and blue and reds and yellows danced amongst the sheet of upward falling rain.

The Man walked down the stairs, into the small bar nestled underneath the large towers in the further Wards of Throne. To the far West, to be precise — the Dilivian Ward.

The Man brought with him the Emblem of one of their members. She might not have been from Throne, or Shen, as he hasn’t met her before, yet she was still part of their admittedly disparate group.

The doors opened. The heating mechanisms had activated, counter to the wintry chill of Nymph outside. The small bar wasn’t much — a few wooden pillars that held it up, a small counter directly to the left of the door, with a few round tables and chairs and a bathroom that was (fortunately) cleaned religiously by:

“Hey Aravin. Did you get it back?” The Barkeep.

With a subtle movement, Aravin, the Man in the White Cloak, placed the bloodied emblem of the Knights Vigilant on the wooden bartop. “Where are the others?”

“Out,” the Barkeep said, wiping his hands on his apron. “They’ve found some anomalies in the Southeastern Barren, near the Hinterlands.”

“They?” the man turned and sat. The Barkeep scratched his beard, adjusted his glasses, and nodded. He leaned down and prepared the man’s usual drink — the Wyvern’s Venom — a sort of fermented coconut oil concoction actually spiked with a venom that wasn’t at all dangerous to humans, although dangerous to the physiologies of the other races.

“Fionava, Xreli and Akito.”

“Ah,” Aravin nodded. “The Lancers.”

“They are the only ones that came in.”

Aravin’s mind lingered and wandered about, realizing how empty the place was. Usually there would be a few other people — not other Knights, just other patrons — but there was no one here.

“I see.”

There was a moment of silence. Soon, the Barkeep finished Aravin’s drink, and slid a clear, tall mug his way. “Thunderclouds.”

“Not a storm.”

“Not Natural?”

“Transplanar.” Aravin shrugged. “The Magickers should be on it.”

“Magickers, eh?” The Barkeep said, looking out the glass window and out at the multicolor fractal scene of neon dancing across an inverted falling rain. “Damn. That is strange.”

“Upside down rain,” Aravin said, looking out. He sipped. “Don’t see that everyday.”

“You really don’t. Unless there was a Dissonance Effect somewhere near you.” The Barkeep pressed on the thin rectangular block similar to a brick lying on top of his wooden bar. It was made of the same turquoise orasine as everyone else’s palmnodes and lapnodes and desknodes. With a tap of a button on the right hand side of its top, a light radiated from his finger and it synced with the frequency of the City-wide news forecast.

“A thunderstorm is being observed, but it does not seem natural.” The voice was feminine and clear. “Experts and Magickers are making sure to find out what it causing the strange weather. All citizens are advised to seek shelter and to keep an open ear for more news.”

“Speaking of Magickers,” the Barkeep said. “You think what happened in the Naphli HQ might have anything to do with it?”

“Remember the news a day ago?” asked Aravin. His mug was almost halfway empty now. “That spider thing chasing down the Magicker? It was the same Magicker that was by the base of the Naphli HQ. It’s connected, somehow. Maybe I should call the Twelve again.”

“You mean the ‘Eight’, right?”

Aravin nodded. “I forgot that four of us died. Thanks for reminding me.”

The Barkeep grimaced. He stayed silent.

 

Aravin looked outside, and then pulled out his palmnode. With a long tap of a finger on the front face, he connected to the unique frequency he’d set up with the Thronian Knights Vigilant. “Knights, this is Emperor speaking. We need to meet at Old Javio’s Pub in the Dilivian Ward. You know the place.”

 

* * *

 

The steel and tass throne of the High King of Shen glimmered in the darkness. The throne itself wasn’t made for comfort in mind. It’s gnarling, crystalline peaks pierced the roofs of his already vast throne room. The blazing mark of Adon, God of Life and Death, was marked high on the throne.

The throne room was dark, yet glimmered.The darkness was that of luminiferous black. The Daystar was high up in the air, and provided some sort of light, but the gray windows that allowed small streams of the daylight only managed to give the darkness silver strands.

Despite the darkness, one could see perfectly clearly. Around the throne were five other smaller seats that descended from the high throne, nestled beside stairs. Each of their high backs were shaped to show what dominion they occupied. On the chairs were five different humans, each wearing a differently colored mantle over one shoulder to distinguish their function.

“Aruniea City, off to the far west, is being taken over by revolts by some upstart group of college Magickers.” The one that spoke looked like a middle-aged man, with graying hair on his black that seemed to mirror the silver strands on darkness of the room they were in. His mantle fluttered a bit in the stagnant air, emanating indigo.

“City 8?” said another — a blonde haired woman wearing glasses and an industrial chic gray suited attire. Her mantle was a bright, almost jarringly, green.

“Their Cathedral over there has been losing contact with us…” said an elderly man, wearing a somber gold mantle. His attire was more akin to a priest’s frock — black and long.

“Rebellion?” A young man with hair tied like a braid, wearing a longer crimson mantle, said. “That doesn’t bode well, especially with our upcoming-”

“Quiet.”

The voice was that of rolling thunder. There was no Magick involved in it, none of them felt the cackle of the persuasive voice. It was pure, unadulterated charisma, of will of force. Such was to be expected of the High King of Shen.

The man with the white hair opened his eyes. He wore a tight fitting suit, with an elegant cloak that was thin and maneuverable. His beard was salt and pepper, and his hair was a clean silver. His eyes’ limbal rings glimmered purple.

The Five Viziers of the King silenced. They moved around and looked at each other, but none of them made a noise. The tension tightened, and the young girl sitting on the bottom turned and looked up at the High King. She couldn’t be more than twelve human years. “High King,” she said. “You’ve seen it.”

“It was coming,” said the King, his voice low and growling. “I knew it was. I didn’t think it would actually happen.”

“What would you have us do?”

“Rune,” said the High King. “You are the Vizier of Magick. Investigate the Collegium.”

The twelve-year old looking girl stepped off. Her white hair and caramel skin provided a strange contrast, a tinge of exoticness. She nodded, and then bowed from the waist. Her right hand stretched out, and her left in an angle, to her southwest. “As you command, High King. May the Fires of Adon ever burn.”

And with a clap of thunder, she was gone.

 

* * *

 

The Cathedral of Throne was situated in the middle of the Spires. And consequentially, in the middle of Throne City. This made for a good composition. Everything was centered around the Cathedral — it was the totem pole of the City. Other cities had Cathedrals in different parts, but only in Throne was the Cathedral in the stark middle.

And so, the City grew out radially from there. Like a blooming, multi-layered paper rose, the City of Throne unfolded from that place of worship, of the King. Obviously, when it wasn’t the great industrial machine that it was now — when it was a bunch of mud huts with crude thatch roofs — the Castle of the Throne was a bit farther, nearer to the hills to the left.

The Cathedral stood like a shining, glimmering beacon of the Fires of Adon. High above its highest peak (which is still shorter than the tallest buildings in the Spires) hung the ever great City-Wide Transmogrifier — colloquially known as the CWT — that allowed power to flow through Throne City, harvesting energy from the Hallow directly beneath the Cathedral.

One wouldn’t be able to see it, but underneath the Cathedral also ran five large lines made of magickally-hardened glass that ran to barren wastelands outside of the City, and outside of large towns and villages. These were called Redirectors. Through some esoteric means of Magickal prowess, most of the Dissonance would be redirected through these lines and released into five different points all throughout the Kingdom of Shen. The “dumping grounds” of these places were known as “Barrens”.

Their names were fitting. They were No Man’s Lands, barren wastelands. They were the cavalcading cascade of pure, protean chaos caused by the mixing of Magickal backlash onto Reality. It is, by all means and purposes, a tear in Reality. An Unreality, some would say, although that would not be the case. For something exists within there. Top leading Magickal Savants would rather classify it as “Storms”. The ruralites that live near the Barrens call them “Infernos”.

 

That day in which the thunders of the sky heralded the hooves of the Hunt, two tall and gaunt siblings stood side by side each other. Their silver hair and glowing purple limbal rings signified and only radiated their divine and royal heritage.

Before them was a mutated mass of chaos. It looked like it was made from the fabric of the storm itself behind it. As if the winds and lightnings and darkness of the very storm suddenly burst out and formed into a feline chimera.

The silver haired girl was a bit taller than the boy. She wore her hair in a braid, and held a sword in one hand, and a flaring ball of Agitated Diwa on the other. The silver haired boy, on the other hand, was on one knee, his hands high up in the air, and he was chanting some sort of mantra.

The girl offered to distract it. With a Diwal Bomb in one hand and a sword in another. She charged, managed a cut on the foreleg of the mass beast, and then went sliding under and past the bounding beast in one fluid motion. As the beast turned around to face its assailant, she bounced to her feet, and accused some of the Royal Thaumaturgy.

Her silver hair glowed, and her limbal rings radiated a brighter purple hue as she poured reality-bending energy into her legs. When she pushed herself off the ground in a jump, she leapt straight up into the air in an arc, much farther than anyone her size could’ve managed. The beast watched, and then randomly tried to scratch at her, but she parried away the swipe with her sword. It fell to the ground, turned, and leapt once again at the girl still sailing through the air.

“Go!”

The lion-shaped mass flew through the air, one of its three mouths opening. The girl was quick — with a thwip of her hand, the bomb was in front of the lion shaped mass, and would’ve entered it if it weren’t for the mass quickly closing its maw.

The boy grunted as he shut his hands into fists, creating a clear solid wall in front of them, separating the girl from the beast. The beast smashed against the wall of Diwa, right as the Diwal Bomb exploded once again. Fulminating force spread out, engulfing them and erasing the lion from existence. Like waves of creamy destruction, the creational blaze ripped apart the substance of the Chaotic Lion, before the white flames themselves dissipated back into a potential form.

The boy sighed and fell to the ground, just as the girl hit the ground, her Magick cushioning her fall. She breathed, and her silver hair and purple eyes faltered and dimmed. The wall — which fizzed and looked like it had been battered with some metaphysical hammer — exploded into a million particles of blue light, before vanishing completely as well. The boy heaved.

The girl got on one knee and rubbed the boy’s back. “You did great, Estruviom.”

Estruviom nodded, still breathing heavily. “Will you tell Father that I was brave?”

The girl smiled widely, and hugged her brother. She didn’t answer.

 

Behind them was one of the three royal corvids of the Family. Sleek and silver, only able to fit two people at a time, powered by an independent transmog engine. Estrea, the Princess, led her brother into the corvid’s pit. With an expert, learned movement she folded her blade and shoved it into her coat, and then slid into the driver’s seat. With a press of a button, she activated the transmog engine, and the corvid’s wings opened.

 

The corvid flew overhead. Over a small crossroad Inn that had neon signs painted on its side. The bitumen road continued only until the next town, a few hundred miles east of Throne. Corvids were the best way to move around without being  bogged down by the usual transportational limitations.

Estrea drove the corvid expertly, without hesitation, pressing buttons and slowing down the acceleration. As she neared the city’s aerial borders, she pondered upon what the implications of the swirling thundercloud might be. Throne’s Meteocasters and Spiritspeakers never said anything about thunderstorms or potential strong winds, nor were there any disputes or misunderstandings amongst the Weather Courts, so it couldn’t be anything Natural.

The corvid zoomed past the high walls of Shen, and soon it was cruising through the lower parts of the city, with the buildings progressively getting taller and taller, reaching higher and higher, as she neared the Cathedral of Throne.

Behind her, Estruviom sighed silently. She glanced over her shoulder for a quick second, and saw that her twin brother was breathing with his eyes closed. “You alright there?”

There was no answer.

 

The corvid docked. Two people helped them out. The twins didn’t bring anything with them, save for their weapons, so the two servants busied themselves with questions. A tall woman wearing stiletto heels and fashion that belonged in the Ages of Darkness — frilly, high collar, and full of floral textures — leaned down and caressed Estrea’s chin. “Are you okay? Did you eliminate whatever it was you were trying to hunt?”

“Yes yes,” said Estrea, waving a gloved hand. She stopped that gloved hand, and then pulled off the black cloth glove. “We encountered a Barren Beast, but dispatched of it fairly easily, thanks to Estruviom.”

She turned to stare at her brother, whose breathing was still labored. The purple rings of in his eyes glowed more dully, and his eyelids were half closed, as if he was about to fall asleep. “You are sure you are doing fine, Master Estruviom?” The automaton that asked was fashioned eccentrically — like a walking suit of armor with a long flowing cape. His voice was masculine and rang hollowly, with the occasional fizz as the Datascape transmission wasn’t perfected.

“I’m fine, Varomar,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“Sir,” Varomar began again, and without Estruviom’s permission, lifted him up, “I may not have a body anymore and may not experience physical fatigue, but I know when someone is tired. You are a growing boy, sir. Rest is crucial.” And with that, Varomar carried Estruviom into their bedroom. Estruviom tried to protest, to no avail.

Estrea grinned as the suit of armor — which was, to be fair, very sleek and industrialized. Varomar almost looked like a modern automaton — walked past the frilly (and heavy) curtains that separated their room from the balcony.

“Kaniella,” said Estrea to the girl with the extravagant, anachronistic dress. “Would you fetch me a warm cup of coffee?”

“What kind, ma’am?”

“The usual kind. I want to report to Father. He’s not in a meeting, is he?”

Kaniella paused. She reached into her cleavage and brought out a palmnode. With a swish of a finger and an intense gaze at the glass pane, she shook her head. “It seems he’s talked a bit with his Viziers. It seems he will be expecting guests soon.”

Estrea nodded, grinning. “That should be enough. I’ve asked you to prepare my warm bath…?”

“Yes, you have, madame. Right this way.”

 

Soon, Estrea was dressed. She was in her usual get up — a backless bodice with a black mantle that covered her shoulders, heels and stockings that ran up to her knees. Usually, she didn’t like these types of clothing, and usually, she would just stay up here or use the corvid again to go out, but she wanted to speak with her Father.

She reached the elevator and pressed down. “Oh, Estrea-!” she heard Kaniella, but the lift closed before she could reach her.

 

The lift doors dinged open, and she was in the Throne Hall. She walked down and saw that only four of the Viziers was there — Rune was gone from her seat.

“Estrea…?” The King’s voice echoed across the empty, glimmering hall. “What do you need? I thought you went out on a hunt…?”

Estrea approached her father’s throne and curtseyed. “I have. I want to speak to you about something. Is this a bad time?”

The King stared at her, furrowing his eyebrows, and then smiled. “N-no. Not at all.” He turned to his Viziers. “Council, if you would be so kind-”

 

The tall double doors that led into the High King’s room swung open, pushed by two black armored giant automata. They wielded blazing pikeheads and wore capes attached to only one shoulder.

The two figures that walked through the double doors didn’t solicit a response from the High King. Just the slightest tinge of non-recognition from the tall, long haired man that looked like he had been beaten and bruised by three aramanthea. He wore a long leather coat, and had a cigarette in his mouth.

Quinen pulled the cigarette from his mouth and puffed smoke into the air. With a wave of his hand it dissipated into a million particles. The Commissioner glared daggers at him. The Princess — who looked striking, might he add — was watching in that weird mix of disgust and confusion when you see something new for the first time. Her eyes wide, mouth slightly open.

The King of Shen, sitting on his glimmering black throne, smiled ever so slightly.

“What?” Quinen asked, and without any Magick his voice already echoed through the room. Nice acoustics, he thought. “Never seen a smoking detective before?”

Interlude: Sygmun

Darkness swam like a coagulated mass within the room. Everything was covered in darkness, and the single window that would’ve allowed the Daystar’s light was completely covered by an opaque, navy blue curtain. It had been Enchanted to increase its opacity with a Manipulate Matter Spell.

The overwhelming darkness of the room only brought to stark attention the wintry chill of the Nymph season. Frigidity crept up the fingers and toes of Sygmun, making him wake up to the false realization that it was in the Resplendent Days of the Nymph Season.

There was the sound of ruffled movements of skin against cloth.

A turquoise light exploded from the corner. It radiated outward, showering the darkness with a serene, digital glow. On a dark font, symbols flashed: “Seventh Hour of Ascending Morning”. A beat, before the accompanying ringing of the alarm reverberated throughout the walls of the room.

The coal-black haired boy shifted. Without opening his eyes, he reached for his palmnode. When his skin made contact with the flat piece of orasine glass, it shone a turquoise hue. This hue was dimmer than usual. Sygmun opened an eye, and realized he’d forgotten to recharge the palmnode.

Closing the eye again, Sygmun pulled the palmnode nearer to his lips. With a practiced, almost reflexive motion, he buzzed Oberen’s Frequency. When no one answered after thirty seconds, Sygmun wasn’t even surprised anymore. A dull aching where his chest was. He anticipated nothing.

He anticipated nothing.

Sygmun’s palmnode buzzed. He tapped the right side of the palmnode, answering the call. “Syg!”

It was Deriandre. Her voice was high, shrill. Never losing energy, never staying on one thing for too long. He groaned.

“Hey,” — she stretched out that word — “Syg, come on! We’re supposed to head over to that Cafe near the Woods today.”

Another groan.

“Sygmun. Come on. It’ll help you, I promise.”

Sygmun shook his head, even if he knew that nobody would actually see him shake his head. Still in the slow moving blob phase of thinking that one would get early in waking, he tried to think of the responsibilities he had for the day. If he remembered right, it was Burning Day. The only class he had was Advanced Particlemancy — the study of the smallest things that make up the bigger things. His thoughts eventually sam to the part where he remembered the time of the class — Third Hour of Descending. Afterzenith.

His pillow had fallen onto the floor, performing acts of debauchery. He writhed in his bed. His blanket was soft; his foot tapped his lapnode, nudging it off of his bed and onto the floor beside it. It thudded softly.

Sygmun didn’t mind. Orasine was a tough material — he’d paid for that stability.

A few more minutes of just darkness. His alarm clock had powered off, receding back into itself, and letting the mass of black fill the room once again. The only lights were the small pinpricks of light from the palmnode and the lapnode.

It wasn’t long before Sygmun decided he couldn’t just stay here all day. If he did, he’d be stuck thinking about Oberen. He didn’t need that right now. They haven’t even found the body yet; a cremation couldn’t be arranged.

A disgruntled grunt. A closing of eyes, and then a defeated sigh. Sygmun swung his feet off of the bed. Wearing nothing but a white shirt and red boxers, he sat there for a few more minutes. Every single thing he did needed a million years of rumination. He ran his fingers through his hair, and remembered how nice it felt when Oberen did it.

Now Oberen was…

Sygmun rose to his feet. He wobbled, just a bit. He walked over to the curtain and pulled it to the side. The orange glow of the Daystar had risen to full gold, but the dark nimbuses overshadowed it. There was the bright light that could only come from the Daystar, but the gold glow was gone, replaced with a humid, gray hue.

Sygmun turned and lumbered into the shower. He tore off his clothes and stepped in; pressed the metal knob with the interlocking rune that meant: “Water + Hot”.

Warm water cascaded down in little sprinkles. Sygmun stood there and closed his eyes, letting the scald wash himself away.

It had only been a day since the news from that immigrant Naphli detective. Sygmun shook as his thoughts lingered on the memory. There was a feeling of pitch emptiness where his chest would’ve been, and it felt like it sucked everything that he was into it.

He tried to let the warmth of the shower rinse away his thoughts… to not much avail. Yet every droplet burnt his skin, seeping through his pores and orificies, wafting and penetrating his soul like smoke in rain.

 

Before long, Sygmun had dressed into a simple getup — a buttoned shirt and some loose cloth joggers. Over the shirt he wore a larger windbreaker that had large pockets… They belonged to Oberen.

On his back, Sygmun slung his Martial Focus — a large, two handed greatsword. As he strapped it onto his back, the Symbols stitched onto the cloth of the makeshift scabbard (which he had fashioned out of an old sports bag) glowed. It was a Manipulate Matter Working that made the greatsword feel as light as a wooden stick.

He made his way out of his dormitory, which was a few blocks away from the North Gate of the Collegium. He turned the other way and walked away from the Collegium. At this time of the morning the golden gleam of the Daystar was buffeted by the wintry caress of the Nymph Season. He walked down the path passing various other humans in dark clothes over darker underclothes. He saw one of the other races — a lakerto — lumbering down the street, wearing an oversized coat and nothing else.

The path even farther North led him to a corner. On such corner was the ubiquitous convenience store of Throne — hell as Shen as a whole — the QuickShop. He walked in, past aisles, and grabbed a couple of JosKaf — canned coffee. Not as delicious as the ones hand made by baristas, but a lot cheaper.

There was no line to pay Sygmun placed the two JosKafs and gave the man behind the counter four coins — four eagles. The man picked up the two Joskafs and placed them on a glass rectangle that hovered slightly above the counter. The floating glass rectangle glowed a bright blue, and then turned red. The cashier placed the four eagles onto the rectangle, and the red turned back into blue, before vanishing completely and turning back into a simple transparent rectangle. The coins were gone, and Sygmun could feel the entanglement of Magick.

The cashier asked if Sygmun wanted it wrapped; Sygmun shook his head. He grabbed the JosKafs and was on his way to the Collegium, popping one of the cans open and chugging.

 

He was the only one among his circle of friends that had class in Particlemancy today. He sat there and listened to Professor Janith — a lanky woman that preferred to stick to the plan instead of improvising anything. Thus why he listened to Professor Janith speak about Particlemancy equations, for that was the lesson plan for the day.

Sygmun almost fell asleep.

 

Soon enough, Particlemancy was over. He walked out, made some small talk with the people he marginally knew, before walking out of the room and into the Central Park of the Collegium once again. He stood at a spot where there weren’t too many people, and popped open the second can of JosKaf. He drank, thinking if he should go back to his dorm and just fall back asleep.

He saw a boy throwing a spark of flame at a woman, laughing all the time. The woman laughed as well, and then frowned, made a gesture. The boy blinked, and then fell asleep.

Sygmun shuddered.

The boy woke up to the girl kissing him. They laughed again, and he could hear the sounds of apologetic, well, apologies.

Sygmun was walking away, already knowing what he was going to do for the rest of the day.

 

The Bellanian Fields, far to the East of the Gymnasium, was empty. It was past the bugball fields as well, and was thought of as dangerous because the only thing that kept one from falling off from the island — for the Fields were on the edge of the islands — was a weak, chain-link fence.

Sygmun walked out onto the brown grass, his coal hair flailed in the high altitude breeze. The thunderclouds were loud, crackling lightning, but he didn’t care. Storms were common during this time of year. Either that or someone within Throne pissed of Storm Anitos.

There was a tense lightning in the air as Sygmun inhaled. He slid the sports bag off of his shoulders, and it fell onto the brown grass, bouncing a bit on the ground. Unzipping it, he called in his Will, and performed a Manipulate Matter Spell with his mind. Without touching the steel greatsword, with its long hilt made for two hands, he lifted it. It twirled into the air, spun so that its blade pointed upwards, and with another thought, spun it again and struck the ground. The steel of the sword pierced the soil.

Sygmun turned to the clay dummy on the far side. This one was modeled like a tall human. He focused his will onto that, and then guided the greatsword with his mind.

It spun into the air, kicking up soil behind Sygmun. Its blade turned and pointed at the clay human, and with Sygmun’s gesture, the blade shot towards it. In the next second the large blade had embedded itself within the clay human’s chest; it rattled.

Sygmun inhaled. A dull throbbing crept up the back of his neck. Martial Thaumaturgy was always such a hassle. Pulling off such quick Spells was integral in combat, and would usually shatter the mind of a normal Magicker. And there was also the threat of Dissonance…

The coal-haired boy pulled on the greatsword again with his Will. The sword pulled free from the clay human’s chest. The sigil upon which the clay human stood on the ground shone with a gray hue, and the gash on the human’s chest knit together and closed.

With a grunt, Sygmun moved his hands. Like a puppetmaster, he moved and directed the blade, each finger tied to a part of the greatsword. He turned, and the sword followed, swinging in a wide arc that could seriously hurt someone if there was anyone there in the Fields.

The sword sang through the air, its edge meeting wind resistance. “Ha!” The sword struck the clay human once again, slicing its entire upper torso off. With another grunt, Sygmun let go of the Spell, and the greatsword turned in midair and slapped onto the ground.

Sygmun sank to one knee, breathing heavily. He didn’t realize there were tears in his eyes.

No Dissonance either. Just a successful Working, and a decapitated clay human, which soon regrew its upper half. Despite the threat of a storm looming over them, and the howling winds only a testament to that, it seemed oddly silent. The only thing Sygmun could hear was a ringing in his ears.

Sighing, Sygmun fell backwards onto his butt. He used the fabric of his shirt to wipe away the tears. When he inhaled, his nose had turned runny. He cursed.

“Not doing so good, eh, Syg?”

Sygmun didn’t turn. He just shrugged. “Fighting was always good catharsis for me, Master Qamed.”

Qamed laughed from his belly. Sygmun felt his steps, heavy yet lean and light, until he could feel Qamed’s presence behind him. The Master laid a hand on the student. “Some people write for catharsis. Others shout. Others sing.”

“I inflict violence,” Sygmun said, shrugging. “Weird, I guess.”

Qamed snorted. “Not weird. Just different.” A spear impaled itself into the earth as Master Qamed took up the space beside Sygmun, sitting with his legs crossed. Qamed’s caramel skin was more visible now that he wasn’t wearing his Master’s Mantle. He wore a simple white shirt that hugged his figure tightly, so that one could see his well-toned body. “This is about-”

“Yeah.” Sygmun nodded. “It is.”

There was a silence once again. Qamed stared at the clay human. “Oberen was a good man.”

“He was.”

“What happened was a shame…”

The howling winds only provided a buffer to the silence, although it didn’t help at all.

“He died… because of the Warlock, didn’t he?”

Qamed shrugged.

“Back then, when I was still new in the Collegium,” continued Sygmun, “Oberen stuck with the Warlock all the time. Although I only really saw them together for a year, before the Warlock was expelled. They were good friends, I think.”

More silence. “Well,” Qamed continued. “Oberen was also faithful to the Dean. Remember the dead body in the middle of East Park?”

Sygmun shrugged. “Dead bodies are everywhere. Especially within the Field of Death. So what?”

“The one with the strange flowers growing out of it.”

Sygmun paused, and then with a slow movement, he nodded.

“Oberen was tasked by the Dean to investigate that. Oberen was an honors student, remember, and he’s worked with the Dean in the past, so the Dean could trust him.”

“And I’m guessing he went to the Warlock for help?”

“He did,” said Master Qamed. “That’s all I know of that story. I don’t know how he died, or why. Or when. There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes, I assume.”

Sygmun sighed. It was lost to the winds, which now seemed to initiate the silence.

“He was murdered,” said Sygmun. “That’s what angers me.”

“Do you want to look for who did it?” Qamed asked.

Sygmun shrugged. “It would help me feel a lot better.”

Qamed looked up at the sky. The nimbuses were getting stronger. “I wonder if someone angered the Spirit Courts.”

“Or a Cabal of Storm Anito,” said Sygmun. “It’s been like that since yesterday, right?”

Qamed nodded. “There are powerful Transplanar Resonances, from the news I heard. But nothing’s happening yet.”

“An omen,” Sygmun said. “One that definitely doesn’t help ward away the cold of Nymph.”

Qamed chuckled, and ended that with a sigh. “Sygmun. I don’t think chasing after Oberen’s killer is going to help you. The Naphli are on the case.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?” Sygmun asked. He tried to follow that up with something, a witty quote, and angered lash, but instead he ended up falling onto his back, staring up at the clouds. His voice was quiet: “Then what am I supposed to do…?”

Qamed stared at the sky with him. “Live. I guess.”

Sygmun exhaled. “Fuck that.”

The two of them were silent for a moment. Just as Sygmun was about to say something else, Master Qamed rose to his feet. He pulled his spear from the earth. “Fighting is your catharsis, right?”

Sygmun closed his eyes and nodded. “I don’t–”

“Then don’t just live,” Qamed said. He turned to the greatsword lying on the fields. With a quick gesture, winds wrapped around it and flung it towards Sygmun. The student fidgeted, cursed, and performed a quick gesture of his own, Manipulating Matter and stopping the greatsword right in front of him. The winds dissipated. Qamed smiled. “Fight.”

Sygmun grabbed the greatsword with another spell, and turned it around to face Qamed. Qamed’s spear crackled with lightning.

 

The sky was gray, but the thunder was loud. It sounded like the thundering of hooves.

 

Insomnia 15

“There is someone.” The Dean Hakumatheia squinted his eyes, and subtly opened his Sight. There was a burning conflagration on his periphery — a Magicker’s Soul — burning behind the railings of the second floor balcony. Behind such conflagration was a smaller wick of flame.

The Dean sighed. “Come out.”

 

* * *

 

Kotoro grimaced. He had to think fast; he looked down, and saw the gleaming badge of the Naphli. He grabbed it, removing it’s fastening pins from the breast of his shirt. He didn’t have a weapon with him — a huge mistake on his part — but rose. He saw the Dean on the floor below him. “Dean Hakumatheia? I am Kotoro. I’ve a warrant for questioning.” He raised his badge.

The Dean turned to him and raised a pristine, white eyebrow. The shimmer of his limbal ring suggested that he had his Sight turned on.

“You are… from the Naphli?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve only come here for the investigation of a certain Magickal Incursion near the Karoley Ward, southeast.”

“Indeed?” The Dean sat behind his wooden desk. The bearded man gestured for Kotoro to sit, and the detective did so, hurrying down the stairs and then taking his position on the wooden chair.

The Dean stared at the quicksilver orb that lay on his desk — one of his Charms. “Ask away.”

Kotoro nodded. He licked his lips, and then opened his mouth: “It’s come to our attention that there has been another Magickal Incursion that has also happened just a few days ago. That one was from the Warlock. This time, we’ve found a dead body. Two dead bodies, to be exact: one of a belgar with a strange emblem — somehow similar to the now vanished Knights Vigilant — and another belonging to a student of your Collegium. A certain Oberen Roeser.”

The Dean nodded slowly. “I see. What was the cause of death?”

“Unsure,” Kotoro said. “Usually, with two deaths so close to each other, one would think that they would have similar causes of death; the time of death seemed to be close enough as well. But no,” Kotoro straightened his back, “Oberen was killed from blunt force trauma, shattering his ribs. The belgar was decapitated. There were signs of a struggle on the roof, and more signs of struggle on the scaffolding.”

“Any theories?”

“I have one,” said Kotoro. He proceeded to splay open his hands and shrug. “They were fighting, of sorts, maybe. Maybe a rare burst of Dissonance hit them both, and Oberen flew off the roof, onto the scaffolding, dying as he hit the railings. The belgar was probably struck by a spell of some sort by Oberen. Was Oberen some Martial Thaumaturgist?”

The Dean nodded. “If I recall correctly, yes.”

“Perfect. That fits the theory.” Kotoro snapped his fingers, and then shook his head. “Now a new thread has popped up — there’s a Transplanar entity on the loose, and I’m thinking that the entity has something to do with the murders. Somehow. There was Magickal Resonance as well, which only helps my hypothesis of Martial Thaumaturgy.”

“Hm.” The Dean coughed. “Don’t you think you’re reaching for stars? The Transplanar Entity… should it not be connected at all…”

Kotoro licked his lips. “I’ve thought of it. But the time the Entity appeared, compared to the time we found the crime scene? I mean, it’s not all the time you see a Transplanar Entity openly jumping across the Karoley Ward chasing after a Magicker.”

“Who?”

Kotoro shrugged. “So they must be connected. Somehow.”

The Dean looked down at his desk, leaning back on his chair. He joined his fingertips together, forming a steeple with his fingers, as he thought. His face was completely blank. After a few moments, he spoke. “I care for the welfare of my students. What do you mean to ask of me?”

Kotoro gleamed. “What do you know of Oberen Roeser? What was he doing before his death?”

The Dean turned to Kotoro and looked into his eyes. The glimmer of Magickal Power wasn’t there anymore, and Kotoro leaned back at the intensity of his mundane gaze. The blue, icy eyes of the Dean.

Then the Dean said, “I don’t recall too much. He was with the Warlock the last time I saw him.”

“Ah,” Kotoro said, nodding. “So he hangs out with the Warlock a lot, it seems?”

The Dean shrugged.

“Who is this Warlock, by the by?”

The Dean sighed. “An Urban Legend, now. We have given him that moniker, Warlock — an old term for Magickers during the Second Age, during which Magick was feared as some sort of malevolent force — for it is what we call Magickers expelled due to malevolent sorceries.”

“Ah.” Kotoro nodded. Kotoro thought back to how they didn’t call any of the expelled students anything back in the Jubh-Kan Collegium. Merely Expelled. “Interesting. Do you have any idea where the Warlock might be?”

The Dean inhaled. “You may try the Headquarters of the Naphli.”

Kotoro raised an eyebrow. “He is there?”

The Dean was silent for a while, before saying, “In the Medica.”

“Thank you, for your time, sir,” Kotoro said.

“Anything to help the City’s Protectors.” The Dean said, smiling tightly. He stood with Oberen, and shook hands with him. Without another question, Kotoro bowed by the waist, turned, and walked out.

When he got to the lift, he realized that his Psychic Barrier had been struck. He blinked. Was the Dean trying to read his mind?

 

Kotoro walked out of the lift, and saw the girl still pinned to the wall. With a wave of a hand, he removed the bindings, and turned the matter back into the counter. With another wave of his hand and an uttering of incantation, he wove Magick. His Mind Working wove into her memories and struck out the recent happening.

She shook her head as if she were in a reverie, and then looked up at Kotoro. “Hi, how may I help you?”

Kotoro shook his head and grinned. “Just walking by.” He then turned and made his way out. He wondered why he didn’t just use a Mind Working in the first place, when he was trying to walk up to the Dean’s room. The Detective shrugged, chalking it all up to Matter Workings being easier to conjure up on the fly, since he learned it first. Besides, Corporeal Fields were easier to manipulate than the Ethereal Fields.

 

* * *

 

Chrysanthemum dreamed.

 

She found herself crouched over a damp, dark floor, rocky and craggy, uneven. There was a source of light somewhere, and before her shadows danced with the figures of her past. Strange animalian humans, twisted chimeras, and bygone dragons flew and crashed and ate and soared, creating bludgeoning images of surreality that seemed to bring into her mind the temporality of all things.

Within this shadowy cave, she felt a hand on her shoulder. The hand burned; she was cold and frigid to the touch. She turned, but found that she could not, for she wore some sort of mechanism that stuck her head forward, forever looking at the shadows dancing and showing them the shade of the truth.

The hand came away for a moment. Chrysanthemum turned to each side and saw other beings that were not human. Some of them had tentacles for hair, others had flaming mouths. Some didn’t have a face at all, only the visage of a shadow creating squinting masks. There was one that was an animal only — a small ferret, that enjoyed the dancing upon the wall, smiling along.

Then the burning hand returned; Chrysanthemum could feel its warmth. The hand touched the mechanisms binding her head and neck, and they melted away, burning up in a never-ending golden blaze. The burning hands cupped her small pixie face and turned her away from the shadow.

The light that cast such shadows only burnt her eyes. She had to squint, and through her squinting eyes she saw the face that equipped the burning hands.

It was Quinen.

The Warlock grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the Sun outside. She was equal parts afraid and excited. As she ran across the cold damp floor of the cave, onwards to the shining mouth and outside, the flames and heat only seemed to singe her. Conflagrate her. Torment her and burn her. Incinerate her.

She cried out, just as the Sun’s light was too unbearable, and right as she left the dream. Right before she tittered over the cusp of consciousness and unconsciousness, she heard a dark, twisted, yet holy voice. It spoke in cryptic words that she could not understand, but she felt bumps running along her spine.

And then she awoke.

 

Chrysanthemum opened her eyes. Her glowing pink hair was matted to her damp face. Her pupils dilated as she gazed up at the little pixie lights that floated lazily within the Dean’s Sanctum. She wondered upon what she just experienced. For so long, she’d been experiencing death — the state of slumber was the closest one could get to eternal rest, Quinen had told her once. But now that she dreamt, she wondered the implications, and what the dream meant.

She realized that tears streamed down her face.

 

She wanted to leave.

The little pixie lights still bumped each other. She shifted; a blanket slipped off of her and piled onto the floor. She rose to her feet, but fell back to the chair, dizzy from the sudden movement.

She breathed and then moved again, forward, to the steel railings. She peered down and saw the white haired Dean of the Collegium, leaning over his desk, deep in thought, wearing more regal clothes now. Clothes that seemed to fit his stature of being the Dean.

This white haired man tensed, and then turned to look up at the fey-girl. Th wrinkles on his face seemed more pronounced, his eyebags heavy and bulbous underneath his eyes, which glowed with some sort of fading white. He blinked, and said, “Come down, dear.”

Chrysanthemum, tired and all, happily obliged.

She came down the stairs, cold on her feet. Then something toiled, and turmoiled and trembled within her very being. A rumbling that she couldn’t exactly feel with her physical senses, rather, some sort of churning within the recesses and ravines of her mind.

Chrys stopped on the last step. Her glowing pink hair swayed like stray silk caught in the zephyr. When she turned to the Dean, the Dean’s face had been drained of color, and his mouth was slightly open.

“I felt it.”

Chrysanthemum tilted her head to one side, like a cat.

 

* * *

 

Kasu walked into the Lo-Fi Cafe. Ambient noise played in speakers unseen, but filled in the silences between conversations, an unwelcome third party to discourse. The bell rang as she walked through the glass door, and the strong coffee aroma slammed against her senses before mixing naturally with the scent of rain outside.

The lights were a yellow hue, bright enough for people to see but tinted for aesthetic purposes. A boy smiled at a customer ordering an eldrics cup. His short hair fixed into a fauxhawk, and his posture bad and crooked. As the woman moved to the right, he turned to the Dataturge.

“Ah, Kasu,” he said. He wore a black and red apron, instead of the usual yellow and brown.

Kasu walked up to him. “Did you miss me, Igdo?”

He smiled that crescent moon smile, which matched his dark complexion perfectly. “Maybe a little bit.” His Shennin was tinged with the accent of Zirrinae. “Just a little bit. How long are you going to be away?”

Kasu sighed, but eyed the choices of coffee written with chalk on the blackboard behind Igdo. “Maybe a day. Then I’ll come back. I just wanted to…”

Igdo wiped his hands on his apron, and then beckoned her to the Barista’s Quarters, which was really just a small place where they shove their bags into. Kasu followed, and they settled within the small private cubicle in this overly public place. She watched as Igdo touched her face. She didn’t pull away. “Kasu. Yiha, don’t stretch yourself. Okay?”

Kasu nodded which gradually grew into a slow shake of head. “I know, Igdo. I just… There was someone who needed help. I can’t just turn away from that.”

Igdo pressed his lips together. “I know, I know,” he nodded, and he tore away his hands from Kasu’s face. “Just remember that, if you do not help yourself, how can you help others? This is not bad, what you are doing. But too much of it is bad. Just like everything else in the Surface World.”

Kasu inhaled, and nodded. “I know. I get it. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”

“That’s my girl.” Igbo cupped Kasu’s face again and brought it closer to his. He laid his lips on her forehead, and then let go. “You damn well should. I cannot keep paying you for doing nothing.”

Kasu nodded, grinning. “I know, I know. Can I have a house blend, before I go?”

Igdo winked, smiled that dimpled smile, and turned around back into the counter.

The Dataturge turned and made her way out of the Barista’s Quarters. She found a lone seat against the glass wall of the coffee shop. She sat, leaning against the invisible yet material wall between the cozy warmth and coffee aroma of the cafe and the wet and cold rain of the outside. She could half-see her reflection, and found that her hair wasn’t as bad as she thought. Past that, the streetlights cast an ember hue upon the rainfall puddling on the sidewalk, reflecting against the bitumen sheen of the road. Autochariots passed. Jacketed and umbrella using people walked by. Some of them wore plain clothes, others wore heavy jackets and asymmetrical hoods. Their datanodes cast a turquoise hue upon the drizzle.

Igdo placed a cup of coffee in the round wooden table in front of her. The thudding and then clanking of the coffee nudged her away from the outside. “Here you go,” he said. “Enjoy it.”

Kasu grinned at him as he turned and strode away, back to the counter, just as the bell rang again. Grateful, she removed the top covering; she preferred seeing the coffee on the first sip or when she wasn’t on the move. The dark caramel brown color of the blend only accentuated the warm brown aroma. She leaned in to take a sip, when she saw the coffee quiver. Just by the tiniest bit.

She pulled the cup away from her lips.

Kasu looked past the glass window again, and she saw the rain intensify. The bright nightstar and her twin the moon could not be seen at all as heavy nimbuses huddled and conquered the night sky.

Kasu squinted as she realized the rain, looking like it was being poured out of the pitcher of Adon itself, was actually moving upwards. She saw people — humans, mostly — running to and fro past the coffee shop as the sidewalk suddenly shifted and turned into mud, or burst up into a concrete pillar or spike of earth. She saw the glass she sat behind suddenly begin to churn, as if it were water, and she dove away from it just in time before the glass suddenly warped and exploded, although it did not shatter.

“What in Adon’s Balls–?!”

There were screams from outside, and the lights flashed red, blue, green, yellow…

 

* * *

 

Kotoro leapt out of the Brown Cab, throwing down thirty full eagle coins onto the paying well of the Cab and never bothering to turn around. He dashed into the front doors of the HQ, ignoring the massive crater in the middle. He made his way to the front desk and asked, “I heard the Commissioner was here. Where’s the Commissioner?”

“7th floor, Detective,” said the woman behind the Desk. “Medica.”

He nodded in thanks and ran up the Lift.

 

* * *

 

The Top Command Center was still being repaired, but the more dedicated members — most notably Captain Urie, Sersha, and Gharth, all continued their works on the floor below it, which still had equipment.

Sersha nursed her wounds. Gharth slept soundly, without a noise, standing completely straight up and with his wings wrapped him like a cloak. Urie straightened at a high-pitched sound. His eyes had dark bags underneath them, and his mouth was half open. In his hand was a large cup of coffee. He pointed at a yellow-haired boy manning one of the desknodes. “Report, officer!”

“Sir, there are some loud Transplanar Energies coruscating somewhere sir.”

“Pinpoint the location.”

“Pinpointing…”

 

* * *

 

Chrysanthemum felt it, all the way to her bones. “I feel something familiar is coming.”

The Dean shook his head. He got up on his feet and sighed. “And I had hoped…” his voice was slow, strained. “It would not have come to this. But it seems that Zinnia had wished something else. It seems I’ve been played a fool. It seems I was the first Card in the Deck of Vivid Dreams”

“What?” Chrysanthemum asked.

“The Mammiwla, as they call it in Old Kerahmetian. The Dean’s face contorted. His mouth became a grave line, his eyes fell, his chin pointed to his chest. “That damned Siddivata bitch never wanted you. If she really did resort to that, then, I will make her face Magick.”

 

* * *

 

There was a great trembling in Quinen’s Soul.

This time, he knew it wasn’t Dissonance. He had been awake all this time, staring at the ceiling and thinking of nothing. A new thing for him, blankness. It was bliss. It was the closest thing to Heaven. The scuffling feet, the swaying curtains, the beeping of the Vita sensors — these ambient sounds induced blankness. These offhand, tertiary sounds induced bliss.

Then there was a great churning within him. The fibers and strings of his Soul quivered and tanged.

He swung his feet off the bed. He could move them now, relatively easily. He still had his clothes on, much to his relief. With every step he took, his Soul thundered. He remembered the words of his mentor, about the Sympathetic Link between Fields — especially if it were a Field not of the Nine Fundamental Fields.

As above, so below.

Avalon thundered. Each one louder than the last.

Quinen gripped his head, and winced. He walked out of his little curtained off portion of the Medica, and found a glass window off to the side. Walking up to it, he saw rain falling upwards — rising — and lights turning into red and blue and green and yellow before turning into a glowing black, and then back to hues that even his Mundic eyes couldn’t properly process, blasting him and overloading his perceptions.

Beautiful.

Madness.

Thunderstorms swirled about the highest point of Throne City, as if a tornado of nimbuses touched down on the tip of the Spire.

Quinen hoped for the best, but realized only the worst.

Could it be?

He turned around, but the thundering in his Soul only confirmed it.

The thundering was like the beat of hooves upon the fiber of reality.

The thundering of hooves.

The thunder of the Wild Hunt.

 

Insomnia 14

As the cacophonous noise of the songs and revels of the Avalonian fief echoed across the gossamer silk of the land of Beautiful Madness, the five-winged birds of coruscating astral beams flew across a large mountain peak that broke the multicolor sky. Their stardust plume blazed in stellar conflagration as their trail drifted down onto a cliff-face to the far northern side, although direction is something moot in the land of Avalon.

The cliff face was large, and scaled similarly to the height of one of the towers in the Spires of Throne City. Although height is something also fickle in Avalon, and so the exact height shifted, as if some sort of mirage. It was pocked with granite moss, with one particularly large patch of basalt brambles writhing down and covering the lower half.

Before the cliff-face was a circular clearing, with a circle surrounding it made by blossoming trees and wilting waterblooms. Two figures — one humanoid and another serpentine, with feet like a tiger’s, head like a lion’s, and wings like a bat’s — approached the cliff-face.

The humanoid figure was vaguely feminine, with narrow shoulders and a wide waist. She was made of living wood, which writhed and wilted and fell off and grew again as she walked. Her eyes were like jade stones, blazing with an aubergine light. Her hair was that of brambles and hedges, and the occasional firk-stel (the aforementioned five-winged birds) would hang onto one of those branches.

She and the large draconian thing three times her size dropped on one knee. “King of Dwarf,” she spoke, and her voice was like wood creaking. “Zinnia has…”

And the cliff-face shook. A great trembling that croaked, rock grinding against harsh rock, as the Dwarf King’s mouth opened, and out came a voice that sounded like wind howling through stone passages. “I’VE SEEN AND HEARD AND FELT.”

The feminine figure turned to the draconian one, and nodded. “Then I shall take action,” she said. “Through some sort of cleverness, she has found a way for the Mundic Ones to break the Ancient Accords. They’ve killed one of our kind.”

“A HUNTER OF NYMPH.”

“Indeed,” said the feminine voice. “Since you would not do anything, we’ve purposed in our hearts to join Zinnia in conquering all of the Mund, for by eating the Seat of Creation can we attain perfect chaos.”

“SUCH IS YOUR NATURE, SHE WHO BROUGHT CHAOS AND NEVER QUESTIONED.”

The feminine figure blinked, the aubergine light in her eyes disappearing for a second; her shoulders raised, and she nodded. “And such do we require your permission, Dwarf King, to mobilize the Wild Hunt.”

“YOU HAVE IT,” said the King. “AND I SHALL DO NAUGHT.”

The feminine figure turned to the draconian beside her, grinning. They turned around and made their way out of the clearing, as the rock and basalt behind them ground and trembled back into its resting place. “Thank you, King,” she said as they reached an arcing bridge made of branches. “I would’ve thought you would say that. Such is your nature.”

And they left.

 

* * *

 

Kasu licked her lips, running.

It was all over the news. The Naphli HQ had been struck by some Transplanar entity. The casualties were very few — mostly other Naphlimen that fought with them — but the Transplanar Entity they had killed seemed to be one of high stature.

She didn’t know much about Avalon. It was a subject that never warranted any suspicion, yet at the same time, any special interest, to her. The general consensus was they will not be affected, and neither will the Avalonians, if they didn’t perform an affront to each other thanks to the Ancient Accords.

Speaking of the Ancient Accords, she really should get to reading those…

But as of the moment, she was occupied.

The dank alleyways of the shortcut she took clung onto her like a fetid embrace, never wanting to let her go. She finally came free, jumping up onto a dumpster, and then over a steel-link fence. She hit the ground with a thud and fell to her butt.

As she came onto her feet, her vision beheld the Collegium, floating in front of her, the backdrop of a thousand concrete fingers jutting out and reaching for the sky. Before she came up to her feet, she checked the leather satchel that slung across her shoulder. She sighed in relief as she saw her lapnode relatively unharmed.

She stood and walked. A brisk walk, mind you. Once she reached the perimeter of the Collegium, with that large park before the portal that would teleport you into the floating island, she looked for an alleyway and sat within its dark gray walls. The scaffolding made rickety sounds as she pulled her lapnode from her leather satchel and began typing. She tried accessing Quinen’s frequency through her lapnode, but it was no use. There was no answer.

She sighed, and hoped the Warlock wouldn’t rat her out for breaking into his palmnode’s facilities.

She looked about her, leaning to peek out of the corner if there would be anyone to disturb her. When she found none, she closed her eyes, said a twisting word, and Dove into the Datascape through her lapnode.

 

The Datascape, without a strong anchor from a Datagrove, was dark, and all one could see where the infinite paths that led everywhere. Even the lines of code that streamed down the sides like rain seemed to be of no-light.

Kasu clapped her hands once and light radiated from her.

She examined the infinite paths that twined and frayed like threads, and followed the one that buzzed with Quinen’s frequency. As she followed the path, gliding down it like some sort of digital sprite, the other million paths faded away, glistening and thinning until they dissipated like cotton silk. She followed the path then, the noise around her completely black, devoid of the orange skies and gray abyss. The blackness of the noiseless Datascape was almost deafening, and Kasu could hear her thoughts bouncing against non-existent walls.

She wondered once again why she was helping this seemingly distant and unknown man. She never knew him before, save for the legends of the Warlock she’d heard during her short time within the Collegium. Then she decided that she was gonna think later, and act now. That’s how she’d always done it; that’s how her mother had told her how to do it.

Eventually, the cold black void of her thoughts burnt away as she approached a pinprick of light. As she neared it, letting what was happening in front of her burn away the thoughts of doubt, the light expanded, like a star far away that was actually very much larger up close. Past the veil of bright light she could see a white marble floor. It took her a few more paces toward the light, and the ensuing enlargement of it, for her to understand that it was actually a ceiling.

 

Eventually, the light engulfed her, and her datal soul struck it and flattened against it. She pushed herself off of it, and she floated about blackness, with the light in front of her like a glass barrier.

Kasu inhaled, and said–

 

* * *

 

“–Quinen!”

Quinen opened his eyes. He thought himself to have been hallucinating; although that voice was definitely familiar. He tried to look about himself, finding that he could move his neck and head about, but not much else without incurring some sort of aching.

“Quinen!”

The pixie voice sounded like a plastic container being filled with water, or rocks being crushed. It was somewhat of a mix of two, as if her voice was being modulated and changed around. He turned to his right, and there saw a short table, where his palmnode sat. The pane of glass was lighting up, flaring with that calm turquoise hue. Quinen furrowed his eyebrows and raised his hand. There was a short ache, but he was able to move it.

He grabbed the palmnode off of the short table and brought it up to his face.

On the other side was Kasu, seemingly made of the same turquoise blur, looking like a digital ghost. She sighed and smiled when she saw Quinen.

Quinen blinked, tried to shift his body a bit to see her better, but only ended up in loosening his grip on the palmnode. It fell right onto his face.

 

* * *

 

Kasu pushed herself off of the glass and covered her face. That was the closest she’d gotten to male. When she saw the bright light of the medica’s illumination returning she removed her hands from her face and pressed against the glass again.

“Sorry about that,” said Quinen, wiping his face with another hand. There were no medical equipment hooked up to him or anything. Dissonance, Kasu thought.

“It’s fine. Are you okay? My Eyes got disrupted for a second there, and I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

Quinen squinted his eyes and shook his head. “It looks like some Siddivata was chasing after me. Trying to kill me. I don’t know how he managed to find me, though. Avalonians don’t tend to have a good grasp of our concept of distance and space.”

“Well they did find you.”

“Yeah,” Quinen nodded. “What are you doing, anyway?”

“I came here to check if you were dead,” she said. “That’s it. Don’t die.”

Quinen blinked. “Hm. Thanks, I guess.” He shook his head. “Why are you so invested, anyway?”

She shrugged. “I don’t think you have to ask someone why they want to help other people. It should be automatic, no?”

“Ideally, yes. But we don’t live in an ideal.”

“That does not defer me,” she said. “I’ll leave. My physical body’s vulnerable. Make sure to contact my frequency once I’m out. I’m gonna try to look for other ways to get you into the Collegium.”

“Oh, I get it.”

Kasu had turned around, but she stopped and turned back to Quinen. “Hm?”

“I know why you want me alive so much.”

Kasu blinked, but didn’t move. She threshed the thought of raising her eyebrow, but decided against it when Quinen continued his statement. “It’s because you want to experiment more on my Soul.”

Kasu still didn’t answer.

Quinen nodded. “I’m curious myself. Should be fun.”

“Curiosity is a foundation of Magick,” said Kasu. And she vanished, her Soul-tethers automatically fraying her digital avatar and sending her consciousness bouncing back up into her physical, corporeal form.

 

She inhaled deeply as she opened her eyes. The smell of piss overwhelmed her, but numbness came after quickly. She folded her lapnode closed and shoved it into her bag, and then rose to her feet. Maybe she’ll head over to the cafe again.

 

* * *

 

Kotoro had left Ofenia behind. He rushed out the cafeteria down a cascade of steps, and eventually found himself back in the Central Park. It seemed that most roads led to this here, looping around like the symbol of infinity.

He looked over to the administration building and made a mad dash. This time might be as good as any. In the back of his head, doubts flew about like insane strings. He thought that maybe this correlated with the scene going on at the Naphli HQ, and that the Dean might be interested or maybe even know of something like this.

He arrived at the tasspath, ignoring the looks from the Magickers — professors and students alike. He stepped and zoomed through the Tasspath, eventually arriving at the Administrative Building by the end of it. There was a girl behind a counter, who looked to him and said, “Are you here to see the Dean?”

At least, that’s what he would’ve heard, if it wasn’t for him making a mad dash across the carpeted room over to the lift. The lift had dinged close, unfortunately, and when he jabbed the button to go up, the visual feed had said 10, which is to say it was at the top floor. He turned to the woman manning the counter and said “What floor is the Dean’s floor?”

“Wh–excuse me do you have an appointment?”

“Just tell me!” He uttered a word, and almost ripped out his brain in a shattering process of flashing his Mind’s Eye with his Spell and calling upon power. The next instant, his Manipulate Matter spell went off, and the marble counter launched itself at the woman, slamming her to the wall behind her. The counter then moved, oozed and slithered like a liquid snake that stuck itself to the wall behind her and bound itself around the girl, binding her to the wall itself. Then, the marble hardened once again.

“Tell me or else!” And the marble liquefied for a split second for a spike to jut out and point itself at the neck of the woman.

“The seventh floor!”

“Thank you.”

The elevator doors dinged open, and the spike turned into a block that slammed itself against the woman’s head, enough to knock her out.

There was nobody within the lift. Kotoro walked in, and jabbed the seventh floor. As it flung up, he sagged against the wall, and his mind throbbed with glass spikes of pain. Dissonance hurts.

After that burst of brashness, Kotoro pondered seriously about looking for other ways to get what he wanted. But as the lift doors dinged open, he walked out into the floor with double wooden doors. He had committed; he couldn’t doubt now.

He walked through the wooden doors and closed them behind him. There was nobody inside. He blinked, surprised, wondering if the reason why the woman was asking him that question was to tell him that the Dean was, in fact, not there.

The Detective scanned the room. There were stacks of books behind the front desk, where a high-backed chair was. Various charms and trinkets lay on the top of the desk. To the left side of the desk, not within the stacks and shelves of books, was a spiralling black steel staircase that led to a second level. Kotoro glanced through the shelves of books, but he found the usual stuff that was taught even in the Jubh-Kan Collegium: “Willworking Basics, The Metaphysics of Magick, the Essence of Diwa, The Jiafantean Ethics”. Even one that said, “Lady Kifes’ Bestiarium” sat beside a pretty famous book: “The Thousand-Wisdoms Bestiary”.

Once Kotoro had exhausted most of the reading that he had already read, he made his way up to the second level. He walked as silently as he could, for he somehow felt that there was another thing in here, despite the silence.

Eventually, he arrived at the top of the stairs. He swept his gaze, and right as his eyes set upon the small, dainty and alabaster pale feet of a person…

“Get down from there.”

Kotoro blinked, and turned around. A white-haired and bearded man stood by the window, with a large, regal robes and a mantle hanging off of him. “That’s a guest. Get down and we’ll talk.” He sighed, and the wrinkles in his face made him seem as old as he was.