Insomnia 13

The doors to the Dean Hakumatheia’s room burst open. A young girl — the one that was sat behind the counter — looked at him with wide eyes. “Sir.”

The Dean raised an eyebrow, and listened to what she said. When he had heard it, he nodded. “Thank you Diav. I’ll handle it. Please, close the door on your way out.”

As the doors shut, the Dean was already on his feet. He had changed to a simple white shirt and gray jogging pants, but his eyes caught the white snow that drifted from the clouds. He turned, walked toward the wooden wardrobe, and opened it, revealing millions upon millions of articles of clothing swirling about a gray ether like a fashionable maelstrom. The Dean thought, and then raised his hand. He walked inside.

The wardrobe closed.

A moment flew into another moment.

The wardrobe opened.

The Dean walked out, complete getup in tow — a long, scintillating robe that reached his ankles adorned by a heavy white mantle hanging off of his right shoulder, with a burning sign of the Vedina inscribed onto the side. Underneath he had changed into leather boots, trousers, and a dress shirt. He walked toward the large window looking out to the Spires. As he did, the cabinets on the second floor burst open, and three bottles of translucent pills flew out of them and into his hands. With a flourish, that vanished invisible into the folds of his robe.

Out from underneath his desk, a slugblaster — having a longer barrel than the usual slugpiece — shot out and into his hands. He pumped it, and it made a noise as the runes within it heated up for action. He engaged the lever, and the stock folded down, revealing the two round holes where the slugs would go into. He jerked the slugs out, and they fell onto the carpeted floor with a soft thud.

The Dean Hakumatheia made a sign, and the right barrel flared purple, and the right flared green. With that done, he let the slugblaster hang in midair, before dissipating into golden motes, and then rematerializing on his back, held suspended by invisible strings by virtue of a Timespace Working.

He spoke a word, and he was gone.

 

* * *

 

In the second between the ear-shattering crack, and the ensuing blinding white flare from within the Binding Circle, Quinen’s thoughts rubber banded back to his time with Infinite Sights.

 

The alfr stood in front of him once again, in the carpeted room. Quinen sat on the chair, which they had moved so that it was set right in front of the table, and the alfr stood up on his wooden desk. Most of the trinkets and Charms that would be on his desk were hovering in the air.

“Now, young Novice,” he said, completely without any inflection to his voice, but his teimach shone with a cheery yellow. “Let us get to the heart of the matter. Us Savants and Magickers have long studied the essence and the nature of Magick. And while we still don’t exactly know what Magick is — whether it be our will alone, our sympathies to a realm, or an innate ability — we do know what everyone else is made of.”

Quinen nodded, his hand a fist and his cheek resting on it. “Everything is made of Diwa.”

“Truly,” he said. “Now Diwa has many different states. There’s such a thing as Ambient Diwa, and Fulminating Diwa, and Solid Diwa. The third you — and a lot of the other citizens of Throne — know full well of.”

Quinen nodded again. “It’s Tass.”

“Yes, indeed. But what about Ambient Diwa? And Fulminating Diwa?” Infinite Sights snapped his finger — his teimach burned with a jubilant bright yellow. “Ambient Diwa is easy. It is the very iota that persists in all of us. If you strip everyone down to the core, you will find that everyone is made of Diwa. Some people have the ability to use the Diwa in their Soul to make them stronger, such as our brothers the Avijaruns off to the Santadan Ranges to the West. The Creational Particle.

“And Fulminating Diwa,” continued Infinite Sights. “Is Diwa in action. Diwa that changes the world. While everything is made of Diwa — even the very air we breath, when we spur Diwa into action, we call it by another name. We call it Magick. Every Magicker’s Diwa is fulminating. Burning with the ability to change, to create. If one so chooses, one could even use Fulminating Diwa to burn away at the Ambient Diwa in others. Burning away another person’s Ambience dissipates their essence back into Diwa. Effectively erasing them for good.”

“So erasure doesn’t equate to annihilation?” Quinen leaned forward.

Infinite Sights stopped abruptly,  as if he were an automaton with a preprogrammed response to that. He looked down on Quinen, completely poker-face, but his teimach was a gray tinged with purple.

“No.” He didn’t blink. Infinite Sights never blinked. “There is a fourth state of Diwa, but we only call it a Fourth State because, well, it technically is nothing. We will not talk about that.”

“When, then?”

“Never.” And Infinite Sights’ teimach burned a molten hot crimson.

 

Quinen snapped back to his senses when a burst of wind hurled him toward one of the barriers that the Naphli had erected around the perimeter. There weren’t any civilians too near the place, as they had set a second barrier around it far down the road.

Quinen groaned as he stared up. The blazing angel that the Commissioner had become had stood her ground, never moving, as the Diwal Orb’s effects took place. The Suit of Armor within screamed in haunting, almost melodious agony. It fell to one knee as clouds of pure white burst from within it, eating away at its very pattern, its very essence.

As the radiating bursts met with the Binding Circle’s barrier, it the light flickered, and then, small holes began radiating out of points of impact, like a film tape being burnt. The Flaming Angel Commissioner turned to Quinen and shouted in two different voices: one was her usual voice, albeit sounding like it was being filtered through glass, and the second a flaming, crackling voice that resembled a crackling bonfire more than anything else. “YOUR CIRCLE DOES NOT HOLD.”

Quinen stumbled to his knees and shook his head at the Angel. “It will. It counteracts it. The Diwa Bomb doesn’t unravel the Pattern of my Workings. It does damage it though, since I can’t draw for shit.”

Despite holes being burned into the light, none of the clouds seeped past the Binding Circle’s radius. As the burning white clouds slammed and burnt away parts of the Binding Circle, they billowed backwards, pushed back by an invisible force.

The pure white clouds of pure creational fulmination bounced about the Binding Circle, the clouds reaching high up into the sky but never past the radius of the Circle.

Soon, the clouds dissipated. Quite abruptly as well, as the white melted into invisible weaves of iotal Diwa. As the clouds vanished, it brought along with it the Avalonian Essence of the Transplanar Entity, melting the Entities’ essence.

To where? Into what? Quinen didn’t really give a damn at this point.

And soon, the Binding Circle shattered.

Quinen sighed, and he gave up on standing up, deciding instead to sit down. His feet still spasmed, as if electricity had run through them, and his fingers wouldn’t respond to every impulse. He winced. Dissonance.

The Warlock watched as flaming angel burst one more time, and then shot up to the sky — leaving the Commissioner behind — through a hole in the clouds that Quinen hadn’t seen collect. The Commissioner herself fell to her knees, and the Naphlimen ran to her aid, some of them deliberately walking around the Warlock.

He rolled his eyes. He was just happy to be alive. He wanted to throw his head back and relax, but found that he couldn’t. One because Dissonance made every movement ache. Another because the implications of what just happened were huge.

Did Zinnia send that? Was the thing looking for something, or did it only want to kill him? Did it run over to the Naphli HQ because of him? Or was it because of something else?

Quinen sighed. Another painful spasm.

He watched the strangely serene scene of the Binding Circle. The engravings were still there, albeit without the flaring Diwa channeled into them. The rune he had etched was erased, as if some invisible god reached down and wiped it off of the bitumen. The Suit of Armor was nowhere to be found.

Then something shimmered in the midst of the engravings.

Quinen blinked.

When he opened his eyes, the Dean Hakumatheia stood in front of them all, with an Adon-damned slugblaster in one hand.

 

“What is the meaning of this?” He spoke it low and soft, but his voice echoed throughout all their souls.

Quinen sighed. “This hack.” And he fell on his back.

 

* * *

 

The Dean reappeared in the midst of serene chaos. Underneath him, he found that he stood upon a Binding Circle engraving.

He watched as a tall man with his shirt half-ripped — showing an exceptionally toned body — fell on his back and laid still. The Dean squinted his eyes.

“Are you the Dean?” The woman’s voice pulled Hakumatheia’s attention to her. A platinum blonde woman. Tall, and her hair looked like she had turned into a conflagration.

The Dean turned to her, still standing tall, and nodded. “Indeed, Commissioner Haliyn.”

The Commissioner nodded. “We’ve much to discuss. I must rest.”

The Dean furrowed his eyebrows. “Indeed… I’ve heard that there was a Transplanar Entity?”

The Commissioner opened her mouth to say something more, but her body failed her, and she fell onto the pavement in front of the Dean.

 

* * *

 

Maeve blinked as News Frequency suddenly ripped through her holographic display to show her the devastation in the Spires. Eccentrically-dressed humans — wearing dark purple gowns that only covered half of their bodies, while the other half turned them invisible, tall and bright hats that radiated some sort of green liquid that dissipated as it touched any material other than air, some sort of cape that never moved — all gathered around the block of the Naphli HQ. The newsdrones buzzed closer to the scene, and Maeve saw that the Dean was there, with the Naphli Commissioner of Throne as well as Quinen, now laying on his back, seemingly paralyzed.

She sent a Text message.

 

* * *

 

Quinen couldn’t move as they rushed him into the Naphli HQ. Men and women pushed him in a floating bed that led them to the Medical Area. As he was pushed into the main doors of the Naphli HQ, Quinen saw the Savants and Repair Automata jumping out of the corvids and onto the smoldering top Command Center.

 

Eventually, Quinen woke up to a white ceiling. He’d slept so soundly that he didn’t even know he’d fallen into slumber. Beside him, past a heavy curtain, he could hear the deep, somber voice of the Dean Hakumathiea speaking with the hoarse voice of the Commissioner.

Quinen grimaced, trying to turn. The effects of Dissonance slipped away, but everything still ached to the bone. A voice that seemed to speak through a filter said, “Do not move, sir. We seek to quicken your healing.”

Quinen sighed, trying to sit up, and then failing, onto his back. “Why don’t you give me a Loom Elixir or ask a Medicker to heal me up, then?”

The voice didn’t speak. It was not intelligent.

Quinen continued to look up. He could only hear the muffled speaking of the Dean to his right, and then the low beeps of the Health Tracker to his left — a glass orb that showed a holographic image of a green liquid. The fuller it was, the “healthier” one’s state is.

The beeping managed to lull him into serenity, and the mumbling became a nice white noise to fade out to. Quinen blinked and thought back to everything that had happened. He still felt like he couldn’t quite grasp what was happening, although he knew this was going to happen some time or another. He had just hoped that he could’ve managed to reacquire his Magickal Tools before it happened.

He shrugged. Pain lanced through him.

Chrysanthemum lingered in his mind. He was doing so much for her. So much that the rest of the world seemed to become just a shadow of the light that she radiated. He lingered in these thoughts, as the Dean and the Commissioner spoke.

 

* * *

 

“The man to the Room beside me has called himself the Warlock.”

Hakumatheia furrowed his eyebrows, and cocked his head backwards the slightest inch. “No. That’s not the Warlock.”

“That is what he said.”

The Dean turned around, and with a thought, summoned his Sight. Five rotating mandalas of power shimmered into reality, and the Commissioner tensed. The Dean turned his gaze to the room behind him, and saw past the pallor of mundic reality to set his eyes upon the wayward, fulminating Soul of the Warlock.

He closed his eyes, the Sight disappeared into the ether.

The Death of the Warlock suddenly sprung forth into Dean’s mind as he swept his gaze back to the Commissioner. There hadn’t been any news of his Soul, after all, once the Huntsmen had gotten back from Avalon.

The Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. He thought for sure that physical death would’ve sent his Soul into the Mort.

“Okay. Alright whatever. I’ll deal with that later. So you’re saying that thing that you bombed was a Transplanar Entity?”

The Commissioner nodded. “It called itself Garomeos. It spoke in a weird, snarling tongue.”

“That’s how Avalonians speak. Especially if they’ve consumed a lot of gossamer.”

“By Adon’s Flame, Dean,” the Commissioner said, her face contorted into a sad mix of fear and anger. “How could’ve an Avalonian entered here?”

“I do not know,” replied Hakumatheia. “And you speak of another Transplanar Entity?”

“One that claims to be of Avalon — A Wild Hunt Soldier.”

The Dean sighed, nodding. “Then this does put a fatal twist upon things.” There was an almost sad shadow of a smile as he nodded and said his farewells to the Commissioner, and then turned and walked out of the room. He thought of walking straight into the Warlock’s room, but decided against it.

With a thought, a pop of power, and a contortion of Will, he disappeared.

 

* * *

 

Kotoro swallowed a dumpling as his palmnode buzzed. The Collegium cafeteria was filled with people, ratcheting cacophonous noise all about the place. In front of him was Ofenia, tapping at something in her palmnode before leaning back down to scoop some dumplings into her mouth.

“Excuse me,” said Kotoro, raising a finger. Ofenia nodded.

Kotoro walked out of the cafeteria and off to one of the pillars that were placed alongside the wall overlooking the city. He leaned against one of them and opened his palmnode; he was greeted by the News Frequency instead, showing a strange man, the Commissioner, and a man with blazing white hair and beard, coupled with eyes that trailed off with stardust, standing in front of both of them.

Kotoro blinked at the scene, and the particular newsdrone that his visual feed was on flew up, and he saw the Naphli Headquarter Spire looking like it had been struck by lightning.

 

* * *

 

Zinnia watched as the congregation of the Cold Silver Eclipse stood in front of her. “Do you hear? The cries of the devoured gossamer of your leader — Garomeos?”

Hoots. Cries. Chants. Bellows. All inhuman.

“Do you hear? This is the first shattering of the Accords! If we do not act now, then all our kind will be eaten by the calcifying mundanity of the Mundic Ones! Cold Silver Eclipse — call upon your brethren, and let us Hunt…”

And the resounding cry echoed and vibrated the very diwal strings that made up the gossamer silk of their plane.

“…the Mund!”

Advertisements

Insomnia 12

“…YOUARENOTWISE…”

The Commissioner narrowed her eyes. She turned to the Quinen, and nodded her head.

The Warlock sighed. He stepped forward, past most of the Command Crew, as the Commissioner rallied them and led them into the Lift. “Get to safety!” she shouted to them.

The Warlock clenched his fists. He should be cleared of Dissonance now, and he could probably throw a few spells across without incurring it. He grit his teeth, and bared the tattoos on his arms. It was well worth noting that the Instruments he had were not exactly needed in casting Workings, but having it certainly helps ease the Casting and helps lower the chances of Dissonance incurring.

The suit of Armor walked a few steps forward. The flurrying snow had frozen the smoke and fire wholesale so that now they looked like sculptures of ice. Its red eyes flared. “…YOUARETHEWARLOCK…”

Quinen blinked.  “How do you know?”

…IHAVEBEENOATHBOUNDTOKILLYOU…”

“Of course you have.” He rolled his eyes at that.

The Commissioner walked up beside Quinen, a slugpiece levelled at the suit of Armor. Her stance was straight and proper, yet relaxed and ready to dodge out of the way. Unlike more archaic missile weapons like crossbows, the magitechnical mechanisms of the slugpiece didn’t produce powerful recoil, so moving about while firing was much easier.

“Warlock,” she said, her voice a rising to a shout so that she could be heard above the loud winds. “What did that thing say?”

“I think that’s another Transplanar entity,” Quinen said, his voice a shout now as well.

“…IDIOTICSTUPEFYINGLYIDIOTICJESTERS…”

“It’s mocking us!” shouted Quinen again. Something fluttered in his stomach, and from the way it talked he knew that he didn’t need a Sense Avalon Working to work out where it came from.

The Commissioner gazed quickly at the room, watching the half wind-blown, half frozen state of the HQ. She furrowed her eyebrows. “Backup should be coming soon.”

“So what, we just have to keep it occupied?”

“Preferably,” said the Commissioner, nodding. “Or, we can bind it. Is that not a common Magickal trick? A Binding Circle?”

Quinen shrugged. “It is. But a Binding Circle here?”

“Then what is the optimal location?”

The Armor charged at them. Quinen reached out to the space behind the armor, and warped Timespace. The Commissioner dove off to one side, caught a table, and vaulted over it. Quinen reappeared on the other end, his stomach churning. The walking suit of Armor crashed against nothing, and it slowed to a grinding halt.

The Commissioner hit the ground, rolled, and then fired. Quinen squinted his eyes that the sword on the Armor’s back — way too large to be pragmatic, but getting hit by that would most probably hurt a lot. The Warlock quickly glanced behind him to the Commissioner, opened his mouth, and then turned back. The Commissioner glanced at him at that moment, and Quinen pointed outside.

How are we gonna get it outside? He thought to himself. To his surprise, though, the Commissioner nodded once, her eyes completely dead serious.

The Armor turned around and lunged at the Commissioner. The woman tsked, flipped backwards, and as she hit the ground she shouted, “I pray to thee, Adon!” The Armor didn’t stop its lunge, and managed to backhand the Commissioner, sending her hurtling through the air and against one of the glass walls, shattering it, and through the wall, against the steel railings outside.

Quinen winced, and then turned to the suit of Armor. It looked strangely at the Commissioner, and the turned to the Warlock. It still didn’t pull out that sword, but it walked along, expecting Quinen to just up and fly to its grasp.

Quinen shook his head. “Manipulate Energy!” He reached out and grasped a hammer of force, slammed it against the Armor. It flew to the side suddenly and slammed onto the wall. The Warlock turned to his left and ran to the Commissioner.

She was on the ground, on one knee, with a hand gripping the steel railing which had bent outwardly. She rose to her feet as Quinen reached her, and shook her head. “I’m alright. Get ready to form the Binding Circle.

Quinen nodded, but the doubt still nagged in his mind that a normal Binding Circle wouldn’t work. Besides, Binding Circles took up a lot of time to make, if you wanted one that was half-competent…

“Okay, so the Binding Circle that I’d be able to make is not going to hold it for long,” said Quinen.

The Commissioner straightened. She waved a hand at the Warlock. “A few minutes of holding should be enough. The Backup I requested has firepower.”

Quinen grit his teeth, and looked to the Armor that was removing itself from the wall. “Alright. I’ll trust you on that.”

The Commissioner nodded. “Go.”

“Wait, Commissioner,” he grabbed Haliyn’s arm. “I’ll implant this spell onto you so that the kinetic force would be buffeted.”

The Commissioner pulled her arm free from the Warlock. “I need not your Magicks,” she said. She took a step, and then paused. “But your assistance would be helpful.”

Quinen imparted a Manipulate Energy about her to shift the kinetic force around her automatically for the next few hours. Hopefully that was all that they needed.

Quinen inhaled as the Commissioner ran inside, pulling out a sword. Cold bit his feet, and he winced.

Ignoring the first few vestiges of Dissonance, he turned to the steel railings, shrugged, and vaulted over it.

 

Quinen fell.

That was always a strange feeling. Down the almost hundred storeys of the Naphli HQ, straight down, down, down. Plummeting down from the tip of the Top of the World and straight onto the bitumen floor below. Splat. That’s what fallen angels would’ve probably thought.

There was that weird sinking feeling, the feeling of yourself being pulled down to the ground. Quinen flailed through the air, and the anticipation of hitting the ground almost killed him.

How long, he wondered, would it take him to hit the ground?

Normally, he meant. Not Magickally.

Quinen turned around, stretched out both his arms as he fell down half of the building and screamed, “Manipulate Timespace!”

The space in front of him warped, like a mirror being melted into gray goo, and then suddenly straightened, as if the gray goo bounced back into mirror. As if the mirror was some malleable thing.

When you teleport, especially with just a Timespace spell, momentum is usually lost. So despite Quinen already having fallen half the height of the hundred-floor spire, he hit the ground beneath it with his feet, perfectly safe and unharmed.

He turned around, and saw a bunch of people crowding about, with a few other Naphlimen keeping them at bay. Quinen looked up and saw a few of the xi-ri aerial units converging in on the top floor, as well as other corvids converging in on the position.

He turned around him, and saw that there was enough space to make a big enough Binding Circle. He called for the others to free him some space, and he answered that it was the Commissioner’s orders to do it when he was asked why or met resistance.

He licked his lips, stretching out the hand tattooed in the Matter symbols, and said, “Manipulate.”

He touched the bitumen and began tracing. As he did, he Manipulated the Matter so that the floor hollowed out and the residue tossed to the side. He began his first stroke, which was horribly crooked. Without stopping, he idly hoped that the Commissioner was doing better than he was.

 

* * *

 

The Commissioner hurtled backwards and crashed against the sculpture of ice that the fire and smoke had become. Blood dribbled from her lip.

“…SHOULDYOUWISHTODIETHENIWILLBEYOURREAPER…” the voice echoed like stones being crushed. The Armor still hadn’t pulled out its sword.

The Commissioner winced. She was suddenly grateful at the kinetic buffeting shield the Warlock had put up around her. She raised her sword and watched as the Armor lumbered towards her.

As the Armor came out of the room and out into the landing pad, one of the Corvids cricling the building opened fire. Little slugs  buffeted the walking suit of armor, but it didn’t even budge. It only kept walking, pain being only a distant memory to it.

One of their xi-ri units flew down, and the huge six-winged creature raked at the Armor with its claws. Two claws connected, scratching against tough steel, but the Armor caught one of its wing-appendages, broke it in half, and then threw the beast out of their field.

…PATHETICMUNDICMORTALS…”

The Commissioner scowled. More slugs erupted from the Corvid, only to bounce harmlessly from the Armor.

She knelt down on one knee, and pressed one hand against her chest. “Adon, oh Adon, heed my call. Answer the prayer of thine closest servant…”

The Armor burst forward, and would’ve caught the Commissioner if it weren’t for two of the Naphli’s liquidsteel armor units jumping in and slicing, shooting, and distracting the Armor. The Armor turned to one of them, moved in a burst of speed, turning into a flurry of destruction, and punched a hole deep through the chest of one of them.

The other liquidsteel unit ran up to the Commissioner. “Commissioner. We have to escape.”

“No.”

The liquidsteel unit tried to convince her, to persuade her from facing certain death, when a voice echoed through his comms. He nodded, turned around, and jumped off of the landing pad, only to be caught by one of the xi-ri.

…Adon, oh Adon, I quoth thee and beseech thee. Bequeath unto me the visage and the power of one of thine servants. I call upon the Heavenly Angel of War and Fire! Rashni! Let the Fires of Adon shine through me!”

An orange, blue, white, and red flame exploded from behind the Commissioner, completely melting away the ice on the floor and the sculpture behind her. Vigor coursed through the Commissioner, as the torrents of flame formed wings. The Commissioner rose to her feet, and the flames expanded, soon billowing out into a flaming conflagration shaped into the visage of something humanoid wearing armor, with wings spread out behind it like powerful, perpetually exploding bombs.

She raised her Naphli sword, and the flaming entity — Rashni — raised its hand. The Armor paused, looked at the flaming silhouette, and reached for its sword.

 

* * *

 

Quinen saw the sudden burst of light and the following flames. The Commissioner had said so herself that she wasn’t a Magicker like him, but that she could speak to Souls and call upon the Powers of Adon himself. Quinen thought it all bollocks, but seeing the flaming thing up there… well there was some sort of Magickal Resonance from it. But he couldn’t exactly pinpoint what.

He continued on forging the Binding Circle. The crudely drawn circle was about to close, and a little trail of bituminous residue lay beside the small engraving he had made on the concrete. Once it was done, he began drawing the geometries within that would speak Bindings — a square, with a star within, and with the Ascendant Rune for the word “Bound”.

Drawing it from memory sucked.

 

* * *

 

“Fool!” shouted the Commissioner, and the Armor pulled out its sword. When it waved it around in a quick flourish, ice trailed after it, as if it was freezing the air in its path. It twirled it about and then pointed the tip of the frostic blade at the flaming angel.

“The Flames of Adon burn you!” and she lunged forward, her Naphli blade flashing forward, conflagrance blazing after it. The Armored thing stepped forward, and cut with its blade.

In a second, the freezing blade met with the flaming sword, and the flame slowly frosted over. In mid-Conflagration, the flames froze, becoming a sculpture of fire. Then, lightning arced through Rashni, and the flames that were not yet frozen began blazing forward, burning through the ice and crashing against the steel.

“…IAMGAROMEOSANDYOUWILLBEKNELTMYNYMPHICFROSTCONSUMEYOU…” Garomeos stepped forward, cloak billowing behind him, and he moved three times. It was blazingly fast — in the time it took for a flame to roar, three moving slashes materialized and struck at Rashni. The flames met the slashes, and the Commissioner didn’t budge.

Right after the slashes were eaten up by the flames, though, a second — as if an afterimage — blade of ice coagulated and came down once again. The ice was overwhelming, freezing the tips of the flames again, freezing heat itself in an impossible perversion of thermodynamics.

Then Garomeos finished it off with one single thrust of his blade. Rashni moved, and she tore apart into three different flaming balls that moved behind Garomeos and formed together again, blazing into the form of the Commissioner. She swung her Naphli blade, and Rashni’s flame followed quickly, whipping at the back of the Transplanar entity.

The blow was so powerful that Garomeos hurtled forward, ice slowly melting off of it, and the entity broke through the steel railings, stumbling down as the dwarfen forces of the Mund pulled it to the ground.

Haliyn, possessed by Rashni, burst forward, flaming wings carrying them to the edge and then down the glass walls. The searing hot flames vexed and warped the glass walls of the Naphli Spire.

Garomeos had twisted in mid air, struck its sword into the side of the building and grinded to a halt. Ice erupted behind the blade, resembling a cloud of dust that had been frozen instantly.

Rashni screamed as she sent three balls of flame with every swing of her blade. Garomeos moved, and froze the three balls in mid-flight, causing them to melt away as it neared Garomeos.

Before the Transplanar entity could react, Rashni slammed against it, melting through some of its steel and then sending it hurtling through the cloud of ice it had made.

Rashni didn’t let up. Her flaming wings acted as propellers, exploding backwards and sending her straight down, through the cloud of white caused by the shattering of the ice sculpture. She saw Garomeos twisting through the air, and she slashed with her blade — one, two, three, four. Four flaming slashes burnt into the Armor. The fifth slash was met by a blade, and then a quick counter-slash that sent Rashni down past Garomeos.

Garomeos was above now, and it sent gales of ice surging through its boots. Three slashes of its blade, each one met with a parry from Rashni, before Rashni kicked with her boot and sent Garomeos hurtling back. Garomeos twisted and threw the blade of everfrost toward the flaming angel.

Rashni parried Garomeos away, but it turned and, without being held, thrust. Rashni twisted, avoiding the thrust, but Garomeos sent its sword down on her from behind, but her blade was quick enough to block it. She twisted around it, and sent it flying back to Garomeos just as Garomeos caught up to her, caught the blade, and slashed once again.

Rashni blocked the first one, but a frozen afterimage came and slammed against her shoulder. Blood seeped, flames burst. They were nearing the ground.

Rashni twisted, bringing her foot with her as she did. She managed to move around Garomeos as Garomeos tried to parry away a kick that wasn’t coming, and she sent her kick as a whipping flame towards the Transplanar Entity. It grunted, and she burst forward with her two flaming wings.

She twirled as she delivered five slashes in quick rhythm, turned, and sent a final sixth slash blazing with blue flame, that was blocked by Garomeos, right as it crashed onto the ground.

Rashni redirected her course, flaming wings exploding behind her, as she curved upwards and into the sky.

 

* * *

 

“Shit.” Quinen had moved out of the way. He watched the Dancing Angel fight the Frozen Alien as they barrelled down the side of the building. He managed to finish the crudely made Binding Geometries and the Rune just as Rashni managed to twirl behind Garomeos.

Quinen dove out of the way as Garomeos crashed onto the ground, sending thousands of bitumen pieces flying and a massive cloud of dust around it. As Quinen rolled he got up on his feet, turned, clapped his hands together and screamed, “Bind!”

There was a powerful, overt Magickal burst as the lines flared with white Diwal power. A veil of light erupted out of the engravings, creating a flaring circle around the Transplanar Entity.

Rashni fell beside Quinen, and Quinen had to move a few feet away because of the searing heat. “HOW LONG?”

“A minute, tops!”

As the smoke cleared within, Garomeos rose to its feet. For a second it looked about it paused, wondering probably at what this curtain of light around it meant.

Rashni turned up to the Corvids that surrounded them, and she shouted — with a voice Quinen was sure reached up to the heavens: “NOW!”

There was a muted silence as the Corvid swept in low and a human threw out a small ball that burned white. Quinen blinked, and then realized what it was just as it struck Garomeos’ steel.

He turned around, reached out for a Timespace Working to get him out of there, but the only answer was Dissonance freezing his toes and fingers and causing painful spasms across his entire being.

He fell onto the ground.

There was an ear-splitting crack.

Somebody had shouted, “Diwal Orb!”

 

Insomnia 11

The Containment Room was a vast white room with several glass tubes that reached up to the ceiling. Within these glass tubes were a wide variety of creatures. Some sort of clockwork human that sat hugging its knees, a black ooze that slammed itself repeatedly against the wall, soliciting a bright blue sigil from the points of impact, as well as some sort of lakerto — his skull cracked wide open by a black material that looked like solidified black ink blossoming upward.

Urie led the Commissioner past these and to a sectioned off room within Containment. This room was split into two halves — one half was dark and filled with different kinds of equipment and monitors, desknodes and magickal scripts. The other half was a simple white room, large enough to house the large, arachnid… thing.

Urie grimaced at the sight. It was a weird one, that was for sure. It definitely would live up to the title of Transplanar entity.

The Captain and the Commissioner walked into the monitoring room, where the Haliyn was greeted by salutes and bows. The Commissioner walked over to the one sitting right in front of a desknode console. She peered through the one-way glass.

The Commissioner leaned down, placed a finger on the sigil that activated the resonator, and said, “What are you?” Her voice was deep, husky.

The arachnid looked up, and then to its right, and then, straight at the commissioner. The six heads that it had all turned directly to her, and one of it grinned.

Commissioner Haliyn furrowed her eyebrows, and her mouth twisted up a bit. It was the slightest grimace.

“…HUNTER…” When it spoke, it’s voice echoed in and then out, as if it was constantly talking, and never stopping.

The Commissioner leaned down again and activated the Sigil to the resonator. “Where are you from?”

Urie stood near to the Commissioner, but behind her still.

The Hunter kept grinning at the Commissioner. It had been tied up quite neatly, with the same Uvikaian binds that were reinforced by magick, steel chains that glowed. But it removed one foot out of its frozen body, cracking and shattering the rime. It still couldn’t move its blade-appendage past the Uvikaian binds, but it struggled.

It didn’t answer.

The Commissioner stood up straight and folded her arms. “This thing was chasing down a Magicker?”

“Yes,” Urie said, and then said, “A-and the Magicker himself has offered himself for interrogation. He’d stated that that thing was a Wild Hunt Soldier.”

The Commissioner turned to Urie and raised both eyebrows. “Take me to him.”

 

* * *

 

Quinen leaned against the couch. He looked at his hands, and then, began poking at his own, rock-hard belly. It was supposed to be fleshy, and tummy-like, not something akin to a washboard. It freaked him out, to be honest, as he poked at it. He licked his lips and furrowed his eyebrows.

He scowled as he raised his hand, and saw the hard, veiny muscles that ran down his arm. Was this even him anymore? Did him not having the same body as before make him not Quinen?

Well, I could still do Magick… he thought, and some Mind-Savants argue that the Soul is the only identity…

But is it? Is identity one quantifiable thing, or is it a great many things that defines us, and not just the Soul?

But is the Soul the thing that would be defined?

Quinen shook his head. He decided to ponder on cooler things: could his Shell be modular? Could he upgrade his parts with magitechnics?

The doorknob twisted and the door swung open. Quinen noticed the two humans that walked in, albeit still absent-mindedly looking down his arm. One was the Captain, while the other human was a woman that held herself like she was a dignified 40 year old corporate executive, yet looked like a 25 year old theater actress.

Quinen scowled at them, but he would be a liar if he said he wasn’t somewhat taken aback by the woman’s gray eyes.

The Captain turned to Quinen and said, “Magicker, this is Commissioner Haliyn.”

Quinen furrowed his eyebrows, sighed, and stood up. He offered his most gracious bow. “Good day, Commissioner.”

The Commissioner stared at Quinen severely, and her gray eyes looked like an endless hallway that Quinen could get sucked into. He had to look at the bookshelf behind her to not get distracted or utterly entranced.

The tall woman nodded, and then turned to the Captain. “Thank you, Captain. Please, give us some privacy.”

The Captain nodded, and he shut the door behind him.

The Commissioner gestured for Quinen to sit, and Quinen bowed by the chest ever so slightly as he fell down onto the leather once again. The Commissioner drew up a chair, and then sat across him.

“Privacy?” Quinen managed a smirk. “There’s another room with a one-sided mirror over there.”

The Commissioner raised an eyebrow. “You tried a Working within this room?”

Quinen shrugged. “I know that this kind of, ah, place tells me that there’s probably some sort of anti-magickal spell in here somewhere. Be it because of the bland gray walls, comfy veneer, or the fact that it’s in the middle of the Naphli HQ.” Quinen turned to look up at the woman, and steeled his resolve to look straight into her eye. “But curiosity is a core tenet of the Theory.”

There was a silence. A moment. Quinen had to break off from the tensions growing between them because of the prolonged staring contest.

When he broke off, the blonde woman spoke. “What is your name, Magicker?”

Quinen still didn’t turn to look at the woman. He tossed the idea of telling her his true identity around his mind, but he realized that he didn’t exactly have anyone else left to protect other than Chrys.

He’s never shown his connection with Chrysanthemum officially. Chrys has never been officially registered into the Annal Populi — the Records of the People. He decided to take the chance, but a measured one. A leap of faith but with a safety net underneath. “The Warlock. Maybe you might’ve heard of me.”

The Commissioner sat back, resting on her chair. She blinked at Quinen, and both her eyebrows were raised. “I have heard of you, but most of the claims to your infamy have been only legends in the Collegium.”

“And thus you do not believe them,” Quinen said, nodding. “Smart, I guess. People do tend to blow up my acts.”

“What did you do back then, Warlock?” The Commissioner leaned forward. “What did you truly do to earn that infamous moniker, Argist Quinen?”

Quinen shrugged. “A little bit of Qitra dabbling, a little bit of Astralmancy, curiosity. You know, the usual for a Magicker who thinks he’s the hotshot.”

“And have you learned from it?”

“I’d like to think I have.” But I probably haven’t. I’m not exactly the best self-critic.

The Commissioner nodded. She pulled out a larger palmnode that didn’t exactly fit the palm. They’ve called these models padnodes, and they’re slowly becoming a more famous occurrence in Modern Throne.

The blonde haired woman guided different visual feeds with her finger, tapping and closing, sliding and stopping, before she clicked on something and said, “How old are you?”

Quinen lifted a hand and wiggled it, a gesticulation of in-between. “Eh, maybe somewhere between twenty seven, or twenty nine? Maybe twenty eight, I’m not sure.”

The Commissioner squinted her eyes at him. “It says here that you’re 29, yes. It also depicts a much different version of you. Much thicker, and with longer hair, and shorter. Who are you?

Quinen sighed and leaned his head backwards. “Okay. Alright.” He hadn’t counted on the fucking Commissioner of the Naphli to come and interrogate him. He was hoping he could get this over with as quickly as possible.

“You have a record of Incursions.”

Quinen shrugged. “Why do they call me Warlock?”

“And you have been an accomplice of that certain Dean that has been since stripped of his power and subjected to the act of Severance.”

Quinen tensed. He snapped his head to the side and nodded, looking back straight at the Commissioner. Her face was a perfect mask. “And was replaced by a literal monkey that has no idea what he’s doing.”

“We don’t tolerate traitors.” She flicked away a stray lock of hair that had fallen, and on her right hand Quinen could see the seven-spoked star that burned with some sort of superimposed neon.

“You don’t tolerate free-thinkers, you mean.”

The Commissioner’s mask never broke. “That is a topic for Academia.”

“Academia does nothing,” said Quinen, running a hand through his hair and stretching his legs, “if they’re not allowed to make a change.”

The Commissioner squinted her eyes. Quinen managed to grasp faint strands of satisfaction. “The religion this place runs on will not benefit the future,” he continued. “Especially when it’s built on a lie.”

The Commissioner had already been nodding halfway through Quinen’s statement.

And that was when the entire building shook.

Both Quinen and the Commissioner stopped. A half-second passed and the Commissioner was already on her feet, opening the door, and meeting with the rest outside. Quinen scrambled forward and caught the door right before it closed, and managed to slip outside.

A red sheen covered the room he was in, as if someone had set up bright red neon somewhere and turned off all the usual alchemical luxes. “Let us put this discussions aside and focus on something more important that you’ve said.”

“What?”

“That the Transplanar Entity we’ve captured is actually a Wild-”

“Something broke in, Commissioner!” The Captain barged in.

The Commissioner turned and was on her feet in a lightning second. “What broke in? How?”

“It’s vaguely humanoid, Ma’am,” another voice said. Female. “And as for how…?”

 

* * *

 

Gharth, Sersha, and the rest of the Top Command Crew jumped up from their seats, weapons all in hand and ready to fire. Those with access to the better armor units activated them, and a liquid armor exploded out of a cartridge on the napes of their necks and twisted about them until they were fully clad in a protean, silver carapace.

The corvid lay destroyed, ablaze, casting a harsh orange light against the inside of the top floor. In the midst of the fire, completely unhurt and covered in white ice, was a ten foot-tall walking suit of armor. Its armet helmet completely blocked its entire face, but they could see two burning balls that acted like eyes.

When it spoke, it was like rocks being ground. “…DUSHAMIGKHALATHEHUNTERTHEINCOMPETENTSTUPIDFOOLIHUNTFORITGIVEITTOMEANDYOUWILLALLDIE…”

Gharth readied his blade. Sersha chanted something, and her teimach flared with Magick.

…DONOTRESISTYOUWILLBEANNIHILATED…”

Gharth glanced side wards at Sersha, and he could see the knife-ears slowly lifting off of the ground. He could feel the pull of Magick, of some sort of Sorcery not quite like Collegiate Magick but not too different either.

…YOUMAYFIREATWILL…”

The Top Command Crew fired. A cacophony, a rhapsodic orchestra of slug and missiles razing the armored thing. Fires and slugs and plumes of flame and crackles of lightning and bursts of wind as they unloaded different types of bullets. A colorful cloud burst from where the thing stood.

The armor walked through it, rainbow smoke trailing behind it.

Gharth cursed. Sersha tensed. The suit of armor was fast. One stride and it was in front of one of their armored units. The man brought up an arm, and the liquid armor extended, creating a shield just as the Suit of Armor brought down a gigantic steel fist. The fist slammed against the armored unit, sending it flying backwards and against a wall. Spiderweb cracks radiated from the point of impact; liquid steel dropped onto the ground and the shield shattered.

Gharth breathed heavier. He had to work himself up. He’d pledged. Die protecting the City, the Kingdom. He didn’t earn the title of Senior Officer by being scared of some sort of walking suit of armor.

But the ten-foot tall thing straightened up from its punching posture, and turned. One flaring red eye staring at Gharth underneath a black veneer.

Gharth took a step forward, and his avian legs quivered.

Calm down.

The voice swirled about his mind, echoing within the chambers of his soul, and then calming him down with a serene, soothing mist. Gharth stopped quivering, and he stood up straight, inhaling.

Calm down.

The anzu looked about him, and he could see the rest of the tense Top Command Crew lower their shoulders, stand straighter, and eyes more alert, looking straight at the hulking piece of armor.

Gharth looked at Sersha, and Sersha stared up at him. “The Commissioner,” Sersha whispered.

They nodded at each other.

Calm down, resonated once again the voice of the Commissioner. You are Naphli. Sworn Guardians of the Kingdom. Show this intruder the might of the mortals. Remember: every fight has a rhythm.

Gharth looked about him, and the rest of the Top Command Crew nodded, looking at each other. Ornami, with her dark blue hair stood up straighter, holding up the slugpiece and reaching for a different slug cartridge. Kijaki, their belgar, clenched his beastly fists and stretched his legs. The liquidsteel armor allowed him more mobility that accompanied his fighting style. Arashu, the madman, grinned as he stood on the desk, holding an electric guitar.

The Suit of Armor lunged towards Arashu. Sanami, their combat-magicker, clapped her hands and shouted, “Manipulate Energy! Let’s go, Kifetic Shield!” The lunging suit of armor slammed against an invisible wall, and then with another shriek of effort, Arashu hurled the suit of armor back with a powerful explosion of kinetic energy. The suit of armor struck the ground, twisted, and found its footing near the opening of the Command Center. Back where it started.

“Every fight has a rhythm!” shouted Arashu, his dark hair flailing. “Let’s rock, Naphli!”

Engage, but do not die. I will be there soon.

The entire Napli team nodded.

And Arashu riffed.

 

The fight was a coordinated, calm strike. The first attack was from their stronger units, armored. Kijaki and Ordan — the one punched by the Armor — lunged in a provoking attack. Kijaki lunged, with a speed that could’ve matched the armor, and then feinted to the right as Ordan leapt across the room, twisted in midair, and slashed twice with his Naphli sword. Their magickally-enhanced, Naphli-standard blades didn’t cut right through the steel despite being made of starsteel, but it dented the armet helmet of the Armor.

The Armor moved just as quick. It struck once, and Ordan hurtled backwards, crashing against the roof. Kijaki feinted to the right, and then moved up, bringing a claw wrapped with the liquidsteel with him. The Armor kicked the strike away; Kijaki twisted and swung his leg, which actually connected against the steel of the Armor. The Armor moved again, like a tornado, and Kijaki slammed against one of the desknodes.

Keep it occupied until I am there.

Sersha nodded and her teimach flared. She turned to Sanami, and then to Gharth. The first riff had been set. Their swords can scratch it, and the Armor was fast. They just need someone just as fast.

Gharth sighed. There’s a reason he became a Senior Officer at his young age. He didn’t come from Shen, after all. Rather, far to the east, in the Cliff-Nests of his kind. There they practiced a particular kind of Magick.

Sanami vaulted over the table and slid beside Sersha. The Armor didn’t budge, watching as more of their armored units came in and provoked it. Some fired their slugpieces, and the bullets lodged themselves into the steel, but the Armor trudged on, implacable.

“What’s the plan?”

“The Commissioner is coming soon,” Gharth said, kneeling beside Sersha. “We will try not to get killed.”

“But sometimes,” Sersha began. Her teimach still flared, like a neverending bonfire. “Your defense is as good as your offence. We’ll keep it occupied. The Commissioner should be here soon.”

Sanami nodded. “So I’m gonna do the thing with Gharth, right?”

“Yes.” Sersha’s flaring teimach managed to flash a green of confirmation. The white flaring blazed emerald.

Sanami bit her lip. “That Manipulate Spell took a bunch out of me, but I can still do Solid Circles.”

Gharth breathed. “Alright.”

The guitar was in the build-up. A continuously rising riff. “The first break is coming,” Gharth said.

“We’ve done this a million times.”

Arashu riffed, faster and faster and faster.

Gharth breathed, and his feathers rose, each plume prickling with its own wind.

Arashu stopped, and the final guitar chord echoed.

Zephyr! Unlock!”

When Gharth moved, the electric guitar returned, riding the crest of the hanging final chord, carrying the battle to another stage. Gharth shot forward; Sersha, Sanami, and even Arashu all grimaced as the wind whipped their hair backward, and the tables toppled. Arashu managed to flip off of a tumbling table, continue his guitar in the air, and then drop onto the ground, slamming his guitar pick down at the same time.

The Armor wasn’t expecting Gharth’s blade lodged deep into its chest, his plumage flaring with an invisible flame. In the next second, Gharth dislodged his blade and pushed off of the Armor, and he exploded backwards, flurrying gales sending the Armor stumbling backwards.

Sanami raised her hands and shouted, “Transmute Energy!” She performed a lightning fast gesture.

Gharth flipped in mid air and hit the block of flash-frozen wind. He pushed again, and his Zephyr burst against the thin slice of frozen air. Wind exploded. Gharth sliced at the Armor once again, going through and creating a long slash across its side. The anzu hit the floor and the tiles burst outward, into the landing pad, some of it crashing against the now decimated corvid.

Three rising chords.

Gharth moved three times. Sanami created blocks of flash-frozen wind for him to bounce from. Three more slashes materialized in the Armor. Gharth moved five times all in the space of a second. Sanami winced, fell on one knee as she made four blocks of flash-frozena air, helping five more gashes materialize on the steel of the armor. Gharth moved one last time, and one large gash materialized across the Armor’s back, and this time the creature howled. A howl that sounded like steel grinding against rock.

Sersha rose from the ground, flipped in midair as if suspended by invisible strings, and then she fell forward, just as Gharth reappeared beside Sanami, breathing heavily. Sanami was on both knees.

Sersha fell towards the Armor; a thousand more cuts reappeared beside the gashes that had already been dealt.

The final riff played, just as Sersha — completely silent — crashed against the Armor with the weight of a falling boulder. Her knees slammed against the Armor’s torso just as Arashu played the final chord. The Armor hurtled backwards, past the smoking remnants of the corvid, and crashed against the steel railings of the landing pad.

Sersha flipped in midair again, and then fell back down, wincing.

The lift behind them dinged open, and the Commissioner, with the Warlock, stepped out.

The final guitar chord’s vibrations echoed through the air, a shredding final note to end the battle.

 

The Armor pushed itself off of the steel railing and rose to its feet. The snow flurried around it. The Commissioner stared it down.

Insomnia 10

“Oberen?”

Kotoro blinked, and then turned to the boy with the glasses. He wore the sixth-year’s uniform of the Throne Collegium — a black double-breasted jacket with dark blue pants, with a white polo underneath. The one thing distinguishing the various different levels was the mantle they wore around their shoulders. For the sixth-years, their mantle was a brimming indigo.

A few of the other students in the class kept talking to each other, while the majority of them turned to look at the boy. “Yes.” Kotoro squinted his eyes. “Did you know him?”

The boy opened his mouth, but said nothing. His eyes swept across his classmates, and then he sighed. “Yes. I knew him.”

Kotoro scanned him. His hands were clenched, and his jaw was set. He swallowed — a deep, harsh gulp. His eyes were on the verge of tears.

The Naphli Detective nodded, and turned to Master Qamed. “Master, if it’s not too much to ask, can I excuse the students that knew of Roeser Oberen?”

Qamed nodded. “I knew about Roeser Oberen as well. Exceptional Student, and a frequent Dean-Lister. In fact, the Dean ordered him on many things.”

“Oh?” Kotoro said, raising an eyebrow. “Interesting. I’ll have to look into that.” He paused suddenly captured by his thoughts. “Very… interesting…

“Master Qamed,” he said again. “I don’t need to excuse them. Just a few more questions, and I’ll be gone. Hopefully that’s not too much of an inconvenience?”

“Oh no, not at all. Go ahead.” Qamed’s face was of somberness. “Tragic news, and I’m thankful that the Naphli are looking into it.” He leaned closer to Kotoro. “Can I know about the details?”

“I don’t know if I can disclose it yet.”

“Yes, yes. Right of course.”

“Now.” Kotoro turned again, and the boy still stood. “What’s your name, boy?”

The boy had closed his eyes; when he opened them, they were red. Tears glistened on his cheeks. “S-Sygmun.”

“Sygmun,” Kotoro repeated. “When was the last time you saw Oberen?”

Sygmun swallowed. “A few days ago. 2nd of Nymph, maybe?” Kotoro gestured for him to continue. “I– The last time I saw him was with the Warlock.”

Kotoro’s eyebrows rose. “Warlock?”

Sygmun nodded. The other students seemed to nod as well, some of them murmuring and muttering, “I thought the Warlock was dead?” and “Oh yeah, I saw the Warlock here a few days ago. He looked like a normal enough dude, though.”

“Tell me about the Warlock.”

“You haven’t heard of the Warlock?” Master Qamed said behind him. The detective shook his head and turned to him, grinning.

“I’m new here.”

“Ah,” Qamed nodded. “Are you from the Continent of Oyora, perhaps?”

Kotoro nodded. “Jubh-Kan. A bit dirtier than this place, let me tell you that.”

Qamed smiled. “Okay, well,” he scratched the side of his face. “The Warlock has… turned into a sort of Urban Legend in the Throne Collegium, see. Says that he can warp reality, his power comes from Daemons, he’s mastered Qitran Magic, stuff like that. In truth, he was just one of our students that made it to seventh-year and never beyond because… well let’s just say he and the previous Dean got too curious.”

Kotoro tilted his head to the side, and the shadow of a smile danced across his lips. “Isn’t curiosity the basis of Kifetic Theory anyways?”

Master Qamed shrugged. “Sure. Anyway, get back to your investigation, yeah?”

“Right,” Kotoro nodded. He turned around again. He felt like he was going nowhere. New threads were popping up and none of them tied around each other. “That’s it?”

Sygmun nodded. “H-how did Oberen die?”

“I cannot disclose right now,” said Kotoro, grinning. “Rest assured that we will be able to tell you once we’ve fully examined the body and have seen the rest of the investigation through.”

None of the others spoke or objected or gave any meaningful addition, so Kotoro decided it was nigh time that he went. It seemed that he had to take his queries to the Dean himself if he wanted answers.

He turned around and bowed by the waist. “Thank you muchly, Master Qamed. I will take my queries elsewhere. You’ve been of utmost help.”

“No worries,” he said.

Kotoro turned to the class, bowed to them as well, and then turned and left.  He didn’t glance over his shoulder, but he could hear the silence that followed after his wake. The sniffles that came from Sygmun. He must’ve been a close friend.

 

He walked out of the door of the Field of Energies and walked up to a wooden bench unoccupied by most of the students. He sat there, under the staff of Kifes Hasrianna, and allowed the loom of his thoughts to wrap themselves around him.

Was the Dean the only real lead he had? He didn’t know about most of the Magickal going-ons in Throne, and a lot of the Record Keepers can’t really disclose information with him anyway, since that needed express permittance from the Dean himself. But the Captain said not to go to the Dean just yet…

Kotoro wondered why, leaning his head back and sighing. Oberen was with the Warlock, eh? That’s it? Maybe if he learned more about the Warlock…

He pulled out his palmnode and looked at his list of frequencies. He saw the frequency of the lady from before, behind the receptionist’s counter. Saraster Ofenia?

He buzzed the frequency and put the palmnode against his ear.

 

* * *

 

Quinen sat in the chariot with the two other non-humans, staring at the alfr and anzu sitting squished next to each other. The anzu had to fold his wings in an unnatural angle to make enough space for both of them. They both sat rigidly, looking straight on, without looking at each other or at Quinen himself.

Quinen leaned against the window with his elbow and rested his hand against his fist. He watched outside as the shorter buildings grew, sprouted and then shot up into the sky, transmuting from drab basalt and concrete to coalescing glass. He watched as the city grew like a perverse forest of steel trees, as they left the Karoley Ward and entered the Cathedra Ward.

The Spires.

Quinen raised his eyebrows as they cruised through the new Ward. Admittedly, he hadn’t been here much. Mostly because most of his business had been elsewhere, but the Spires were a testament to Savant-Engineering. Most of the towers would pierce the sky with their height, having near fifty floors to a hundred and fifty floors, standing so tall that they looked like they would topple. Other towers floated amongst these tall spires, only half as tall, floating with some sort of reality-defying magick Charm.

A second layer of roads twisted through the Spires like a serpent. This second layer of roads was actually just one, long road that winded and circled and danced around the Spires, held by some contraption that Quinen couldn’t much see from here, but he could see the blue and red glint of some sort of Magick.

The autochariots became more advanced here as well, some of them getting shorter and sleeker. Flatter, less of a box like the Naphli autochariot they sat in right now.

Soon enough the autochariot barreled into an underground parking space, and the three of them got out. They hadn’t slapped cuffs on to Quinen, much to his relief. (Not that that would’ve bothered him, unless they’d managed to get ahold of Countermagickal Cuffs). When he got out of the autochariot, the Captain immediately placed a hand on him. “You’ll be taken in for questioning, alright? We’ll get to you in a few.” The Captain turned around and gestured behind him. Quinen felt cold, slender hands gripping his back and his wrist. The alfr led him forward, into the electric lift, and they shot up to the thirtieth floor.

Quinen licked his lips as this alfr girl that stood a few inches shorter him managed to make him feel like he’s the smaller one.

The doors opened, and the alfr girl shoved him forward. Quinen followed, and they walked through a room that resembled a maze because of all the cubicles within it. The alfr Naphli led Quinen along, down the side, to a room with a wooden door, and the words “Interrogation” engraved onto a plaque.

The alfr pushed him inside. “Sit down,” said the girl, gesturing to the leather couch that lay against a wall. “We will return to you shortly.”

“Yeah,” Quinen walked forward as the girl let go of him, and fell onto the couch. “Take your time.”

The alfr girl watched him carefully. No semblance of emotion or usual human facial movements. Her teimach also flared a low, neutral gray. “You will be confined here until we will speak with you.”

“I know.”

The alfr’s teimach shone brighter a bit in approval, and she left. She closed the door behind her, and there was the mechanical clanking of gears and locks.

Quinen sighed, left alone with his thoughts.

A few minutes passed with him twiddling his thumbs, looking up at the ceiling, at the shelves of books that encompassed lessons he’d probably already read about. The floor was carpeted, and the walls were white. The temperature was mild.

Quinen leaned back and tried a simple Sense Energy Working. He called upon the Field, and focused the image of the spell. He formed it in his Mind’s Eye, sensing if there was something different in the temperature, sensing if there was something managing it artificially.

The Working fired off without a hitch, and he felt his senses direct him to a place past the clear wall to his left, across the wall with the bookshelf. He stood up and walked toward it. He placed a hand, and the Working told him there was something past it, and Quinen could only extrapolate from this information that, indeed, the temperature was controlled.

He let go of the Working, and the Spell dissipated back into Diwa. With a shrug, Quinen decided to let it be as he turned around and walked back to the couch. They probably had some sort of control room past that very wall to check on the conditions of their, er, victims.

As Quinen sat, he felt an uncomfortable chill sprout from the back of his neck, crawling down his spine. He scowled, and broke into a cold sweat. The shadows of the room loomed larger then, and the Warlock sank back into his seat, looking as if he wanted to sink even deeper into the couch.

What in Adon’s name…?

He felt the pulse of danger, of uncertainty. The cold feeling that heralded the spike of Dissonance long deserved. The cold feeling of oblivion reaching out to his Soul and slapping his hubris into nothingness.

Quinen didn’t realize he was closing his eyes.

He opened them with a gasp.

When he did, the alfr girl was back, in the middle of closing the door. Quinen found that he was gasping for air. He felt as if actual Dissonance had hit, and he began expecting sores or spasms all over his body, but felt none.

The alfr girl watched Quinen. “Dissonance Wards,” she said. “Made from only the best of converted Diwa.”

Quinen winced. Converted Diwa…? Did she mean Qitra? “A warning would’ve been good.”

The alfr girl nodded, and Quinen swore she had a sheepish look on her face. “It would have, yes.” And with that, she walked out of the door once again, closing it behind her.

Quinen watched the door for a few moments, before sighing and reverting to a relaxed position on the couch, with hands outstretched and one foot on his thigh. “Why didn’t they just build counter-magick devices? Shouldn’t be too hard, and they didn’t have to convert Diwa into Qitra.”

Quinen shuddered. The only time he’d encountered Qitra was back in eighth year, where they were having Advanced Metaphysics. It was one of the last classes of his seventh year. The professor of that class — it was the Grand Master of the Field of Matter that conducted that class. Smide, was it? — had showed them a glob of deathly black and red ooze, that looked like what Tass would look like if one had stuck it into a blender and poured black ink onto it.

Grand Master Smide never opened the glass jar that the glob of Qitra was in — the jar itself was engraved on every side with Runir — and he only spoke of the destructive effects. How it could erase Diwa from existence, and that Qitra was the lack of existence itself, and how amalgamating Qitra and Diwa together would create a powerful effect akin to that of an alchemical explosion. Only the explosion would be large enough to annihilate the city — and by annihilate he meant annihilate. As in, dissipate everything into nothing in its blast radius — and the aftermath would include Qitran Virulence. There were stories of one such occurrence, on an island off the West Coast of Choma. The island no longer exists, and ships are forbidden to travel that route.

 

Whatever they were doing, Quinen hoped they had a capable Magicker in their hands that can handle it carefully. Countermagickal Charms were safer than Qitran… anything. He knew that creating counter-magick Charms would be expensive, since they would have to hire Savant-Engineers that would be Masters for a Field of Magick. And since not a lot of people tend to become Masters in more than one field, they’d have to hire eight different Savant-Engineers. And Savant-Engineers were already expensive as all hell.

There’s a reason why Savantry Courses were the more popular Courses in the Throne Collegium, as opposed to the Martial and Diplomacy courses.

Quinen let out another breath. He was going to be here a while, wasn’t he? He decided to check his palmnode, and found that all his frequencies were slashed. Ah, they have their own servers in here, don’t they?

With another, defeated sigh, Quinen decided to wait. This was, in his eyes, the worst decision of his life.

 

* * *

 

Urie and Gharth took the Lift to the top floor. As the doors opened to the open area, Captain Urie saw that there was a corvid sitting on the airdock past the glass doors. Urie could see the intricate symbols and humming lines of Magickal power. It looked similar to a bird with its wings folded back when in its ground mode, with wheels instead of feet.

The side door of the corvid chariot had been opened, but no one walked out yet. Urie walked past out of the glass doors quickly, while Gharth took his station with the command center of the Naphli — the rows of people typing away at desknodes on either side of the room.

Gharth watched as the Captain walked up to the corvid. Gharth knew who drove around in that corvid. One could see it from the sleek black and white palette of the corvid. The Captain waited in front of the corvid before a woman stepped out.

She wore a long, monochrome dress that reached her ankles, and she walked forward with the strict, straight-backed and chin up posture of a soldier. Latched onto her right hip was a sword, and on her left was a slugpiece. Her skin was immaculate, white but healthy, and her hair was tied up into a severe knot. Her platinum blonde hair was pocked with the occasional gray strand.

 

Urie saluted. “Commissioner Haliyn.”

The Commissioner saluted back. “Captain.”

The Commisioner took a long glance at the command and nodded, satisfied. “Everything seems to be in order,” she said. Her gray eyes were somehow both piercing and swallowing at the same time. “Take me to the Transplanar entity.”

The Captain nodded, and she led the Commissioner to the electric lift. He thumbed 42, and they rode down half the Naphli Spire in silence. When the doors dinged open, they walked into a lobby, with various safety equipment lining the walls. Across the room was a door, and above it were the words “Containment.”

 

Insomnia 9

The South Entrance’s Portal spat De Laqua Maeve into the torch-lit room. In her rush, she barely noticed the doubled amount of Celestial Lions watching her as she descended the steps and out into the Central Park.

She cut through the throngs of students enjoying their afternoon classes and approached the Administration Building. She strode toward the Lift that would take her to the Dean’s Office.

“Whoa there, miss.” A large hand gripped her pale bicep. Maeve tensed and lifted a hand, about to shout another Niveus spell. She turned and stopped, seeing that it was Smide, Grand Master of Matter, grinning at her.

Maeve put her hand down. “I-I have to see the Dean.”

“Did you make an appointment?” He pointed over to the office that had been empty before. A girl not any older than Maeve sat behind it, typing away at the scriptboard and speaking with a belgar in front of her.

“Appointment?” Her voice shook. Maeve could only imagine what he was seeing in her. Some ragged woman who looked terrible without her makeup on. “I… I have to speak with the Dean. I had a mission for him.”

Smide furrowed his eyebrows and took a step back. He crossed his arms in front of him. “Mission? Ah, were you the Arrow sent to retrieve the Warlock from the Avalon plane?”

Maeve blinked. She found that she was gasping. Her mind wandered a bit back to the things she’d seen in Avalon, and she quickly shook her head. “Yes. We were. I have to speak with the Dean about… my partner.”

“Righto.” Smide glanced at the woman behind the counter and shrugged. “Alright, go on ahead then.”

“Thank you, Grand Master.” They grinned at each other, and Maeve went on to the Lift.

 

The Dean’s Office was locked. With a breath, she knocked.

The door opened on the second knock, unassisted, as if buffeted open by the winds. “Come in,” said Hakumatheia past the doors. Maeve walked up to the Dean, the doors shutting behind her.

She was sealed in with the most powerful Magicker in the Throne Collegium once again. All around them, little Runir symbols floated about like lazy fireflies.

“Sit.” Hakumatheia gestured. Maeve scanned him as she took the seat. She wondered if he was hiding something from him. He was speaking awfully tritely right now.

Maeve didn’t sit. “Where’s…” She breathed in. “Where’s Thackeray?”

Hakumatheia raised an eyebrow, and then he sighed. There was a silence, a pause. Maeve realized that there was some sort of low, humming melody somewhere just beneath the skin of reality. It buzzed right beside the pallor and veil of the Mund. Was it the Dean’s Power? Or was it something else…?

“Okay, De Laqua Maeve. I will be honest with you.”

Maeve listened.

The Dean sighed. His breathing was ragged, and he winced a bit in pain. “It was all a matter of saving face,” he said. “Would I had not attempted to rescue the Warlock — a Magicker still technically under my jurisdiction — I would face a consequence as dictated by the Ordinances. We Magickers are beholden to Tradition, see? We couldn’t spare anyone. I couldn’t spare anyone.” The Dean looked straight into Maeve’s eyes, and he swallowed. There was a softness there that Maeve couldn’t quite make out. Like he was asking for pity, or he was simply tired. “You were new.”

“So,” Maeve grew appalled at the conclusion she was arriving at. “We were expendable. Is that it?”

“Pragmatism is what won the Kifetic Theory the Mystick Wars,” said Hakumatheia. “We changed and adapted, used the others to our advantage. Now our name is synonymous with Magick. It’s deeply rooted into our mythos. Into who we are.”

Maeve shook her head. “I don’t care anymore.” In the back of her head, she was already screaming that she was going to run away. Far away, once she got Thackeray. They would escape to nicer places, to nicer vistas. Maybe a city down the coast, or to West Choma, instead of the hellhole that was Throne. “Where’s Thackeray?” she demanded.

Hakumatheia steppeled his fingers and looked at Maeve straight in the eye. He licked his lips. “Thackeray’s dead.”

Maeve blinked. There was a short period of calm. A short period of silence, as everything broiled underneath, like electricity galvanizing and churning under a pot lid. And then, Maeve exploded.

“NO!”

Hakumatheia let out a breath through his nose. There was a sheen of Power, a coagulation. Maeve blinked, realizing that she had raised her hand and a five icicles hung arrayed about her.

The Dean’s hand flared with a creamy white substance. Maeve looked up and saw three pointed shafts of pure, pulsating and coruscating Diwa, aimed at her. The were positioned in such a way that made it look like the Dean had a halo.

“And yes, to answer your question. You are expendable.”

 

* * *

 

Kotoro watched as a haggard woman walked by. He had asked the woman in front of the reception’s desk if he could ask about a certain student’s schedules. When she hadn’t complied, he raised a brass badge depicting twelve pairs of wings — six of them folded inwards, creating the body of the badge, and six of them outstretched, crowning the other, folded in wings. His Naphli Badge.

“I have a search warrant,” he’d said, and the girl behind the counter immediately went to work. Kotoro grinned, and then turned around, watching all about him.

Kotoro whistled. This was the Lobby building, they’d said, which had a Librarium to the far right, where students could download their booknodes. There was also the Repository, where they could retrieve and deposit magickal items and artifacts.

The stone walls broke and opened into a hallway. Kotoro wondered where that led. The other opening led to a Tasspath, and he could only guess that that led to the Administration Building.

All in all, this place looked nothing like the Jubh-Kan Collegium. The Jubh-Kan Collegium was a lot less… floaty, and had more buildings than parks. It was more of a complex than a cool university like this one.

Kotoro had to admit that he was a bit jealous.

He also realized the stark difference in human to other race ratio in Throne. Having grown up in Jubh-Kan, he was used to having a belgar for a best friend, a dreorg for a lover, and a zaretrych for a mentor.

In Throne? Lots of humans. It was kinda plain to see.

“Sir Kotoro?”

Kotoro stopped, and he turned around. He grinned at the girl sitting down behind the counter. Kotoro absolutely knew how handsome he was. The girl was young, obviously working part-time, helping the facilities of the Collegium. Since most of the Collegium worked on Principles she studied, this was something that she probably wanted to do.

“Please,” he said. “Call me Lumis.” Even he cringed. His heart sped up a bit as he tried to flirt and became flustered.

“O-okay. Lumis.” She looked down on the information the holographic monitor fed her. Partly to see the information, and partly to cover her face. “You are looking for the schedule of our Sixth-Year Roeser Oberen, yes?”

“That’s right.”

“Can I have your palmnode’s frequency, Lumis?”

Kotoro gave it, and she passed on the information to him. Once it was done, and he had retrieved the information, he said, “Why don’t you sync your frequency on there as well, while you’re at it?” He burned inside; the flame of the thrill. He was young, after all. He’d survived twenty-seven years studying and then working as a Savant-Detective. Wait, should this be normal? He felt sixteen again.

He hated it when he saw attractive women.

She pressed her lips together and looked down again. Her hair was naturally silver, almost white, with a tinge that made it look like it was purple. Her features were small and delicate, like a dandelion one would see in the Sydea Plains to the South of Throne, near the Hedge.

Eventually, she finished and handed it back to Kotoro. “A-Are you sure that flirting with people while on the job is professional, Detective?”

“It is if I want it to be,” he said, shrugging.

She smiled. “Saraster Ofenia.”

“I’ll see you then, Ofenia.” And with that Kotoro winked at her and walked away. He managed to get out of the doors, back into the central park, before he let out a huge breath that he didn’t realize he was holding in. He walked over to a pillar, and placed his head against it. He groaned. Both in success or irritation of himself. He didn’t really know.

 

“Alright,” Kotoro said, checking down the schedule. “Fifth of Nymph… ah, there.” He scrolled down until he saw what his next period would be. “Five to Six Descending… Martial Thaumaturgy. Alright.”

He asked around for directions to the Martial Thaumaturgy class, and was directed to the Westside of the Collegium. There there were multiple buildings that encompassed the multitudes of Fields of study. While other practical studies were held in the other side — the Eastside — most Magickal Study was apparently conducted in the Westside.

For some reason, they’d placed the Martial Thaumaturgy classes into the Building of Energy. The buildings formed a circle around a single statue of Kifes Hasrianna — made of adamant and aurichalcum mixed together, giving it a silver and gold sheen. She stood with one hand high up, ablaze with flame, another hand wrapped around the staff, and the Vedina shining behind her like some golden Halo.

The buildings around her were fashioned to reflect the Fields they taught. On the right side — the side where Kifes held her staff — stood the buildings for the Corporeal Fields: Life, Timespace, Matter, and Energy. On the left — the side where Kifes’ blazing hand was — stood the buildings for the Ethereal Fields: Death, Destiny, Spirit, and Mind.

Kotoro followed the cobblestone path that winded on the right. It was a long path, as each building was wide and almost five storeys high. They were each made of a different magickal material — specifically, the material that can be mined from their Traverses. As such, the building of Life was made of the material edaphine. It looked vaguely like a deep, green jade, and so most of the walls were made of this material.

The building of Timespace was made of orasium, resembling a thousand-times reflecting mirror. Kotoro winced and walked as fast as he could past it so that he didn’t have to look at it.

The building of Matter was made of one of the more common magickal materials — adamant. It looked vaguely like basalt, but was darker in shade — nearing black — denser, more compact. More material than the other magickal materials.

And finally, the building of Energies. Kotoro stood in front of it, admiring it. It was made of aurichalcum, the same blazing golden material found in many ceremonial buildings. It was a symbol of wealth and status, after all. Here, they amped up the blazing part — the gold looked more like flame, constantly shimmering and showing off force. This was aurichalcum as it was meant to be.

In front of the building of Energies were a bunch of students in their downtime. Fiddling with their palmnodes, playing lutes and guitars. As Kotoro passed by, a powerful gale of wind threatened to throw him off his feet, but it promptly stopped, with a girl’s voice going, “Hey! Don’t be a dick.”

One of them struck the aurichalcum walls and amplified the force of their punch with the usual Manipulate Energy rote. The section they struck billowed out flames, but never cracked or shattered.

Kotoro avoided eye contact and walked on in, finding the door carpeted, much to his surprise. He saw a woman behind a desk. She waved the detective over. “Hello, sir. You seem new. Can I help you in any way?”

Kotoro nodded. “Right. Ah, can you direct me to where the Martial Thaumaturgy class is?”

“Take the stairs all the way to the fifth floor. Our Lift isn’t functional as of the moment. A few students tampered with the transmogrifier of it. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Oh no, it’s alright.”

“There will be two rooms in the fifth floor. The gym and the classroom for the Martial Thaumaturgy. It shouldn’t be too hard to find which one you’re trying to get to.”

Kotoro smirked. “Of course. Thank you once again.”

He made his way up to the fifth floor, taking the stairs on the ends of the hallways. The stairs were made of adamant, which have an express resistance against magically conjured flames or any magically conjured spells. He could see the rails were made of aurichalcum as well.

They were taking extraordinary precautions. Which is, of course, to be expected.

Kotoro arrived on the fifth floor, and walked into the hallway. The first room had the words “Gym” in Shennin written across a black slate. The Gym had two doors, each on one end of the doors, so he had to cross those two before getting to the second room.

The second room had the words “Martial Thaumaturgy” written across it in Shennin. Kotoro stood in front of it. He could hear words being spoken from within. Inhaling, Kotoro knocked on the door. Three short, yet loud, raps on the door.

The talking lecture inside the classroom came to a shushing halt. Kotoro fixed his posture, so that he looked intimidating and like a Shennin Naphli conducting official business, and not some grad that felt like an outsider.

The door slid open, and before it was an older man. Not any older than Kotoro — hell, the man was probably just three years older than him — but he conveyed a sense of antiquity. Like wizards of yore.

“And how may I help you?” The man was lean, muscular and tall. Kotoro looked up to him. Literally.

With a flourish, Kotoro showed his badge. “Kotoro Lumis. Detective for the Shennin Naphli. I have some questions to ask. This is urgent.”

The man furrowed his eyebrows. “Urgent, eh?” He turned back to his students and said something in a low-hushed voice, yet most of the students understood him anyway. Kotoro smirked. An old Field of Energy trick, really. Amplify the sound energy as it arrived near the ears of the ones you want to convey a message to.

Eventually, the man turned back to Kotoro and said, “Sure. We’d be happy to, given that it doesn’t take too long.”

Kotoro nodded. “I’ll do my best to keep it concise.”

The Master nodded and gestured him inside. “Oh, right, I’m Master Qamed. Come on right in.”

Master Qamed led Kotoro into the room, which was a lot bigger than he’d thought it would be. The students — there were around forty of them in this room in all — sat in tiered seats with semi-circle tables. In front of the students was a large, circular clearing with a few Runir symbols engraved onto it, constantly humming with Diwal power. Kotoro knew that the Symbols were for “Manipulate Matter”. It was a Spell to strengthen it without the use of Adamant.

Of course, strengthening it ran the chance of Dissonance.

“Class. This is Kotoro Lumis, a Detective for the Shennin Naphli.” The students began leaning close to each other, whispering in hushed tones and speaking and gossiping. Some of the students sat more rigidly, as if caught doing something bad. Kotoro grinned. “He’ll be asking a few questions.” Despite the large room, Master Qamed’s voice carried throughout the entire space. His voice was amplified.

And with that, Master Qamed took a step back, gesturing for Kotoro to speak.

Kotoro spoke, and he found that his voice had been amplified too. It was the only way for him to be heard in such a big space anyway. “Roeser Oberen is dead. Did anybody in this room know him?”

A boy with tousled hair and large optics shot up to his feet.

 

* * *

 

Quinen cursed at his own stupid plan.

He stalked after the three Naphlimen as they walked across the road and approached their autochariot. As they came near, the alfr girl that walked behind the two other men paused.

Adonsshit. Quinen stopped, turned, and leaned against the wall, inhaling another smoke.

The alfr girl turned around. They were on the same side of the street as Quinen now.

One of them — the human — opened the door to the driver’s pit. He turned to the alfr girl and said something. Quinen strained to hear, and he called upon the Field of Energy to amplify the sound as it came over to his ears. An intricate, delicate, and complex working.

“Officer?”

The anzu had stopped moving as well, looking at the alfr.

“Sersha,” the anzu spoke. “What’s happening?”

“There is a human that follows,” she said, her teimach writhing with a suspicious violet.

Quinen saw the man close the door and turn to him. Quinen removed his cig, watching the flames fall to the ground, and then he let it dissipate into embers with a quick Spell. He then turned and walked into the alleyway right beside him, all the while never letting go of the amplification spell he’d done.

“That’s the human that follows.” The alfr.

“Gharth. Pick him up.”

“Ah come on,” muttered Quinen to himself. He prepared to run — it should be easy enough when the Naphli didn’t have Magickers with them, but he decided to stop. A little plan coalesced in his mind.

With a huge intake of breath, to make sure there was enough zephyr in his mind to keep the Spell going, he walked out of the alleyway and into the open. “Naphli. I mean no harm. I’ve only come to ask a question.”

The human raised an eyebrow. The alfr had pulled out a sword from her back, and the anzu was already in the air. A pause, and then the human walked forward. He pulled out a gun and said, “This has Dissonance slugs, son. Come forward without any Magick.”

Quinen nodded, and he turned off the amplification spell. A strain on his brain lifted, like a migraine eroding. The Warlock walked forward to the Naphli human.

“Stop.” The human said as Quinen came a few feet from him. “Now what did you come to ask?”

Here we go. “The Wild Hunt Soldier,” he said. “That Transplanar entity? I can help you with that.” He breathed, eyeing the captain and the anzu and the alfr carefully. “It was chasing me.”

The Naphlimen lowered their weapons.

 

* * *

 

Afar off, in the midst of the afternoon hustle, in the midst of the Daystar’s unrelenting rays beating down on the concrete city of Throne, a rift exploded in the vestiges of reality. It ripped open in a seemingly random place, as if the coordinates of its entrance was slightly off. Deep into a back-alley, amidst the dumpsters and scaffolding and plastic wrappers and homeless people leaning against the brick walls for support, the winds swirled about the Rift, as if trying to fill in a vacuum but failing over and over again, creating a loud sound.

Then a chill came over the entire alleyway. A sabaton of black incomprehensible flickered out from the rift and into the Mund. When it landed on the floor, ice exploded outward, radiating around it. The ice frosted over the walls of the alley, froze the scaffolding and the dumpsters and the flying trash wrappers and the homeless people with nowhere to go. In the existence between seconds, the entire alleyway had been frozen over, as if a two day blizzard had swept through it.

Soon followed the rest of the armor, moving out of the rift as if passing through a heavy veil. A nine-foot tall humanoid clad in armor stepped forth, and raised its armet helm, fashioned in the gothic design of the Second Age Shennin Warriors known as the Dakila. A bowl helmet that covered the entire head with the use of hinged cheek plates that folded backwards.

It turned, and its cloak billowed in the icy wind. It was a cape made of the coagulated tears of animals, knit together by the aeolian strands of unfate.

It looked up, and thought that this view was not fit for it. That it couldn’t see anything from here. With a thought, it bent the rules of the Mund and carried itself to the top of the building beside it with nary but a thought.

Now on the concrete roof, it walked near to one of the edges, and looked out. If any of the populis would look up, they would see a tall statue made of such an abyssal black that they would’ve thought it were made of styigum — the material mined from the Traverse of the Field of Death.

It surveyed its surroundings, seeking out the essence, the tasteful gossamer, of Dushamigkhala. Its cape billowed in the wind, and the winds itself now seemed to bow to it, whirling about the Wild Hunt Leader, caressing it and sliding into the vents and openings of its armor.

Then, Garomeos turned around, its armet now pointing to the direction of the Spires. More specifically, the Naphli HQ.

It stepped forward, and a Rift — not surging with golden gossamer like the usual Avalon Rift — exploded in front of it. It stepped inside, and the Rift closed behind it.

In its wake, the winds had turned cold, and the working class and the populis below shivered. They chalked it up to a Cold Surge because of the Nymph Season, and maybe they would not be wrong. Some of the populis looked, up, and only saw a frozen silhouette.

 

Insomnia 8

Chrysanthemum awoke.

She opened her eyes and inhaled. Cool, Mundic air (zephyr, the type of gas that humans needed) seeped into her lungs as she reattached herself to the Mund’s reality. Without moving her head, Chrysanthemum looked around her. Straight ahead she could see a white ceiling. Around her lay stacks and stacks of books, similar to Uthurja’s — the kalista lady — place. But she knew she wasn’t there. She could see small runic holographs floating aimlessly like mindless fireflies. To her right, she saw a small table that rose up the the height of her thighs. Books and scepters and charms and trinkets lay scattered with no order upon it.

Where was she? What was she doing here?

She realized she did not dream. But then again she never dreamt. Or has she?

Chrys felt numb and cold all over. She could feel her muscles and tendons moving sluggishly like rusted hinges. She ordered her hands to close, and they did, wrapping itself. She lifted it up to her face for her to see.

Frost covered the tips of her fingers. She opened her mouth, and whispered, “The Contract…”

As long as she knew about that Contract, she had control over the concept of Frost and Ice. And now, the Earth as well.

She knew Quinen must’ve thought it Magick, and she supposed that in some way it was. But she didn’t like the responsibility having this power indicated. As she slowly recovered her sealed away memories, she realized that she didn’t want to be what she was before. She realized that, even moreso than before, she wanted to be someone else.

But she felt that foreboding feeling that this wasn’t something she could run away from.

Somebody had removed her old clothes. The Siddivata could feel the scratches and bruises of her legs and elbows cleaned. She grabbed the back of the couch she lay down upon and used it as leverage as she sat up. The Siddivata saw frost radiate out from the point she touched, and she pulled her hand away, gasping the smallest gasp. She looked at that hand, and little flecks and motes of rime drifted off of her fingertips. She frowned at them.

As she sat up, she watched the ever changing holographs of Runes and Symbols. These mindless images radiated a light that formed a small ball around them, and they bounced around whenever they collided or touched the textured walls. The walls around her curved. She found herself in a circular room.

To her right, Chrysanthemum could see railings, and then the rest of the room.

Mustering up her strength, she pushed herself to her feet. She walked and looked over the railings and saw wooden double doors. Below her, she could see a desk. Hunched over the desk, with one hand over his chest, was a white-haired man in synth leather robes, looking visibly in pain.

Chrysanthemum blinked. Where was she?

When the man grunted, Chrysanthemum let out an inaudible squeak. She backed away and sat down on the sofa again. She heard the man cough, and something that sounded vaguely like glass clanked against the wood.

He spoke as if shouting. “Goddamn Naphli ruining everything. I’m trying my Adondamned best to keep it all under control.” Footsteps clanged on the stairs. Chrysanthemum wondered if she should go back to pretending to sleep, or if she could ask questions immediately.

The white-haired man came to the little balcony she’d slept in before she could make up her mind. “Oh,” he said, squinting at her. He kept walking though, over to one of the many cabinets on the sides of the wall. He pulled it open and brought out a few pills. He grabbed a water bottle from within, and downed the pill with a swig.

He let out a huge breath after he drank, as if he’d just drunken a good bottle of beer. He placed the water bottle back, and winced as he turned to Chrys. “So? I expect you want an explanation?”

“Where…?”

“In the Collegium,” he said. “You’ll be safe. Don’t worry. That other Siddivata won’t be taking you. Not anytime soon, at least.”

“Collegium?” Chrysanthemum’s hair glowed only faintly.

The white-haired (and bearded) man waved a hand. He grimaced. “What’s your name?”

Chrys licked her lips, pondering upon the implications of telling the man her name. But she decided she didn’t know enough to be doing that. “Chrysanthemum.”

“Well, Chrysanthemum,” he said. “It seems our intertwining skeins of destiny have tangled up into a horrible knot. I’m trying my best to unravel it, but it seems there’s a lot going on.”

Chrysanthemum looked down on her hands. “Where’s Quinen…?”

“Quinen?” The Dean furrowed his eyebrows. “Oh. He’s dead.” All this time, he’d been talking to Chrysanthemum leaning on the wall, gripping his chest. After he said those words, he pushed himself off the wall and inhaled.

Chrysanthemum’s eyes became still, and her mouth hung open. “H-He’s… dead?” But she knew that was impossible. His Soul was there! She’d seen it herself.

“Yes,” the Dean said. “And hopefully, you too in the near future. I want this done as fast and cleanly as possible.” He waved a hand, and pop of Magick. The Dean’s star-specked eyes flared, and Chrysanthemum’s eyes lulled and closed.

 

* * *

 

The Dean used a Manipulate Avalon Working to move her gently down onto the bed. He used a Manipulate Matter Working to slip the blanket back on without even moving a muscle. The Dean furrowed his eyebrows at the glowing pink haired girl. This girl that Zinnia wanted so much. This girl that’s made so much trouble for him that he has to keep secret.

He scowled, squinting his eyes, as he lifted his hand. He almost called forth the same white Diwal glave that had killed the body of the Warlock, but he bit back, closed his hand and let it hang to his side.

If he had followed through, he would have not just unravel the threads of fate. It would rend it, tear it asunder.

With a sigh, Hakumatheia made his way down the spiralling staircase and back to the wooden desk. He saw the Dissonance slug had dissipated, as it was supposed to have been. These shards of pure, undiluted anti-Magick were anathema to him.

He sat on the desk with a sigh. He’d mobilized the Collegium, but what good would that do? He just had to depend on the gamble that Zinnia wouldn’t be bound to do something stupid.

But he knew that she didn’t even know the concept of stupid.

Hakumatheia leaned back on his high-backed chair. He grimaced as he tried to relax. “The Woman Whose Hair Flared With the Realms She Conquered.”

 

* * *

 

On their way back, Urie had already contacted Detective Kotoro that he was clear to investigate. They met in the large park in the middle of the entire floating island, where the Vedina — the symbol of the Collegium and the symbol for power — sat. “Did you talk to the Dean already?”

The Captain nodded. “Were you supposed to ask him some questions?”

Kotoro furrowed his eyebrows, took a step back. He licked his lips, and then said, “Why? Can I?”

“I’d advise against it right now. What are you going to ask?”

“Well,” he dug into the little leather messenger bag he’d brought with him, and pulled out the pictures of a man with handsome features and ruffled black hair, a demeanor that suggested power beneath a mask of laziness. “We’ve identified one of the dead victims as Roeser Oberen. We want to ask some questions, and apparently he was a sixth-year here, so I’d have to get permission to barge into his class.”

“What information have you gathered?”

“Well, he wanted to go into Martial Thaumaturgy,” Kotoro said, scratching the back of his neck, prodding his memories to surface. “So he began taking lessons in Energy and Timespace. You know, Corporeal Fields. I have to get into the Dean or maybe someone with access to their Dataservers so I can find out what his schedules are.”

Urie nodded. “Try the Reception Lobby in the Administration Building,” said Urie, pointing to the taller tower. “They’ll point you in the right direction. Or so I’m told.”

“Right.” Kotoro whistled as he swept a gaze across the Central Park. “This is a lot different from the Jubh-Kan Collegium.”

“Sir.” Gharth spoke again behind Urie. “The Transplanar entity has been frozen solid by the Magicker that it was hunting down and has been transported into Containment in the Spires HQ.”

“Noted.” The Captain turned to Kotoro. “You take care now. We’re heading off.”

“Alright, Captain.” They nodded to each other — Kotoro to the two others behind the Captain — and then walked off to their respective destinations.

 

* * *

 

“Ah, Adon’s Spit and Shit,” Kasu leaned back. She ran a hand through her short hair. “This isn’t working.” She leaned forward and squinted at the screen, which showed a warning about an “unidentifiable error”. She’d tried all the usual tricks. The restart, the Data quick-purge. The backup. Maybe she needed to learn more about Souls? Was that the Field of Mind, or the Field of Spirits?

She leaned back once again. The entire room still dark, despite the Daystar being relatively high in the sky. Only a gray-blue sheen radiated from the holographic screen.

She stared at the ceiling, probing her brain for answers, for contingencies. Maybe… no. That would never work.

She continued looking at the ceiling, as if asking from the Heaven’s Above — from Adon Himself — to give her the answer.

It didn’t really come.

She tilted her head to the side, and glanced at the screen through the corners of her eyes. She could see the error still showing, in bright red script. There weren’t any image data to showcase a soul, so all that was displayed was an endless string of script, written in codal language. The desknode’s visual feed shut off then, and then the words “Commencing 19th Revitalization Sequence” appeared on screen. The desknode processed information and data, turned on the visual feed once again, and then ran the Soul-Recreation Sequence.

She looked at it and reevaluated it from her half-sleep. Then, just as she slipped off into the dark abyss of slumber, she saw something that appeared before the red error sign.

“Missing—error.”

 

* * *

 

Quinen knew he had to stay low. He avoided most of the wide, main streets and stuck to the the shortcuts and narrow alleyways, piss-smells mixed with cigar smoke. The branches instead of the trunk.

He popped another cig as he closed in on the South entrance of the Collegium. He emerged out of an alleyway, in between a short, whitestone building and a larger, taller building made of reinforced adamant. He could feel the Diwa emanating from it.

The South entrance wasn’t too congested. A few people hanging around on the park outside of the huge, looming island. Some of them emerged out of the portals holding booknodes — students, he guessed.

There were four Celestial Lions that stood guard now, each of their tendrils flaring a bit more like the hot Daystar than the usual stars that emerge in the night. Quinen bit back a curse as he slipped back into the shadows of the alleyway and leaned against the wall.

He leaned his head back against the wall. They raised their security. They must know I’m coming… or maybe something else. Whatever the reason for closure, it would be infinitely harder for the Warlock to get in now.

Still cursing, Quinen heard the buzz of his palmnode. It was Kasu’s frequency. “Yeah, Dataturge?”

“When are you coming back to the apartment?”

Quinen blinked. “What?”

“My apartment? I-I need you here.”

The Warlock licked his lips. “Listen, Kasu-”

“What if you died again?”

What?” Quinen tsked. “Okay, ah, step by step, Dataturge.”

“Alright, Okay.” She sighed. “What if I told you I may have found a way to upload your Soul into the Datascape?”

“I’d tell you you’re either crazy or a Mind Magicker.”

“No, but — oh, it would be the Field of Mind, not Spirit?”

“Yeah–”

“A-anyway! Let’s discuss that later. Something more important is at hand — I can do that.”

“What?”

“The Soul uploading thing.”

Quinen pushed himself off the wall, furrowing his eyebrows and scowling. “How?”

“Maybe because of the residue of your Soulstuff in the Datascape? When I stole you off the Mund, I mean.”

Quinen furrowed his eyebrows. “Yeah, how did you do that in the first place?”

Niro could hear Kasu shrugging. “Maybe I Burned some Personal Diwa? Lucky break? I don’t know. But I can do it, but I need your Soul.”

“Hey,” Quinen said, his voice firm. “Okay, before you go any further, tampering with my Soul is going to be a hard Working. Only Mind Magickers can manipulate the Soul.”

“Godspit,” Kasu spat. “You’re right. I…”

There was a silence.

“Hey, by the–”

“I got it. Talk to you later, Quinen.”

“Wait!–”

“Hm?”

Quinen sighed. “I need a way into the Collegium. It seems they’ve raised their security and it’s gonna be easy for me to get caught now.”

“Hm. What did they do,” she snorted, “more Celestial Lions?”

“Exactly that.”

There was another silence. Quinen was out of options in his end. Maybe he could ask Kasu to let him traverse the Datascape…?

“We can’t go through Datascape — they’ve got only the best Dataturges working on their Bastions. Maybe… I don’t know. Talk to authority?”

Quinen leaned out of the brick wall, squinting out at the Portal once again. “Authority…” Just then, the Portal rippled, and a white gauntlet emerged from it, as if a sinking stone was being pulled out from some viscous tar. The gauntlet eventually gave way to the armor of the Naphli, of which one human, one anzu, and one alfr walked out of.

Something clicked in Quinen’s mind. “Hello?” Kasu’s modulated voice still blared through the receiver.

“U-uh yeah.”

“Yeah, like I said — the Naphli and the Congregation have some special access to the Collegium right? Maybe them?”

“Yeah,” Quinen said, nodding. “Maybe them. Thanks Kasu, I’ll get in contact with you soon.”

Quinen slipped back into the cold shadows of the alleyway, smoke wafting from his cig.

Insomnia 7

The Dean Hakumatheia rode the Tasslift to the top floor of the Administration Tower. The doors slid open, and the Dean stepped onto a carpeted floor. Glass walls surrounded the room, providing a one-way mirror to the rest of the City. From up here one could see most of the concrete buildings, and the neon lights writhing out of the umbral crevices. In the middle of it all was a graveyard of spears jutting out, reaching for the heavens — the Spires.
 
A circular table sat in the middle of the room, and eight other Magickers sat around it. On eight points of the table were intricate, multi-layered runes that represented the Field they administered. The runes were engraved onto their chairs.
 
The circular table lacked one last person to complete the Circle. Furthest from the Tasslift was another high-backed chair, with another multi-layered rune. This rune resembled all eight of the other Runes superimposed on top of each other, with a circle that sealed the runes within.
 
Hakumatheia walked, his synth leather robes trailing after him. He sat on his designation, and a hum of power rose from underneath the table.
 
The Dean sighed, placing an elbow onto the table and then leaning his head against his hand. “Do we have to go through this again?”
 
A man on the far right grinned and shrugged. “Magickers are beholden to Tradition, Dean.”
 
He dipped his head, and then waved for them to begin the formalities.
 
“Seal the Circle of the Nine,” the Dean began.
 
To the Dean’s right was a short dreorg female with blonde hair cut into a piskie’s style: short and boyish. Her small nose twitched as she had to adjust her chair up. With a swish of her tail, she said, “Eiv. Grand Exemplar of Life.” The rune of the Life Field glowed incandescent.
 
To Eiv’s right, a slender man with a sleepy smile raised his hand and flourished. His silver hair seemed to float until he spoke. “Ivahl Aurnem. Grand Master of Timespace.” And the rune of Timespace glowed.
 
To Ivahl’s right was the man that spoke earlier. He was burly and well-toned. His muscles taut and thick. His neck like the stump of a tree, and his chin and face structure square like a brick. His skin was dark against his white grin. “Smide Hefen, Grand Master of Matter.” And so the rune glowed.
 
To Smide’s right was a woman wearing a strict breast jacket and a skirt. Her eyes’ irises were the color of bleached bone, fulminating with power. Her hair was the color of a sun-bleached storm, and at times lightning would cause a strand of her hair to jump up, and then fall down. She looked at the Dean through square rimmed optics. “Fulma Aster,” she spoke, her voice like rolling thunder. “Grand Master of Energies.” The rune glowed as well.
 
To Fulma’s right, was a Magicker Grand Master that seemed very out of place. He was a zaretrych, with eight legs for walking appendages, two of which he could use as limbs, although he lacked fingers. He used the adhesive pads on each of his arms to cling onto things. The zaretrych’s anatomy was akin to a large arachnid’s save for the neck and head, which sported clawing mandibles instead of a mouth and tongue, and the little, useless hexagonal wings hiding in his abdomen.
 
It raised a hand, and it spoke. It didn’t move any mandibles, or had any physical means of speaking. Its face was more of a mask than an actual face, with a facial pattern on the front of the head resembling ink splattered onto a paper and then mirrored. The pattern glowed a bright green, contrasting its dark purple carapace. “Ssryx’ryxh.” The zaretrych spoke with a masculine tone, and his voice echoed from a contraption he wore near the top of his head. “Grand Master of Mind.” And the rune glowed.
 
Next to the zaretrych was a kalista, the ursine race. With dark gray fur and bright blue tattoos running down his torso, the kalista seemed like he still belonged to his barbarian tribes. When it was his turn, he smiled, his eyebrows arcing up in a lax position like Ivahl’s sleepy gaze. “Idurgam,” he said. “First of his name. Grand Master of Spirit.” The rune glowed.
 
An alfr sat next to Idurgam. His teimach glowed, and his long, alien ears were uncut and stood proud. They twitched, as if they had minds of their own. “Ardent Sound,” he said, his voice completely neutral but his teimach blazing white with pride. “Grand Master of Death.” This alfr had no hair on him.
 
Next to Ardent Sound was a belgar. Orange striped his brown fur, and he wore a blindfold across his large, beastly head. “Garod Avakahn,” he said, his voice deep and growling, the sound of marbles churning. “Grand Master of Fate.”
 
“And finally,” Hakumatheia waved a hand. “Dean Hakumatheia Uthan. Grand Master of Magick. With these nine Souls do we…”
 
And the rest of the Council joined him in saying the next words: “Quoth the Laws of Magick.
 
“Change is Reality, Magick is Change. Connection is Power, Magick is Connection. Dissonance is Consequence, Magick is Consequence.
 
“Quoth the Laws of Magick. And thus we seal the Circle of the Nine.”
 
Power popped, and the an invisible surge of Magick overflowed out of their Souls. The spasms of puissance conjoined and fuzed the runes’ glows until a single, incandescent light shone over them all.
 
The light died down, the room dimming, and little particles of white stars drifted onto the floor, dissipating with a hiss of smoke. “That took forever,” said Fulma. “Now for what have you assembled us here for?”
 
“We are in the middle of re-enrolment,” the zaretrych Grand Master, Ssryx, pointed out.
 
“Deepest apologies.” The Dean rolled his eyes. “But something grand is afoot. And I mean that in the worst way possible. The Wild Hunt might have been able to step through the cracks of Reality and appear out here, into the Mund.”
 
“What?” Fulma placed a hand on the table. “How could that happen? Wasn’t there an Accord?”
 
“There used to be,” said Hakumatheia, shrugging. “But that was made by the Knights Vigilant. And, for good or bad, they no longer exist.”
 
“I know of some Knights that still exist.” The alfr, Ardent Sound, spoke up. His tone was still neutral and unfeeling, but his teimach glowed brightly, urgently and almost desperately orange. “I may contact them.”
 
“Yes but the Accords themselves are obsolete,” Ivahl put in with a drolling sound. “The only thing keeping them away now is the fear of the Accords still existing, as time isn’t exactly a concrete concept over in their Plane.”
 
“How,” Fulma slapped the table. “Did a Gods-damned Divata arrive here in the first place?” Her hair crackled.
 
The Dean shook his head. “Come on, Fulma. You know that the Divata are summoned here regularly-”
 
“Well let me rephrase the question,” she cut in. “How did a Gods-damned Wild Hunt Divata arrive here in the first place? They’re bigger, stronger, more anathemic to the Mund’s physical realities than those in the lower rungs of their hierarchy. Literally the only way a Hunter could’ve arrived here is through a Portal rent open by a Siddivata.”
 
The Dean paused, and then leaned back. His mind wandered to the young Siddivata girl he’d placed on the couch above his office. Could she have…?
 
“We all know it is against Collegium Code to consort with extraplanar entities without express consent and permission,” Ssryx said.
 
“Yes.” Fulma’s voice was hard. “We all do.” She turned to the Dean. “So…?”
 
“I was consorting with a Siddivata. I was wanting to fix the Accords, but something went belly up along the way. She wanted something in return.”
 
Ivahl snorted a laugh. Eiv and the belgar said nothing, but when the Dean said that, they both turned to him.
 
Smide’s heavy arm slammed onto the table. The table quivered. “What?!”
 
Eiv sighed. “As expected.” Her voice was small and quiet.
 
The Dean changed the subject. “Let’s focus on the problem at hand, first.” His voice rolled thunder, managing to hide the wince as Dissonance struck his mind.
 
All eight of the Magickers nodded in agreement. Ssryx shook his head, as if snapping out of a trance. The Dean narrowed his eyes at Ssryx, and created a tether of empathy. A powerful working that needed his concentration and Will. He was thankful that Dissonance didn’t decide to strike then.
 
Ssryx relaxed, and nodded.
 
“Now.” Hakumatheia strained to let the words out. “We… urgh. We must get ready in case one of the Wild Hunt agents attacks the Collegium. I highly doubt that the entire Wild Hunt would arrive here in the Mund en masse.”
 
“But if that were to happen,” said Ivahl. “We’d all be screwed.”
 
“That would be speaking of Interplanar War,” said Garod, the belgar Grand Master of Fate. “That does not bode well. The skeins tell me that some threads lead inevitably to that, however…”
 
Ivahl grinned. “I hear you. The Reflections of Time-To-Be is hazy and shows fractals of possibilities. We are at an interesting time indeed.”
 
“Now,” the Dean continued, nodding. “Send some of our best Huntsmen here to deal with the Wild Hunt soldier. Tell them to watch out for Naphli reports. They might speak of strange beasts.”
 
“Most of our Huntsmen are on-duty right now in other places,” Smide says, contorting his face into a thoughtful visage. “Maybe we need to strengthen our defenses, just in case they come here? The Naphli have Magickers, after all. They can handle Interplanar Incursions.”
 
“Hm.” The Dean leaned back, and nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”
 
After a few more deliberations that eventually amounted to absolutely nothing, the Council of Nine was adjourned with another evocation. They had decided to double security, deploying twice the number of Celestial Lions and asking Smide to create more magitechnological constructs.
 
As each of the Grand Masters left, Ssryx couldn’t help wondering if there had been something amiss with the entire meeting. The zaretrych watched as the Dean walked into the Tasspath first.
 
He had also heard — and he was sure the other Grand Masters had too — that the Dean walked into the Medica and killed someone. They declared this as some sort of rumor, but…
 
Ssryx’ryxh contemplated on following the Dean. “Hey, Ssryx,” said Ivahl, tapping the zaretrych’s bulbous abdomen. “Ready to go back to re-enrolment?”
 
“O-oh. Yes.” That was right. He still had duties.
 
As he left the Tasspath Lift and walked out into the ground floor of the Administator’s building, he saw three Naphli officers striding past them. Ssryx and Ivahl asked what their business was.
 
“We’re here to ask the Dean something.” There was an edge to the human Naphli’s voice. He definitely looked demeaning, especially with his caramel skin and close-cropped black hair. Behind him walked an anzu and an alfr.
 
“What will you be asking?” said Ivahl.
 
The Naphliman raised an eyebrow. “There’s been another Incursion. I think it’s time I go to the Dean with some extra precautions.”
 
Ssryx’ryxh turned to Ivahl, and they nodded. Ssryx had learned that human gesture after spending much time in Throne. “Very well,” he said.
 
The Naphli bowed by the waist. “Have a good day, Grand Masters.” And he walked past them, the two others walking quickly after.
 
Ssryx and Ivahl looked at each other again, and then walked off to Re-enrolment.
 
* * *
 
“Quinen?” It was at that point it dawned upon Kasu that he was probably heading to the Collegium. The blinking dot on the holographic map of the Karoley Ward indicated just that. Cursing, she got up on her feet, turned and seized the sweater hanging by the coat rack and stopped just as her hand reached up to the door knob. What was she doing? Was she going to run all the way to the Karoley Ward just to help a guy she barely knew?
 
She paused for a second, thinking. She could help him better if she stayed here. But what if he dies again? I could siphon his soul back into her Grove…
 
She looked down on her hands. A finger fizzed in and out of materiality, breaking down into datal squares before reforming again. She gasped. Datal Dissonance.
 
She took a step back, looking at the unopened door. What would she do?
 
Then something dinged. She turned and walked back to her desknode, and typed away at the scriptboard. Soon, she’d accessed her datagrove and saw, there, the imprint of Quinen’s consciousness.
 
She bit her lip, and ran a program that would recreate the Consciousness. She watched as Data reformed the Warlock’s Soul.
 
Kasu watched this, mesmerized, until a knock on her door snapped her out of her reverie. The Dataturge got up to her feet, clenched her hands, and then walked out. She remembered that she had a job then, and maybe she should get back to it. She opened her palmnode and worked a text message to Einei, saying that she could go back to work by tomorrow.
 
She didn’t wait for an answer. She walked up to the door and opened it. “Yes?”
 
A Naphliman stood on the other side. “Miss. Can we ask you questions? Investigation for the crime scene that happened around your room.”
 
“U-um. Yes. Sure.”
 
They asked her questions about whether she’d seen anything, or whether she’d conspired, or felt something weird. It was easy enough to say she’d been in her room the entire time. She silently thanked Quinen for fixing her door.
 
Soon enough the Naphliman walked up and out of her room. She hoped that they didn’t suspect a thing. Apparently — from the questions the man was giving her — they were too busy trying to connect the scene from the roof to the scene on the ground.
 
As the Naphliman closed the fixed door behind him, Kasu sat on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest, waiting for the Data to reform the Soul.
 
* * *
 
Captain Urie rode up the Tasspath Lift that would lead to the Dean’s Office. A hand was on his belt, fingering the grip of his slugpiece.
 
Sersha and Gharth stood at attention behind him. They knew there was something about to happen. Something about to break out. Tension broiled underneath their armors.
 
Then the doors dinged open. Urie stepped out and slung out his slugpiece. With a quick movement, he removed the cartridge of slugs, and replaced it with another cartridge. The cartridge resembled any old cartridge, so Gharth questioned what was inside. He’d seen the previous cartridge that the Captain had removed still had a full dock of slugs.
 
Sersha followed quietly, and her hand was already on the long sword behind her.
 
Gharth was a bit more cautious. He unsheathed his Naphli-issued blade, and turned to Captain Urie. In a low croaking whisper, he asked, “Sir, what is that cartridge?”
 
Urie didn’t answer. “Watch my back.”
 
He flicked the switch on the side of the slugpiece’s barrel, activating the mini-Transmog that converted small pieces of Tass into quick, yet powerful, bursts of energy. Tass filled the lines that ran down the barrel of the slugpiece, glowing low. Below the barrel was a smaller rune that would use the remaining Tass from a shot fired as a Buffer to to contain any Dissonance that may come instead of letting it mess the mechanisms of the gun up. Of course, firing too much at any single time will raise the chances of incurring Dissonance.
 
Captain Urie opened the door just a crack, and then kicked it inward. Without another word, the Captain lifted his slugpiece and pulled the trigger. Tass churned, the spell activated, and the Transmog converted Diwa into pure kinetic energy. A black slug — small and the piece of a shattered glass — shot through the air, a white stream trailing after it. The slug sank into the robes of the Dean, and with a pained grunt, onto the surface of skin, but not actually puncturing it.
 
“What in Adon’s name are you doing?!” The Dean doubled over onto his desk. He had stood up when they entered, and now had to keep himself up by placing one hand on the desk. His other hand clutched the point of entry.
 
“Don’t try anything, Dean,” Urie said, lowering his gun and advancing to his desk. “Dissonance slug. Perform another Working and you’ll incur so much Dissonance that a Permanent Severance won’t be too far a fantasy.”
 
The Dean groaned at the pain, still doubled over on his desk. With sluggish movements he turned to look up at Urie. “What, in Adon’s holy hells, do you want?”
 
Urie grinned. Pretty easy to break the Dean’s demeanor, eh? “Now now, Dean. Since you’re technically the Head of this Administration, you should be the one to represent all the values that you actually stand for.”
 
The Dean’s eyes glanced to the palmnode sitting in his desk. “Fuck off. I can have all of the Collegium down your throat.” Urie made a gesture behind his back, facing the alfr behind him. The gesture made it look like he was holding some kind of invisible cylinder.
 
Sersha nodded. Her teimach flared a bright, creamy white as she tapped her Sorcery. The palmnode lifted off of the desk, and with a grunt from Sersha, the Data device shattered against a far wall.
 
Gharth pulled out his Naphli sword, and Sersha did the same, pulling out the long, curving blade from her back.
 
With the Dean still doubled over from the Dissonance slug embedded into his chest, Urie grabbed one of the chairs that lay in front of the wooden desk. He sat and leaned back, but still kept the slugpiece trained on Hakumatheia. Behind him, he heard the doors lock.
 
“I just came to talk,” Urie said, but he couldn’t help chuckling by the end of that sentence. “And, well, last time I came here… I couldn’t remember a damn thing Gharth and I did. I guessed it was your Magicks going on, so I brought some precautions.” He raised the slugpiece, and then lowered it. Now, there have been so much Tensions lately.”
 
“High Dissonance Tensions are common, you ignorant buffoon,” the Dean spat, and then grimaced. He wheezed. “Our job is to educate Magickers so that that won’t happen, but every once in a while you get a trickster.”
 
Urie nodded. “Right. So, I need you to track down that Warlock of yours and re-educate him. While you’re at it, care to tell me what in Adon’s Sin is a Transplanar entity doing in my City?!”
 
The Dean managed a wolfish grin. “That’s probably because of the Warlock too.” The Dean wheezed again. He could feel the cold blossom of potential Dissonance from his chest.
 
“Hm.” Captain Urie leaned back. “Then I’m going to need permission from you.”
 
The Dean raised an eyebrow and looked at him.
 
Urie turned to Sersha, then back to the Dean. “We’re going to have to apprehend this Warlock of yours. Now, since every Magicker that’s gone through the Collegium in this city is under your juris-”
 
“Fine,” the Dean said, looking away. “Go ahead. Apprehend him. Give him the Death Penalty for all I care.”
 
Captain Urie raised both eyebrows and leaned back a bit. Grinning, he said, “Well I’m thankful that we can come to terms with that.” The Naphli Captain rose to his feet, and the two Senior Officers moved, waiting for commands. “One last thing. I know that you’re a recently appointed Dean, but please do keep your Magick in your pants. One more use of Magick on anyone like that that I catch a whiff of? The Congregation will make sure they know it.”
 
And with that, Captain Urie turned around and walked off, his two Senior Officers following suit.