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