Wake 2

Navarre Thackeray walked up to the podium when his name was called. A distringuished, well-suited man smiled at him. Wrinkles flanked his eyes. Thackeray strode forth and bent down as the old man hung a medallion about his neck. A medallion of an octagonal shape, within the polygon were a cross and an “x”. The Vedina.

“Navarre Thackeray,” the announcer behind him boomed, using the voice-enhancer device which resembled a black flat stick. “First Class. Officially a Hunstman.”

The crowd before him cheered. Navarre smiled, waved his hand.

He turned and walked down the podium. De Laqua Maeve — wearing a simple white shirt and black pants, with a cloth black jacket overlaying the outfit — jaunted over to him and encircled her arms around his neck. Navarre hugged her back.

“Good job, Thack,” she said. She smiled. Her Vedina medallion also shone.

Thackeray shrugged. “All in a day’s work.”

“Well,” Maeve smiled. “More like four year’s worth of work.”

Thackeray chuckled. “Let’s get?”

She nodded.

The two of them walked out of the auditorium of the Collegium, leaving the rest of the graduates to their own desires. Thackeray and Maeve hadn’t planned on finishing the entire ceremony. It was on the zenith hour, after all, which meant they had skipped lunch.

They never skipped lunch.

They took the stairs down from the tenth floor of the structure, and walked into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was mostly populated by empty chairs and tables, with a few students on their breaks grabbing a bite as well. Thackeray and Maeve walked over to the chair and table set on the far corner, behind a concrete pillar.

“They couldn’t get your name right again, couldn’t they?” Maeve snorted.

Thackeray shrugged. “Well, I never told them the right way to pronounce it.”

“It’s Na-vah-rey, right?” she said, tentative.

“Yeah,” he said. “But I don’t care anymore. What should we get to eat?”

“Anything,” Maeve said, letting the side of her head hit the table. “I’m hungry.”

“Aren’t you on a diet?”

She shrugged. With her head on the table, it was a funny gesture. “Diets be damned, we graduated.”

Thackeray grinned. “Yeah. Right right. Graduated, huh,” he leaned into his chair. “Kind of great, that. I wonder if we’ll get a Contract soon.”

“Hopefully,” Maeve said. She picked her palmnode from her pocket and began scrolling through it. “I’m moving out, soon. I need to get enough money for the rents.”

“Why not just stay in the Dirah Ward?”

“Slum City?” Maeve angled her head to look up at Thackeray. She raised a delicate, groomed eyebrow. “I hope you’re joking.”

“I don’t get what’s so bad about Slum City,” a voice resonated behind the pillar. The source of the voice emerged a second later — a dreorg about the height of Thackeray’s waist. His hair was tousled, curly, and he wore the scholarly robes of an Apprentice-Librarian: embellished gold threads upon green and brown silk that cascaded down to their knees. From the way the silk reflected the light, though, it was synthetic. “I’ve been living there for the past two months. Nothing bad’s ever happened.” He smiled, and his flopping ears perked up a bit, reminiscent of a rabbit.

Maeve perked up, grinning. Thackeray chuckled. “Hey, Eyth.”

“Eyth!” she said. “Glad you could make it.”

He shrugged. “Wouldn’t miss messing up your lunch dates,” he said. He grinned through his square optics. Underneath one small arm, he carried a book that would’ve been half his weight. His tail, tipped with an orange ore, curved about, flailing and wispy like seaweed in the ocean.

He slammed the leather-bound tome on the table. He whispered a word, and he crossed his legs as he began to rise up into the air, as if riding on some invisible chair. “Congratulations, meat-heads.” Eyth smiled.

“Why, thank you Eyth,” Thackeray said. “I’ve never known you to be the congratulatory type.”

“Well becoming a Huntsman is a particularly stressing undertaking,” said Eyth. “Congratulations are in order.”

“How’s the books going?” Maeve asked.

Eyth shrugged. “All well, all good. Switched over to reading Fiction for this one.” He placed a finger on the leather bound book. “A Rhapsody of Frost and Flame,” he said. “Fascinating world-building. Great overall story. Confusing way of telling it.”

Thackeray shrugged. Maeve was a bit more interested. “Ooh, tell me more about it.”

“I can’t,” he said, shrugging. “It’s an experience. You have to experience it. The plot is hard to explain anyways, because of the multiple point-of-views.”

“Ouch, multiple perspectives?” Maeve shuddered. “Tap out.”

Eyth nodded. “Indeed. Anyway, isn’t Thackeray supposed to be getting us food by now?”

Thackeray sighed. He got up out of his seat and walked over to one of the booths that lined the walls of the cafeteria.

He walked over to one that sold grimu feathers. Crispy and delicious when eaten. He also ordered three sets of rice bowls. He paid his eagles to the otherwise nondescript vendor and turned around.

A man wearing grand, ceremonial crimson robes that cascaded onto the ground about him stood beside Maeve. He clasped his hands behind him. Maeve and Eyth both sat upright, rigid. Their eyes open, but with smiles on their face.

Thackeray furrowed his eyebrows. He brought his tray over to the table and bowed before the man. “Dean Hakumatheia,” said Thackeray. “How may we be of service?”

“Congratulations are in order for your Huntsmanship,” he said, his voice low and sonorous, like rolling thunder. “You’ve made me quite proud with your achievements, Navarre.” He pronounced it right.

“Thank you, Dean,” he said. “I am happy that you think so.”

“Same with Lady De Laqua here,” he gestured to Maeve. Maeve smiled, pressing her lips together. “You both have done marvelous jobs. And so, I repeat, congratulations.”

“Thank you, Dean,” said Maeve this time.

“Now with you two being Huntsmen, are you looking for Contracts?” He asked.

Thackeray didn’t sit down. Maeve and Eyth both looked up at him. “We are, sir, yes,” she said.

“Excellent,” he replied. “I have a Contract for you two prodigious Huntsmen. It seems that all other Huntsmen are out on their own Contracts or their Pilgrimages, and so I contact you.”

“What are the details of the contract, Dean?” Thackeray asked.

“I need you two to go into Avalon.” Eyth audibly gasped. Maeve’s eyes darted between Thackeray and the Dean. Thackeray’s eyes were fixed upon Hakumatheia. “And I need the two of you to hunt down the Warlock. Alive.”

***

 

Oberen watched Chrysanthemum stir awake. It was slow at first, with her moving about and messing the blankets, and then sudden. She sat upright, and Oberen feared she was going to jump out of the closed window.

“Where…?” She looked around. “Oh. Oberen.” She sighed.

Oberen stood. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head. “I dreamt of nothing again,” she said. “Why do I dream of nothing?”

“Well, Chrys, if you dream of nothing, then you aren’t dreaming at all.”

“Is that so?” Chrysanthemum’s eyes focused outside the window. Once again, they were full of wistfulness.

“Are you okay, Chrysanthemum?” Oberen asked, walking over to her and sitting next to her on the bed. “Have you come to terms with who you are?”

“Siddivata…” the word lingered in her lips. “What can the Siddivata do? What are the Siddivata?”

Oberen shrugged. “I don’t know much about these creatures, unfortunately,” he said. “They are powerful, mythic in their might. I only know the legends, Chrys.”

“Tell me about them.” She hugged her knees against her chest.

“I’m going to say here that they won’t help you much.”

Chrysanthemum shrugged. “I think much can be learned from myths and stories.”

Oberen couldn’t help but smile. “The Siddivata are the greatest of the Divata. They are the gods, one could say, ascendant in their power, and have the ability to forge Contracts with the Realms, which is how they get their powers. They rule Avalon — everything their is whim to their whimsy. It is said that they’ve been living during the time when the Gods were still alive.”

“Was that long ago?”

“From what various archaeological finds tell us,” Oberen replied. “Yes. Very long ago. Two million years, to be exact. But that’s only because the relics and the great treasures the Gods have left for us when they still walked our lands are incorruptible. Impervious to the effects of Entropy.”

Chrysanthemum let out a breath. “Wow.”

“But what I don’t know, even with the Legends,” says Oberen. “Is how Oberen managed to remove you — a Siddivata — from your realm, stuck you into here, and removed all your memories. You are Siddivata — a God in many senses.”

Chrysanthemum shrugged, looking out at the window. “I need to know more about the Siddivata.” She sighed. “I need to know more about myself.”

“Me too,” said Oberen.

They were quiet for some time, before Chrys pulled up the sleeve to her hoodie. “Maybe it’s these tattoos?”

Oberen glanced at them and shrugged. “I don’t know anything about ink magicks, unfortunately. Do you remember where you got them from?”

She furrowed her eyebrows. She looked down, and then, she shook her head. “I… don’t.”

Oberen’s eyebrows arched upward. He didn’t speak. The silence was deafening.

“Books!” Oberen’s sudden smile broke the silence, like a sword piercing a veil. “We can go into the Public Library. Maybe we’ll find something there.”

Chrysanthemum looked up at Oberen. “You think so?”

He nodded. “Well, hopefully. I haven’t been to the Public Library too much. The Librarium in the Collegium always had me covered.”

Chrysanthemum didn’t move from her position. “Come on,” Oberen said. “Introspection is good and all, but it won’t do you any good if that’s all you do.”

Chrysanthemum smiled. She nodded, her glowing pink hair bobbing. “Right. Let’s go.”

Chrys hopped onto her feet, lightly, like a firefly dancing. Every step she took, something tugged at her mind. Oberen walked out of the room, briefly stopping and glancing behind him.

He saw Chrysanthemum, eyebrows furrowed, looking down at the floor.

“Something wrong, Chrys?”

She turned, and walked over to the window. She opened them, looking out as the white snow fell softly. “Snow.” Her voice lingered through the white. Oberen furrowed his eyebrows.

“Snow.” She said again. Oberen closed the door and reached out for Chrys.

“Snow. Answer me.”

And the snow outside flurried toward her. White snow burst in through the window. “Don’t hurt me!” she shouted. The snow flurried into the room, like white light, but it fell about around her, as if she had a bubble.

“Snow, return.” She said again, and the snow that had fallen into the room rose, defying all known laws of physics, and flurried back outside, falling again.

Chrysanthemum yelped and shut the windows. She turned, her eyes wide, her irises iridescent.

“What was that?”

Oberen shrugged. “Hopefully, we’ll find out in the Library.”

 

***

 

Quinen walked, naked, through the multi-colored grass of Avalon. He winced as a gold wind buffeted him.

He called down power and Will from… somewhere. He called down the Field of Energies, and bright flame erupted about him. He willed it to disappear, and it did. He walked through the field of blue, now red, now green, now purple grass. He should hide, somewhere, he knew. Out here in the open, in Avalon, things did not bode well.

Every step he took hurt him, as every blade of grass pricked his soulfeet. The golden wind pushed him to and fro, as if angry at him.

Quinen saw a tall tree in the distance. It’s trunk and branches were seemingly made of glass, it’s leaves moving about in a radial pattern. The leaves did not bend — they were solid, and shaped like blades.

He ran towards that. Quinen didn’t know why, but he ran anyway. Pain throbbed into his feet in staccato bursts. Every step he took changed the color of the grass. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, indigo…

Then there was the sound of a loud horn. It echoed throughout the entirety of Avalon.

Fear. Absolute fear echoed through Quinen’s soul. Not chemical interactions that plagued his physical body.

True, spiritual, soulful fear flooded him. He knew what was coming.

He ran.

But he knew, when he heard an arrow being released from a bow.

When the arrow crashed beside him, the soil erupting as the arrow — the size of a large spear — embedded itself into the ground. A deliberate miss.

He knew.

That there was none escaping the Wyld Hunt.

 

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Wake 1

The night sky echoed. The only thing inheriting the soaring blues was a thick smog that rose up from the dirty streets of Throne like a mist. 

A flapping, winds billowing. Something glided across the night sky, splitting it with its large, feathery wings. It flapped once, putting into motion the tender muscles that make up its entirety. Its sharp, avian eyes swept the city of Throne, flying even higher than the tallest of the Spires. Its feathers flapped against the wind, and the starlight reflected off of the shiny scales that lay underneath the layer of feathers. Its beak opened, lined with razor sharp teeth, before closing again.

It wore nothing to cover its top, but it did wear tight cloth pants made of carbon fiber. The anzu flapped once again, and then folded its wings, plummeting to a balcony jutting out one of the taller Spires.

It opened its wings just before it landed, cushioning its fall. It fell on the ground, and its wings folded about it like a cloak. Mesmerizing patterns, radial and geometrical and tribal were splattered onto the outside of the anzu’s wings. They used it mostly for mating. They didn’t really need clothing.

The anzu looked up. “Gharth. Report.” A human stepped forward. His right hand replaced with a mechanical limb that shone with lights. On the cybernetic limb was a floating holographic image which the human typed on.

“Magickal incursion, Captain Urie,” Gharth replied, his voice hoarse and squawking. Shennin was a human language developed by and for human. When those that didn’t have the same vocal chops as an human spoke the language, its sound becomes akin to that of a grater grating steel.

Urie frowned. He gestured for the anzu to continue.

“High Dissonance Tension,” Gharth continued. “Implosion might be eminent if the Magicker in question does not stop.”

“Who is the Magicker in question?”

“A certain Warlock,” Gharth replied. “I do not know his real name, but my database has registered him as thus.”

“Very well,” the human nodded. He turned, tapping something onto his mechanical arm. It had been outfitted with a weavenode, so he could connect to the Datascape through it. He tapped on a contact that only said, “Dean.”

 

***

 

Hakumatheia, Dean of the Throne Collegium of Magick, sat behind his wooden desk. Various pens floated around an inkwell. The three-storey high-room was completely clean of dust. Gloomlight from the Nightstar filtered in through thin curtains. One couldn’t see a single mote of dust.

The Dean sat with his elbows on the desk, his hands steepled. His eyes glowed with a low light, as if there were a sun behind his irises. He held his lips in a thin line, tense.

There was a rippling in the serene calm of the dimly lit room. It was weak and faint at first, wanting not to be seen. Then, it was stronger. A shimmering in front of the glass window.

The window burst open, and on the other side was not the night sky, but rather, the chaotic wild of Avalon. Winds both scorchingly cold and freezingly hot gusted in. The old bathrobe that Dean Hakumatheia wore billowed away from the heat. The curtains that dressed the windows were thrown back, afraid of the otherworldly portal.

A sound echoed from within the portal. It was a quivering sound, that shook through the rapidly flowing air of the room. A laugh. The laugh subsided as a shadow stepped through the portal and onto the carpeted floor of the Dean’s Office.

Zinnia closed the door with a nonchalant wave of her hand. The Jade Princess turned her unnerving green eyes upon the Dean, Master of Magicks. She walked, moving up to the front of the Dean’s desk.

“You did a good job, Hakky,” she said, her voice low and sultry. “But it seems you ‘ve messed up. Just by a bit.” She placed both hands on the desktop. The floating pens shook. “That Warlock intruded, and has banished one of my fiagai back into my realm. He seems really dead on in protecting Chrysanthemum.” She frowned. “At this rate, the wedding will be canceled, and the power of the Dwarf Court will ebb.”

“I did what I could,” the Dean said. His eyes were steely with resolve, unmoving and looking straight into her eyes. Straight into an alien fey’s eyes. “But the Warlock is a fickle pawn in this game of yours.”

“And you are my King,” she said, leaning forward. Her eyes danced with beautiful madness as her lips met with the Dean’s. The Dean’s eyes did not change as she pulled away, an iridescent smoke wisping out. “Such delicious power. You are the reason I live.”

The Dean managed a smile. “But now you must go, for a court meeting shall be held soon, if I remember correctly?”

She nodded. “A… pickup, actually. You always were good with time,” she leaned back, stretching. “I do commend you, darling, on the rather unconventional and inadverted way of attracting the Warlock’s attention. I shall try to take care of him from here.”

The Dean scowled. Had his Dissonance been that powerful? Had he actually connected his Soul to Avalon…?

The thought raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

Zinnia grinned. Her eyes danced with humor and rage. She turned, clapped once, and the portal reopened, a golden tear in reality. She turned and gave the Dean one last flying kiss before stepping into the portal and closing it behind her.

The Dean’s smile turned to a scowl. He cursed, inwardly. He leaned back, slumping into his high-backed chair. What in Adon’s name had he gotten himself into?

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum remembered what had happened next.

Once the fiagai fell away, an intrinsic part of her sensing that he had been banished back to where he belonged, she huddled to a corner and cried. Her head lanced with pain. Tears soaked her cheeks. Confusion wracked her body. Quinen had walked in and hugged her, and the warmth of his coat against her was enough to lull her to sleep.

She dreamt of nothing. For the first time, she dreamt of nothing. Usually, she would dream of the most esoteric and strange things. Talking trees, neon animals, dancing buildings. But she dreamt of nothing, and when she awoke, she awoke feeling like she had been submerged in deep, dark water.

When she awoke, Quinen was no longer next to her. It was cold, despite the blanket on. She stared out of the window — it had been closed, and the air was painted by snow.

The first snow of Nymph Season.

She sat up slowly, the blanket sliding off of her. Her glowing pink hair had dulled, just a bit, and made it look like as though she had only dyed her hair.

“Awake, I see,” a familiar voice echoed through the empty room. How Chrysanthemum didn’t notice him at first sent shivers up her spine. She turned and saw Oberen, wearing dark blue hoodie. He peered at her through rectangular optics. On his right hand, he gripped a cup of coffee, small little brown droplets dribbled on the mouthpiece.

“Oberen,” her voice cracked.

“Don’t strain yourself,” he said. He stood, looked at the empty space beside Chrysanthemum, and then shook his head, He sat back down. “You weren’t injured or anything.”

Chrysanthemum shook her head. “What about Quinen? What happened to him?”

Oberen raised an eyebrow at that. He sipped on his coffee. His breath came out as visible steam. “He’s alive,” he replied. “But hurt. Real bad. Both physically and metaphysically.”

Chrys cocked her head to one side. Oberen sighed.

“He’s lucky to be alive,” he said. “He’ll be good in a few months.”

A deadly, heart-wrenching silence cut through the room. Chrysanthemum bit her lip, looking down. She blinked rapidly, pressed her lips together, and then shook her head. “It was my fault.”

Oberen inhaled. His breathing could be heard through the silence, which seemed to be frozen into the room by the Nymph weather outside. “Not necessarily. Don’t blame all of it on yourself,” he said. “You’ll never get anywhere nice with that.”

“Then why?” she asked. “Why did he go that far to protect me? To keep me here? Did he… did he remove my memories too?”

Oberen shrugged. “Doubt it. Quinen’s never been good with Psychemancy,” he said. “But it’s possible he could’ve asked someone to do that for you…” he stopped. “Or you could’ve lost you memories because of your… transition to this physical realm.”

She stopped her blinking. She looked up at the boy with the sea-green eyes. “What do you mean?”

Oberen couldn’t help but melt a little — just a little — from her gaze. She was so pale and small. Her nose, button and cute, was flaring red from the cold. Her eyes were the strangest mix of green and blue. Not too far from the color of his own eyes, he realized. Her lips were chapped and white from the temperature. Oberen stepped forward and gave her the coffee in his hand.

Chrysanthemum stared at it. Oberen gestured for her to take it. She did, eventually, bringing it up gingerly to her lips and letting the warm coffee down her throat. “You’re not human, are you?” Oberen looked down at Chrys. “The glowing pink hair would’ve ticked me off, but those kinds of wigs are popular these days.”

Chrysanthemum sipped again, and then looked up at Oberen. “What am I, Oberen?” Her eyes gleamed with innocence.

Oberen’s own voice was shaky when he spoke. “You’re…,” he inhaled. “You’re a Siddivata.”

Something within her broke. As if a ball of glass had been dropped onto the floor in the middle of the storm, and the cacophony of the shatter was so loud that all noise seemed mute. Her eyes, blue and green, suddenly flared and contrasted each other. Black splashed into the whites of her eyes, like tendrils reaching for her irises. They were getting closer. Ever so closer.

Her grip on the coffee faltered. She let go of it, but the cup stayed in the air, suspended by some invisible force.

Oberen cursed. What did Quinen do to this girl that she had repressed all this power? Why did he get her from Avalon in the first place?

She wanted her own Soul. The words resonated within Oberen’s brain. He cursed, stepping back. He lifted his hands, Willed Power into his Fists. The most basic technique of Martial Thaumaturgy.

Then, everything was gone. The black pools that her eyes had become turned back into white, dissipating. Streams of chaotic iridescence streamed out from her orifices — her nostrils, her mouth, her eyes, before she collapsed back onto the bed.

The coffee cup exploded. There wasn’t much left in there, but warm brown caffeine splattered onto Oberen’s trousers and hoodie. He frowned, and set to cleaning the room while Chrysanthemum returned to her sleep.

 

***

 

Quinen found himself in pure darkness. He sat up, a blanket of pure shadow enshrouded him. He placed a hand on his heart — something he always did whenever he woke up — and found that, well, there was no heart.

He inhaled. Quickly, and then he realized he wasn’t breathing. He looked down on himself. He was naked, but his skin was made of glimmering, incandescent starfire.

His Soul.

He got up quickly. Although “got up” might be wrong term. He willed himself up in a standing position, and his Soul followed. His feet floated on solid nothingness, and only when he willed something to be solid underneath him did he stand correctly.

Where was he?

He walked around just a bit, trying to regain his thoughts. Yes, that Siddivata. Zinnia? She found out about him and Chrysanthemum. He scoffed. He wasn’t fooling anybody — he knew that the Siddivata would find out sooner or later. He began rifling through many different options in his head. How to deal with the situation.

If he wasn’t careful, he could get the Wyld Hunt down his throat. Nobody wanted that Hunt down their throat.

He walked about even more. This was no Traverse. He’d been to Stygia before, the Traverse of the Field of Death. That place was less… empty. It still had hope, it still, ironically, had life. This place of pure nothingness, nil and void, made him empty.

He looked down upon himself. His right shoulder burned weakly, as if the fuel that had been powering the fire in that specific area had run out. Other parts of him also flared much weaker than the others.

Then the realization hit him. Dissonance. He had used Magick way above his reach in that melee he had gotten into with the fiagai. He overextended, he was too proud. Especially with that last Banishment spell — that was sure to attract some attention.

He looked down upon his Soul again. Some of the spots that burned weaker were being wrapped around with multicolored vines.

Quinen’s eyes widened as he began to realize where he was. Or rather, where he was going. He went through his mind palace, trying to recall everything he knew about Dissonance. It seemed like immediate information had left him, and he had to go deep into the recesses of his memory to get them again.

“Dissonance. The backlash of Fields against the unworthy Soul,” he began muttering to himself. No words flew out — all he heard were his thoughts. “The more power you reach out for that is out of your reach, the more powerful the backlash. Many levels of Dissonance. One of the highest possible levels is…”

His eyes opened, and everything around him exploded into a chaotic cacophony of beautiful madness. Of cold fires and burning frosts. Of singing colors and hued songs.

Quinen fell to his knees, the grass around his knees flashing red. “Transportation.”

Avalon.

 

Dream 9

Oberen and Quinen made their way out of the Collegium. They hailed a brown cab and headed for Diys’ apartment. “So what are the assumptions? The hypotheses?”

The brown cab barreled into heavy traffic. Quinen sighed. “Lyn took Angel Dust with Diys,” he said. “Diys might’ve been able to concoct some of this Angel Dust, but how she did it is beyond me. The Field of Avalon isn’t something you connect your Soul to with a simple Sympathy Rite.”

“I’m guessing it’d be dangerous too,” Oberen said, leaning back a bit.

“Right,” Quinen nodded. “Sympathy to a Field does provide a two-way connection after all. That’s why I’m hoping she just got the Angel Dust off of some alchemical dealer and that she hadn’t concocted it herself.”

“How’d you know that a Simple Sympathy Rite couldn’t work with the Field of Avalon?” Oberen inquired.

Quinen stayed silent.

The brown cab turned a corner, tires squeaking on the bitumen road. The air became heavy between the two magickers; the silence binding them together like a red rope pulled taut.

Quinen eyed Oberen as he stretched. “You’re not going in there without your usual Yantras?”

Oberen grinned at him, and he tapped the hilt of the rapier. “Martial Thaumaturgy,” he said.

Quinen rolled his eyes. He took out another cig, lit it up, and the two Magickers went up to Diys’ door.

 

***

 

They’re coming, aren’t they? They’re coming. Oh Dear Adon, they’re coming.

A shadow on the wall spoke. “Would you relax, little dreorg? Your thoughts are loud. Shut up.”

The shadow blinked, revealing almond-shaped cat eyes. “I am sure they will be much delighted to meet me.”

Diys didn’t respond. She sat against her window, muttering again and again over to herself. About how she was going to get expelled, how she had wasted her mom’s inheritance on the Collegium, how she didn’t want to die, how she was going to kill herself anyway for connecting to the Field of Avalon.

 

***

 

The hair on the nape of Quinen’s neck stood up. He stopped right before knocking, leaving his hand there in mid air. He furrowed his eyebrows. Oberen raised an eyebrow at him. Quinen only nodded. “Something’s here.”

The Warlock took a step back, tapped the timepiece ring, and a creeping, glowing iridescence congealed into the shape of the pistol. He kept his left hand behind him, flicking the inhibitor off.

He knocked. The door opened midway after the first.

Surprised, Quinen stepped back and jerked his left hand just a bit, but he controlled himself. Oberen’s hand had already been resting on the hilt of his rapier, and when the door opened, he simply pressed his lips together and squinted.

Something that looked like a woman with a voluptuous figure grinned at him, peeking through the door. She was around the same height as Quinen, grinning with her perfectly human teeth. Her emerald green skin betrayed her anthropic origin; her white hair tied up in a tight bun above her head. Her red lips peeled back as she smiled; her cat eyes, gold and full of lunacy, danced with jest.

She wore a gown of stars, which hugged her figure tight. She looked up at the two Magickers and said, “Oh, guests. How wonderful!”

Quinen looked at her, and then at Oberen, who just so happened to look at Quinen at the same time. When their eyes met, they came to the same conclusion. She was no human. Quinen turned to the green-skinned woman. “Where’s the dreorg?”

“Ah, little miss Diys,” she said, nodding. “My precious puffcake is there somewhere in the corner, talking to herself. I do hope she shuts up some time.”

Diys was perfectly silent.

Quinen’s scowled. He set his jaw, but hid his Diwaslinger. “Who are you? What are you doing in Diys’ property?”

The woman raised a delicate, thin eyebrow. “Her property?” the woman shook her head. “No, I own Miss Diys, and therefore, whatever she owns, I own as well. By extension of right.”

Oberen cut in. “And may I ask just what may we have the pleasure of conversing with tonight?” He shook and smiled, correcting himself. Quinen tensed, just for a second. “I’m sorry, ‘who’.”

The emerald-skinned woman didn’t seem to notice the blunder. “Zinnia,” she said, grinning and hugging the wooden door tight as if she were some shy ten year old. “Zinnia of the Dwarf Court. Baronness of the Aiobhan Fiefdom in the Vast East. Jade Princess, Daughter of the Spring King, fourth of her name, after Zinnia, my mother before me.”

“What a splendid, beautiful name,” Oberen said, bowing.

Something clicked within Quinen’s memory vaults. Right. Beauty. That’s what the Dwarf Court was all about. Quinen silently thanked the little flirting rascal.

“Indeed,” Quinen caught the momentum of the conversation, his voice sounding a bit stiff, yet commendable. “In fact, you might just be the most beautiful little cut of jade I’ve seen in the West, Miss Zinnia, Jade Princess.” He took the Baroness’ hand and brushed the top of his lip against it. Her hand felt like a piece of ice.

“Oh you flagrant flatterer,” she said suppressing a smile; her cheeks dimpled. “Do come in.”

Quinen pressed his lips together in a forced smile. He turned to Oberen, who raised both eyebrows at him to tell him to go in. Quin breathed through his nose, shoved the Diwaslinger into his back pocket, and walked in.

Inside, the room was in an immaculate state. Clothes once strewn on the floor now lay folded on top of a wooden desk, alongside flasks and vials and the bong that she had been using. Food and drinks disappeared, and the sink from the kitchenette had been scrubbed clean. Quinen’s gaze swept across the spotless apartment until it came across the window. The tall window that showed the view all the way up to the Spires in the Cathedra Ward. Rain tapped softly against it, glazing it in a precipitous glow.

Before the window sat Diys, the dreorg. She hugged her knees against her chest, and her prehensile tail made of shimmering crystal wrapped around her like a comforting friend.

Quinen set his jaw.

He turned to Zinnia, who lifted up a teacup. “Tea?” She held a tea set in one hand.

Quinen looked at her in askance for a moment, took the tea, and thanked her. She did the same for Oberen. Quinen gave Oberen the glance of doubt.

Oberen nodded, closing his eyes and snarling softly in another language. He opened his eyes and a mandala of creamy white Power blazed in front of them. Like optics, it gave him a magickally enhanced sight, allowing Oberen to see if the tea was spiked or anything.

He shook his head.

“Ah, Magickers!” Zinnia clapped her hands together in three rapid strikes. “How delightful! Weaving the very fundamental forces of Creation into Reality. I like you lot, you chaotic lot.”

Oberen bared his teeth and the corners of his lips curled down in a grimace, as if to say, “my bad.” Quinen shook his head.

“So what is it that brings you here to my humble abode?” Zinnia asked, turning around and sitting on thin air. Her weight rested upon air, suspended, as if she sat on an invisible box.

Quinen shrugged. “Well, I’m going to assume you don’t like lies.” She’s a Siddivata, Quinen thought. Thought reading’s like listening to music for them.

She grinned.

“I’ve come to bring Diys back to the Collegium for guidance counseling,” he said. Diys didn’t look up; she kept silent, quietly quivering. “Because alchemical substances like Angel Dust can ruin your very Soul.”

“Ah, is that what she used to get into Avalon?” Zinnia turned to Diys, and then back at Quinen with a grin. “How convenient everything is in the Tekhnika Era of Oeuvre. You can go into our realm with nary but a drug.”

“We get lazier as we go,” Quinen shrugged.

“That’s not the whole truth,” Zinnia snapped, sudden. “Spit it out.”

Quinen heard Oberen breathe in through his teeth. Quinen sighed. “I’ve come to the conclusion that Diys took the substance with her best friend, Lyn, who had died because of the substance.”

“Lyn?” Zinnia put a finger on her lip. “Oh, yes, Lyn! But, she didn’t die. Her Soul is alive and well in Avalon.”

“Where she is being tortured, I’m sure.” Oberen cut in. There was an edge to his voice.

“Not tortured,” Zinnia said, smiling indignantly. “More of… being taken care of. Being groomed for a special purpose.”

Quinen frowned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Okay,” he said, nodding. “That’s enough from me. Your turn. What are you doing here? I thought people like you hated the physical stability of the Mund?”

“We do,” she said and nodded. Her voice trailed off, fluttering, sultry. “But it’s come to our attention that you stole something from us. It’s been five thousand years, Quinen. You didn’t think we’d notice?”

Quinen suppressed a smirk. In Mund, it had only been five weeks. “No, I did, actually.”

“Then you must be stupider than I’ve thought,” she said. She paused, looked down, and then up again with a smile. “Why, I like that word — stupider. It’s very beautiful.”

Oberen tensed at this point, but still had the calm and awareness of a trained martial thaumaturgist.

“What did I steal from you?” Quinen asked.

Zinnia scoffed. “Oh don’t play dumb with me,” she said, turning to Quinen. Shadow covered her face, as if the umbra moved at her command, as if the shadows were tangential things. Zinnia’s cat-eyes sliced through the darkness. “We want our dear baby sister back, of course. Chrysanthemum.”

 

***

 

A knock. Chrysanthemum looked over her shoulder, wondering if it was Quinen. Deep within, she hoped it was.

More knocking. Chrysanthemum sighed. The night still lingered on. She didn’t feel like sleeping, nor was she drowsy. Her coffee had gone cold and stale, tired of waiting for her to stop her eternal wondering.

She turned from her cross-legged position on the windowsill and walked across the wooden floor, faerie steps dancing lightly. She placed her coffee cup on the kitchenette, and opened the door.

Behind the door stood a tall man. Lithe and muscular, with a rugged jaw covered in a fine stubble. His hair fell about him like a tousled mophead, albeit brown. He wore a hoodie and pants with too many pockets within them. His boots squelched as he fidgeted around. Probably a fault of the first few snows of the wintry season of Nymph.

“Chrysanthemum?” He spoke with a hint of a Zirrrinae accent. His bronze skin also made him look very much like a human born and raised in Zir.

Chrysanthemum huddled close to the door, only letting one side of her head and her hand out of the door. “Y-yes?”

“I would like to speak with you,” he began. His eyes were cat-like, Chrysanthemum noticed. “Do you have the time?”

Chrysanthemum pressed her lips together. Didn’t Quinen tell her not to let anybody in? But the man seemed friendly. She looked up at his eyes, and they shimmered with golden amiability. He grinned, and she couldn’t help but feel that she could let him in. That she would be safe with him. “Yes. Please, come in.”

The Zirrinae man smiled a genuine smile. The Magickal Wards vanished like an ebbing wave when Chrysanthemum said those words.

 

***

 

There was a tense silence. So taut was the tension that you could cut it by just looking at it with a sharp enough gaze. Oberen froze, his mouth hung slightly open. Even Diys looked up, eyes wide, at Quinen.

Quinen looked the least perturbed.

“What is it…” his voice wandered, his grip on the diwaslinger loosened, as he shoved it into his back pocket. “That you Siddivata value the most?” He asked.

Zinnia raised a delicate, arching eyebrow. “Enlighten me. I’ve never been one to indulge in self-diagnosis.”

Quinen spread his hands, palms forward. “Identity,” Quinen said. He put his hands behind him. “The Siddivata value their identity the most, which defines the chaos that they live in.” He sounded like he was quoting something off of a book.

“Yes…”

“And the method that you gain that identity? Soul-feeding,” he said. “Taking Souls and chewing on them and siphoning them ever so slowly, so that you can experience all the Soul has to offer — memories, time, hurts and pain. You suck the identity of people.”

She nodded. “It is our only sustenance, especially here in the world of the stable.”

“Chrys didn’t want that,” Quinen said. “She told me she wanted to make her own identity. She wanted to be Chrysanthemum.”

Zinnia squinted her eyes, and then smirked. “But you yourself have been drained.”

Oberen coughed.

Quinen didn’t move. “Like you said, she needed sustenance. Just a bit. Until she has her own memories — her own identity. Her own Soul.”

“None of the Siddivata have their own identities. That is now how we are. We only run on Narratives.” Zinnia shrugged. “It is not beautiful either.”

“It can be done,” Quinen said, frowning. “I know of a way.”

Zinnia pondered on this for a while, looking straight into Quinen’s eyes. Quinen tried hard not to pull away. Another silence. It stretched on forever. “I’m sure there is…” Zinnia whispered. “But that hardly matters now. Chrysanthemum is to be wed to the Prince of the Salamander Court, so that we may reconcile Salamander and Dwarf.”

“Chrys is of the Nymph Court,” Quinen said, furrowing his eyebrows.

She nodded. “She was born of the reconciliation of Nymph and Dwarf, yes.” She shrugged and stood. “Anyway, what a wonderful chat, Mister Quinen. You’ve given me a particularly beautiful piece of memory and ponderance to chew on.”

“Literally,” Quinen snorted.

“But now, I must go. My fiagai must have found her by now.”

A pin-drop silence. Something shattered within Quinen’s mind. He probed his mind palace for what the word meant. Fiagai…?

Memory boomed in his mindspace like a thunderclap. Quinen whirled around, his mageweave coat billowing before him, synthetic lights humming.  He didn’t turn to Oberen as he shout out the door. “Oberen, apprehend and bring Diys back to the Dean. I have to save Chrys.”

“But what about-”

“Now!”

Oberen turned and found Zinnia gone. The window had been opened. He scooped Diys up into his arms — she was light, being a dreorg and all. When he turned, the door had swung open, and Quinen was nowhere to be seen.

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum sat on the bed, cross-legged. She had one of Quinen’s oversized shirts on again. She looked up at the shadow of a man, who stood with his back straight. He had closed the door behind him, and walked up to the window. “Princess Chrysanthemum,” he began.

“Princess?” Chrys tilted her head to the side.

“I am Fiagai Basil,” the Fiagai said. “Loyal to Zinnia, Jade Princess, Fourth of her Name, of the Dwarf Court.”

Chrysanthemum bit her lip. “I… I don’t understand.”

“You are not meant to,” it said. “Not yet, at least. Just come with me, and your family will refresh your memory.”

“Family?”

Basil nodded. “That’s right. I’m here to take you home.”

“I have a family?” Chrysanthemum asked, tilting her head to the side.

“And they do dearly miss you,” it said, reaching up to Chrys and stroking her arm. Chrys fought the urge to move away. It was a calming touch. “What are you doing here, my Princess? What are you doing here in this wretched steel and stable world?”

“I…” she looked out the window wistfully.

 

***

 

Quinen ran as fast as his human legs and his non-fit physique could take him. He knew the CRT line was the quickest way to his neighborhood in the Felghoun Ward, even this late in the night.

He got on the CRT, and it sped in between the tall skyscrapers of industry. Not much people in the train at this time of morning, but the ones that were there watched the heaving, fidgeting Warlock.

When the doors dinged open, Quinen flew out of it. He vaulted over the railing and landed on the concrete with a roll. An autochariot came to an abrupt stop in front of him; horns resounded, accompanied with curses in more languages than just Shennin. Quinen was unapologetic, dashing off uphill to his apartment.

When he managed to open the door, there was a great billowing, like a powerful gale heralding the storm.

 

***

 

Basil turned, looking at Chrysanthemum. “Let me show you home,” it began. The fiagai waved its hand at the window. The glass fixture shuddered violently, and a large rushing-in of wind forced Chrysanthemum to close her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw a land of beautiful madness beyond. Trees and rocks and grass and animals and people and humanoids and spirits of all colors, tastes and sounds burst out from the portal within the window. A world of madness made form, of form turned into madness. A chaos so indescribable that words falter it’s discordant beauty. Clashes of color and themes and concepts. A realm of fey and dreams. “Avalon,” said Basil.

Chrysanthemum looked up at it, her eyes glimmering with reflection. “Avalon,” she echoed, entranced. She stood, and took a step toward the portal. Then another. Every step she took, the tattoos slowly receded, like scrawling vines. Her mouth hung open as she stepped, like a faerie in an intricate hypnotic dance.

That was when the door burst open and Quinen raised his diwaslinger. Not another beat before a shot crackled through the air.

Basil turned, and a slug of pure creational force slammed into the Fiagai’s chest; the slug exploded into a sphere, which tore at the Fiagai’s very being, fraying the strands that kept it together. Its flesh burnt off and became nothing.

The portal shut abruptly, the lights and the sounds and the colors and the smells and the emotions that echoed from the place vanished. Avalon was replaced by the more ambient and familiar noise of honking autochariots and shouting citizens.

Basil growled in bright agony. The hunter turned to the Warlock, who scowled at the intruder as he lowered his slinger. The Fiagai looked down at the point of impact, and saw a smoldering crater where his chest should’ve been. The flesh unburnt around it crept back like growing vines to refill and regenerate the annihilated tissue.

“Magicker,” Basil spat.

Quinen fired another shot. Power and force pooled around the barrel for a bit, as the Transmogrifier within the diwaslinger activated and churned. Then the pooling power burst out into strokes of white and black, as the slug of Diwa shot through the air. White vapor wafted from the barrel as Quinen’s arms folded under the recoil, and he had to take a step back.

Basil was quick this time.

A flash, and the Diwa slug melted into the steel of the curved, single-edged slashing sword of the Fiagai.

“Don’t interfere,” Basil said, stepping forward. The Fiagai blurred, and in another step he was in front of Quinen, grabbed him by the neck, and hurled him out of the window.

Quinen flew, twisted in the air… and then pain.

Blunt force slammed onto his back. His mageweave armor did its best to absorb and spread out the damage. He turned to his side and winced as he lay on the rain-slicked curb. When the Fiagai came blurring out the window, eagle wings spread out from its hip, the Warlock forced himself to stand.

The Avalon Warrior landed on the ground next to Quinen, and his sword clanged against curb. The Fiagai raised it again and swung at Quin.

The Warlock snarled a word and pointed with the timepiece, using it to channel the power of the Field of Timespace like a torrent of power. The mechanisms within the timepiece activated, and it channeled the rote within it, despite Quinen having no ability in the Field of Timespace whatsoever.

The wicked sharp sword clanged onto the concrete of the curb. Quinen rematerialized a few yards away, twirling in midair. Another bullet burst from the barrel of his Diwaslinger, an explosion of black and white strokes like an invisible god had stroked with a brush. Quinen barreled backwards from the recoil, but managed to hit the ground on his knees.

The bullet exploded into a sphere in Basil’s chest, annihilating yet another part of his flesh from the existence. The Warrior screamed in agony.

Quinen breathed and fired again. Basil blurred to the side, evading it easily, and then forward. Its eagle wings vanished in a puff of iridescent clouds, and the Fiagai’s sword sang a song of blood.

The Fiagai’s blade sliced into the meat of Quinen’s right bicep. The Warlock cried out, wincing. With a force of will, he pulled the trigger of the Diwaslinger as the Fiagai was close to him — the barrel pushing against the hunter’s abdomen.

A sphere of annihilation exploded within the Fiagai; air was eradicated from that area. A clap of sound exploded from the sphere of nothingness as air then rushed in to fill the vacuum.

The Fiagai flew backwards, manifested its wings once again, and landed on its feet. The Warrior grit its teeth, looking down at the hole of nothingness its stomach had become. There was no blood — only a wispy, iridescent smoke trailing from the wound.

Quinen twirled in midair and slammed against the concrete of the curb. Blood spread. He grit his teeth and stood. From his periphery, he could see people raising their palmnodes and taking holographs. At this rate, the Naphli would be coming. He should do this quick.

Quinen raised his hand and found that the Diwaslinger was gone from his hands. He cursed as the Fiagai stepped on it, cracking it. White vapor steamed from underneath his greaves. The Diwaslinger was broken. And that cost me a thousand eagles too…

The Warrior’s cat-like eyes focused on him, with the deadly intent to kill. Its lips peeled back into a vicious grin, ready to maim and kill its prey. The Fiagai knew that it had Quinen cornered.

Quinen wasn’t going to survive this if he fought like this. He chewed on this fact, as the Warrior’s body began to mend together its stomach once again.

Quinen cursed. If annihilating the Fiagai from existence won’t work, what will? The Warlock looked about him to see what he could manage, what he could use. His mind worked double time, scrolling through lists of rotes and theorems to find a Working that would actually work. Dammit, I’m bad at Rotes.

The Fiagai stepped and blurred. His sword shot out, like a scorpion tail lashing. The mageweave armor tried to block the sharp edge of the blade, but fell short, only managing to curb the kinetic onslaught of the strike.

In a lithe movement, Quinen twisted to his right, evading the strike, and he snarled another word with his timepiece. His vision tunneled, a flash, and then he was a few feet away again, timespace bowing before his Will. Or more precisely, the power of his timepiece. But Quinen cursed as he heard the ticking of the timepiece getting slower.

Dissonance kicked in. His mind wracked, a throbbing that began from the base of his head near his neck, and eventually grew all about him. All around the Warlock, the buildings loomed impossibly higher, as if stretched, and the raindrops fell slower. The effects of Timespace Dissonance. He’d forgotten that this particular Charm didn’t contain a Dissonance Buffer.

Quinen shook off the Dissonance and turned. The Fiagai blurred toward him, and in a few more flurrying steps Quinen’s body would be the sword’s new scabbard.

The rain had matted both of their hairs. The drops of condensation splashed off of the blurring hunter.

With a defiant shout, Quinen pulled out a cylindrical, foot-long shaft of steel.

His defiance manifested.

The shaft of steel exploded into color: two burning blades of fulminating incandescence burst out on either side, forming into a double-bladed weapon. With his left hand, Quinen twirled it, and winced as he caught it with his right hand.

The Fiagai’s sword fell upon the Warlock. Quinen grit his teeth, and parried.

The Diwa eating blade clashed brightly with the blazing edge of Quinen’s dynamostaff. A sound reminiscent of the noise made when a wind kicks up a fire resounded. Heat billowed up all about Quinen, but he didn’t feel it. The sound of sizzling water; the smell of burnt flesh.

The Warlock pushed the Warrior back, and he jabbed twice with his blade.

The Fiagai Basil blurred, parrying both, stepped back and returned the strike. Quinen evaded with a lithe weaving back step, the sword grazing the fabric of his mageweave. Moving like a wave, he connected the dodge to an underhand strike with the second blade.

The blade nicked the Fiagai, and the solid flame sliced a blazing wound on its arm. Basil didn’t holler in pain. Instead, it pushed forward, blade flickering, an implacable predator. Quinen wove out of the way, but the Fiagai was a trained fighter. The sword was too fast. Blood soaked the blade of the Warrior as it sank into the Warlock’s flesh, piercing through the mageweave coat.

Quinen managed to kick out, but Basil stepped away and swiped, managing to slice deep into Quinen’s ankle. Quin grimaced, but he grit his teeth. Pain will not bow him.

Not now. Not yet.

In the small second that Basil rebalanced from his attack, Quinen called upon the sympathies within his tattoos. His Inks facilitated the channel. His Soul called to the Field of Energies, and he lashed out with force, allowing his Will and Emotion — his Soul — to supercharge his attack. The tattoos in his hands danced in flame. He had Burned a part of his Personal Diwa.

A wave of pure kinetic force blasted out from his hand, catching the rebalancing hunter off-guard. The Fiagai grunted as the invisible hammer of force sent him flying, and he crashed onto the building on the other side of the street.

The rain poured. Quinen forced himself up, keeping his dynamostaff ready. The droplets of rain sizzled and evaporated when they met the unrelenting heat of Quinen’s dynamostaff. Everything slowed. He felt his insides burning, sizzling.

Thw Warlock winced, turned, and saw the Fiagai move forward. Basil grimaced in pain as the healing factor of its supernatural nature strained to heal so much damage — especially when the majority of it were damages to the Fiagai’s very existence.

Quinen watched as Basil sprouted wings again, shaking its head at Quinen. The Fiagai’s cat eyes cut through the mist of the rain. It crouched, and then its wings flapped, billowing wind and water about him. Basil streaked toward the open window of Quinen’s house.

Quinen scowled. Oh no, you don’t. His bicep bled as he forced his hand up, aiming at the flying Fiagai with the timepiece. He snarled a word, and the timepiece called down the Field of Timespace, to weave reality about him, to transcend the illusions of correspondence.

This next spell could unravel him. The Dissonance he had built up cackled with voracious power, like electricity cackling underneath a flimsy glass ceiling. But Quinen took the chances. He had to.

The Warlock shouted the word — a basso, gnarled word. A word incomprehensible. A word that belonged to a time long forgotten by even the most ancient of Magickers. A word a Magicker could only really use once in his career.

He disappeared. The buildings loomed over him like shadows, the rain droplets halted, like a video paused. He felt his fingers folding into unnatural angles. Quinen’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to say something.

And then, he rematerialized in front of Basil, slamming into the Fiagai. Quinen’s dynamostaff blazed as it went straight through the hunter’s abdomen. Quinen’s momentum canceled Basil’s, and they plummeted onto the curb, with Basil hitting the ground first, his wings sizzling into nothingness.

Quinen grit his teeth. There was only one way. The Warlock brought out his lighter and snarled the incantation of Banishment. Banishing a Fiagai would be harder than banishing a lowly jifarin, but he had to try. He gripped Basil’s skull with his left hand, leaving the fulminating dynamosaff in the Fiagai’s abdomen.

The Fiagai opened its mouth and emotions rushed through its eyes. Fear, anger, madness.

He reached out with the last remaining vestiges of his Will and Soul, opening the Sympathy he had made to Avalon to perform the banishment. He uttered the Mantra.

“Back!” Quinen shouted, as the echoes and madness and dreams of the Divata filled his soul. “Back to Avalon with you!” An incomprehensible, basso voice echoed after him in a language he did not speak.

The Fiagai screamed silence as he exploded into a vast cloud of golden butterflies. They swirled about the rain, and the rain slipped off of them as if they were rainproof material. Quinen didn’t look up as the golden butterflies rushed past him like a torrent of running water, billowing his coat, his hair, blinding him.

And then, one by one, they vanished.

 

***

 

Chrysanthemum hugged herself and rocked back and forth in the corner. The door opened and Quinen, battered and bleeding, walked up to her. She didn’t look up; tears glistened down the sides of her face, wetting her cheeks.

Quinen fell to his knees and pulled her into a hug. “It’s alright,” he said. He closed his eyes, and surrendered into blackness. His soul frayed.

The rain fell relentless.

 

Dream 8

Adon’s jakin arse. Quinen pushed himself off of the wooden floor. He looked around, blinking the slumber and fatigue from his eyes. He fumbled around for a cig. Found none. He cursed.

The nightstar hung lowly in the grim night sky. He reached into his pocket for his palmnode and checked the time. 3 Ascending.

He turned around and found Chrysanthemum sitting down, cross-legged, on the window sill. She looked out into the night sky, the Astral Sea of Stars hanging low. The cold night air wafted through neon pink, puffing it in the breeze.

She wore a dark sweater, and she held a cup of coffee in between her hands. She sat there — staring. Her eyes watched every star as they twinkled. An awfully anthropic sight, Quinen pointed out.

He stepped forward, and Chrysanthemum turned back behind him. There were no lights on, other than the illumination of both the city and the stars — fighting to give the room radiance and luminescence. Chrysanthemum’s eyes glittered mauve as she looked over her shoulder. Her eyes were half-closed; she looked down, unwilling to meet Quinen’s eyes.

Quinen didn’t move. He stayed, silent, quiet. He balled his hands into fists. Then, he took another step forward. She spoke then, behind her shoulder. “Why am I like this, Quinen?” She asked.

“Why do I do that?”

“What am I?”

Quinen sighed. He voice cracked when he answered, “I don’t know about you but all that just sounded incredibly cliche.” He grinned. Chrys looked down at the windowsill, and then she sipped on her coffee. The detective walked up to her, leaning on the window. “Are you alright?”

She looked down again. Her eyelashes were long, Quinen observed. Her face, small and elfish. She looked so… vulnerable. So normal. So human. So mortal.

Quinen knew she was none of these things.

“Why do you never answer my questions, Quinen?” she asked, looking up at the city lights. Quinen sighed. He didn’t answer for a moment, looking out at the same lights that Chrysanthemum beheld. Halogen light rose from them like a wave of illumination, trying to blot out the stars. He saw the little aircrafts that moved through the skies between the higher levels of the Spires and the Collegium. He saw the anzu soaring through and about the skyline, nesting on the higher levels of the Spires. Or on the floating steelnests that have been built for them. He watched the taller buildings pioneer the blasphemous march to pierce heaven.

“If I do,” Quinen said. “You’ll just get more questions than be satisfied with my answers.”

She looked down again, at the bustling cars below them in the building. Nothing. She said nothing. Quinen’s eyebrows fell. He inhaled, touched Chrysanthemum. She burned hot, and she pulled away. She didn’t show any pain. She pulled her hand away and laid it down.

Quinen bit his lip, and he stepped back. “I have to finish this case.”

She nodded. Her glowing pink hair had turned dark and flat.

Quinen breathed, turned, and walked out of the room. He patted his trench coat for his necessities. He sighed and turned around before he closed the door. “Come back,” Chyrsanthemum said, with a somber smile. “After you do it.”

Quinen managed a half-hearted smile in response. He left the building, walked out of the door, and headed up a few blocks to the convenience store in the corner of the street. It shone a bright blue, with pink typography gleaming within it, spelling out: “Quick-Shop.” He walked in and bought a couple of Fine Silk packs.

Quinen stepped out, reached for the lighter and lit a stick. He stuck the cig in his mouth and dragged. He stuck his hands into the coat and walked.

The statement of “come back” made Quinen shudder. He didn’t have to go back and go through the long arduous process of keeping Chrysanthemum.

But he wanted to. And that was good enough for him.

“Where’d you go?” Oberen asked, spreading his arms. He had a strange, anachronistic rapier. A weapon that belonged to the late Second Ages. On his right hand he had a bangle made of twelve different stones. Of course, he held a three-foot long wand focus in his left hand — the stereotypical wand focus for those studying in the Collegium. Especially those specializing in the Kifetic Arts.

“I…” Quinen sighed. At least he didn’t feel heavy anymore. “I had to do something important. Don’t ask, Oberen.”

He shrugged. “Alright” he said. He turned and showed his golden badge to the Celestial Lions. The starmade beasts bowed down and let the Warlock pass without harming him. “So care to tell me why you called me out here three in the jakin’ Ascending?”

“The Dean never sleeps, right?” Quinen asked as they walked out of the torch-lit room and into the almost barren center of the Collegium. There were still students out here, practicing small, quiet Magicks, as well as doing more mundane things. Like playing the guitar, or finishing a project on their lapnodes, or kissing.

“Yeah,” Oberen said, following Quinen to the Tasspaths once again. “He doesn’t need to.”

“That’s perfect,” said Quinen as they took the Tasspath to the Dean’s room. Quinen led Oberen, with the only times Quinen stepped back being when he needed Oberen’s clearance.

Soon enough, they appeared in front of the Dean’s wooden double doors. Quinen gestured for Oberen to knock, and he did. “Care to tell me why we’re going to the Dean so early in the morning?”

The door swung open, revealing the elderly Dean tapping away at his palmnode with one hand and performing intricate gestures that shaped a strange, gray material resembling carbon with another. He moved his fingers, and the gelatinous mass became a stellar polyhedron.

His eyes flittered between the feed of the palmnode and the strange gelatinous blob itself. Now it was a strange moving beast with seventeen wings. “What brings you here so late in the night?” He raised an eyebrow and spoke without looking up from his work. “And stop smoking. Smoking is not allowed in the Collegium.”

Quinen breathed out a huge draft of smoke. He dropped the cig onto the ground, and stepped on it. Then, he pulled out another cig from his pack and lit it. He dragged on it as he stepped forward. “I know who killed Lyn, Hakumatheia,” he said, flexing his muscles and stretching. “I know what killed her, and what the motives were.”

Hakumatheia couldn’t help but look up at him. Both his eyebrows were raised now, but his eyes were half-closed and heavy-lidded “Is that so? Tell me. If you’re wrong, then get out. You’re interrupting my meditation. If you’re right, then maybe you wouldn’t be so bad of a detective.” Quinen’s mouth hung open.

What did he mean by, “if he was wrong or right?” It’s not like he knows what actually happened.

Quinen bit back a small anger building up within him. Of course he knew. He was the Dean Hakumatheia, Elder Master of the Fundamental Fields. Of course he’d know. He just decided not to tell him.

Of course, Quinen thought.

But he should get on with it. His Yantras were on the line. “Right. Diys, one of your little Magickers. Lyn’s a good friend of Diys, yes? Yes. They did drugs and substances together. They eventually get bored of normal chemical substances, so they resort to something more exciting — alchemical substances. Magickal substances.

“Angel Dust,” Quinen said, turning to the Dean. “Ever heard of it? Strange, powdered thing that you can snort or burn and inhale? The smoke it produces has a certain, rainbow color. It leads you on a most peculiar trip — to a land of pure Chaos. I am right?”

The Dean nodded, giving Quinen the eyebrow.

“It wasn’t Angel Dust that killed Lyn, Hakumatheia,” he said. “Not Angel Dust, but the beings that live within that place of Beautiful Madness. The land of Avalon. The Siddivata.”

Oberen looked up at Quinen, eyes wide yet confused. The Dean gestured for Quinen to continue.

“Diys didn’t want to kill Lyn,” Quinen continued. “She was just lucky to be able to leave the damn place. Lyn wasn’t. So she got her physical body — which was still in the Mund and left it in the park, to make it look like Lyn had died of other causes. Good thing I was around.

“So she didn’t have a motive. She didn’t want to kill Lyn — she was her best friend after all. But she did have something wrong on her part. You do know this, don’t you Hakumatheia?”

Hakumatheia nodded. Oberen felt compelled to say something, “What, that Angel Dust is not allowed to be manufactured?”

Quinen nodded. “To have gotten the specific alchemical recipe to be able to cook up Angel Dust is, well, illegal, and found only in the deepest parts of the Collegium’s datagroves. So how did she get it?”

Hakumatheia, wordlessly, signaled Quinen to tell him the answer.

“I don’t know,” Quinen said. “That’s really the only part I’m stumped on.” The detective, hot on his blazing line of logic, looked up at the Dean. “Care to enlighten us how the drug actually works?”

He looked directly into the eyes of Quinen. There was a soothing calm within, but a broiling defiance underneath it, like raging water underneath a thin sleet of ice. As if he didn’t want to tell him, but he had to. His soul-piercing gaze almost forced Quinen to shiver and fall to his knees, and he realized that he needed no magick to actually be able to do that. His eyes shifted a bit to Oberen, leaving Quinen with some space to breathe.

“It is a conjoined working,” he said, turning to Quinen once again. “One that includes the study of Matter, Mind… and a Soul Sympathetic to the Field of Avalon.”

Quinen crossed his arms and scowled. “Suicide,” Quinen said. “Sympathy to Fields outside of the Fundamentals will destroy you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed, Warlock. I’m sure you would have known all about it.” The Warlock nodded.

“A Sympathy to Avalon?” Oberen cut in. “That’s… That’s possible? A magickal sympathy to a Field that is not Fundamental?”

The Dean nodded. “You know the fabled Astrathruges, yes?” Oberen nodded.

“Powerful Magickers that change all of reality with a thought.”

“And what do the stories say about their Sympathy?” Quinen continued, as if helping out the Dean.

Oberen shrugged. “That they’re Sympathetic to the Astral Sea — b-but we all know the Astral Sea has been debunked! Thoroughly explained by the Perfected Collegiate Theory.”

Quinen couldn’t help but smile, although he repressed it. The Dean nodded. “You, a Magicker, should’ve known by now that such explanations are not thoroughly true. In fact, all explanations are but just one side of a larger, bigger truth. That is Magick, my boy.”

Oberen furrowed his eyebrows and snorted. “Oh, you’re going all sentimental. I get it. Going all stereotypical ol’ wizard from the folk tales like Herlifaliore the Thrice-Wise.” He scoffed. “Okay. Fine. Why did you bring up the topic of Astrathurges?”

“They’re real,” Quinen said.

“Bullshit,” Oberen said, smugly. “Show me a Rote that channels the Astral Realm. Maybe then we’ll talk.”

The Dean looked up at Quinen, worried. Quinen shook his head. He knew that one couldn’t just show the Astral Sea. You couldn’t codify workings that rippled from the Astral Sea into Rotes because the Astral Sea is the Greater Reality. No, there was another way to explain this, quicker, and so that Quinen could get what he needed already. “Technothurges,” Quinen said with a dismissive wave of a hand.

“Yeah?”

“What do they call power from? What is their soul Sympathetic to? What is their Magick?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t study the esoteries of technology,” he said. Quinen smiled. Just a small, ample smile.

“Technoturges call their power from none other than the Datascape, using it similarly to the Fundamental Fields. Is it a Fundamental Field? No. Go ask a technowitch. I won’t wait,” he turned to the Dean. “Now if I’m facing a Magicker with a soul Sympathetic to Avalon then, I’m gonna need a few more of my Yantras. You know how I sucked at the other Forms, Hakky.”

“Ah yes,” the Dean said. “And don’t call me Hakky.”

Quinen rolled his eyes. The Dean backed up a bit and dug for something underneath his desk. “Mantras need memorization, Mudras take too much physical power, I suck at drawing so no Runir for me. Yantras are just right. Tools meant to be used to weave Magick into Reality.”

The Dean pulled out a glass card and handed it over to Quinen. “This is the identification node for it in the Repository. You know what to do, yes?”

Quinen accepted it into his hand and read it over. Scrawling lines of text fit together in a barely readable font in the pane of glass. He read something regarding the “Ring of Temporal Accuracies,” a “Mageweave coat,” a “dynamostaff,” and finally, his “diwaslinger,” which he had mostly inherited from his older Teacher.

All these breath-taking magickal constructs, but no sign of his Astral Yantra — his fabled staff.

He frowned, turning to the dean. “You know,” he said. “I find it funny that you allow me to recover my murder weapon instead of my Astral Yantra.”

The Dean looked up at Quinen, with a look that intended to say, “I don’t have to answer that question.”

With a slight roll of the eyes, he stepped back and gave a forced curt nod before heading off to the Repository.

***

“Oberen,” the man behind the counter smiled up at him. The bespectacled man gave Quinen a shallow nod before bending over the Repository counter and kissing Oberen on the cheek. Oberen smiled and ruffled his hair, tousling his already very messy, coal black hair even more. He leaned back and looked up at Quinen, who was impatiently tapping the glass card for his loadout.

“Ah,” he began. “Right. The Dean had told me about you coming to pick up your arsenal. You must be doing something huge to be able to make the Dean look over your Warlock reputation and give you back your entire loadout.

Quinen smiled at the false truth.

“I’ll be right back,” the coal-black haired boy said. He turned, the unbuttoned tails of his waist coat fluttering behind him, and strode into the starswirl portal. Quinen waited with the patience of a spider approaching a trapped insect. Oberen’s hand shot out to make him stop tapping his finger on the marble counter of the Repository.

The Repository wasn’t a huge place. It was simply a small store next to the booknodes one would get from the library. One would go into a nondescript, rectangular shop with only two things waiting for them — the marble counter and the Repositor. The Repositor changed every week, and for this week it seemed it was Oberen’s other-half, a human boy named Sygmun.

Behind it all was the large, circular starlit portal that led to the repository, a land of space and vectors and angles that break the common perception of time and space that only special Magickers — the aforementioned Repositors — could use them.

Sygmun came out and Oberen’s hand flashed back to his side. Sygmun was holding up the glass card and reading out the contents of the bag when Quinen grabbed the bag out of his hands and placed it on the ground.

“You’re welcome.” Sygmun frowned at the Warlock.

The Warlock retrieved the contents of his bag. He brought out his Timespace Yantra first — a small brass watch that fit within your finger — and slid it into the middle finger of his right hand. He slung out his Mageweave trench coat and threw it up into the air. He left his arms up there in the air, like a magician waiting for the prestige of his trick, and the Mageweave coat flew onto him, inserting his arms into its armholes until it was a snug fit. It looked like it was made of synthetic leather, and there were several lines that ran down the length of the coat. When it snuggled into his form, the lights activated, a bright white that looked like neon lights woven into the fabric.

He took out his dynamo-staff next, a small little wood staff no longer the size of his forearm, and shoved it into his front pocket. Then he pulled out his diwaslinger. Oberen frowned at him when he pulled out what looked very much like a rectangular semi-automatic pistol slugslinger. The only thing that separated it from the rest was the cartridge, which was transparent, and one could see the iridiscent mixtures of light that blended together so perfectly that one could only see a flowing cascade of white. Diwa, Creational Force harnessed as a Destructive Force.

Quinen spun with a playful flourish, and then he tapped the diwaslinger on the timepiece ring. The timepiece ring sung with a bright light, a sigil of a language long gone, and the diwaslinger was gone. A basic enough Manipulate Matter and Timespace Working — he Manipulated the slugslinger into a small folded space within the timepiece. Something he learned immediately when he began learning the basics of Timespace.

Quinen took the bag of folded space and put it on the counter. Sygmun took it. “What are you doing with the Warlock again?” Sygmun asked Oberen.

Oberen shrugged. “He’s a friend of mine, remember? And he said he’d helped with the whole Lyn shenanigan.”

“Ah,” he said as he picked up the bag of folded space and threw it into the portal. “Yes, I know that, but why are you sticking with him?”

Oberen leaned against the marble counter. He sighed, turning a gaze to Quinen. “I have to look over him, just in case he doesn’t go do anything stupid like before. Besides, he’s a friend. He helped me out before.”

“Ah, yes,” Sygmun nodded. “But, what you’re doing is very dangerous.”

“I know,” Oberen said. “I know. Coffee first thing tomorrow?”

“You pay,” Sygmun said, winking at him as another customer walked into the repository.

 

Dream 7

Chrysanthemum looked at the strange man. Standing with a crooked back, the stranger looked more like a vulture than anything. His hair swept up into a spiky mohawk, and tattoos scrawled every inch of his exposed skin, as if he were afraid of being naked.

The strangest thing, though, of course, were his ears. They were but stumps on the sides of his head, covered by a white gauze strap. Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side, reminiscent of an owl, as they walked into the man’s house.

Chrysanthemum’s boots thudded against the wooden floor. She took a few steps and her foot hitched on a piece of brass lying on the ground. She picked it up, and it gleamed with a golden heat, as if a flame had burnt it off of something. She placed it back and looked around her even more. The only mundane thing was the random clothesline strung across two wooden poles, and dry articles of clothing hanging from it. There were floating balls of brass, moving about by some impeccable force that kept it levitating. One bumped into Chrys, and she let out a small squeak. “Oh, much apologies,” she said.

The ball looked up at her, nodded once, and then turned and floated over to where the no-eared man and the two Collegium people spoke.

She kept looking around. She found a couch with one of its springs jutting out of the foam, a turned off television, and a peculiar flower that bloomed petals without any connection to the stem. They floated like little flower-shaped planets orbiting a star. She furrowed her delicate eyebrows at this. She gazed longingly, and then, without warning, a flash of memory.

She gasped and stepped back. Three more flashes of memories long-gone. Delusory, illusory phantasms of a life she never lived.

An entire garden of these kinds of flowers. Silhouettes of tall figures with antlers on their heads. A large archaic sword being brought down a poor old creature that looked like those flowers.

“Are you okay?” Oberen stood above her, shaking her, gripping her hand.

Chrys nodded tentatively. Oberen helped her up, and Chrysanthemum let herself be whisked away by this dark-haired, ocean-eyed boy. “Thank you muchly,” Chrys said, smiling up at him.

Oberen gazed into Chrysanthemum’s eyes for a split second. A second that seemed forever. The unnerving sight of another soul looking into her own froze Chrysanthemum. There was a fleeting, wistful memory. A whispering reminiscence that echoed down the floods of her soul, echoing feelings of alienation and vehemence. She stared into Oberen’s soul, so well-structured.

So delicious, she thought.

The second ended. Oberen blinked. His worried expression melted into a smile. “Quinen’s looking for you.”

Chrysanthemum blinked. “Right, right. Yes.” She nodded, turned and walked across the wooden floor of the slum house.

Quinen was looking down at the no-eared man as he worked. He turned and saw Oberen assisting Chrysanthemum, sharply inhaling when he saw Oberen gripping Chrysanthemum’s hand. Oberen, seeing Quinen’s disapproval, broke away and walked up to him, still smiling.

“So what information have you gotten so far?” He asked, a smooth transition. An abyssal black crept across the white of Chrys’ eyes as she looked at Oberen. Quinen exhaled, and Chrysanthemum gasped. The black receded, and vanished.

Quinen blinked and turned to Oberen. “Akyrie doesn’t make Angel Dust.”

Akyrie nodded, turning to Quinen. “That’s right. I don’t make those — those are made by Alchemy. I only do Chemistry, see? Only mundane drugs, nothin’ magickal. But I have experienced it before.”

Quinen gesticulated for Akyrie to continue.

“Okay you see things, man. You see things.” A flash. A color pulsed through the vine-like markings that criss-crossed the aflr’s skin like railway lines of a city. A pink color of reminiscence and memory. Then, it faded, the color turning into the black that made it blend so well with the rest of his tattoos. “You go to sleep, and you go through this place of pure chaos, man. Like, you don’t remember what happens, just that it felt fuckin’ good, right?”

Chrysanthemum listened, her eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know what place I went to, and I’ve only done it once.” Akyrie continued. Quinen raised an eyebrow. “That’s because I also remember the feelin’ o’ bein’ chased, you know? It’s like in those dreams where you’re bein’ chased by some black shadow, but this one felt real.” A flash of color again through the markings that weren’t his tattoos; A dark blue: fear. “It felt real. I still feel it ‘til now,” he gripped his arms, hugged his chest. Some very anthropic gestures. The cold dark blue color hummed darkly within his markings. “I feel like it’s gon’ jump out anytime and get me, you know?”

“You get this from just one instance of taking the drug?” Oberen asked.

Akyrie nodded. “That place isn’t something you go back to. Half the people I know that took Angel Dust never came back.”

“What happened to them?” Quinen asked.

“Well,” he began. He scratched his mohawk. His glowing markings slowly faded back into a neutral black, but not before one final, intense flash of dark blue ran through them. He shivered.

All this time, Chrysanthemum realized, Akyrie had been conveying his emotions through his markings, but he still performed very anthropic gestures like scratching the back of his head and shivering in fear.

The alfr she remembered never showed emotion — their markings did that for them. She also remembered that alfr had pointy ears.

“Well?” Quinen urged the alfr to continue.

“Well their body parts would turn into different things, like animal parts or plant parts, just sprouting out every part of ‘em.”

Oberen’s eyes widened. He turned to Quinen, who had squinted and just nodded. “Do you know any alchemical drug dealer?”

The alfr shrugged. “I’m sure lots of them were from the Collegium.” Chrysanthemum found herself watching Quinen as he listened. His eyebrows were furrowed — there was a slight part in his auburn brows that weren’t quite right. As if something had cut him. His eyes were strange too. Dark brown, as black as angels. She bit her lip. She furrowed her eyebrows. She remembered her dad telling her that — that only angels had the blackest of eyes.

Wait. Did she have a dad?

“Thank you very much,” Quinen said, bowing a bit. “You’re a great help, Akyrie.”

He grinned. His teeth were surprisingly well-cleaned. “Don’t mention it. If ya need anything, especially concerning stuff you need to get fuckin’ blasted out of your mind, I’m right here.”

Quinen managed a soft smirk. “Yes,” he said, nodding.

They went out of the slum city and picked up another brown cab. Quinen told the cab driver their destination, as if he didn’t want Chrysanthemum to hear their destination. “Where are we going now?” Chrysanthemum asked. Quinen’s eyes widened a bit, and he nodded. He turned to her as the brown cab moved forward. He sat between Oberen and Chrysanthemum.

“Listen, Chrys,” he whispered. “I think you should go back home right now. I don’t think you should be coming with us anymore. It wouldn’t be safe.”

Chrysanthemum furrowed her eyebrows. “What do you mean?” She asked. “Are you going to murder?”

Quinen breathed, and he shook his head. “No. No don’t think that. I won’t. It’s just… there might be some stuff that wouldn’t be too good to see, you know? I don’t think you should come along. I just want you safe.”

Chrysanthemum stared into Quinen’s eyes, as he gazed into hers. There was nothing for a bit, before a vicious lust and desire consumed her. Her heart and spirit hungered for his lifeblood, for his essence, for his very core. Her mouth hung open as she slowly leaned forward into Quinen.

Quinen blinked thrice, and then Chrysanthemum came to. She had to shut her eyes tight as she realized what was happening. She pressed her lips together. She could feel Quinen’s cold hands cupping her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

Quinen didn’t answer. When Chrysanthemum opened her eyes, she saw Quinen looking down, still holding her face, but he wasn’t meeting her eyes. His own eyes were closed, and his teeth were gritted. He puffed through his nose and looked up again at Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum’s eyes defocused from Quinen for the quickest second, looking over at Oberen, who gazed out of the window with his chin on his fist. Quinen shook her, and she looked back at the Magicker.

Quinen gripped tighter.

The Warlock snarled a word, incomprehensible and basso. Power surged through Quinen, tempered by knowledge and directed by his Will. Then, Quinen stared intently into Chrysanthemum’s eyes, gritting his teeth. Chrys looked into Quinen’s eyes and was immediately struck by a vision of the void. She saw a pure blackness in Quinen’s eyes. She saw herself gazing at the void, and the void gazed back at her.

She gasped. It looked like she was going to scream.

Then, Quinen reached up, and opened the cab door. He turned to Oberen and said something Chrysanthemum couldn’t make out — their voices muted. As if she were listening to them through a feathered pillow.

Oberen just nodded. Quinen helped Chrysanthemum up and out of the brown cab, and it drove away from the curb of their apartment. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum’s arm, bare skin gripping bare skin, and a white heat burned on her flesh.

Quinen popped open the lock of their flat with a handwave and a magickal Mantra. The door closed, and Quinen locked it behind them. Then, the Warlock slammed Chrys against the wooden door. Chrysanthemum felt no pain.

Gritting his teeth, he said, “I’ve always hated this part.”

Chrysanthemum’s eyes were wide, with her sclera turned into the most abyssal of blacks, void of stars. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum’s arms. “Why’d it have to be now?” With another, snarling incomprehensible word, there was a popping sensation. Chrys looked into Quinen’s eyes and found his soul once again, filled with the Creational Force of Diwa. The beautiful essence of the very universe. The only thing that could sate Chrysanthemum’s hunger.

Quinen knew why. The Angel Dust. It must’ve triggered something within her, to spark off her monthly Hunger.

She growled an inhuman growl, deep and scratchy, making Quinen wince.

Then, Chrysanthemum leaned forward, and their lips touched. Quinen’s heart skipped. His vision swirled about him, the picture of Chrysanthemum on him swirling out of view. He had to close his eyes. As they held their position, an iridescent smoke wafted of their kiss, floating up and disappearing, as fleeting as it came. Quinen gripped Chrysanthemum as his legs buckled. He fell to his knees, and Chrysanthemum followed after him, their kiss unbroken.

Quinen opened his eyes, and before him flashed the locus of beautiful madness. Their ritual was completed, and he collapsed onto the floor. A little piece of his soul eaten away once again.

Quinen slumped onto the ground, while Chryanthemum stayed up, on her knees. The spots from where Quinen had been gripping her burned with a white hot glow, like the surface of a star. Her arms fell limp. She looked up, and her eyes burned technicolor neon, as if the black in her eyes had been tar set ablaze.

She looked up into nothingness, as she ate yet another part of Quinen’s soul.

 

Dream 6

Chrysanthemum looked about the area, doing her best to look away from the corpse. A feeling she didn’t like crept all over her, settling in the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t just the dead, soulless corpse that lay on the ground, but the strange resonance she felt from it.

It was unnervingly familiar.

Quinen frowned. He stood up, gripping his bone scepter. When he turned to face Oberen and Chrysanthemum, his eyes remained bright green. The green emanated from his eyes, and as he moved, the green glow trailed after him like wisps of verdant smoke.

“Something’s wrong.” Quinen frowned.

Oberen raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

“A Perceive Death Working,” he said, stepping forward. “But I saw nothing. That’s impossible. How long has she been out?”

“A day, now,” Oberen said. “Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head. “So, look. I was just sort of joking when I hypothesized about that whole her body might’ve been taken by Avalon stuff-”

“I know.”

“But looking at it now, it might be true.”

Oberen crossed his arms and placed a foot back. “What do you mean?”

“Well, do you know Thanatology? The study of the Field of Death?”

Oberen shook his head.

“Thanatology covers most of the popular theorized after-afters. One theory’s been widely accepted.” Quinen said, but there was that tinge of skepticism in his voice. “But apparently, when the body dies, the Soul goes through the ten different realms before it dissipates back into the Astral Realm.”

“Mmhm? You mean the Upper Soul, right? The one that only the intelligent races have?” Quinen nodded.

“Right. The Lower Soul simply fades away, a product of temporal, cosmic coincidence instead of higher things.”

Oberen sensed a short lecture incoming, so he sat down on the warm gray rock. Chrysanthemum jaunted over and sat beside him. “Go on,” said Oberen. “I’m not stopping you.”

“Right, so, the Upper Soul starts off from the Field of Life, right? And then it goes through the rest of the Corporeal Fields: Matter, Forces, and then Timespace, where the Soul stops experiencing time. Then it goes into the Ethereal Fields. It starts at the Field of Fates, and then the Field of Death, and then the Field of Spirits, before finally reaching the Field of Mind. Once it gets there, it goes straight up to the Astral Realm, completely purged of all of its material burdens.

“Now here’s the thing though: when the Upper Soul passes through the Field of Death, it leaves behind a Ghost of itself at that current time. This ghost is unaffected by luck or probabilities and looks exactly like it was when it died, because it already passed through the Field of Timespace. But it hasn’t become fully ethereal yet because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Spirits, and it still has its memories and consciousness and personalities because it hasn’t gone through the Field of Mind.”

“So what are you saying?”

“That I should’ve been able to easily call upon her Ghost.”

Oberen raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Wait, but, wouldn’t that mean that if the Soul already went through the Field of Mind, it would’ve been completely erased and would have no semblance of itself?”

Quinen shook his head. “The Perfected Collegiate Theory states the Ghost is a different entity from the Soul entirely. It also exists almost indefinitely, because it is no longer bound by the Field of Timespace.”

Oberen inhaled. “Wow.” He said. “I… understand. So what you’re saying is that you should’ve been able to access her Ghost?”

Quinen nodded. “If she truly has died, she’ll most definitely have left a Ghost behind. Probably in the Traverse of the Field of Death, Mort. Unless…”

“Unless she didn’t die or…” Oberen’s eyes widened as realization dawned upon him, fire burning away ignorant darkness. “Someone took her Soul before it arrived at the Field of Death.”

“Yes,” Quinen replied, his fingers in a steeple. “With that out of the way, I’m gonna need you to take me to the suspect.”

“Which suspect?” Oberen asked as he stood, straightening himself. He went over and removed the red fence blocking the way.

“The dreorg.”

 

It didn’t take them long to reach the dreorg’s flat. Oberen had told Quinen that she cooped herself up in the Karoley Ward, in a dormitory near the floating Collegium, above an old pawn shop. They went up to the apartment building and reached her room — on the second floor, numbered 2.

Quinen raised his hand and tapped the door softly, sending a probing sense. No Wards of any Field. Satisfied, he knocked on the door using his bone-scepter.

A few moments, and then there was the sound of footsteps, heavy and dragging, across the floor. The door swung open. A bespectacled dreorg girl, her height reaching up to Quinen’s waist, stood with her eyebrows furrowed. When she saw the three of them, she crossed her arms. Her prehensile tail wagged, unravelling its grip from the doorknob. “Yes?”

Quinen turned to Oberen, and then at Chrysanthemum, who stood beside Oberen instead of him. “Diys?” The detective said.

She nodded, her dark red hair bobbing. She had tied it up in a strange top knot which sat over her head, forming some strange makeshift bangs. Her face was round and young-looking.

“That’s me. What do you need?”

“Some of your time.” Quinen shouldered his way into the student’s dormitory, ignoring her consequent protests. The single room only had a bed, which lay beside a tall window that showcased the Wards opposite of the floating landmass that was the Collegium. Off to the horizon one could see the steel structures twined together with neon, magick, and money. One would need to have a lot more money than what it cost to afford the tuition of the Collegium to get to be part of the Spires.

“I’m here on Collegium-sanctioned business, Miss Diys,” Quinen said. His eyes flickered over to Oberen. “Cooperate, and nothing bad happens. I’m not gonna harm you, just ask you a couple of questions.” As he droned this off — as if he’d said this same exact line a million times before — his eyes gazed along the top of the desk she had. Papers upon papers of Substantial Theory and Psychoanalysis.

Quinen turned when he saw that he couldn’t glean anything from the papers. “Understood?”

She bit her lip. Oberen walked up to her and showed her the golden badge. “We won’t hurt you, okay? I bind our word by the Sacred Oath of the Vedina.”

Magick popped, whizzed in a buzzing sound one can only feel, and then the oath was bound. The air felt heavy for a few seconds, before it turned back to normality.

The dreorg swallowed, and then told the rest of the gang to come inside. With a nonchalant thwip of her tail, the door closed. “What are you going to ask me?” Diys walked over to her bed and sat.

Oberen and Chrysanthemum stayed a respectful distance away from her. Quinen stood right in front of the window. He eyed an aircraft, powered by the infinite resource of Diwa, floating through the sky like dust motes in the air. If one squinted hard enough, one would be able to see some rainbow-colored feathers of the anzu, splitting the skies with their wings.

“What is your connection to the human named Lyn?” Quinen didn’t turn. His eyes flickered to something clumsily hidden under her bed. A strange contraption resembling a glass sphere with a circular tube extending out of it. At the end of the circular tube was a mouthpiece.

Quinen smirked. That wasn’t a Yantra. At least, not of the Collegium.

“Lyn…? Does this have to do with her murder?” She managed to normalize her voice. It no longer shook with uncertainty. “She was a good friend of mine — one of my best friends. She treated me like she would treat any other human.”

Quinen nodded. “When was the last time you met her?”

“Not too long ago. A few days ago? I don’t remember. I was too busy catching up on my studies — I had a big intercrossed Matter and Mind exam coming up.”

“When did she die?”

Silence from Diys, then “When I was having my exam.”

“You enjoyed any substances with her?”

She scoffed. “Substances? Hey, old man, we’re in academia. We do drugs, yeah.”

“I’m going to assume mostly hallucinogens and greenleaf and the like, yes?”

She nodded. “Yeah, the usual.”

“I see,” Quinen said, turning around. He eyed the vials on the corner of her desk, put in a meticulous order. “You ever messed around with stimulants?”

Diys eyed the same rack of vials as Quinen. “Not yet, no. I want to, in the future. I have some alchemical combinations that can make me immune to pain.”

“Heard of the Garda Tonic?”

“The one that makes you sprout wings?” Diys said. “Yeah I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen anyone skilled enough to be able to mix them up.”

“Yeah,” Quinen said, nodding. “It takes some equal knowledge of the Fields of Life and Matter to be able to make something like that.” He paused. “Pertaining to hallucinogens, have you ever heard of Angel Dust?”

A pause. Quinen heard her breath cut short. Not very good at hiding things, was she? “I have,” she said, suddenly confident again. Quinen activated her palmnode and scoured Datascape about information on Angel Dust. “Haven’t tried it, though. It’s a bit too expensive.”

Quinen nodded. “I can sympathize,” he said, smiling. Diys looked up at him and smiled as well.

“That’s good.”

The information nodule about Angel Dust flashed into Quinen’s palmnode. A gray window, and then lines of Shennin script.

A powerful hallucinogenic substance created by being an expert in the Fields of Matter and the Fields of Mind. It puts the user into a narcotic state in which their body is rendered asleep for a few hours as they undergo a potent psychic trip.

“But, anyway, I’ve got an exam tomorrow,” she said. “I need to be a Dean’s-lister this year, so that I can keep it up next year. Then I’ll be able to graduate with the highest honors, and I can get out of Throne!”

Quinen’s ear perked up. He chuckled. “Okay, alright,” he said. “You might be called in for further questioning, though. Is that fine?”

She bit her lip, her eyes flickered to the left, and she nodded. “Absolutely fine,” her voice was completely calm. “Here’s my Scapelink, so you can contact me anytime.” She tapped her palmnode against Quinen’s and a buzz went through it. Their nodes linked together, her information on his palmnode.

Quinen smiled. “Alright. Have a nice day, Diys.”

“You too,” she said, smiling so wide her eyes were slits. She closed the door with her hands.

The three of them made their way downstairs. “I like dreorg,” Chrysanthemum said as they emerged into the pavement. “There were a lot more dreorg in my memories. Where could they have all gone?”

Oberen grimaced. “It’s better that you, uh, learn it from the history books.”

Chrysanthemum nodded. The Human Impergium that Quinen had taught her still bounced around her mindspace. If that were true…

She turned to Quinen. “Where are we going to now, Quinen?”

“To an old friend of mine,” he said, shoving his palmnode into his pocket and hailing a red cab. These were the resident ones of Karoley Ward, costing less than the brown ones that could go through the entire megacity of Throne. The red ones, however, were confined to traverse only around Karoley Ward.

“Friend of yours?” Oberen asked as he helped Quinen hail a cab.

They rode the red cab to the Corners, a refuge of houses all huddled against the corner of the great wall of sideream and orichalcum that defended Throne from all sides except the south, where the great Thronian Woods resided. Almost a small complex of their own, the Corner beganwith the Squatters, the area on the ground. From the Squatters, one would take the many bridges and stairs crisscrossing and winding about and through the houses, like an intricate snake caught in a spider’s web, to reach the second level of the Corners, the Jumpers. There lived the poorest of the poor, as well as various avian who could afford to live there because of their aerodynamic abilities.

While Squatters were so named because they “squat” into their houses below, the Jumpers are so named because of, well, the way most of them decide to finally leave Throne for good.

The Corners sat against the grandeur of the Great Wall like a strange, bulging hive of grime and scum. It jutted out to the sides of the Great Wall, huddling close to it. a strange scab that had infected the cleanness and majesty of the Wall.

The cabbie refused to go past the first street, so they had to drop off. It was for good reason, Quinen knew. He held Chrysanthemum close as they walked through the cracked bitumen roads that crisscrossed the ground of the corners. Street urchins ran around, playing with sticks and rocks, wearing nothing but shorts or undergarments. Behind them shouted their mothers, large-gutted or with mismatched teeth. They wore the bare minimum that would cover their skin, probably because that’s all they could afford.

Quinen knew the fathers of these children mostly just lazed around all day within, watching with their visionnodes that provided cheap entertainment through the Datascape. The three of them wove their way through them, like a trio of paper boats flowing upstream. Eventually, Quinen entered into an alleyway in between two houses made of hodgepodge materials. The alleyway had sluice running down its concrete. It ended in a small open cul-de-sac with various Squatter houses piled on top of each other, blotting out the sun.

Within, little boys played bugball. They would punt little caterpillar like creatures that roll into a dense ball known as circopedes. They were generally harmless, and rather enjoy being punted around and hit with sticks by small, shirtless children.

Quinen led the three up to a Squatter house on top of another. He knocked on the door once, and he was immediately answered. The door protested as it dragged across the ground. The man inside pulled once, twice, and then thrice before the door finally dragged open, making an unpleasant noise all the while.

Behind it, a skeleton of a man stood grinning. The vine-like markings on his body glowed with a complacent gray. His collarbones sprung out, looking like knives trying to puncture his sickly gray skin. He looked so thin and deathly that if one would put a finger through their cheek, their finger would pop through.

The man’s green eyes, so reminiscent of a wood-life long gone, were half hidden under black clean rings. The man had no ears.

Which was for the best, Quinen knew. Whatever it took to keep your alfrian self out of the shade and wrath of the human.

“Akyrie,” Quinen said. “I’m gonna need your expertise.”

Akyrie grinned a yellow-toothed and foul-smelling grin. Chrysanthemum scrunched her nose up and looked away. If Akyrie was offended by this, he showed no sign. “Ah, if it isn’t my old friend the warlock. Come in, come in, the Mixer is working today.”

Dream 5

Quinen crossed his arms and tried very carefully not to erupt into laughter.

The Dean beckoned the both of them in with a waving gesture. Quinen’s vision warped and twisted. When his vision cleared, he was standing on top of the carpeted floor, a few feet from the desk. The double doors shut behind them. Quinen tensed, his muscles moving on pure instinct. He was able to control his body. “Have a seat.”

Quinen held his jaw in a firm line. Oberen deferred, and he took a seat. It took Quinen a bit longer to oblige.

“So,” the Dean of the Collegium grinned, looking down at his palmnode. The screen reflected off of his round spectacles. “What have we here? Why does the Warlock return?”

Oberen opened his mouth. “Is that really what I’m called here now, ‘The Warlock’?” Quinen cut in, smiling. “Because that’s pretty awesome.”

“Dean Hakumatheia,” Oberen said, as if Quinen hadn’t spoken at all, “we’ve come to tell you that the Warlock has accepted the grave responsibility of investigating upon his step-sister’s death.”

The Dean raised a silver eyebrow. He turned to the Quinen. “I suppose you know what happens when you undertake jobs from the Collegium?”

Quinen leaned back on his high-back chair. Ooh, pillows. Comfy. “All too well,” he said.

The Dean stared at him with green and blue eyes. His gaze was with intent, hard and glaring. After a few moments of staring, he leaned back. “Success means you retrieve all your Magickal Instruments from the Repository, and maybe I’ll order my Huntsmen to turn a blind eye to some of your doings,” he said. The Dean raised a delicate white eyebrow when he continued. “Failure means that your Warlock status will be enforced. You know what that means.”

Quinen struggled not to bite his lip or ball his hands into his fists. Signs of weakness. Of fear. Never show it.

But retrieving all his Magickal Instruments? “Does that mean all of my Yantras?”

The Dean nodded. “All of them. Including the ones obtained… not so legally.”

A moment’s silence. The Dean and Oberen were both looking at him expectantly, their gazes fierce. He set his jaw. All his Yantras back would mean that he would be able to channel the Astral Realm once again, as well as call upon the Field of Death and gain his Mageweave coat back — his main form of protection.

“Fine,” he said. “You know if I had my Scepter, I would be able to conjure up Lyn’s ghost for questioning.”

The Dean nodded. “Very well.” He turned to Oberen. “File a retrieval notice from the Repository. The Scepter of the Warlock. Now.”

Oberen nodded, sparing Quinen one last dubious glance as he stood and walked out the door. It was just the Dean and Quinen together now.

The silence was choking. They sat in it for a few moments. The Dean’s eyes plastered against his palmnode. Quinen decided to check out his own palmnode, and found a message from Chrysanthemum.

— From: Chrysanthemum

here at collegium’s gymnasium

A wind of relief passed through Quinen.

“How have you been lately, Quinen Argist?”

Quinen smirked, and raised his eyebrows. His thoughts swirled. Why was he being so amiable, when he was the one that voted he be expelled in the first place? “Getting by,” he said, with a shrug.

“You’ve become a Private Investigator, I see?” The Dean smiled, somber. “Still seeking information and truth.”

“My curiosity is both a blessing and a curse, it seems,” Quinen said.

“What have you learned ever since you left the Collegium?”

“Paying taxes is hard,” he said. “As well as finding a decent place in Throne that’s not in the Slums. Also, jifarin are vulnerable to fire.”

“And you’ve been able to channel Power without your usual Yantras?”

Quinen shrugged. “It’s easy to conjure up a few of your own,” he said. “Other than the usual Mudras and Mantras — and you know how much I hate runir — I’ve been doing magick with a zippo lighter and tattoos as Yantras.”

The Dean’s eyebrows shot up, and he nodded impressed. “Very resourceful of you.”

“I learned a lot from here,” Quinen said. A smirk crept up to his face.

The Dean smirked. A smirk that meant to say his remarks bothered him not at all. “But you are not able to channel the Astral Realm without that peculiar staff of yours. How you’ve managed to do that is still unknown to us.” The Dean’s smirking face turned into a scowl. He looked back into his palmnode.

“You don’t know how to channel the Astral Realm?”

The Dean looked up, frowning. He brought up a ball made of rubber, and placed it on his desk.

With a wave of a hand, the ball turned into a bonsai tree.

Quinen shrugged, looking straight out of the window.

“All knowledge about the Astral is incomplete by its very nature,” the Dean said, snapping his fingers and dissipating the bonsai tree back into Diwa. “For we are Mortals. We do not deserve the power of God.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow at that. The doors swung open then, and Oberen walked in, holding a Scepter. Its shaft was made of bleached bone, and its head was a black obsidian stone. All around it were twined feathers of a blackbird.

“I’ll hand this to you once we get to Lyn’s corpse,” he said as Quinen rose from his seat.

 

***

 

When the mist cleared from within the glass square, Chrys hadn’t been quite sure what she just watched. Without any knowledge about what they just did, it looked like they had just exhausted themselves in a flashy show of magickal power.

The piskie-haired woman stood up, walking over to the exhausted Thackeray. She put her hand out, smiling. Thackeray gripped it with his own and stood. The two of them walked out of the glass square together.

They retreated to locker rooms. Chrysanthemum had to wait a while before either of them emerged into the non-partitioned area of the Gymnasium. When the door opened, it was the piskie-haired girl who walked out first.

Chrysanthemum skipped over to her and grabbed her hand. “You were amazing!”

“Oh,” the piskie-haired woman stepped back. She scanned Chrysanthemum, and then pushed her optics up her nose. “Oh, thank you…?”

“Chrysanthemum,” Chrys said, pouting.

“Nice to meet you, Chrysanthemum.” She smiled. She wore a regal blue leather coat about her now, embellished with vine-like designs, and brought a gym bag with her.

“What’s your name?” Chrys asked. “I know Thackeray-”

“Of course you did.”

“-But I don’t know you.”

Grinning, she said, ”De Laqua Maeve. But you may call me Maeve. First Magus of the Kifetic Order.”

Chrysanthemum shook her head. “No. Thackeray is the First Magus. You must be the second-”

“Oh no,” Maeve chuckled. “First Magus is but a title for those who have achieved exemplary magickal levels.”

“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded. “Neat.”

The doors swung open again, and Navarre Thackeray stepped out. His lean, muscled body was quite clearly seen through his slim-fit tank top and white jogging pants. His blonde hair he tied up in a messy bun on top of his head. He had a towel on one hand, and a gym bag on the other.

Chrysanthemum smiled. “Oh, Thackeray!”

Thackeray paused, and then looked up at Chrys. He furrowed his eyebrows, opened his mouth, pointed a finger. “Um…?”

Maeve chuckled again. “It’s Chrysanthemum.”

“Right!” Thackeray snapped his fingers. “Chrysanthemum. Right, right.”

Chrysanthemum walked up to Thackeray. “You were so amazing. You were like a god.”

Thackeray’s head bobbed backwards, and then he just smiled. Maeve turned to Thackeray, and they exchanged a knowing smile. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that. We were just sparring, after all.” Thackeray shook his head. “A-anyway, little lady. Why are you still here? Haven’t I already brought you to the exit?”

“Chrysanthemum’s not very good at following.” Chrys bopped her head and stuck out her tongue, winking.

“Okay,” he said, shrugging. “Well, we’re just about to leave the campus. We can take you with us.”

Maeve walked to Thackeray’s side.

Chrysanthemum tilted her head. “Are you committed? What tradition are you adhering to?“

Thackeray and Maeve turned to look at each other, and then turned Chrys with their lips pressed together and their eyebrows furrowed.

She opened her mouth to say something, but the words that came out were different. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“Um, we had Martial Thaumaturgy classes together,” Maeve answered. “We’re on our last year. We’ve just finished our license exam and are on our way to becoming Huntsmen.”

“License exam?”

There was another blast within the partitioned part of the room. Thackeray turned and whooped at the fight, presumably to encourage his sparring friend. “To become Huntsmen,” Maeve said.

“Oh,” Chrysanthemum nodded, mouth hanging open. “What do you hunt?”

Maeve shrugged. “Well, you know, monsters, creatures not safe for the City, those in the hinterlands.” She looked up past Chrysanthemum, and her face turned into a scowl. “Warlocks.”

“Warlocks?” Chrysanthemum tilted her head to the side.

 

 

***

 

Oberen held Quinen’s Scepter as they walked down the Gymnasium. He told him that he needed to pick up Chrysanthemum before he set to work.

Quinen smirked as he walked up to Maeve, straight past Chrysanthemum. Maeve had a pretty athletic physique, so she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Quinen. “Hey, De Laqua.”

Her scowl burned. “Warlock.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow and opened his palms. “What’s with the hostilities?” Her hands were balled into fists, her stance rigid. Her jaw was set in a line.

“Why don’t you leave the campus? You are not needed here.”

Quinen snorted and turned around. “Yes, I am, actually.”

Thackeray returned after cheering his friend on. “Aw man, that last working was…” His voice trailed off when he saw Quinen.  His face turned stoic, his stance straight-backed and ready to pounce. “Warlock,” he said.

Quinen sighed inwardly. “Navarre!” Quinen smiled, spreading his hands out. “I hope that Huntsman thing is getting along well.”

“It is,” Maeve said with a shrug. “And soon enough we’d be hunting people like you.”

Grinning, Quinen said, “But not today. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to get going.” He gripped Chrysanthemum’s arm and hauled her away. Oberen followed suit, not making eye contact with the two Huntsmen-in-training.

Chrysanthemum broke Quinen’s grip once they came out of the Gymnasium door. She held her arm. “Ouch.”

Quinen inhaled, kept the breath and composed himself, and then released it. He smiled, but that quickly faded. “Don’t leave my side.” He then grabbed Chrysanthemum’s hand again and hauled her away.

As they walked back to the East Park, Quinen spoke. “Are there any people connected to Lyn?”

“A few have been suspects the last few days,” Oberen said. “This belgar named Dajud, an human Inker, and a dreorg named Diys.” Chrys squirmed. Quinen cursed and let her go. She stayed a few feet from him, walking while cradling her hand.

“The belgar is crossed off as a potential suspect then,” Quinen said. “Belgars can’t be in the Collegium.”

“That leaves the Inker and the dreorg.” Quinen frowned. They walked down the stairs to the East Park. “What does the dreorg do?”

“She’s a Magicker.”

“What Sympathies?”

Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, thinking. “To the Fields of Matter and Mind.”

He paused, his mind lurking up to a piece of information he had read in an obscure, banned textbook somewhere in the public library. “Ten eagles says it’s the dreorg.”

Oberen stopped in his tracks. He raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

“The Field of Mind is, metaphysically, close to Avalon,” he said. “At times, they intersect.”

“Sure,” Oberen said. “But Fields intersect all the time. A lot of magickal workings cross their beams so to speak.”

“Not the Material Fields, no,” Quinen smiled.

They walked into the sectioned-off center of the Park and up to Lyn’s dead body. More greenery had begun sprouting out of her corpse, and flowers were blossoming with a speed only a time-lapse would be able to replicate. The three of them watched with befuddled gazes.

Quinen walked up and knelt in front of her. “Give me my Scepter.”

Oberen handed him the bone-staff. Quinen gripped it, and a familiarity washed over him. He breathed in a deep wind as he held the staff close to him, as if a key had suddenly opened up yet to another door. As if a long dormant piece of hardware had just clinked back to life, cobwebs dusting off.

He knew for a fact that he didn’t need this specific Yantra to do his Workings, but he’d been the lowest in his class when it came to Mudra, Mantra, and Runir Forms. He couldn’t perform the Mudra hand gestures fast enough, speak the Mantras properly, and create the perfect lines with the Runir geometries. He found that Yantras — physical tools — were his best bet, and he’s never looked back.

Although some proficiency in a Mantra would be nice, he thought.

He put the Scepter in front of him, sticking the obsidian stone into the soil. He snarled a sentence,

incomprehensible, yet perfect. He gripped it hard and then, for the first time in three years, connected his soul to the Field of Death.

A cold feeling washed over Quinen, and he welcomed it. He found that if you tried to fight the fear and cold of death, you’d just end up hurting yourself instead. He tightened his grip as he Willed Power to come down and change Reality.

And Power did come. As it surged through him, he formed a spell. In his Imahen, his Mind’s Eye, he created the image of a summoning spell, to call the ghost of Lyn. As the spell formed, he pulled the obsidian stone from the soil, and struck Lyn’s corpse.

He snarled a word. Power released from him in a surge. Death answered his Will. Magick came to be.

A silence. A beat.

There was no answer.

Quinen opened his eyes and frowned. Had he done something wrong? Had his hiatus from channeling the Field of Death made his connection somewhat weaker? No. He shook his head. Do not doubt. Doubt is the enemy of belief. Belief is the fuel of Will. Will is the way to Magick. Quinen repeated it in his head, chanting it like a mantra.

Then, there was an answer. Quinen’s eyes opened, and he looked up. His irises glowed a sickly green. Above Lyn’s body was… a void. An emptiness. A nothingness. A something that should’ve been there, but is not. There was no ghost.

And if there was no ghost, where was her soul?