Joshua sighed as he walked down the sidewalk path. In one hand, he carried the finest Algolian wine, fresh from the vineyard. In another hand, he carried his palmnode, sleek glass and rectangular, and frowned that Jansen hadn’t taken up his calls.
Eventually, he arrived at their small apartment house. The landlord was kind enough, old, a bit eccentric, but otherwise perfectly fine. He shoved his palmnode within his pocket and brought out his keystone. He placed it near the tass-lock, shaped like a flat piece of glass in the side of the door where the knob would’ve been. Joshua tapped the keystone against it, and the rune etched onto the stone shone a bright green. There was a click, and the door swung open.
Joshua walked in. “Mr. Judson! I’m back!”
From the living room within the first floor, Mr. Judsen shouted back. The volume of his videoscreen was low, reduced to only just a mumbling. “Oh, Joshua! Be a mate and check up on Jansen upstairs would you? There’d been quite a bit of, well, silence.”
Joshua paused, and furrowed his brows. “That is strange, Mr. Judsen. I’ll take a look.” He gripped his Algolian wine and walked up the stairs.
He stopped in front of the white door, raised a fist to knock, but then found that it was slightly open. Joshua frowned. Part of him thought why the door was slightly opened. Did she leave for a while? She was meticulous about, well, everything. She most probably wouldn’t have left the door open.
Another part of him thought: What in Adon’s name was she doing now?
He shrugged. He’ll just have to find out.
The outside of the Algolian wine had gone cold and wet. Joshua wiped the side of his wool jacket and walked in. “Jansen!–Adon’s spit!’
He almost let go of the Algolian wine, but remembered how many eagles he’d spent on it, so he placed it gingerly on the floor, before bolting to the center of the room. Atop the flower-patterned carpet, there was a chair. Atop the chair dangled feet.
The dangling feet belonged to Jansen, a thick noose tied around her neck, her mouth slightly open. She had tied her hair into a messy bun on top of her head, so that the noose wouldn’t get in the way.
Jansen wore her leather overcoat, and on its side, written in alchemically made neon lights, glowing suspended in mid air, were the words: “ELIXIR. FIRST DESK. RIGHT. GREEN.”
Joshua bolted into her room, scrambled for the first desk out of four, and snatched the clear, bulbous flask filled with a viscous green fluid. As he dashed back, Joshua noticed that the green liquid didn’t reflect light, and was completely opaque.
Joshua unstoppered the flask and poured the liquid within Jansen’s mouth. A flash of green veined throughout her, and then, she began flopping. Joshua turned and picked up a sword — where’d she get that in the first place? — and cut the noose with it. He then untied the noose as fast as he could, fraying the thick threads with the edge of the sharp longsword.
Jansen inhaled a massive gasp of breath, her eyes widening, glowing with a radiant emerald shine. She doubled over, moving to the side, breathing, heaving, punching the wooden floor. Joshua fell to his knees, his breath escaping him, and he reached for Jansen, shaking her. “Jansen! Jansen! Are you alright?”
Joshua didn’t sign up for this.
Jansen kept punching the floor, heaving massive breaths, then she cackled. Joshua stopped shaking her, falling onto his butt, eyebrows furrowed, mouth hanging open. “Wh-what?”
Jansen kept laughing. A laugh from the stomach, genuine and not mocking in any fashion, although Joshua didn’t care much for the motives behind the mad cackling.
“O-oh my,” she said, gripping her belly. “My innards. My Soul!”
“Jansen! Wake up! It’s not a dream.”
“I know, you dimstalt,” she stopped laughing, letting out one final breath, and then fell to the ground, spreading her arms and legs and just laying there. She stared up at the noose, which had been cut in two.
“What were you doing? You were giving me a heart attack.”
“Oh did I? Apologies from all five corners of the Mund. I’ve forgotten that shock can lead into cardiac arrest.” She sighed, and then pulled herself off the ground, sitting. She reached into her leather pocket, pulling out her palmnode, and began scrolling through feeds. News of all sorts. She did this while sitting on the flower-patterned carpet, hugging her knees against her chest.
“Hey! Jansen! You just killed yourself!”
“I did,” she nodded. “And then I resurrected myself.”
“No,” Joshua ran a hand through his brown, tousled hair. He began wishing he’d drunk the entire bottle of cold wine. “I resurrected you.”
She paused, and then turned to look at him. The glowing green of her eyes was subsiding, fading from green to her natural hazel brown. She looked away, back into her palmnode. “Correct. Congratulations. I suppose you want a kiss or something of the sort.”
Joshua blinked. “Wh-what-”
“Anyhow!” She bounced up to her feet. “It seems my theory has been proven wrong once again, and so the game continues.”
Joshua shook his head. “What?”
Jansen turned to him. “The secret of the Mortal Coil, Joshua!” She looked at him as if this was something she should know. She was right, though. She had been talking about this since the beginning. “You’re the physicker, are you not? Do you not wish to know the veil between Mund and Mort? Why there is death? What happens in between? Why we die in the first place?”
“It’s not my place to be asking those questions.” He sighed, and then stood up. He walked over to the kitchen and brought out a couple of wineglasses, and then gestured or Jansen. Jansen grinned and nodded eagerly. “I’m a physicker. I try my best to keep people living longer. That’s it.”
“Ah yes,” Jansen scratched her head. Joshua poured the wine into the glass — it was a mauve color, and was rich in texture. He gave it to Jansen. “Cheers. Anyway, that’s why non-latents are so boring! They fail to question. And thus, they do not receive answers.”
Joshua shrugged. “That’s the job of other people.”
“And so you receive their answers, not your own.” She sipped. “This is amazing.”
Joshua managed a smile. “Right. So, this was all to advance your research? What did you see?”
“Blackness. Lots of it. I could feel it, and there was a sensation of constant falling. And then I felt something… cold around my feet, slowly creeping up, and that’s when you brought me back.” She looked at her fingers, which were deathly cold, devoid of life, pale. In fact, her entire body had gone pale and cold. “I suspect that I am not entirely the same.”
“No matter,” she said, shrugging. “Being half-dead should be no worries.”
“You’re technically Undead,” Joshua said, sipping wine, as if that would wash away his worries.
“Ah, perfect!” She said, shrugging. “Then I can but examine myself instead of going around looking for Nocturnes that I can experiment with. Now if you’ll excuse me, this exquisite wine should make a fine companion to research.” And she disappeared into her room.
Soon, dusk dawned, and twilight struck. The only thing that illuminated Jansen’s room was the desklamp she kept, as well as a small glowglobe that floated lazily in the air, shining a low hue of halogen orange.
Her immaculately orderly desk was arranged in aesthetically pleasing grids. A palm node in one, a lead pencil in another, and parchment on yet another one. She tapped away on her palmnode as she scribbled on her parchment. Opaque, viscous liquids ran through glass tubes nailed to the wall. There was a small burst of light that shone from one end of the intricate complex of glass tubes, as tass fed into the system to perpetuate the constant alchemy of construction, transmutation, and then deconstruction.
Then she heard a thump outside.
“Is that… Joshua?” She muttered to herself, and then shook her head. She’d checked, just thirty seconds ago. Joshua was sound asleep on the sofa.
“It could be Joshua falling from the sofa…” she spoke in whispers as she scribble on parchment. “Illogical. Joshua’s weight wouldn’t have permitted such a light thud.” Two soft thuds resonated.
“Footsteps.” Very quietly, Jansen reached for her knife. It was designed as a kris, it’s blade wavy. The flat of its blade was etched with runes and sigils belonging to the Kifetic Script, allowing her a multitude of spells.
She rose from her chair with a silent movement, stepped deliberately on the side. She moved out of her room with all the grace of a shadowcat prowling on its home turf in the Circle of Umbrae.
She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she could see perfectly in the dark. Her magick cutting through the darkness. In the faint, blue glow of the Nightstar, there walked a… thing. Its eyes glowed red, and it looked like it had wings. Jansen raised the knife and touched the first rune. It began blazing, but stopped when she let go. She saw the red-eyed shadow with a claw made of gnarled bones.
And it raised it, talons pointed directly at Joshua.
Jansen raised an eyebrow. “Come to think of it, one of the only aspects of Death I’ve yet to fully experience is the phenomenon that occurs when a close loved one dies right in front of your eyes. What psychological effects would it incur…”
Joshua snored. The red-eyed thing cocked its head to the side, in such an angle that it looked like it had broken its neck.
It sensed Jansen.
Jansen shrugged. “Then again, it could always wait.”
She touched the first rune on her blade again, and it blazed a pure red. A fire of incandescence crimson, reminiscent of scarlet stars blazing in the night. The thing turned to her, and screamed a nail-scratching screech.
“By fire and steel, be smote by my Will.” She raised the tip of the knife at the thing, and it stepped back. It blurred, and crashed out of the window. Jansen cursed, and jumped out of the window to chase after it. Joshua stirred behind her.
“By seraphic angels and fiendish might! The earth holds no control over me!” Jansen’s momentum was buffeted by an unknown force, and she hit the ground with all the impact of a feather.
She burst off into a run, and saw the thing turning to face her.
Jansen touched the second rune. “When the heavens thunder and the earth shakes, you will be moved, by my Will!”
The skeletal thing ran after her, dashing like a liquid shadow as the gloom of night enveloped it.
Jansen touched the third rune. “By the gods’ decree and the sky’s mandate, fall before me!” The skeleton jumped.
Jansen touched the fourth rune. “By my Will.” And an iridescent beam of destructive force exploded from the tip of the knife, jumping at the skeletal thing while it was in mid air. A crackle, sizzle, rumble of thunder, and light exploded from the impact. Jansen fell to the ground, the knife clattered to the curb beside her. Her hand sizzled from Dissonance.
Joshua burst out of the door. “Jansen! What happened?”
Jansen didn’t answer. Joshua followed her line of sight, and saw a sizzling figure up the sidewalk. He walked up to it, and flinched when he laid eyes upon the thing.
Jansen furrowed her eyebrows. She reached for her knife and rose to her knees, rubbing at her throbbing right hand. She ran after Joshua. “What? What is it?”
Joshua’s eyebrows were raised in a horrified arc, and he pointed at the dead thing. It wore a black cape, and its right hand was skeletal, with the structure reminiscent of a dragon’s claw, and its face was…
“Huh.” Jansen furrowed her eyebrows, and she laid a finger on her chin. “It’s me.”