Lunacy 6

The King had assembled most of his Viziers, as well as his daughter. “Where is your brother?” He’d asked Estrea, whom the King had sat on the smaller throne beside him. She sat with all the primness of a proper lady.

“He is asleep. He has expended his Thaumaturgy.”

“Ah. I should…” His mouth trailed off as the Dean entered into the Throne room, following after the Commissioner. The man was tall, gaunt of face and features, and with that same shock of white hair and beard. As he entered, the King could feel the powerful potential Magick lingering within him. This was, indeed, the Dean.

The smoking Detective that had entered turned around to face the Dean. He didn’t stop smoking, and as he waited, his smoke had burned out. Instead of pausing, he picked up another smoke and replaced it.

Quinen inhaled and fought the urge to cough. This new body isn’t taking to my old habits well.

He watched as the Dean walked up the length of the — admittedly long — Throne room. When the Dean’s eyes found him, Quinen gathered up all the asshole within him and winked. The Dean scowled. Quinen had to force himself not to burst out laughing when he saw that.

“Hakumatheia.”

“Shut it, Warlock,” said the Commissioner as they approached the Throne. The Warlock grinned at the both of them still. The Dean’s scowl scathed, seemingly bubblign with some sort of malevolent force.

“Dean of the Throne Collegium,” said the King, from atop his glistening obsidian throne. “I see that you have been found by Rune.”

“I have.”

“But Rune is not here.”

“She is not,” said the Dean. “I figure she felt a Transplanar entity within the borders of the Collegium.”

The Viziers all tried to speak together at the same time, but the King was quick to shush them with a loud voice. “What Transplanar entity, Dean?”

Quinen scowled now, turning to him. “Why don’t you ask the detective over here?”

The King, the Viziers, and the Commissioner, all turned to Quinen.

Quinen sighed. He opened his mouth, still not quite sure what to say — should I lie? What tale can I spin? It’s easy to bump off the Dean’s accusations — housing a Transplanar entity isn’t something you see everyday. Besides I’m here trying to help them prevent it, right? That’s leverage in my favor — but the doors opened once again.

“King!”

The King looked up. “What is it, messenger?”

Quinen turned to look at the messenger as he ran up to them. He wore a usual mailman’s get up: leather boots and cowhide coat, with an extra backpack on his back that looks like it was about to burst. He was gasping for air as he reached the foot of the Throne.

“The Transplanar portal, sir,” said the messenger. “It’s been opened. The First Horde of Hobgoblins-”

“They’ve come,” said the Vizier of Commerce, wearing the green mantle.

“Rally the Sentinels!” The voice of the Vizier of War boomed across the entire Throne room, carrying his voice out of the open doors.

Quinen didn’t know if that worked or not. But what was for sure, though, was the sudden sound of rain.

That doesn’t sound like rain…

Something slammed against the high glass windows behind the King’s throne. But thanks to the nature of the glass, the thing wasn’t able to break through. Nevertheless, more and more heavy, fleshy things slammed against the window like boulders of sinew and bone.

The King stood. The Princess beside the King stood as well.

“The Sentinels are on their way,” said the Vizier of War — the man with the crimson cloak and tightly braided hair.

The King turned around, looking up at the things assailing the glass — which was given a frosted texture, so the ones behind the glass couldn’t exactly see what it was slamming against the window. Their silhouettes gave enough away.

“Hobgoblins,” said Quinen. “Adon’s spit!”

The Commissioner was moving. “The Naphli must be mobilized!”

“The Sentinels are coming, sir!”

“Estruviom! We have to check on Estruviom!”

More people rushed into the chamber.

“…the Dirah Ward is holding off hobgoblin attacks High King…”

“…the Collegium is assailed!…”

“…the media is not helping us keeping the people calm…”

“…sir, must we call upon the Fires of Adon…”

The King turned around, and his eyes were flaring white, with just the tiniest tinge of violet. The noise and the bickering and the shouts and the orders and the commands grew louder and louder and noisier and dissonance filled the entire chamber and seemed like it would fill the entire Throne until: “Silence.”

The High King’s normal voice echoed across the chamber, and swept over them like a hushing wave. All fell quiet in rows, until the entire chamber was silent.

And then, the High King gave out orders.

 

Quinen watched as the High King directed what to do with the media, where to station the Sentinels, told the Commissioner to make sure the Wards of the Collegium were strengthened. He saw the silver-haired Princess, from his periphery, run out of view, up an electric lift.

 

* * *

In his sleep, Estruviom dreamt.

It was not the first time, and this was not a new dream.

He dreamed he was floating within a sea of stars, except the darkness between the stars wasn’t a darkness, but rather, a glowing blue, as if he floated in the sea’s surface, that the Sun’s light could seep through. He would look about him, and he could see lines dotting and connecting the stars together in an intricate mosaic until they made various forms and shapes… some of them humanoid.

As the shape of a man with the head of a bull was formed, and that danced around and capered, twins stepped out of the sidereal gossamer and onto the field of stars, chasing after the bull. A woman carried a pitcher of water and poured it over a scorpion as a swan flew overhead. This amazing, full-of-life caricature of stars filled Estruviom with awe.

“Estruviom. Scion of the Royal Blood.”

Estruviom turned, toward the origin of the voice. He saw two flaring stars. This one wasn’t a form made from astral lines connecting stars together. Rather, two figures emerged from those enormous flaring stars.

The figure raised a hand, and Estruviom felt very small when he realized he was only the size of a fingernail on the being’s pinky. As the being emerged from the blazing star that resembled the Daystar, he raised a hand and said, “Worry not, Estruviom,” he said. His voice was that heavy, masculine baritone. “I am Apol-Sol, The Splendent Daystar.”

To his right emerged two beings — one of them was a softly glowing yellow-white, while the other was the blackest of black. They were intertwined together, every move having two hands, every action being repeated twice — first by the glowing one, and then the other by the abyssal one. “And we are Selethem and Themola. The Nightstar.”

“Apol-Sol and Selethemola,” whispered Estruviom.

“I see you’ve read of us.”

“You are the Sidereans.”

Apol-Sol’s star-figure moved in what Estruviom could only imagine as a nod. “Now, Estruviom, we need to tell the High King something. Something dire has happened.”

“Is it the thunderstorms.”

“Indeed. Something has cut through our barriers — the Siderean Border. The Ancient Accords. We have to know who, for a Siderean Border is not something lightly to be cut, and even harder to be mended back together.

“The thunderstorms are Transplanar?”

“Yes,” said Selethem and Themola, together. As Selethemola. “From the realm of Avalon.”

“Avalon…” He shuddered. “Siddivata?”

“Indeed. And the invasion has already begun.”

“What?” Estruviom blinked. “Already? Then we must tell Father!”

“Aye, we must,” said Apol-Sol. “But I must also speak with him personally.”

“But you’re Sidereans.”

Selethemola nodded. “That is true. You know that our forms will burn the world. It would be as if stars converge into the material plane. Thus we desire a conduit.”

“You wish to speak through me?”

They were silent for a moment. The soft tinkling of the stars can be heard from a distance.

“You are a smart one, Estruviom,” said Selethemola, in a voice so low it can almost be a whisper.

“Do it,” he said. “Do it. I will be your conduit. For the sake of Throne. For Shen.”

There was another pause. “We are to give you some more time to think about — although there is not much left,” said Apol-Sol. “If we are to speak through you, our very Essence will burn you from within. You…”

“…will die.” Much to all of their surprise, it was Estruviom who said this.

Once again, silence in this star realm.

“We will awake you,” said Selethemola. “And you may confer with your friends, or your father. When you next sleep, we will be with you once again.”

“May you think wisely.”

And then they exploded, and everything was an utter white silence.

 

* * *

 

Rune looked about the room that she followed the Transplanar residue to. Inside the room was a vast array of trash and junk food, as if some homestuck dreg had lived here. On the far side of the room, against the windows that seemed to have their curtains perpetually drawn, was a desknode set up.

She felt again with her Magickal Perceptions… but found none. Either the Transplanar entity had gone back to whatever plane she came in from… or a dataturge managed to hide her resonance.

“What a hassle,” she muttered as she looked into the screens of the datanode, although none of them operated at her command. She knew dataturges manipulated data and information, but she didn’t know it was to this level of proficiency, at hiding resonances.

“How did she do it?”

After a few minutes wasted trying to think of some way — could it have been through cloaking? But the dataturge need good knowledge of the plane from which that transplanar entity came from — she decided to return to the Cathedral. No doubt something important must be going down, especially with the Dean there as well.

She walked up the stairs, up to the roof of the building once again, and that’s when she saw the hobgoblins descending from the skies.

These hobgoblins she’d encountered before, especially in the forest where the plane of Mund and the plain of Avalon coincided the most. These tusked, four-feet tall goblinoids with large bulbous heads, thick steel armor, and swords on both hands, as well as insectoid wings descended upon them. Cursing, Rune gathered up her knowledge of Spells in the Field of Energies, and sent herself shooting up to meet them. With a wave of her hand, a whip of flame sundered the first line, and then with another spell from Energies she diverted her momentum, and sent her flying towards the Cathedral.

She had to dodge and weave, cutting back hobgoblins as they came down from the sky like a vicious, transplanar rain. A hobgoblin managed a lucky hit on her, gashing a slice across her back, and then another hobgoblin almost managed to skewer her. With a word of power, she blasted all of them back with an invisible force, and then spun, bringing with her a whipe of flame, and sundered those that attacked her once again.

She crashed into a glass tower, which already had various hobgoblins within them cutting through civilians. She skidded across the floor until she landed against another hobgoblin that was in the middle of hacking down a human woman.

More hobgoblins streamed in from outside. Ten, twenty, thirty.

The Vizier of Magick looked about her. With a quick spell, she let out a lingering Perceive spell that seeked out those that still had the semblance of life within the room.

Five hobgoblins lunged at her. She blocked one with an invisible shield, cut at the other with a reactive sword of ice, dodge the third as it slid below her, and then sent two lances of wind down the two other hobgoblins’ throats, which skewered them from within.

Her lingering Magickal Perceptions told her that there was still five people alive within this floor. Manageable, she thought. She landed on her feet, deflected one hobgoblin, froze the other, and then muttered in Ascendant Speech.

In the next second, she, and five other people, were gone. One of them had been saved from a hobgoblin’s savage attack.

 

* * *

 

Emperor and Priestess ran across the streets of Slum City, watching the skies become covered in the steel, insect like buzz of the hobgoblins as they descended. The corrugated steel and thatched roofs and wooden planks of the shantytowns of the Dirah Ward were destroyed and eaten away by tusked creatures wielding various amounts of weapons with much too many spikes. They attacked with rage and without discipline, seemingly without training. They swing swords with jagged edges, sometimes gashing wounds deep into other hobgoblins, despite those hobgoblins ignoring the attack and continuing to destroy roofs and pick mund people off from them.

“Quick! Defend!” A group of non-humans burst out from the various openings and alleyways of the Ward, bringing with them planks of wood with nails hammered into them and then crooked, poles that have been broken off so that they could be given a sharp edge, others had butcher knives, while others managed slugpieces.

The hobgoblins descended upon them. The humans didn’t stand a chance. They swung their poles — and some of them managed to ground the hobgoblins — but jagged blades burst out from chests and wickedly sharp flanged maces burst skulls open.

The non-humans stood better chances. A flock of anzu flew up and distracted a bunch of hobgoblins in midair with darting strikes from improvised weapons. Belgar flew into a seeming berserk fury, slicing and slashing with claws and weapons both at the hobgoblins. They realized the hobgoblins may not have armor, and cutting through their flesh was much similar to cutting through humans.

A few lakerto fought with three weapons — a butcher knife in one hand, a steel bat in another, and a jagged, shattered wine bottle held by their tails. Zaretrych joined the fight as well, although Aravin couldn’t find Jryzz’sk anywhere.

But there was much too many, despite the small copse of resistance they have managed to make. A hobgoblins skewered a belgar with a jaggaed, barbed, spear, and then pulled it out savagely. It moved again, preparing to attack, and Aravin saw that it was moving towards a woman and her son huddled against a short alley that only ended in a dead end.

Emperor cursed. He pulled upon that Knight Vigilant instinct. He roared as he ran forward — he knew Deloreia was following behind him — and he performed a throwing gesture with his hand. “By astral and umbral — we the Knights Vigilant protect! Kirahl guide us in our endeavor!” And a bright light burst in front of him, sending winds swirling about and a bunch of other hobgoblins near him hurtling away. Aravin jumped through the light…

…and Emperor appeared on the other side, sending the hobgoblin fell to the ground with such an impact that it made a crater.

The hobgoblin lay lifeless as Emperor rose to his full height. This six and a half foot tall thing, was Emperor. It was vaguely the shape of Aravin, but laid over his skin were white interlocking plates that moved swiftly like liquid steel. This white plates looked like they were made of the brightest of alloys, and then forged in the sun. The Emperor’s helmet was shaped similarly to a lion’s except the manner was a blazing corona of blue flame. The helmet was fully closed, and the eye sockets glowed and hissed and wafted with white energy.

“You’re safe,” Emperor stated. “Run behind us.”

They both nodded and ran past Emperor. He turned, red mantle flailing wildly at the wind, and saw that the resistance had all been defeated. Belgar with sharp jagged spears lay on their sides, others lay on the air, suspended by impossible fey chains that were hammered down into the air. Humans lay split apart, or with cruel jagged cuts across their body.

Emperor turned to Deloreia. “Do not expend your Regalia just yet,” he said.

“I don’t plan to,” Deloreia said, nodding. “I trust you will be able to carry me safely to HQ?”

Emperor nodded. “I must.”

And then the Emperor took a step forward, just as a new horde of around a hundred hobgoblins descended upon the street they were in.

The Emperor took another step forward, and there was a building tension on that step. Wind flurried from around his feet, rocks seemed to rise from around him. Deloreia took a few steps back, knowing what’s to come next.

And then…

…the hobgoblins skewered a few more anzu in the air, cut open a few more children…

…destroyed a few more shantytowns, burnt a few more of the people’s hard work…

…descended and rushed towards him and Deloreia…

…the Emperor moved.

 

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Lunacy 5

The Dean Hakumatheia found himself transported in front of the large wooden double doors. He looked about him, and saw he was in the small holding area for guests of the king, which was still beautifully furnished. He sighed, looking about as he realized that the Vizier of Magick wasn’t there with him.

He closed his eyes and felt out his Magickal Perceptions, and saw Astrally-strengthened wards of the Cathedral. Only those with proper access to the Wards could Magickally transport someone in and out of the Cathedral.

“Unless…” the Dean thought of brute forcing through it, but decided the Dissonance would be too much a hassle to contend with.

The doors swung open behind him as he sensed out with his Magickal Perceptions. The Commissioner Haliyn was there, holding both doors open. “Dean Hakumatheia. So glad that you could join us.”

 

* * *

 

Kotoro laid the coins onto the coin tray and they digitized, disappearing into hazy, turquoise smoke. Most cabs in Jubh-Kan were like that, he remembered.

“Thank you, sir. Have a good day!”

“You too,” said Kotoro, as he got off the cab and closed it behind him. He walked up to the apartment building of Namana and through the first door. A close, narrow hallway with one room to the right, and then up to the second floor. He walked up and turned left. The room to the right was loud, booming some sort of cacophonous music. Kotoro wondered how Namana could manage to rest.

He knocked, and waited. A few minutes passed. He pulled out his palmnode and tried to contact Namana once again, to no avail. He wondered where she could’ve gone.

Kotoro tried the doorknob. It was open. He blinked.

“Hm.”

He twisted it and walked in. Darkness swam throughout the room; the blinds blocked out any warmth or daylight. Kotoro blinked as the stench of fresh corpse hit his senses like a truck.

“Sidereans guide me…” He reached for the light switch, tapping the rune that activated the mechanisms that turned on the alchemical light above them.

Bright white light washed out the darkness, but only showed the gruesome fate of Namana Sahnie.

Kotoro’s mouth gaped, and the first thing that ran through his mind was: “Who could’ve done this?”

 

* * *

 

Aravin turned to Priestess. “Deloreia. I’m going to go get information from the Dirah Ward again.”

Deloreia nodded. They walked up and out of Old Javio’s Pub. The streets were sparse, but the brown cabs were still in full force. He hailed one. “I know,” Del said. “It’s that zaretrych, right?”

Aravin nodded. A brown cab flew past them. He sighed. “Jyrrz’sk,” he said. “I know he unnerves you-”

“No. No he doesn’t.”

“Oh, well, then we’re meeting him. He’s hacked into every almost every node in the city. He’s sure to know something about the Warlock.”

Deloreia nodded. “I only agreed to come with you because you can become brash at times. The others need time to heal. You need time to not fight something.”

Aravin winced and nodded. A brown cab approached. He raised his hand. “Yes ma’am.” The cab stopped for them, and agreed to drive them to Dirah, but asked for a fixed 100 eagle price.

Deloreia opened her mouth to protest, but Aravin said, “Fine. I’ll pay.”

Del shot him a look.

“We’re getting to the bottom of this mess,” said Aravin. “No compromises. We’re Knights.” Deloreia rolled her eyes as they got onto the brown cab. The cab drove through the upfalling rain. It seemed even the chaotic, upfalling rain had phases. It was but a light drizzle now.

“It’s a weird Nymph season we’re having, isn’t that right folks?” The driver spoke, his voice stilted in that weird, almost robotic way that automata tried to replicate human speech. This particular cab driver seemed friendly to casual conversation. Unsurprising, Aravin thought, since with the latest developments there must not be a lot of passengers and workers that needed a cab.

“It’s a dangerous time,” said Aravin. “You’re still working, though?”

The man nodded. Aravin realized that the driver was an alfr. He wore a heavy white hoodie over a gray sweater that thoroughly covered his teimach markings, and he kept his hood up as well for that same reason.

Aravin felt a biting sympathy.

“Anything to get by,” said the driver. “At least I don’t live in Slum City, you know?”

Aravin shrugged. “That is nice. Do you have a family? People you’re supporting?”

The man shrugged. He was quiet for the rest of the trip, as he drove into the intertwining scab that was the Dirah Ward. Despite the looming threat of Transplanar invasion hanging above, most of the people that lived in this Ward still went about their daily lives. Kids still played bugball and the usual gangs wearing uniform scarfs walked around. There were less humans now, Aravin could see, and a hell of a lot more of the other Races. The occasional zaretrych, a lakerto surfacing from the underneath the rivers and the bridges.

“I can only drive you guys here.”

“That should be enough,” said Aravin, plopping two fifty eagle coins onto the coin tray. They digitized.

“You stay safe now,” said the alfr as they moved out of his cab.

Aravin nodded. “You too.”

 

With the two of them out of the cab, they started making their way into the slithering back alley streets of the Dirah. Stay plastic, paper bags, and tin cans littered the streets, a lot of the trash detritus being tossed to and fro by the wind. Deloreia stood close to Aravin as shadows appeared on the windows above them in the shantytowns. Shadows that seemed to watch them.

Aravin made sure Deloreia stood close to him, and he wound through the confusing labyrinthine slums. He turned a corner, walked down a small flight of stairs made of corrugated steel that rang hollowly under his feet, stepped over a wooden wall, and then vaulted down onto a stone balcony, helping Deloreia down as welll. They kept on moving, turning right and then across a slight crack in the stone road. They entered into another alleyway, and didn’t stop their trek. Aravin walked with confidence and stride, while Deloreia stood behind him.

It didn’t take long before they had to climb down again onto another stone balcony. This time, Deloriea saw that the balcony looked out to the plains east of Throne, outside the city, were there were even more shanty towns, and past the shantytowns was a vast deserted plain, and then little pocks of chaotic storms roiled outside of those, intermingling and messing with the local fauna and flora.

“Come on,” said Aravin. Deloreia took his hand as she jumped down once again into another balcony, grunting as she hit the stone.

As she stood,  Aravin walked up to the glass sliding door behind her, and tapped thrice. Deloreia turned and watched for a few moments. The darkness past the glass was seemingly impenetrable.

Of course, Deloriea was set to be disappointed in that assumption, as six almond shaped lights pierced the pall of the dark and pressed up against the transparent glass sliding door. Del blinked and stepped back. She turned to Aravin, who waved. The six almond shaped things bobbed in the darkness.The sliding door slid to the side quickly, and the six eyed thing disappeared into the darkness.

“Stay close to me,” said Aravin. Deloreia nodded, and she followed the Emperor into the darkness.

It seemed for a long time that they were walking through a pure sheer darkness, walking past what seemed to be a hallway of black, a nebulous void. The only indication that they were actually walking on anything was the soft clanging of their hard leather boots against steel. Deloreia had to cling to Aravin to not bump into any walls, or fall down any pits, or whatever resided in the darkness that she could not see.

Then a soft light broke through the gloom. Aravin strode forward still, without the fully placed, cautious steps of Deloreia. Priestess followed suit after him and they both appeared out into the light.

It was a clearing. Not too big, not too small. It was a circular clearing, and in the soft fuzzy light of at least six desknode monitors, Deloriea could see that the walls, floor, and the roof were all made of steel. It was like walking through a ventilation shaft.

Within this circular clearing, in the smack middle of it, was a strange thing. Something that resembled a cocoon hung from the ceiling, except this cocoon was made up of thick pipes, with the thickest one seemingly the girth and width of Vikrus’ arm. They writhed like leathery carbon snakes.

The thick vines seemed to twine around and writhe, as if alive, until a portion of it disappeared, seemingly impaled, into the body of a zaretrych. An arachnid body with an abdomen now riddled and seemingly becoming some sort of node for all the rest of the thick pipes. Its two arm-appendages moved about, tapping and pressing things on the six feeds it had placed in a circular position around it, making some sort of hexagon. Sometimes it would drag an item out of a screen, moving it through the air as a holographic projection without any monitors, and then it would place it back into another monitor feed.

One of the zaretrych’s arm-appendages, Deloriea noticed, was not organic at all, but a magitechnical proesthetic shaped like a human arm, as opposed to the usual arms of a zaretrych being almost blade like with a sticky adhesive pad so that they could things.. Another thing Deloreia noticed was that its feet hung almost uselessly as it was connected to the pipes, but since it was able to open the door for them, Deloreia didn’t assume that it couldn’t use them.

“Jyrzz’sk,” said Aravin.

The six-eyed head, shaped like that of a spider’s with six large blinking eyes, moved erratically as it tried to turn to Aravin. It was as if the zaretrych could not control its head, but as past experiences with other zaretrych would tell her, this was how they usually looked.

Then it spoke.

The mandibles of a zaretrych disallowed it from talking in any of the tongued races’ languages. Instead, thanks to their innate psychic ability, or some technology — Deloreia could never distinguish between the two, nor remember which one was the true one — they spoke in a strange way.

Jyrzz’sk’s disembodied voice rang in their heads. “Knights Vigilant. A pleasure I’m sure. You are here to ask information about the Transplanar Resonance, yes?”

Aravin nodded.

The voice continued, “In exchange, you will give…?”

“Extended protection of the Knights Vigilant, as well as monthly tribute.”

“Acceptable.” Its voice was robotic, and sounded like it was a person talking from far off through some sort of radio filter. “Bind the Oath, mortal.” Aravin snorted at that last word.

“It is sealed,” said Aravin, shrugging. “By the word of the Knights Vigilant.”

“Very well,” the head turned around and looked up at the various feeds overblowing his perceptions. “It should not come as a shock. There is a Transplanar entity converging into our world.”

Aravin stepped forward. “What Transplanar entity? Tell me.”

The head turned to them, and in the most matter of fact voice, with the wrongest inflection and stresses of syllables, Jyrzz’sk said, “The Wild Hunt.” A pause. The slightest of pauses, as if letting the levity of those words drop onto the Knights like a ten-ton anvil. “And if you don’t move soon, they will invade our world.”

“How do we stop them?” Deloreia was surprised that that came out of her mouth.

The zaretrych turned to her then, and said once again, in her mind, “The Sidereans have to reestablish the barrier. Hurry, or it might be too late.”

“Sidereans…” Deloreia’s mind ran with possibilities. Could it be? She thought. Could something have gone through them, past them?

Aravin spoke grimly. “How long do we have?”

“Not long. A day,” said the zaretrych, and in a weird mechanical motion, looked up. “It has begun.”

 

They had run out, out of the building of Jyrzz’sk after saying their thanks. Aravin hauled Deloreia up and out of the balcony. From this point, on the walls of Throne, they could see the highest point of Throne City — atop which had the broiling storm clouds.

Aravin and Deloreia watched as lightning struck…

…and then little, minute things flurried out from within the storm cloud, as if people roiling out of a portal.

“Hobgoblins,” said Aravin. He grabbed Deloreia’s hand and shouted, “Come on! We have to gather the Knights!”

 

* * *

 

From the highest point of Throne, lightning struck.

Almost everyone that could look up saw it. Captain Urie watched as lightning struck the antenna of the highest point of Throne.

Kotoro could see, as he rode a cab on the way back to Captain Urie, as the lightning heralded another world striking another world.

Rune, the Throne’s Vizier of Magick, saw the and felt the aberration that was another plane converging into their reality. She looked up and saw the lightning strike the tower, even as she walked across the rooftop, following after the trail of the rogue Siddivata.

Chrysanthemum and Kasu saw as they rode the CRT on the way to the Cathedral, as lightning struck the tower and carried with it a  deep rumbling within their soul, that seemed to say, an ancient reckoning has been heeded.

 

Indeed, all saw the lightning strike.

And all saw the little things with wings and cloven hoofs and sharp tusks jutting out from their mouths, and eyes as black as night, as they flurried out of the storm clouds like a vengeful hurricane, reaching a density that could block out the sun.

The flurry of beautiful madness descended upon Throne.

 

Dream 3

Quinen wasn’t quite sure what to expect anymore when he came into the Collegium. Would they welcome him back? Would everyone be hostile? Or would everyone that knew him already graduated, and had moved on to actual Savant jobs like Magitechts and Physickers?

Oberen had told him that the mangled body of her sister was in the East Park of the Collegium. He didn’t respond, grimacing instead when he walked through two bronze and brass statues of lions. Their eyes glimmered with a radiant arcane power, and their mane flowed like stardust streams, floating about like tendrils in water.

Oberen raised something in his hand — something that looked like a glinting circular piece of gold — and the Celestial Lions stayed silent.

Oberen turned to Quinen, and then to Chrysanthemum. She gazed up at the Celestial Lions, standing on her tip-toes to get a closer look.

“Right inside, please,” Oberen said. Chrys peered a few seconds more into the flaring wicks of flame burning within the eye-sockets of the Celestial Lions, before turning back and walking close to Quinen.

Quinen sighed, gripped Chrysanthemum’s hand, and–

“Ow,” she said, and she pulled away from Quinen’s grasp.

“What?” Quinen asked, pulling his hand close to him, afraid he had done something wrong. Chrysanthemum looked up at him. A breath escaped Quinen as he stared into her iridescent eyes, reflective of her homeland of beautiful madness. He shook his head. “N-nevermind that. Come on.”

She nodded. Quinen turned to the Portal — a large arch with swirling nebulous magic within, resembling the night sky on a clear night, complete with astral stars and sidereal clouds. Quinen clenched his fists and turned one last time to Chrysanthemum. She looked away from him, rubbing her hand.

Could it be that— No. The Warlock shook his head. No time for that. He turned and strode into the Portal. The murky, yawning arc ate him up like a stone sinking into a river, its blackness enveloping him.

***

Chrysanthemum sat on the bed, looking up at Quinen. “Step… sister?”

Quinen rubbed his eyes with his hands. Oberen looked at him, raising an eyebrow. He opened his mouth, but then Quinen waved dismissively. “Lyn was the daughter of some other man my mum married.”

Chrysanthemum nodded slowly though her eyebrows were still furrowed. “Ah, yes. Marriage. Tradition? A commitment…?”

Quinen breathed in, and said, “To one another, yes.”

“What does this tradition eat?”

Quinen bit his lip; Oberen furrowed his eyebrows, and then turned to Quinen, his face demanding an explanation. “She’s just being jokey,” he said, hoping that that would’ve been enough. He turned to Chrysanthemum, whispering: “We don’t ask those questions, right now, okay?”

She paused, then turned to Oberen. Black was beginning to seep in from the corners of her eyes, like ink shrouding the whites of her eyes. Quinen noticed this and bit back a curse. He turned to Oberen and said, “Hey, Oberen, we’re going to need some privacy. She needs to get ready for the trip to the Collegium.”

Oberen raised an eyebrow at that. Quinen sighed and shook his head. “That just means she needs to take a bath.”

Oberen turned to Chrysanthemum, who was now looking at her fingertips. Blotches of ink exploded from the tips. He shrugged. “I’ll be downstairs.”

The Collegium Magicker shut the door behind him as he walked out. Quinen waited for the sound of his boots to fade away, and then he locked the door with a wave of a hand; a ring of glyphs burst out around the doorknob, revolving around it in a hypnotic rhythm.

Quinen walked toward Chrysanthemum and pulled his shirt off of her. Thank Adon she was wearing some undergarments.

The ink he had implanted upon the back of her neck had begun to snake back into its origin, like a flower receding into its bulb, reverse-blossoming. The snaking, vine-like tattoos that twined about Chrysanthemum moved with a vigor usually reserved to human beings.

“God’s balls,” he said, frowning. He stood and walked over to his wooden workbench, situated by the foot of the bed. He pulled a drawer open and grabbed a small, black stick with a tip of crystal.

Dras,” Quinen whispered beneath his breath. The snarling word brought action, and the tip of the crystal burst into a stellar yellow blue.

He walked over to Chrysanthemum, who watched the tattoos of her body squirm, receding like snakes returning into a hole. “Quin,” she said. Her voice was strange and melancholic. It sounded like it echoed from the caverns of her heart. “What’s happening?”

“It’s the tattoos again,” he said. “Remember? They allow you to keep this Mortal form until you’ve earned the right to get one.”

“I’m…” she faltered as she looked about her body once more, from her shoulders and her chest, down to her feet, and eventually finding herself gazing at the window. She stopped at the sight of her reflection. Her eyes reflected not the beaten down brick apartment that stood across the street from their own flat, but of a place of cold fire and burning water — of perfectly constrained passions and unbridled calm. “I’m dreaming of a place somewhere else…”

“Don’t focus on that,” Quinen said. He did his best to keep the small panic rising in his voice. Every time the tattoos receded, he concluded, the threat of her slipping into the Avalon gets larger and larger. “Don’t focus on that.”

She reached a hand out to the window. Vine-like ink scrawled and slithered up her arm.

A scrawling glyph appeared on top of the glowing yellow crystal. Then, he placed the tip of the inkwand on the end of one of the slithering tattoos. The crawling tattoo stopped, as if held back by the inkwand, suspended by the commanding tip. Wincing from effort, Quinen pulled the tattoos back into place.

The vine-like tattoos moved, as if being charmed by a snake-charmer. It scrawled up Chrysanthemum’s arm again until it returned to its previous place, burning with an arcane light, an iridescence that matched her shifting eyes perfectly. Quinen continued to do the same with the rest of the receding tattoos until he had brought back the tattoos to their rightful places, all in the noble cause of keeping Chrysanthemum anchored to the Mund.

With that finished, Quinen leaned back, huffing out a breath. He stood and walked over to his workbench, returning the inkwand back into its drawer.

Chrysanthemum blinked. The black had gone from the whites of her eyes, as if she had been purified of something. “Quinen…?”

Quin turned and walked over to her. She held out a hand, as if she were blind, and Quinen caressed it. He gripped her hand with both of his own. “I’m here.”

“What am I?” she said. Her voice quivered, her eyes still focused on the window. She was still seeing a place far away, distant.

“You’re a flower,” Quinen said, with a voice much lower and much more caring than he ever thought possible. “A beautiful flower that needs to be taken care of.”

She didn’t answer. She looked out of the window, almost wistful. Her eyes reflected a place of beautiful madness.

* * *

Chrys was vomited into the stone floor by the starry-sky portal. She stepped lightly on her feet, managing to find her balance before completely toppling over. It was already Nymph Season — it was bound to get cold and the snow wasn’t even setting in yet. This made her grateful of the surprising warmth within the Collegium.

She found herself in a square room; Celestial Lions still guarded this side of the Portal. The room looked like it belonged to the Late Second Age — stone walls, torches planted on each of the four walls and wooden tables.

Oberen waited for them on top of the stairs, right across the room. Chrysanthemum flittered over to the foot of the stairs and walked up him. She would take two steps at a time, and then she would get tired and only take one.

When she came over to Oberen, she felt obliged to ask, “Why is it that one would need a Portal to enter the Collegium?”

Oberen snorted. He didn’t look at the fey girl. “Did that need to be a question? Have you seen where we are?”

She had.

Even before they entered into the Portal — hell, while they were taking the service car over to the Karoley Ward to the East of the City — Chrysanthemum could already see the floating archipelago of the Collegium, interconnected by a criss-crossing complex of arcane beams. There were little black dots that walked atop these streams of pure energy. The little black dots were people, Chrysanthemum deduced to herself, nodding.

Yes. They were people. I’m smart.

“I suppose I have. Disregard my question.”

Soon enough, Quinen was beside Chrysanthemum. He walked over to Oberen. “East Park, right?” He asked. Oberen nodded. At that nod, he walked out of the room they were in and out into a large, round courtyard that seemed to be the middle of the Collegium.

Students, Savants, and teachers alike walked across the massive courtyard, rushing to and fro to their various responsibilities. In the middle of the circular space was a statue. A strange one at that, Chrysanthemum noted to herself — it was a bunch of broken stones that were held floating together loosely by some ethereal force. It made the statue look like it had been shattered into pieces, and then glued back together loosely and imperfectly.

The statue itself depicted a singular symbol — one that resembled a cross with an “X” across it, giving it eight points. A glowing, silver line of humming power traced the tips of these and formed an octagon about it.

Chrysanthemum tugged at Quinen’s sleeve. “What is that?” She asked, pointing at the strange symbol.

Quinen turned, and then said, “Ah, that’s the Vedina, a symbol of Magick and the symbol of the University,” he said. “And that’s the longest I can take the job of being a tour guide. Let’s head over to the East Park.”

Chrysanthemum followed Oberen and Quinen through the courtyard, weaving through various throngs of students. A few were facing each other, performing intricate hand gestures and shouting out words that only grated against her ear. They were incomprehensibly understandable.

Somewhere, in the mass chaotic blob of students, a flower fell from a tree. The next instant, a cut sliced it perfectly. Chrysanthemum stopped and turned around, trying to look for the source of the sound, before she saw a long-haired woman with a sword sheath her blade, and a pink flower falling from its branch, cut in half.

Chrysanthemum turned to Quinen, but they were already a few feet away. She had to dash to catch up to them.

They walked as they talked. Chrysanthemum did her best not to get distracted by everything happening around her, but there was just so many things. Another grating, magical word, and frosty winds wrapped around her.

Turning, Chrys saw another girl jump in front of a flying fireball. The girl performed a series of lightning fast hand movements and the fireball struck her hands. The fireball burst in a grand display of green and blue, embers of color dancing about her like loose butterflies, and then it dissipated back into Diwa.

Chrysanthemum followed the two Magickers as they descended down wide stairs of stone, capable of accommodating everyone walking up and down. Chrys observed strange trees that didn’t much grow in the concrete jungle of Throne. A forest of twisting trunks and gnarled branches that seemed to support the heavens itself, colored white, black, brown, and red.

Soon enough, they reached the bottom of the stairs, away from the Courtyard and its tall, square buildings and hallways. The East Park still had other access points and exits to other parts of the Collegium, but the middle of it was sealed off by a few strange, pole-like contraptions emitting a red light from an orb on top of the pole. It resembled a picket fence, if the horizontal slats had been replaced with twining beams of crimson.

Oberen walked over to the fence and waved his hand; the small, golden badge he brought with him glowed gold, and one side of the fence petered out. There was a pop that Chrys felt more than she heard, and the space between the two, colorless poles was crossed by Oberen.

Quinen and Chrysanthemum followed soon after.

The lights of the fence exploded back into existence behind them.

In front of them, in the midst of a circle of neatly arranged trees, was a body lying against the stone concrete of the East Park. It was a lady she hadn’t seen before. The fact that her face had been mangled beyond identification could be a probable reason for that.

Quinen walked up to the body, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His eyes scanned the body, with an intense glare.

There was a tap on Chrys’ shoulder. She turned, and saw a man with hair gold like the sun. His eyes were feral, painted crimson, reminding her of a lion. He didn’t smile down at her or anything. He just turned to Chrys and said, “I don’t think you’re allowed in here.”

Chrysanthemum stared up at him. She was staring at something beautiful; her stomach fluttered, her hands got jittery, and she, without thinking it, took a half-step back. She thought herself mad.

 

***

 

No Magick could’ve done this. Quinen completed his forensic gaze, and theories began popping about in his mind palace. He shook his head and said, “She’s been twisted by something.”

“Twisted? By what?” Oberen asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Made different. Maybe by something from the Mael. Or maybe something deeper than the Near Shores.”

“What, like Avalon?”

Quinen didn’t answer, and his gaze turned back to the mangled body of Lyn. Her nose had been turned into an ivory tusk, her hands turned into eagle wings, her right leg turned into the roots of a sprawling oak tree. Her hair had turned into blades of grass and a trunk of a tree grew from her back, as if her body had been earth.

 

Dream 2

Quinen didn’t have the best feeling in his stomach. He hopped off of the CRT, watched it zoom off into the weaving system of rails of Throne, and walked down the black steel stairs onto the curb. Once he had both feet on the bitumen, he grabbed another cig and lit it with a snap of a finger.

He walked on, dress shoes clacking against the concrete sidewalk, turned a corner, and moved up a steep road. At this time of the day, there weren’t a lot of people, much to Quinen’s relief. He walked, brooded, and scowled as he made his way up to his apartment.

The two-story brick building wasn’t much to look at. The paint chipped, the lightglobe poorly illuminated its porch and blinked in an irregular beat. Quinen walked up to the flickering lightglobe and touched it with the tip of his finger. The cigarette he had in his mouth flared up, burning up most of what was inside as the lightglobe glowed brightly, a steady luminescent hum scaring away the gray of the Ascending morning.

He opened the door and walked inside.

Running a dirty, gloved hand through his tousled hair, Quinen removed the cigarette from his mouth and scowled, opened the door and threw it outside.

Up the flight of stairs to the second floor, where his room was. He was still brooding. He liked doing that.

He made his way to the door at the end of the hallway. It was a simple door – nothing on it that would signify that it was his only home ever since he got kicked out of the Collegium, but he liked it all the same. He cracked his neck and then reached for the door but stopped a few inches from it.

A strange, dull throbbing nagged him from the nape of his neck. His eyes narrowed into slits.

“Who…?”

***

Chrysanthemum bit her lip. The boy beside her looked out the window past her, with earbuds in his ears. She liked music, but only if it had voices.

Sighing, Chrys turned and looked out the window with a bored look. The bus turned a corner and she saw a familiar landmark that she and Quin had passed almost a hundred of times before. A tall, needle-like monument with a hairless man having six haloes floating about him was engraved onto the side of the needle. As the sun rose in the Ascending, one of the westernmost Haloes glowed, lighting up, as if to signify the movement of the Daystar across the sky.

She remembered the time Quinen had brought her to that place before. She hadn’t seen such a beautiful structure, and he told her the “secret” of the structure – that there was a device that tracked the movement of the Daystar and followed as the Daystar rose. It was a neat, though antiquated, way of telling the time. It sure beat looking at a timekeeper. It was beautiful and pleasant to the eyes.

“It’s Magic,” she’d said back then as Quinen explained to her.

Quinen had shrugged. “It’s Technology,” he’d said, stepping back.

“What’s ‘Technology’?”

He’d looked up at the monument and said, “A way to make Magick available to everyone.”

A cough snapped her out of her reverie. Chrys blinked. She saw her own hazel brown eyes staring back at her from the window. “Excuse me, miss?”

Chrys opened her mouth slightly and turned to the boy with the dark hair and sea green eyes. She narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. “Yes?” Chrys pouted. “What is it you want?”

The boy hesitated for a bit, lost in her eyes. When he found himself, he shook his head. “I’m sorry I…” he grimaced. “Can you tell me where the next station is?”

There was a beat. She narrowed her eyes again and said, “Why do you ask?”

He shrugged. “I’m not too terribly well-versed with the Cathedra Ward,” he said. “I’m from the Collegium, you see, and-”

“West Cornerstone Stop.”

The boy blinked. “Ah,” he nodded. “Thank you. Much obliged.”

Chrys nodded, and then leaned her head unto the window once again. She did her best to concentrate on the passing landmarks Quinen had marked for her. Floating disc, shattered glass, tall tree…

“Where are you going?” she couldn’t help herself, and she hated herself for it. She turned around and asked the question to the boy with the dark hair and ocean eyes. “Why are you heading to West Cornerstone?”

The boy smiled. The dimples on the sides of his face created a great chiaroscuro of his features. “Um… to see an old friend.”

“An old friend?”

He nodded. “He’s a warlock now, but we studied in most of the same classes in the years in the Collegium.”

“What’s a Warlock…?”

***

Quinen’s Sense Magick Working would be the first spell he would cast for the day, during his morning rituals. A hodge-podge spell that was, surprisingly enough, not wholly from the Perfected Collegiate Theory. He had learned it from an old Wyckpath practitioner: the usage of purple crystals rubbed over the body to make one’s body react when there was some sort of magickal interference, as if to imply that something was upsetting the natural order of things. It could also be a way to sense the other Magickers.

And now his back was throbbing.

He was tired. He couldn’t fling any more spells until he could get sleep. Dissonance does that to you. And if you ignore Dissonance, well, you might suffer Transportation.

He’d done that before. He didn’t want to do it again. Once was enough.

Quinen sighed, stepped back, and patted the knife he had concealed in his back pocket. As long as you lived off those big buildings with the fancy metal detectors, nobody would ever catch you with lethal weapons on your body.

With a tense air about him, Quinen raised a hand, brought it back…

And knocked.

There was the sound of thumping, feet against a creaky and noisy wooden floor. Then, the sound that reminded Quin of a thousand nights between the highest of the Nightstar and the lowest of the Daystar. Where the entire night would be awake, speaking in silent tones that only those who listened could hear.

Quinen smiled as that silence spoke to him. “Yes?” came the voice of Chrysanthemum, muffled by the door in between them. He couldn’t help but smile wider. “What’s the password?”

“The earliest tibisen,” said Quinen, still smiling, “is the gift of the lune.”

“To his love, the sun,” she replied. The door unlatched, unlocked, and swung open.

Chrysanthemum, all wiry and thin and pale moonlight, stood on the other side. Her pink hair that curled around her cheeks in kisses of stars framed her dimples. “You may enter, Quinen.”

And he did. The dull throbbing turned into a hammering onto the back of his neck. He looked up at Chrysanthemum, who was wearing nothing but one of his too-big-for-her shirts. “Chrys?”

She raised a delicate eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Who’s with you?”

“Your friend,” she replied, grinning. Quinen scowled. Chrys saw him do that, and she copied his expression. “Quin, I told you to stop brooding.”

He scowled even more. “I’m not brooding.”

“You are!” she said, pointing a slender finger at him.

Behind the door, shoes thumped against the wooden floor. A boy in a deep blue jacket and hair as dark as the abyss looked up at him, sea-green eyes always catching Quinen somehow off-guard. He grinned as he looked up at Quin. “Argist Quinen,” he spoke, his voice just as melodious as his looks. “Good to see you again.”

The dull throbbing went away. Quinen pressed his lips together, but couldn’t help but give the slightest of smiles. “Roeser Oberen,” he said.

He smiled and shrugged. “The one and only, Quinen.” He turned to Chrysanthemum. “And your little girlfriend here’s right. You do brood a lot now.”

Quinen smiled, but it had no hint of humor within. He stepped through the door and went straight to the refrigerator, where he brought out a glass can of some fizzing liquid. He pressed the glass top downward, where it popped and tore apart. He took a huge gulp, inhaling abruptly when he finished. “With that out of the way,” he said, looking up at the newcomer. “What in Adon’s name are you doing here, Oberen?”

He shrugged. Chrys was still at the door, pondering, with a finger up at her lips. Oberen took one look at her, then walked over to a nearby chair. “How long have you had this place?”

Quinen shrugged. “About the same time I was branded Warlock.” The Warlock nodded at the backpack leaning against one of the posts of his bed – a gray backpack with way too many pockets for Quinen’s comfort. “So, what, like six years ago? How long have you had that backpack?”

Oberen shrugged. “I like this backpack.”

“Yeah,” he said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Because it was the only time you were able to cast that Timespace spell, yeah?”

The sea-eyed man grinned. “Hey, Timespace spells were never my thing.” Quinen rolled his eyes.

“I’ve never liked that Field.”

“What’s a ‘girlfriend’?” Chrysanthemum finally spoke after an eternity of pondering.

Quinen breathed out through his nostrils. “Ignore that term.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

Oberen snorted. “You’re horrible and terrible, Quin.”

“Yeah? Guess who I picked it up from.” Oberen chuckled at that. “Now what in God’s name are you doing in here?”

Oberen sighed. “Can’t I just come here and talk with my good old friend Quinen?”

Quinen rolled his eyes even more, sighing. “Collegium-folk don’t just come down from their floating school to this Ward. You’ve come here for a reason, so just cut the fint*.” He inhaled, and then said, “Please.”

Oberen grinned. “Anger management’s doing wonders for you, huh?”

“Yeah. Thank Adon for actual people who want to help me, right?”

Oberen sighed. “Okay, so, here’s the deal.”

Quinen folded his arms in front of him and leaned against the cooler. Chrysanthemum jaunted over onto Quinen’s bed and sat. She brought out her palmnode and began tapping away, never raising her head from the information within the screen. “A Collegium girl’s been found dead.”

Quinen raised an eyebrow. “And what’s that have to do with me?” He briefly thought of money, but he wasn’t so sure on any case connected to the Collegium. He didn’t want to do anything with the Collegium anymore.

“Yeah,” Oberen shrugged. “It’s Lyn.”

A pin drop silence. Chrysanthemum read the atmosphere. She paused from tapping, and looked up at Quinen. When he kept staring at Oberen, she asked, “Who’s Lyn?”

Oberen sighed. Quinen was the one who responded. “An old friend.”

Oberen bit his lip, and then said, “It’s his step-sister.”

Quinen took another gulp of the can. Chrys looked up at him, eyebrow raised and head slightly tilted.

*fint is a common crass word meaning “nonsense”, coming from the old Language of Tondonian.

Dream 1

The City was a neon bonfire.

The girl’s pink hair glowed. She furrowed her eyebrows when she looked down upon her hands. Strange, scrawling inks climbed up and down her palm, twisting and turning about her fingers in an intricate dance. They resembled snakes, or dragons, or jifarins in her mind. She smiled. She hadn’t seen a jifarin in quite some time.

She looked up, and saw the Star of the Day begin to rise. Her vision beheld the dark, cool sky – the stars invisible and hidden by the strange lights that mortals have created below – seared away by the glory of the Resplendent Daystar. She smiled as she saw the darkness fight back. The dark blue of the night sprinkled the sky with ash gray blood. In the end, the Resplendent Daystar always won. But she knew that the Night would return, with their glorious Empress General, the Abyssal Nightstar.

The leaden sky was a welcome sight resembling a mirror. The buildings below her were a shade of gray. She remembered when she was but a little girl – back when Throne City hadn’t even been built yet. Back when she lived in one of the Shires in the continent of Choma. Fierthe Shire if she recalled right.

Back then, the stars shone ever bright, not afraid of the strange mechanical lights below. Back then, she worshipped the Tass Hallows as givers of power, not merely sources of infinite energy to be harvested. Back then, wars were fought over territory and power. Now, it’s fought over money and energy.

Chrysanthemum looked down on her leather boots. A sad smile shadowed her face.

Despite the Daystar washing over Throne City, the clouds were thick. The sky kept that gray hue for most of the morning. A cold, fickle wind danced about her, encircling her and inviting her to play. It danced away, ever-changing, always looking for people who would respond faster. Chrysanthemum frowned.

Chrysanthemum dipped her hands into the pocket of her leather coat. Despite having worn a warm, fuzzy gray sweatshirt, the chill of the first few days of Nymph Season was something that only a house with a heater could fight against. She turned, moved her foot to walk… but decided to lean back on the gray slab.

The pink-haired girl inhaled a cold breeze of air. Her breath came out as steam.

She liked the cold. She decided that she would stay here for a while. Besides, Quinen wasn’t going to be back home anytime soon.

Chrys leaned her head back, her strange, glowing pink hair cascading behind her, and she basked in the coldness of the leaden sky.

***

Quinen hoped that Chrysanthemum was back home.

He closed his fist, grit his teeth, and then raised his hand. He uttered a snarling word, a word that rippled through creation, grasped at the realm that governed the reality of time and space, and he called it down. With a word of pure magick, time and space itself bowed to Quinen, and it shifted before him. The jifarin’s massive hammer of a fist, instead of hitting him, slammed instead into the brick wall beside him.

Quinen’s heart hammered in his chest. Exhilaration pumped through him. He grinned.

The jifarin swung its other hand toward Quinen; he responded in kind. He shook his left arm. The tattoos he had implanted onto it glowed, humming with an esoteric energy. It burned in iridescent hues of white, pink, and blue and gold and silver. Shouting, Quinen pulled his hand back, and slammed his fist against the jifarin’s second punch.

Ribbons of colors exploded out of the point of impact as magick met madness.

Quinen felt his entire body shake in effort. His left shinbone almost cracked under pressure, making him wince. Cursing, Quinen pushed the creature’s fist away, and followed it up with a magickally-empowered jab.

Increasing the kinetic force of the jab, Quinen blew the jifarin. The serpentine creature flew back twenty feet landing at the opening of the grimy, piss-smelling alleyway. The lights faded into shadow, accompanied by a lancing pain up his left arm. Quinen winced, but he shook off the pain.

He turned to the floor where he had dropped his cig, and found that one of the bricks knocked loose by the jifarin’s assault had crushed it. He sighed. “Waste.” He dug into each of his pockets until he found a new one. He set it up to his lips, snapped his fingers. Manipulating the vibrations from the snap and transmuting it a small wick of flame erupted in the tip of his fingertips. He lit the cig and walked up to the squirming jifarin.

Frowning, Quinen examined the jifarin. Its abdomen had caved in, and iridescence bled out of its orifices.

Removing the cig out of his mouth, he huffed out another puff of smoke. Catching the smoke with his other hand, he uttered a prodding word. He used the tattoos snaking up his arms, and commanded the smoke with his fingers. The wispy smoke moved as if an ethereal puppet on invisible strings.

He uttered a twisting word then, and the gray smoke turned black, angry and demeaning. Soon, the black smoke turned into angry embers that danced about in his fingers, waltzing in an intricate dance. As the dance reached its height, the embers dancing to the climax of the silent beat, Quinen crushed the glowing motes within his fist. “I manipulate Energy.” His voice echoed and ripped through creation, and Magick obeyed.

He tapped his cigar into the end of that fist, and then pulled it away, flame trailing after it. He pulled the cigar around him and lashed it onto the jifarin, like a whip.

The fire blazed, whipping the jifarin. It screeched in agony as the flame burned against its skin. Quinen pulled the cigar back and lashed it again, this time with a larger flame following the tip of the cigar. The flame swallowed the mad creature.

In a matter of seconds, the serpentine monster burned to a crisp. Quinen released his fist, and the embers danced away, red and orange motes dissipating into the mists. He put the cigar back in his mouth. He placed a hand on the jifarin and uttered, “And back to Avalon with you.” A basso voice echoed his words in another, indiscernible language.

The jifarin exploded in a cloud of golden butterflies, so small that they seemed like specks of light. The jifarin’s gossamer rose up and flew up high into the sky, past the leaden sky as the daystar rose.

Quinen breathed deeply. He walked out of the alleyway, bringing his overcoat closer to him as the Nymph chill set in. He Manipulated the heat of the cig, coaxing it all over him to warm himself a bit as he walked down the sidewalk. Autochariots whizzed past on the asphalt road beside him. Other people travelled up and down the sidewalk alone or in sparse groups. The early morning of 5 Ascending wasn’t really the abode of the normal Throne citizen.

He dug his hands into his pockets and breathed through his cig. The Nymph chill was going to make him sick. He was sure of it.

A few blocks down and Quinen arrived at the apartment of his client. He walked up the front porch and pressed the buzzer that rang up Ms. Lahlia’s flat. In a matter of seconds, Quinen heard thumps on the floor as Lahlia Quira opened the door. She was in a cozy sweater, her auburn hair undone and sticking up on all sides, and she didn’t have any cosmetics on. The bags under her eyes and the red tint on the sides of her pupils suggested that she had either just woken up or hadn’t been sleeping entirely. Quinen looked down on her. It wasn’t that Quinen was tall – he was on the average side of the height spectrum – it was just dreorg have always been short.

“Oh,” she said, smiling widely. Her round spectacles helped the bubbly image. Quinen smirked. “You’re back. What did you find?” As she asked, her ears — short and reminiscent of a rabbit’s — twitched. Her prehensile tail wagged behind her, the pink crystal ore glimmering at the end of it.

“Wasn’t a belgar stalking you,” Quinen replied. He pulled out his palmnode — a rectangular piece of what looked like glass — from his pocket and tapped on it lightly. An image visualized and showed the serpentine body of the jifarin, walking around with four legs and two arms. The green scales shimmered gold underneath to them. “It was a jifarin. A Divata changeling, more precisely.”

The dreorg lady crossed her arms. “Why would a jifarin be stalking me?”

Quinen shrugged. “I didn’t study the Divata in the Collegium, Miss Lahlia.” He put back the rectangular glass screen into his pocket and stuck out his hand, palm facing up. “And I’m not getting paid for that, am I?”

Lahlia nodded. “Right, right of course not. Here, one second.” She dug into the pocket of her denim pants and fished out fifteen whole eagles. “Fifteen plus your down-payment of ten makes twenty-five eagles, yes?”

Quinen nodded. “Much obliged, Madam.”

She smiled, scrunching her cute button nose. In the cold weather, her skin had turned pale, punctuating the freckles on her face. “Now you take care.” She stepped back and closed the door.

Quinen smirked, hung his head, and said, “You too.”

He turned around and walked down the apartment’s porch. He pulled out his palmnode again and made a call to Chrys. It took three rings for her to pick up.

“Hey, Quinen,” her singsong voice sang from the other end.

“Chrysanthemum,” Quinen said. “Are you back at home?”

There was a noticeable pause, before Chrys answered, “Nope.”

Quinen would’ve gotten angry. Instead, he sighed. “And why not?”

“The sunset was pretty,” she said. “It’s hard to find pretty things nowadays. It’s all hidden.”

Quinen grinned at that. “I think that makes them even prettier.”

“Hm?” Quinen could see Chrys pouting on the other line. “I don’t think that makes sense.”

Quinen shrugged. “It does to me.” He coughed, and sent another wave of heat over his body. “Hey, you better go back to the flat now. It’s getting bright.”

She sighed. “I know.” There was a pause. Quinen waited. He knew what happens when she got like this. “Do I… why do I have to keep hiding?”

Quinen sighed again. Steam blew out, dissipating into the gray. “Just a little longer.”

There was another silence. “Okay. But…” there was a desperate hopefulness in her voice. “Why can’t you just keep putting these tattoos on me?”

Quinen walked down the sidewalk, heading to the closest City-Rail Transit station. The closest one to him was Juvakin Station. “Because they hurt you and I don’t want that. And because they’re temporary.”

“Hm.” Quinen held his breath. “Okay. I’ll… I’ll do my best.”

“Attagirl.” Quinen smiled. “I’ll see you in the flat. Don’t-”

“Don’t fall in love,” Chrysanthemum cut him off. “I know, I know.”

***

“Good,” Quinen said on the other line. Chrys smiled.

“I’ll see you,” she said, ending the call. She shoved her palmnode into her pocket once again and walked across the cement roof she had climbed up to. She lowered herself down a rusty set of metal stairs that scaled the side of the building. When she reached the last few rungs of the last ladder, she hopped down. The back-alleyway was windy. Her boots didn’t make a sound when she hit the cement.

She turned and walked up and out of the piss-smelling back alleyway.

A neon sign shone above the shops, showcasing different signs and words for different utilities and vices. Other people wearing coats over coats huddled against trash fires, while others slept within dumpsters of green and grime.

Chrys moved through the little colonies of homeless that lay against the alleyway. Her glowing, pink hair seemed to shimmer at the morning. The homeless looked at the hair, blinked, and then went back to whatever they were doing — sleeping, twiddling with little wooden pieces, cutting their hair…

She reached the end of the alleyway when her palmnode buzzed in her pocket. She slowed her walk, pulled the palmnode out, and read the message.

— From Kiether:
hey. i really miss you, chris. i still have that spot for your bed. i still have that perfume you love. come back
please.
If you don’t… at least tell me why you left in the first place?

Chrys scowled, slipped her palmnode back into her pocket. She saw the city bus, about to leave the station. She ran faster than any girl her size could manage, and she jumped right into the closing doors.

“By Adon’s Teeth, girl!” The driver beat his chest once with a fist, as if to shake him off from a reverie. “I could’ve killed ya. Don’t do that.” His beard was long and puffy. Chrys liked it. She liked guys with beards.

She smiled at the floor. “Sorry,” she said, her voice small. Her lungs heaved and her heart hammered against her chest.

The driver sighed. He pointed behind him. His arms were short and stubby, but muscular. “Well get a seat before the bus starts tossing you to and fro.”

Chrys nodded and walked down the aisle. There was an unusually small crowd today, but then again, it was Fifth Ascending. Not a lot of people commute at this time. She saw a young belgar sitting near the back. A white-haired human sat in a chair next to a young female alfr.

She sighed. She noticed that she could only see the other Races in the wee hours of morning.

The story about the Human Impergium bounced within the confines of Chrysanthemum’s mind. She shuddered and waved the thoughts away.

Chrys soon found a seat near the window, where she wanted. She sat and leaned her head against the window, her hot pink hair pressed against the glass. The bus moved through the asphalt streets of Throne City. They passed by low buildings of brick, tall buildings of brass and steel which were ornately decorated, and the occasional café or ice cream parlor that she so loved to go to. Slums and cardboard houses hugged the foot of glinting glass spires that pierced the sky. The City-Rail Transit slithered through the city like a river of ink, adorned with flowery textures and sharp spires of black ore. Other autochariots passed by them. The leaden sky was slowly turning into a warm orange, despite the crisp cold of the Nymph ascending.

At the next stop, another passenger climbed aboard. He had the intelligent searching eyes of someone from the Collegium. His hair was dark, almost blue, and his eyes were the color of the sea. His skin was light – not too pale, not too dark. But with the cold of Throne City, it might as well have been white.

Chrys couldn’t help but give him a sideways glance as he picked his way through the aisle. The boy kept one hand on the strap of his backpack and the other hand on the earbud in one of his ears. He looked as if he was going to pass the seat right next to Chrys, much to her relief.

Wait, she thought, why am I relieved that he’s going to pass me?

But the bus jolted forward, and the boy with the eyes of the sea more or less stumbled into the seat right next to Chrys. She breathed, and then looked out the window. Chrysanthemum watched as the concrete buildings, neon lights, and holographic screens blended with the rain

 


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