Chapter 6; Shank. Siren. Sausagefest.

May 21st, 212.
The Highlands, Late Forenoon.

Late forenoon, a bit before twelve, was the edge of morning for The Highlands. Almost remiss dawn. North toward Sector, over the gargantuan Gate Quartal—which separated Taction Shiatsa from Anma—early signs of daybreak were finally showing. The heavens were a muted pink-gray. A large veil of shade, the shadow cast by Gate Quartal, shrank back. Inching, slowly.

Ula watched the shadow shrink with distant eyes. Her mind busy in reverie. She often struck a glance to the north, towards Anoteri Epistemi, where Yaz was studying. Towards even further, Taction Tuina, hood Thamesville, where home had been. Often, she’d ponder if the family she’d left behind thought about her. Wonder if her son was fine. If he missed her, missed Yarrow. Ula always missed Yarrow.

Today, however, she couldn’t think of any of that. She couldn’t even think back on, analyze, or strike out the important details of the conversation she’d had with Zarat earlier. The Spirit had already ran off somewhere else. The letter for Yaz and unprompted advice was all he’d left behind. He’d told her to stay home. Not to worry about it. He didn’t want to see Yaz losing both parents, he’d said. Zarat was determined she ignored the sound. Ignored the dark omen that was the Vide Lutin.

An alarming wail. She couldn’t ignore it. Any of it. A moment of reprieve. Quiet. Then, another wail. Closer. No matter how hard she tried to think of other things, how much she pretended the racket wasn’t there, an alarming wail. Ula heard every one.

Truthfully, she felt, if she really struck out into the depths of her psyche she’d discover that she wanted to hear it. There were things she could do. She could use an Espy āxon, strengthen her mind, strike down the volume of her hearing. She could compress her Änim, Reside Āxis, using Evade to strike her presence away. Other things too. Likely. It might be difficult, the Aesmancy was talented and powerful, but she could do it. She just didn’t want to.

The sound was closer now and she could tell quite clearly it wasn’t thunder. No, it was more akin to the sirens before great storms. Urging residents to evacuate, warning of impending danger. It was long, loud, screeching. An alarming wail. Closer.

Ula could feel the soundwaves, enforced with Änim, attempting to ooze their way into her ears. She could tell, from the twirling sine waveform patterning of the black particles, that it was carrying a Counsel Suffuse arrangement. Aiming to reach deep into her psyche, pull up vivid moments of terror and panic. Ula squinted her eyes.

Subdue: Ward Strike. The soundwaves were struck from her ear canals, jettisoning away. A mirror and a picture frame shattered. “I’m tired of hearing this damn noise.” Ula stood, and walked to her bedroom.

The wail was nearly there now. By the hills below Sentry Tower Knoll, if not beyond The Highlands’ Royalestone wall, inside the hood. She’d only noticed early because Zarat had drawn her attention to it. Alerio and the other O2Gs, as capable as herself, would hear it now. After, most of PRI would pick it up. Like Ula had, they’d all know what it meant.

Some Sobriquet are common knowledge. In the way that famous wars are, or brands. Like the names of the Spirits themselves, or all the Hood 55. Things you’ve learned in school, maybe read once. Somewhere lurking, floating in the periphery of memory until drawn forth; ushered by a mention. Oh? Yeah, I’ve heard of that before. Knowledge that was always kinda there, but couldn’t be bothered to recall itself. Suffice to say, with even the names of the Spirit Pneumancracy being held in such tenuous grasps, it was unlikely that anyone bothered learning all their Vital and Elan Vital Commonwealth subordinates.

Some Sobriquet are ubiquitous knowledge. In the way that colors are, or superstars. Like the Surmoi, Moi, or Ca Spirits; the Metropolitically important Hood 55. These memories didn’t lurk. Everybody knew of them. Could recall without the nudge. Sketcher probably had the most famous Sobriquet of all the Elan Vitals. Ca Elan Vital of Bluff Hamlet, Sketcher Tick. He was ‘Alarming’.

He was the level of famous that kids sung playground songs about. Memetic. As famous as his hood’s Spirit. Maybe more, because of their roles. Supposedly, being ‘Alarming’, Sketcher was able to produce sirens of panicked wails. Inducing distressing terror in all listeners. Details about Sobriquet had a varying degree of factuality, meaning the reports could be misleading or not giving the full scope. Most Aesmancers kept the extent of their Sobriquet well-guarded. Spirits and their Commonwealth moreso. Absolute truth or not, hearing Sketcher’s sound was worrisome. A lot of the songs the kids sung were about what came after his noise. The quails.

Ula was dressed now. A pale yellow ankle-length skirt, cobalt blue blouse. Metallic pistol worn at her waist, a gift from Yarrow. Her dark brown hair, singed by gray, draped from beneath a wide-brimmed beacon-hat. She flexed a muscle; felt Änim begin to flit about. Floating round her fingertips. The dark motes moved in a familiar pattern. Square waveforms, overlapped and interlocking. Outreach Āxis.

“Evince: Meibuko, Tetsi; Kari Shanku.” Holding the thought of an object in mind, she imagined it’s form, the way it felt in her grip. Solidified every aspect of it in the eye of her spirit. Her best weapon. She was now clad for battle. Her fingers gripped the shaft of a dazzling shank.

Zarat had asked her to think of Yaz, stay home, ignore the potential screams and cries. But, it was exactly because she thought of Yaz that Ula couldn’t stay home. He needed a mother. And either she died in battle protecting their home, or she died in his heart the moment she sat idly as it burned. Translucent änimotes shimmered around her entire body.

The shank in her hand glew bright yellow. The blade apparated in a whiz, leaving faint trails of illumination. It reappeared, outside the house, stabbed deep into the soil. It vanished in another puft of yellow shimmer, reforming back in her grip. Walking out the front door, Ula’s glare was ‘Striking’.


May 21st, 212.
The Highlands; Noon.

An alarming wail. Close.

He left the sentry tower behind, floating over the final hilly plains. He saw the ramshackle roads of The Highlands off in the distance.

Another wail. Closer.

The beacon was finally peeking at him now, shining over Gate Quartal’s massive height. Shooting faint beams of oasis onto the roiling landscape. At his homehood, in Bluff Hamlet, they still saw the beacon around the same time as The Highlands. The liar’s morning.

And another wail. The closest.

His board crossed the low royalestone wall, marking the urbanized zone of The Highlands; he ignored the thin barrier of Änim it emitted. Once the back of his board—with the twin bell-thrusters—crossed the threshold, the latest wail instantly hushed. He checked the digital readout at the board’s front. Noon. The beacon lit.

The hood was quiet. The Highlands streets were never pristine, always riddled with

pieces of litter or mismanaged trash pick-up. Yet, today, they were worse than typical. The usual suspects of dumped Urgent soda can, or discarded Freshdrive cigarette carton were joined by hastily left behind items. Idling cars, toys and delivery boxes or a small red wagon, still casually rolling down the sidewalk. The streets were empty. The hood was quiet. Quiet for everyone except Sketcher Tick.

Sketcher floated in the middle of Anuboot Ave, just pass Cloudy Street, between a duplex and an abandoned electronics store. His skin was pale. Albino. He was wearing a dark teal jogging suit with a pair of thick soled sneakers. There was a medallion, made of ruby, hanging from his neck. Into it was carved a jutting bluff; emblem of the Sanguine Ancestry. He lay on his custom Propulsion Skate aeroboard. One of the most expensive of its kind. It was silver, thin and sleek. Bright red LED letters lit up the bottom; displaying the time. The twin thrusters on the back were shaped like bells. They were ringing. He could hear them.   

Sketcher could hear everything they were thinking about him. All their worries and concerns. The network of emotions and neural pathways that linked to alarm. Wailing, quieting, counting down until the next time something else arose to hit the siren. Ring the bells. Always the bells. Wailing. Alarming.

Sketcher could even hear the song the kids had sung about him. Carried on the quiet memories that groaned in their unconscious, contributing to raise worry just a little higher. Push the alarm.

‘Sketcher cries and there’s no hope. The silver skater, in he floats. Dressed in teal, alarming folks. Then the Quails… There’s the Jokes.’

It was cute. He’d heard it many times. Many other tunes too. First the songs, the laughter. Then the songs, the running. The screams. The hopeless scuffles. Then Jokes. The final breaths. The Quails. And quiet. Silence. Except, the bells. Always the bells. Wailing. Alarming. Alarming!

He cupped a hand to his mouth and spoke mechanically, loud enough to be heard over half the medium-sized hood. “Jokes is coming! Jokes is coming!”

The world around him screamed in anguish. And it all came crumbling down.


May 21st, 212.
Anoteri Epistemi; Noon

He dodged to the left. To the right. He knew this was never going to end. Not until somebody made contact. He paused, letting the blow hit him on the nose. It was strong. A fantastic punch. His head hadn’t moved, but droplets of blood dribbled from his nasal passage. The fist drew back, translucent Änim dissipating from around it. Yaz chuckled.

“Feeling better now, Angie?” His smile was marred by a wet, dark red. The blood from his nose steadily trickled, running down his grinning mouth and over his teeth.

“No.” Angie frowned and turned away from him. Twin poofy brown puffs hung down over her buttercream skin.

Hestia Hall, the student housing building which contained Yaz and Viego’s dorm, was about six miles south from the campus quad. On Periander Street in the East Epistemi district. A short PubliCruiser ride away, or a nice trek for those entrusting in their sneaker’s arch support. As it was for seemingly all the important structures in AE, Hestia Hall too was made of marble.

Behind the dormitory was a student garden. A beautiful respite full of hyacinths and daffodils. Trimmed olive trees shaded marble paths, which all converged at a grand pine Gondola. Off the marked trail, there were multiple little outcroppings and clearings within the many cypress trees. Such as the one where Yaz and his friends sat. They’d long ago carved it out as their hideaway, a safe place to take a breath. To escape worries. To be together. Vivid orchids clustered in a patch by Angie. She kicked them.

Viego was adding the final touches to a joint. He licked it, used his fingers to tamp the paper in place, and then held it to eyeview. He spun it, examining closely like a Xiandang jewel appraiser. He was the type to always put an extra step into his work; wanted it to shock people. He ran his fingers along the joint and a jolt of lighting sprang to follow the trail. It dried.

“Here.” Viego said, raising the joint to Angie first. Her and Yaz sat, joining Viego, on the warm soil. “Figured you needed it most.” He flashed her a smile.

“Fuck you.” She responded curtly. Sitting lotus style on the grass, she had to lean onto one buttock to reach the offering. Her rainbow leggings were tight, form-fitting. Yaz, sitting catacorner to her right, had a pretty good view. Angie was a Hip-Hop Dance major and fitness freak, so her workout routine was top tier. Being blessed by genetics too almost seemed unfair. Angie’s body was, in simpler terms, fantastic.

“And, here’s yours.” Viego reached in his pocket, passing Yaz a napkin. They both tended to carry some. Things like a bloody nose often happened around Angie. One way or another.

Yaz wiped away the crimson liquid and stuck the napkin into his nostril. Viego stretched to take the pass from Angie. The dread-headed man from MedianVille had been no slouch in the gym either. He wasn’t the stereotypical brawny guy like Kenneth or Zarat, his frame more lean. However—even in a loose black t-shirt—when he tensed, a shocking amount of muscle was revealed beneath. Not much different than Yaz’s own build, except a few inches shorter.

“You want it?” Viego, looking at Yaz, held the joint up with one hand and tapped a nostril with the other. Yaz shrugged, extended an arm.

Viego had been right to question whether smoking with a nostril plugged was wise. It felt quite uncomfortable, forcing Yaz to remove the stopper. After gingerly testing to make sure the leak was clotted, he’d continued on. The sensemilla made everything crisp and clear, yet hazy. Like looking at a 4K television screen through fog. They were silent for a while then. Enjoying the smoke, the scenery.

“Can I see the invite?” Viego said, shockingly, into the silence. Angie growled; fantastically imitating a riled unicorn. Viego always knew how to say just the wrong thing, in the very wrong moments. Made for shocking stories to tell, he’d say.

“Sure.” Yaz smiled, pulling the paper from his sky-blue jeans. Angie picked up an orchid and began plucking off the petals. It was kind of fun, in a teasing way, to be able to bother her like this. She was the one who usually bullied them.

“Whoa, boy. South edge of West Anoteri. The rich frats huh? The Orchids would keep high company, I suppose. Seems fine enough. I’ll go. Might get a shocking story, at least.” He shrugged, handing the note back to Yaz. “You know the glyph at the top?”

Yaz looked down at the scrawled mess Zosha deemed handwriting, not that his own fared much better. At the top of the page was a small symbol. Shaped like a C, except for the zigzagging line jutting out from the peak. Of course he knew what it was.

“Pfft, archaic runes, ancient Qabalish. Means cherry. The symbol for Maxim Spirit, Sherise ‘Feminine’ Blumenthal, founder of Utopian Villas. Easy.”

Viego burst into laughter. “Of course you would say that,” He stopped to calm his humor, “No, no. That’s not what I mean, culture scholar. I mean do you know what it’s used for now?”

“Now?” Yaz looked up to the sky. It was still a soft, early afternoon blue. “No idea.”

“Damn it, Yaz. I keep telling you this, man. It’s cool to know the myths and origins of a culture, important. Know your history, all that. But, man. You can’t just stuff your brain with societies of the past and ignore the present.”

“Yes, yes, I know -”

“Current events!” They said together. Viego tossed his palms up in mock exasperation. “Knowing the current Metropolitical standings, and large scale Pneumacratic movements, is a critical factor to being a productive citizen. The news is a vital daily consumption!”

“Oh, spare me the pitch MedianVille used to sell you on majoring in journalism. You sound like my mom.”

“Ughhh!” Viego groaned, tossing his palms up again.

“Fine, whatever. I’ll listen to Ken Superb’s ‘sensational’ reporting every night at 10. Just tell me who uses it, please.” Yaz pleaded. He figured one day he probably would need to pay more attention to Metropolitics. He also figured being high, while discussing a party he was hitting that night, meant it probably wasn’t that day.

“Uses it? …Huh?” Viego blinked. Paused. Then said, “Oh, right. Some girls from Utopian Villas. Not related to the Spirit, just some Sprite Communal. Called the Xanthippe Society.”

Yaz nodded. Viego went on.

“They’re a pretty rebellious group. Got the Villas riled up. It isn’t a place for breaking the status quo. Not sure about why they relate to Maxim Blumenthal besides the obvious, but they act in her name supposedly. Even when throwing parties. So, it definitely won’t be a sausagefest. And they throw lit parties, man. Like, you might should wear a masquerade mask lit.”

“Damn, that’s lit.” Yaz smiled.

“Of course Aggadah would be going to a party like that. Claims she’s all about female empowerment, but I bet she’ll be prancing around in a leash for some Auric Coast douchebag. Just like all those Tuina sluts. Rich, fake bitches.” Angie scolded.

“Uhh…” Viego turned to her, “I suppose this means we’ll be getting the shocking story of what happened between you two then?”

“Fuck off, Griffins.” She flipped him her middle finger.

“In public, Skye?!” Viego laughed.

“Ehh, I’m still gonna go.” Yaz interrupted.

“What, Amentrope leaving the books behind? For a party?! Now, there’s the real startling news for the night.”

“He just wants to see Aggadah. Didn’t know you had it that bad for her, Yaz. I saw you staring. All beacon-eyed. Like a mewling rabbit. ‘Ohhh, look at her walk away while I’m still talking. Flat ballerina asses are soooo great. Aggadah’s suchhh a badass.’” Her imitation made him sound like a whiny kid, or, mewling rabbit as her imagery went.

“Her ass isn’t flat.” Yaz said with a smile. Angie threw a rock at him. Dodging the not-so-small pebble, he went on, “Aggadah isn’t why I’m going. Well, I mean, I guess she invited me. So, kinda?” Angie picked up another rock.

“I, uh, I’m interested in this Xanthippe Society now. Whatever nonsense they’ve got going on in Utopian Villas, despite protests to the opposite, doesn’t really concern me. Them invoking Maxim Blumenthal’s name? That’s kinda interesting. The runes written pretty good too. Zosha’s handwriting withstanding.”

“Your handwriting is shit too. Like your friendship.” Angie threw the other rock at him.

“Come on, don’t be like that.” Yaz urged her. “Before Viego explained, I was already down. It’s our last two weeks together. Then graduation. That’s already a big enough life event, without it meaning you were going to lose your two best-friends back to their homehoods.”

That put a damper on the mood. It felt weird for Yaz. Being the downer. He was, generally speaking, the beaconshine in a room. His cheery smile had charmed many a dour vibes.

Angie sighed. Her anger seemed to deflate a bit, expression softening. She picked at the glossy rainbow stripe across her white blouse.

“I-I’m sorry. Your friendship isn’t shit, Yaz. You and Viego always help make my day a little brighter.”

“I know. I’m a sunny guy.” Yaz chuckled.

“I’m shocked.” Viego smirked.

“Shut up. I’m being mature here.” Angie flipped them both off. “I hate, absolutely hate, Aggadah Vahis. But, you’re right. We’ve only got two weeks left. Then it’s off to MedianVille, or The Highlands, or Pride Meadows. Following whatever path Æon Änim take us. I can deal for a night, ignore her like I usually do. I’ll go.”

“Good.” Viego said, offering her a kind smile. “Because I just text Zosha, letting him know we’d meet Orchid Swank for pregaming. How does nine sound to you?”  He burst into laughter. Yaz smiled, chuckling.

Angie frowned, her round buttercream face downcast. An translucent aura of Änim erupted around her body. She held one palm up and a rainbow shot into the patch of orchids, blasting them into shreds.

“It sounds fantastic.”


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