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Azrael had become the villain of the piece. Either that or he was a tragically confused hero. Somebody has to be the villain. It may as well be him. Azrael used to believe in heroes and villains. In black and white. He’d been taught to think in black and white. But the wide, wild world isn’t like that, is it? He’d tried to be the hero. He’d tried hard. Had he tried too hard? He’d tried, but the wide, wild world had confused him. He hadn’t been taught about confusion. That things weren’t necessarily black and white. In fact, he’d been trapped by what he’d been taught. And he certainly hadn’t been taught what to do when what he had been taught began to trap him. He’d been constricted by certainty. By a vision in black and white. By duty, responsibility and love. He’d been trapped by things he’d been taught to understand.

So Azrael had removed those things and started from scratch. Cut out what made him vulnerable. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Cast away the heaviest ballast. The things which tugged tightly at his heart. He’d removed the complications and now everything was as he envisioned it to be. Black and white, heroes and villains. Yes, our hero had changed his mind, because all he'd based his life on was a lie. He could still live in a polarised world, it was just that he'd discovered doing so was easier on the other side of the fence. Admittedly his philosophy was a little extreme. You can’t blame him for that. Because he’d only ever been taught to think in black and white. And after all:

And

The Academy dictums had given structure to Azrael’s life. Made him whole. Made him clear headed. There was no need to worry when all the thinking was being done for him. But now he was alone. One man and his sword. He’d structure his life to counter the confusions of the wide, wild world. And he’d make his own dictums.

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He’d keep that one. Keep hold of your sword. Preferably with both hands. You can’t fend off Anarchist hacksticks with the corpse of your dead girlfriend now, can you? Am I being sick here? Me? Look at Azrael. Well sick or not, at least he's free. Other people’s expectations make you their slaves. And love is the harshest slave driver of them all. So here he was, free from other people. The easy life. The easy life is like moving from a cramped cottage to a huge studio flat. It’s got flashy furniture. It's got pristine paintwork and everything smells fresh and new. It's got a state-of-the-art wide-screen gravimagmathic lithoplasma-nano-fine TV screen and other gadgets you’ll never use. A little bare though… Lacks the comforting touch. Azrael didn’t have space in his life for care and comfort. And he certainly didn’t want the spiked fruit cocktail which is love. Love is a more perilous instrument than any sword, because love strikes from the inside. And there ain’t no counter for that. Azrael was a responsive swordstril and he was proud of it. Counter fighters don’t like things against which they can mount no solid defence.

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And

Or you can just turn tail and run away, insisting you weren’t interested anyway.

That made sense in all situations and he was sticking to it. It cleared his head. How about his conscience? Well, that’s a separate debate…

Best to bin the conscience along with the love. Yep, that made much more sense too. Azrael had been brought up in a razor wire cage. Free at last.

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Azrael thought about these things as he scanned the plate. He didn’t think too hard though. Should I try harder to present a justification for what he’d done? Villains don’t need stuff like that. The Crystal Plateau was a world of ice. Crevasses, glaciers, snow-slopes. Actually it’s not quite true to say the Crystal Plateau was a world of ice. More like a world of glass; thankfully not ever-cracking this time. Dense flexiglass into which various valleys, caves and tunnels had been crafted. Melted, in fact. Back in the day. Melted with ethereal flame. Over countless rounds, the purpose of the open tunnels and who had crafted them was lost. There were still symbols here and there. Lines, dots and arrows. I’m not going to give you the whole, big back story because: 1.) It doesn’t matter. 2.) As it doesn’t matter, I haven’t bothered to think up a back story. But feel free to have your own ideas. 3.) Villains don’t ask about purposes and symbols and who did what and why and all that crap.

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They don’t ponder. Villains just do. Alright, so they like to blow up famous landmarks, serial kill and start apocali, but that’s just for the thrill of it. Aside from that, they just look cool, ham it up and pitch some slick one-liners. But they don’t ponder. Pondering leads to worry, worry leads to ethical awareness and ethical awareness leads to… …the light side of the force. And Azrael had been there, seen that, got the blood-drenched tshirt. Thank Zarathustra it wasn’t his blood. He was the villain now, remember? A villain. The story already has one. A certain Anarchist by the name of Valhalla. Azrael stood at the edge of the plate. Ready to step onto a moving cluster known as the rotary. This enabled a short cut. The White then the Green then the Emerald Plateau. He bided his time and stepped through the fuzz-field. Crafty. Yes, he’d make it to top villain spot yet. But first to dispose of the competition…

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Nobody ever said the world was nice. Maybe mum or dad or some crackpot aunt or uncle. Well Remedy had never had any of those, so she was stuck. With intoxicants. And friends. And… without those, she was stuck with the world as it was. We all know the world isn’t nice. But we still expect it to be nice. We certainly don’t expect it to be nasty. But for some reason we do like to perceive the world in harsh opposites; either it’s absolute Heaven or absolute Hell.

Well yeah, but...

But the world doesn’t really work like that, does it? You’re not really fighting yourself, are you? And back there striking first may have been kind of sensible... Human beings aren’t really heroes and villains, but we cast them one way or another, and no matter what they do it tends to stick. And we still feel hard done by when heroes and villains go awry. It’s in the eye of the beholder, then our view gets flipped around. Sometimes things flip and we have to rewrite our expectations. But do we cry for help or sulk in the corner? Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melodi: Head in her hands, replaying history in her mind, wondering if she could’ve been more aware of what she apparently already knew was about to happen. Sitting aside from the camp, rocking back and forth in silence. Obadiah: Feeling the earth fuller beneath his feet, carrying another soul. Standing by the pyro fire, staring up into the sky in silence. Mana: Forlorn lack-of-eyes appearing emptier than usual. Sitting down by Remedy, holding her wrist in silence. Remedy: Eyes watching that pyro dance, numbly unaware of anything else. The fractured party sharing little... except, obviously, silence. Remedy had memories to consider. Over the short time she’d known Mikado she’d acquired one or two. And all of them were perfect. She didn't have a bad word to say or think about the girl. Loyal, intelligent, kind, beautiful. Faultless in her memory. She hadn’t quite noticed that while she was there. You don’t, do you? And where was she now? Third Heaven? Hungry ghost? Faultless memory. She watched the pyro and allowed her thoughts to scatter. What were they good for anyway? Thoughts don’t save anyone, do they? And neither had she. Fate-swirls playing in the valley. Fate. Never know when or where it’s going to stab you in the front. Who can predict which way fate would swirl next?

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Remedy shook her head. She couldn’t blame herself. Even if in some way she was to blame. She’d blame herself later, but right now she had a hero to kill. “We’re going after him.” She stood up, swords in hands. “Why?” Did Obadiah have to make things difficult? “What?” Remedy almost unsheathed a blade… Then recalled recent lessons. “That squab just z’ed moy kitz, siz.” Obadiah twiddled his sword in his grasp. Sat down next to the fire. Chewed root. “Go after. Achieve what?” “That cocojib z’ed moy kitz.” Remedy gestured like a crack-head mime artist in need of a fix. Was she suddenly speaking in a strange, unintelligible dialect? …Don’t answer that. “Mission over. What purpose…” “He z’ed his own clove, prack.” Gruff glances. Remedy apologising with a frown. Alright, so she was a little… tetchy right now. And the pyro fire was singing to her. ‘Kill him. Kill him now’. She’d never noticed before what a bad influence that stuff was. She let out a sigh. Held his scaly wrist with both hands. “Look siz. I know the assignment’s over.” Remedy felt like being sick; retakes… “But I’ll ‘fess something at ya. Something I shouldn’t…” She paused. This was a great opportunity for the ground to swallow her up. “…I don’t like the way the Academy works.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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And lo and behold, nobody is surprised. Oh Remedy; such a good, lively, naïve heart. Just what the world needs? Let’s see about that. She shrugged her shoulders. “There’s more to life than assignments, siz. There’s… I dunno; doing the right thing, right?” Obadiah wasn't convinced. Somebody get Remedy a soap box. And perhaps a tissue. “There’s something in me. In all of us. Something bigger than the Academy.” And yet still the silence. “I knows there’s more out here than what they’s taught us, and you’se are all pretty flashy sparks so I reckon you’se knows what I’s talkin’ about too.” Everybody shuffled their feet. She wasn’t going to start preaching about God, was she? There was no such thing as God in Psytopia, by the way. But in the conspicuous absence of God… A guest speaker? Remedy wiped her face with a sleeve. Balanced on the balls of her feet to appear an inch more authoritative. “I know there’s more to life than rules, rules, rules, but....” Dull silence. Disinterested gazes. Shuffling feet. “There's... there's still the right thing,, isn't there?”

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“I leave.” Obadiah picked up his things. Paste pack, javelins, mega-sword. All his wide, wild worldly possessions. “Hey come on Obi; the right thing…” Remedy attempted fruitlessly to appeal to the humanity of a lizard. Obadiah wouldn’t even look at her. “I go home.” “Hey! You’se too?” Mana and Obadiah. Faces blank; OK so Mana’s face was already blank, but you get my drift. One stomping, the other shuffling, but both clearly headed pretty much away.

Remedy turned her bottom lip. Caught up with them. “Come on suz, we’s dandy, this crew…” The big, ambling reptile stomped to a halt. OBADIAH: “Cursed.” REMEDY: “What’s cursed?” OBADIAH: ”This.” REMEDY: ”This what?” OBADIAH: “Group.” REMEDY: ”We’s not cursed, we’s…” OBADIAH: (Nods his head back towards camp) Psytopia Adagio 1

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”Her.” REMEDY: “Melodi?” OBADIAH: ”Diablo.” REMEDY: (Rolls her eyes) “Oh no, not another one.” It's right to defend the little people to the hilt. After all:

“Diablo.” Obadiah was insistent. “Purgh. There’s no such thing as diablos.” The bad-mannered manner in which Mana scurried away testified otherwise. Too petrified of Melodi to even offer a goodbye. And yet at the same time he was so intrigued. By the way her very presence meddled with his inner maths. If Mana was a sub and Melodi a dom… I’m not even going to think about it. Remedy’s arms fell limp at her sides. Her head tilted, her eyebrows drooped, her bottom lip curled. That just wasn’t fair. Perhaps she wasn’t cut out for this leadership gig at all. She sighed. Kicked a clump of dust with a weighty boot. Frustration. As little and large shapes faded into the rusty haze and just one pick-up remained...

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But oops; no little blue girl anywhere to be seen. Come on now moy siz, we’s connected. Kindred. Friends? For Zarathustra’s sake, Remedy gave you fuzz-jacks! Is nothing sacred anymore?!? Stop a shade… Amid the subtle sound of a fate-swirl… wasn’t that the cackle of a crone? Remedy thought she heard a cackling crone carrying a little blue mystery into the valley. She did! She did! She did hear a cackling crone… Oh, go and get her then. She took a step forward. “Obi! Man...” Diablo, wasn’t she; count them out. Oh, blunt; so this was where she had to prove she could handle the pressure, herself… She burst into a sprint, hands on blades, boots thudding tunelessly through the dusty dunes. -The first rule of teamwork in the wide, wild worldIf you want something done, do it yourself. Who knows; perhaps you'll even end up looking like a leader. Remedy hadn’t noticed the spiral dome before. She frowned at herself. Carefree, aimless, irresponsible and unobservant. She’d have to work on those. She shivered. A fate-swirl crossed her path. Couldn’t she choose to neither lead nor follow, or was that too bohemian for this world? In any case, she saw the spiral dome now; only a fight, an argument, a murder, a funeral, a desertion and a kidnap too late.

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‘Oh brick it straight-lace; I know!’ Perhaps Azrael was right about her… No, Azrael was a homicidal psychopath. He was by definition not right and let’s try to remember that. In any case, here she was scouting out the spiral dome as she raced towards it. A large structure sat atop the surrounding valley. A wonder how she could have missed it. A chrome dome that was home to the crones. The crones lived under the dome. You don’t have to be some über brainy gravimagmatician type to work that out. There wasn’t anywhere else on the plate to hide from fate-swirls after all. And the straggly squibs were taking Melodi back to their lair. Remedy struggled to make out more. Thundering up the crumbly stone path leading from the valley. Her vision blurred as her boots thumped and bumped their way after the kidnappers. Reconnaissance on the move. She snuck under a rocky ridge as soon as she sensed she was in range of their wizened ears. Now she could concentrate with more clarity. Got to do your homework to have any chance of passing your exams. And this is what she saw.

A silver building shaped like a crystal conch shell, reflecting sunlight off its enamelled surface, making it appear metallic. An open-roofed tunnel formed a path which wound from bottom to top like a serpent around an apple, and all the way up the Psytopia Adagio 1

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walkway… crones. There wasn’t much more Remedy could tell about the place. So I’ll tell you what she didn’t know. The building was the last of a succession of towers placed across the plates in times of yore. They’d originally been intended as troop disposition sites during some old, horrific and thankfully forgotten war. Soldiers would travel underground between buildings such as these, where they would not only be safe from the elements but all forms of enemy fire. They faced arcane weaponry which somehow made use of manipulating the weather… That and fantastical beasties from the darkest depths of science. But let’s remember these were forgotten arcane technologies. Good. So I don’t have to tell you about them. The crones had since taken over this complex. It wasn’t so much of a complex in fact; it was remarkably simple. There isn’t much to say about the dome barring that which everyone had already forgotten. Perhaps I’ll pick it up later. Remedy wasn’t thinking of the past. Psytopians didn’t often do that. Thinking about the past… What a waste of the present.

Psytopians were an enlightened bunch when it came to the past. And when it came to the future? They did what we do; thought strategy. Even Remedy. *Stay here and wait for them to bring Melodi back. Yeah, right. *Toss some fuzz-jacks, create a disturbance and pop in the back way. Crafty plan, Remy. Unfortunately I can’t see a ‘back way’. Psytopia Adagio 1

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*Get Mana and Obadiah back into the fold with a new, improved pep-talk. Have you got all the time in the wide, wild world? *Charge them. Right up her street. Crones situated all the way up the spiral serpent-shaped concourse… Caution? You know what you can do with that. To the wind! You only live once, don’t you? So you may as well enjoy it. And what’s beyond is a better place. So why not go out in a blaze of glory?

Academy Grouping Remedy. That’s it. Not the greatest turnout. Cronesville Twenty or thirty grotty crones stationed up the walkway.

The spiral dome on the Rust Plateau (Exterior)

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Remedy kicked a heel. Like revving up a motorbike. Like a bull seeing red. Like a fuse burning short. She took a breath. Squeezed her sword hilts. Adopted a broad stance. And off she swirled. Whirling up and up the spiral walkway spin by speedier and speedier spin. Climbing up the curling concourse step by swifter and swifter step. Coiling up the snaking ramp swirl by slicker and slicker swirl. And churning through the hapless crones slash by ever more blinding slash. Good work, if you appreciate a little bladeplay. Short work, if you pick your steps right. Easy work, if you seize the breeze just so. Not over the top, not under the radar; just so. REMEDY: Blitz break chain: Overhead curl (HJ) Reverse Backhand swirl (BA) Tilt n' turn whirl (HJ) Roundhouse twirl (BA) Overhead loop (HJ) Reverse backhand scoop (BA) Tilt n’ turn hoop (HJ) Roundhouse swoop (BA) HIT! CRONES 1-8: Various body parts, OUT OF PLAY She carried on up the winding path. Spinning up the spiral walkway. Climbing up the curling concourse. Coiling up the snaking ramp. Mowing through mumbling crones swish by every more devastating swish. Good work. Good? Come on siz, this was great. You could hardly even see her feet touch the ground. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Blitz break chain, remix! Reverse backhand curl (BA) Overhead swirl (HJ) Roundhouse whirl (BA) Tilt n’ turn twirl (HJ) Reverse backhand loop (BA) Overhead scoop (HJ) Roundhouse hoop (BA) Tilt n’ turn swoop (HJ) HIT! CRONES 9-16: Various body parts, OUT OF PLAY Further up the winding path. The spiral walkway. The curling concourse. The snaking ramp. Ploughing through shrieking crones slice by ever more decisive slice. Great work. Damned straight it was great. Growing so fast she became little more than a motion blur. REMEDY: Blitz break chain, re-remix! Tilt n’ turn curl (HJ) Roundhouse swirl (BA) Overhead whirl (HJ) Reverse backhand twirl (BA) Tilt n’ turn loop (HJ) Roundhouse scoop (BA) Overhead loop (HJ) Reverse backhand swoop (BA) HIT! CRONES 17-24: Various body parts, OUT OF PLAY Almost at the top of the winding path. The spiral walkway. The curling concourse. The… oh, you know what I’m talking about. REMEDY: Blitz break chain, re-re-remix! And if you can’t work out the chain she threw and the order she threw it in… Well, then you’re a worse mathematician than me. And Remedy didn’t even imagine the maths. Psytopia Adagio 1

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'Cos instinct is by far the most explosive calculation! HIT! CRONES 25-32: Various body parts, OUT OF PLAY And phew! There she was at the top of the dome. Just in time to take a look behind her. At the scattered crone corpses lying in her wake. Well, she could imagine. They’d disappeared, hadn’t they? But in any case, Melodi had disappeared inside. And Remedy was determined to get her back.

Attacks- 32- Perfection. Hits- 32- Perfection. Misses- 0- Perfection. Straight out-of-play hits- 32- Perfection. Injuries sustained- None- Perfection. Play awareness- Looking like perfection… Somewhere in the Academy halls, a tutor ties a note: ‘Teach more Blitz, Kitz!’ OK, probably not but a girl can dream.

*That was actually very, very good. How’s that for a sudden swirl of fate? How do you know when you’re all growed up? You just shut up, stand up and fucking deal with it. Maybe Remedy’s precocious style had finally come of age. And perhaps so had she. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though shall we; even blitzers aren’t that fast. But she was presented with a familiar sight as soon as she entered the spiral dome. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Her Academy dorm? Remedy rolled her eyes. Nope. If it was her Academy dorm she’d have a gang of blitzblades to share it with. Pyrotech? More eye-rolling. Afraid not. What she would have done for a quiet strip of pyro among friends right now… Mojo? I didn’t say her eyes were dilating, I said they were rolling. Sorry kiticlaw. No, the familiar sight which greeted Remedy as she entered the spiral dome was… Crones. I bet you’re rolling your eyes too now. This wasn’t fair; she’d had the play results already. These ones weren’t attacking though. To be fair, neither were the last lot. But they’d looked like they wanted to… Remedy felt microscopically guilty now. Nanoguilt. It ain’t that big a deal. But in any case, the spiral dome was full of clones. Spectating.

Now, crones were meddlesome things. They meddled with reality. People, places, laws of physics. Anything was fair game. They were gravimagmaticians, after all. I’m not going to go into gravmagtics here as it’s a complicated science, but I will tell you this. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Gravimagmaticians liked nanos. Now, whether nanos liked them in return was another matter. It was much more likely nanos were just using them. But crones liked them anyway, and the only thing they liked almost as much were mirrors. It was the way they bred the little gods. These weren't ordinary mirrors of course. More... computery. Left over from a more technological age. The crones were sophisticated, or so they’d like to think. The crones had a mirror. Ooooh; priceless commodity. Well yeah, if it mirrors nanos. Population getting thin? Just take a look in the mirror. See if you can guess another popular Cronesville activity: *Dancing naked across picturesque poppy fields bathed by the midday sun, singing like a chorus of songbirds. *A wild night on the town starting at some funky up-market bar and ending up in a bass-blasting nightclub, high as a kite and grinning like a circus clown. *Watching a mysterious little blue girl crushed ever-so slowly to death with magnets? Oh, come on we both know what they’d pick. So the crones simultaneously cleared their throats, stripped and headed for the poppy fields… Alright I’m lying; they were more than happy watching the blue girl die. If you wanted to see a load of grannies in a scene from ‘The Sound of Music, Erotic Edition’, shame on you. The dome was alive with the sound of chanting. Crones baying for blood down the spiral galleries leading to the dusty ring at the bottom. Waiting for Melodi to be dragged out to the slaughter. Before killing off main characters, I really should explain why first, shouldn’t I?

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DIABLO! DIABLO! DIAB… OK that explains approximately nothing. Basically, the crones hadn’t seen anything like Melodi for a long, long time, if ever. And things you’ve never seen before? Well, they’re scary, aren’t they? So they must be devils. Best to kill them then. Especially if they’re able to side-step fate-swirls. Perhaps it was jealousy? That’s about all the explanation I can muster at this point. Remedy had a different attitude to new things. New places. New people. New experiences. She learnt from them. But then again, Remedy was young. What did she know about what she didn’t know? Not how to deal with things she didn’t know, I know that. Everyone knows when you find something you don’t know anything about, you make sure nobody else has to know what it was you didn't know about. By killing it! Nobody will ever know… Oh, this is confusing.

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Acting… That’s a simpler riff to regulate. So here she was. All fired up and ready to blitz.

Remedy stood at the top of the spiral gallery, the downward walkway coiling around a pit in the centre like a gradual descent into Hell… Thank Zarathustra Psytopians didn’t believe in Hell… A spiral walkway intersected here and there by other, lower galleries, full of spectating crones. All the way down to the pit floor below. Not that Remedy could see the pit floor below. The only light in here originated from the doorway in which she stood, but if she squinted… Yes; crones all the way down. Crones everywhere, but only one on the balcony above. Slightly more elegantly clothed? Slightly more regal in demeanour? Slightly less of a hunched, wrinkled, cackling hag? Nah; a crinkled crone like all the rest. Only more so. Hooded. Shuddering. Wizened. Haggery in its Platonic form. “Diablo!” “Diablo!” “Diablo!” The call from the sloping galleries below. Because next to the haggiest hag in hagdom, apparently stuck to a wall with invisible straps… Palms attached to a thick metal slab not unlike a raised lab table in a Frankenstein film… Nailed there, struggling to move like a figure on a crucifix… Merry little Melodi.

No smiles. No giggles. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Just a spiteful glare. The Platonic form of spiteful glares. The principle spiteful glare on which all subsequent spiteful glares were founded. A glare which almost made her Nike tick, egg yoke eyes gush black with anger. A glare which made her curious magnetic shackles rattle like cans of peanuts. A glare which made the lead hag look away like a rookie coroner with a weak stomach inspecting the victim of a horrific murder. “Diablo!” “Diablo!” “Diablo!” The never-ending chant. Melodi reaching for that bunraku doll sat on its head across the balcony floor. Nothing doing, blue girl. You can’t break magnetic shackles up against a metal slab. All you can do is glare, struggle, wish and hope for the cavalry. “Mel!” Perfect way to blow your cover, Remedy. A hundred crone-eyes suddenly switching direction like the crowd at a tennis match. At her. Our beloved blitzer grimaced. Cringed. “Yeeps.” Put yourself in her shoes if you will. There you are, standing in the middle of a big old bee hive. There you are, standing in the middle of a big old bee hive, surrounded by angry bees. There you are, standing in the middle of a big old bee hive, surrounded by angry bees and you’re dripping with honey. There you are, standing in the middle of a big old bee hive, surrounded by angry bees, dripping with honey and then… the lights go off. Because crones were blind anyway so it didn’t really matter if the lights were on or not. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Crones didn't need lights. Which made it handy that Psytopians had never invented them. So get a fleet-footed, kick-arse kiticlaw paying you a less-thanpolite visit, and all you have to do is shut the front door. Remedy bit her lip. She’d started this round as part of an effective fighting team. Now she was alone in the dark. Well there’s a swirl of fate. Crones sensed the presence of objects through their subtle gravimagmathic pull. They called it gravmagtic lensing. The world is held up by ethereal scaffolding, you see. All you have to do is feel those very, very slight vibrations. Is it best to listen hard or go with the flow? I don’t know, I’m no gravimagmatician. Did crones live their lives by listening hard or not at all? Ask a granny; they’ll probably respond by saying ‘what?’. Crones would face each other only because they used to. Back when they were less evolved, more perceptive; whatever. Remedy looked down at her feet in shame and only highlighted the problem when she realised she couldn’t see them. Viva la advantage… to the crones.

Yep, a swirl of fate in the old hag’s favour. Well, how about another one? Remedy swished her blades. And visualised. The spiral walkways, the drop to the pit below, the crones. Where they were when the place went black and where they were likely to be now. Her mind doing the maths. She took a breath. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy didn’t like maths. Numbers are depressing. Never work in your favour. Too much thinking, remember? So you drop thinking. You kick your heels. You shut your eyes You grip your blades and you go for it!

Academy Grouping Remedy. I think… I can’t quite make her out. Cronesville You expect me to count them? In this light? After what I just said about maths?

The spiral dome on the Rust Plateau (Interior) Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy smirked. Not that you could see it. Held her blades close. Vertical; one up, one down. She prepared to pivot. To seize that breeze. The crones could have expected many things from a swordstril in a situation like this. Let’s look at the list. *Caution. *Calculation. *Defence, defence, defence. But when people expect something, they tend to brace for impact. Perhaps Remedy was wrong in the head adopting this strategy… Well, if blitzing was wrong, she’d rather be dead than right! Brace for this, wrinklesquibs!

If only you could see the swirls, the whirls, the swoops, the loops… Oh well, you’ll just have to hear them instead. Like a miniature tornado in the night. Huddle up and hope it passes you by. 0 RPM. She cast herself into a mad spiral. 25 RPM. She forgot herself in an insane whirlwind. 50 RPM. Like a mad spinning top. 100 RPM. The landscape cut together as if random sword-slits in the fabric of nature. 200 RPM. Opening the wide, wild world up like diced meat. 400 RPM. In between those slits she lost herself. Psytopia Adagio 1

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800 RPM. And for a moment she felt it…

And the crones felt it too. Neon skeletons lighting up the scene in brief flashes as her swords struck them. Zapping in and out of existence as her spirals zipped in between the paces of the dance. Like a figure on a doctored film reel, conspicuously absent from every second frame. Bones of fire momentarily visible as hags passed through heavens at the whim of her blades. Staccato flickers filling the scene like faltering candles. Illuminating single spots in space and single moments in time. The short tapers of life sputtering on and off in quick succession. REMEDY: Devil’s Pirouette (attempted) HIT! CRONES 1-22: Who knows where. OUT OF PLAY A trip. A fall. A plummet in the dark. Every direction becoming muddled. Every direction becoming lost. Every direction becoming down. Her life flashing before her eyes. Her hopes. Her dreams. Her Academy dorm. Pyrotech. Mojo…

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>THUMP!< “YOW!” She landed on her side. Still lost in the dark. Rolling over. Spitting rust. Tending to a rib. Crawling onto her knees. And no, she never let go of her swords. Didn’t she know they have health and safety rules for this kind of thing? Running with scissors and all that? She didn’t know, and in any case if it was a rule she’d probably do otherwise for the fun of it. At least Remedy knew where she was. That’s right; at the bottom of the dome. That’s right; in the middle of the pit. That’s right; surrounded by crones. There was only one thing that made the darkness even worse. The growing intensity of the chant… “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” …as the lead hag called for the mirror.

Crones were funny things. I don’t mean funny ha-ha. Crones were about as funny ha-ha as a snowy owl in a dishwasher. A fluffy kitten in a very high tree surrounded by very large spikes. Your family butchered randomly by the local doctor/teacher/burger flipper who everybody noticed was probably a bit suspect but were too polite to point it out. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And if you find any of the above things funny ha-ha, I’d suggest you seek professional help, and I don’t mean by sending your comedy scripts to TV execs, though there’s probably a market. No, crones were funny things. Thing, in fact. I may have just given something away there. Don’t worry; it’s not a particularly devious plot device. Crones, if you must use the plural, were gravimagmaticians. They studied… nay, they worshipped the greatest, ghastliest creation of their science. I’m talking about the little gods again. The slaves who became masters. The tinsy-tiny trouble makers. You’ve guessed it; I’m talking about nanos. Cutting edge. Funny thing about cutting edges:

So crones worshipped nanos through elaborate reflection ceremonies; by bolstering their own numbers. Helping the group to fight the good fight. Alright, so it was actually the utterly insane fight, but don’t tell them that or they might strap you to a big metal slab and slowly crush your internal organs using weighty magnetic pulls. So crones worshipped nanos and did their mischievous bidding. You could tell by examining somebody’s blood whether they worshipped nanos or not. Because those who did allowed the things to boss their bloodstreams. Those who didn't often tried to burn them out. And those who didn’t have nanos in their bloodstreams at all… Well, that blood’s going to please the little gods like nothing else. So much space to play around in. ‘R Raise the mirror!” The lead hag. She spoke like the others. Only more so. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And they obeyed. Come on; every temple to crazidom has to have a leader. Otherwise it would all turn… well, crazy. Otherwise there would be anarchy, and crones were not Anarchists. Oh no. Anarchists were nowhere near as chaotic as this lot. The leader’s blood was brimming with pure-strain nanos. Not the mirrored crap the others were full of. So they obeyed. Grasping rope pulleys up and down the spiral walkway. Moaning and groaning as they took the strain. A huge triangular mirror strapped to the domed ceiling creaking into place. Nudging open the trap-door skylight and finally illuminating the scene. Remedy blinked. At least her sense of direction wasn’t all bad. What she had sensed was down had indeed been down. Although being right failed to make her situation any better. The dust, the aching ribs, the being on her knees and the swords still in her grasp? She didn’t need any further illumination on those facts thank you very much. Deep in the castle of crazy, Remedy had become the main attraction. No, scratch that; Remedy’s death had become the main attraction. So she rose wearily to her feet. She and the lead crone could always settle this like women. “Alright ya toe draggin’ cacklestick; how about you drop down here and gulp a slice of breeze?” Unlikely; remember this was the one with the brain. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” “What, moy’s a diablo now?” Remedy nodded to her distressed pick-up. Melodi strapped to the metal slab, scowling her patented scowl. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The dim light glinted off Remedy's swords like dewdrops on a sunny day. The buzz of the metri clean and fresh and ready to fight. The chants of the crowd growing steadily more frenzied. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” And it was in this arena, in this pit… in this predicament, that Remedy did something which she would later recall with shock and awe and bruises. Something she wouldn’t be able to change once she’d done it, and something which anybody who knew anything about crone culture would insist she avoid. Something simple and stupid. She looked up. Not so strange. Another Remedy, floating up there in that big old mirror. Not so strange. Same flamy clothes, same beloved swords, same fruity ginger hair, same wide, wild eyes. But no. The eyes were changing somewhat. Orange? Cream? White? A shatter of glass. Another Remedy falling through the mirror straight at her. That was strange. That wasn’t supposed to happen. And that wasn’t Remedy.

Remedy Yep, that’s her. Remnant And that most certainly isn’t. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The pit in the middle of the spiral dome on the Rust Plateau… (If you’re thinking of sending a rescue party) Surrounded by slippery walls some ten feet high. One way in, no way out.

That certainly wasn’t Remedy. A freaky, trippy, gene-meddled psycho Remedy, perhaps… A nightmare Remedy. A demented dupe. Because this was what cronesville sacrifices were all about. Drop the heathen in front of the mirror and watch the little gods replace her with a genetically fucked up copy. A bizarre doppelganger capable of battering the original all the way to the Third Heaven. If you really like pyro so much Remedy, you’ll be happy to be reduced to ether. The little gods weren’t just mischievous, they were sadistic. Were the crones sure they wanted to worship these things? Or were they just scared to bits? Remedy rolled backwards to avoid a dropping sword swipe. And a fast, swipe at that; blazey-fast. When was the last time you were attacked by your reflection? Just doesn’t feel right, does it? “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” The football stadium chant, never ending. Remedy screwed up her face. Readied her swords. Remedy and Remnant circling each other at a distance. Which one’s the diablo? Come on now, let’s not point wrinkly old fingers. It had to be… Psytopia Adagio 1

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A Diablo. She’s going to be trouble, this one. You can just tell. -Her lookShe had a scruffy style and was more than a little boyish, the nanos stuffing her with more testosterone than a greasy spoon café full of hungry builders and mechanics. Thick blood-red hair with dirty white highlights. Matted, stained and annoying her. Everything annoyed Remnant. Blank eyes with bitty red/white shade and matching nail paint. One tooth. She'd lost the rest to mischievous little gods. -Her getupShort red top decorated with black flame design, attached to similarly patterned flared sleeves via slick velcro straps. Red cargos with the same flame motifs, probably a bit too loose at the waist. Her hunting feline slouch would have to be enough to keep them hanging on her hips. She didn’t carry any fancy-jack weaponry in her many pockets. Who needs it? Think of it this way; she liked to see blood on her hands. Reminded her she was killing things. Yep; a freak of nurture and no mistake. Oh, and she had swords, of course... The Cursed Angel and the Hell’s Judgement.

An oily, greasy blade used for busting heads; simple as that. It’s all about busting heads. Smash everything up and let yourself go wild. The blade itself was riddled with cavities not unlike large hole punches. It was tough and fast and didn’t falter. It ended in a double point rather than a straight edge, which made its tip not unlike that of a knot of barbed wire. Easier to tear flesh apart that way. The handle was padded with mesh gauze which made positioning it easier; the sick swish of the blade making Psytopia Adagio 1

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swordplay as easy as taking candy from a baby… Then dicing said baby into big red chunks for shits and giggles.

A strangely shaped blade used to rip people limb from limb. It's all about blood letting. Isn’t it always? The kind of blood letting which would make even the ancient Meso-Americans wince. The blade was shaped more like a pair of antlers than a sword. It curved into crazy crescents like the branch of a gnarled old tree; so arcane you wouldn’t know which way it was coming. It appeared to steam with anger the faster it moved; swirling towards hell, with crooked spikes all the way down which panged like a thorn bush if you got too close. The handle was short and covered with swirly vines which pulsed black and red. To make you black and blue. By the time Remedy had noted all of this, she was being attacked. With what looked like a rotating branch wielded as if it was being used to chop a tree. Irony aside, she thought it pertinent to move. Got to keep up with your reflection… REMNANT: Step-forward whack (HJ) MISS! Remedy steps back Left handed orthodox. Of course she was; mirror image. Remedy being a right handed southpaw... Both jabbed with their good hands; equally eager. REMNANT: Cross-face hack (CA) MISS! Remedy ducks OK, she was trying to kill herself now. In a fashion. She didn’t like the hacks though. That was… wild, and not exactly artistic. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Brick kicker.” Remedy mumbled to herself. Remy as a brute. Now that was a nightmare. REMEDY: Overhead coil (HJ)… PARRIED! REMNANT: Overhead clang (HJ) REMEDY: …into overhead roundhouse twirl (BA) PARRIED! REMNANT: Turn-around face cover (CA) “Tangy.” Remedy stepped back. Not the most crumbly brute in the squib pen… Even her blocks stung the hands. She shuffled backwards. Remnant shuffled backwards. She mopped her brow. Remnant mopped her brow. She adopted a lower stance. Remnant adopted a… can you please stop that; it's annoying! Remedy frowning, Remnant smirking. The sound of the crowd. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Enough to drown out the quickening bang of Remedy’s heart. Enough to stifle the gradual creak of Melodi squeezing out of her metal straps. Enough to really start to grate on the coco… REMEDY: Spinning backward swish (BA) PARRIED! REMNANT: Spinning cross-body cover (CA) REMEDY: 360 degree leaping plunge (HJ) PARRIED! REMNANT: 360 leaping cross-face cover (HJ) “Hack.” This was a swift brute. They don’t tend to make brutes like that. Ambling daisy stompers…

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But this one was bright. Bright, but built to brawl. Everyone knows brutes can’t hang breezy too long. And vice versa. Remedy polished her gold tooth with her tongue. Remnant polished her only tooth with her tongue. Remedy rolled her shoulders. Remnant rolled her shoulders. Remedy switched stance. Remnant… you know it wouldn’t hurt for this dupe to think for herself for a change. Remedy frowning, Remnant smirking. The sound of the crowd. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Enough to grate on the mind. Enough to sour the coco. Enough to drive a girl mad? Oh no, this gekky reflectosquab wasn’t going to push Remedy down Azrael’s path. Frustration, confusion… Homicide. Which reminded her:

Yes, perhaps Remedy was finally growing responsible. At least she wasn’t growing evil. That’s a plus. From where she was standing, evil Remedy didn’t look so good. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” “Alright spoilster.” Remedy sized up her counterpart. There wasn’t room on this plate for the two of her. Psytopia Adagio 1

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She shuffled forwards. Remnant shuffled forwards. She raised an eyebrow. Remnant raised an eyebrow. She prepared to pivot. Remnant… preparing to pivot, hey? You know they don’t teach that trick in brute school? Remedy smirking, Remnant frowning… “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Whatever, whatever, whatever. Well, keep a fire burning for your brute-bitch ladies… ‘Cos this diablo’s about to raise some hell! REMEDY: Blitz break chain: 360 degree looping coil (BA) Turning backward curl (HJ) Overhead backflip hoop (BA) Spinning backhand loop (HJ) CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! So this stodgy clog didn’t return her movements every time… That’s the thing about reflections; you keep them in mirrors and all they can do is mimic, you let them out into the real world and they learn, and that also means they can learn bad habits. Remedy span her blades in her grip like wild west pistols. Even in a hall of crazy mirrors you can’t hit your reflection… but that doesn’t stop you trying to smash the glass. Remnant squeezed her sword handles, Remedy waved the drone on. OK; blitzer pulls a flashy technique, brute pulls a flashy technique; let’s put a few cracks in this mirror. Remnant didn’t need an invitation. Perhaps Remedy shouldn’t have tempted fate. REMNANT: Head of Steam Epitaph

When I talk about heads of steam I’m not imagining humanoid kettles, I’m talking the first of the three brute übertek. Psytopia Adagio 1

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It was a tactic, but I’m not implying there was thought involved; that’s the whole point- it was about going off on one; losing it. Now, I’m not saying losing it is an art form. The brute school’s ‘art’ was treated with derision at best. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. 0 BHP. She hurled herself into an almighty charge. 25 BHP. She threw herself into a disjointed clatter. 50 BHP. Like a bull in a china shop. 100 BHP. The landscape covered in red mist. 200 BHP. Laying the world out as if it was a sacrificial lamb sliced up on an alter. 400 BHP. Swamped in that bloody fog, Remnant lost herself. 800 BHP. And for a moment she felt it…

Here comes the bullet train! Stomp, stomp, stomp like there’s no tomorrow. Picking up the pace… And laying down the law.

STAB SHEET 2: REMNANT (Evil doppelganger) Vs. REMEDY (The genuine article). Brute style, Tempo 800-0BHP. Instrument/s- Hell’s Judgement, Cursed Angel

You noticed Remnant’s stabulature was a lot simpler than Remedy’s, right? That’s good to hear. Because brutes fought one-step. And since they tended to drill into your head, such nigglesome jingles are best avoided. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMNANT: Head of Steam Epitaph MISS! REMEDY: Side-step HIT! REMNANT: Crashes head-first into a wall

Simple stabulature, simple solution. Now that’s a train-wreck. But the brute had been close. Close enough to make the chant volume rise in the spiral dome. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” The lead hag leaning forward on the balcony wall. Caught up in the action, forgetting her captive. Bad move grandmamma, ‘cos this blue girl was about to get her little self free. Remedy mopped her brow. Rolled her shoulders. Twirled her blades. And of course, Remnant did the same. Remedy bouncing on the balls of her feet. Remnant digging her heels into the dirt. Remedy stretching her arms and twiddling her fingers. Remnant cracking her knuckles around her blades. “Box knitter.” Remedy had been thinking it was speed that’d slow this ambler down, but she’d learned a few things in the wide, wild world. She blew a strand of hair out of her face. Thought strategy.

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“Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Would somebody please shut that crowd up? Melodi’s face all smirks and stares, watching the witch. Silly hag; stop focusing on a magnetic charge and your average moody, broody blue belle can start to sneak her wrists through the breaths in the tug. Remedy nodding to herself; bonus grading points for keeping calm, maybe for the retakes. But if you try to psych yourself out... The glint in Remnant’s blind, blank eyes, the vicious grin, the kick of the back heel. If one side of the crazy mirror was calm… oh-oh.

400BHP… 800BHP…

Nought to eight hundred in a single tick. Just one bar of stabulature. A single beat. And an almighty thump. REMNANT: Head of Steam Epitaph (Wild double blade swipe) Remedy covers up and rubs roughly 700BHP off the impact HIT! REMEDY’s swords: Flies across the arena and... HIT! REMEDY: Spine-first into the thick pit wall That one could’ve broken a rib or two. Not to mention the breath being belted out of her. Alright, so this spoke could hit. Doesn’t mean she could stop though.

The facsimile's legs skidding to a clumsy halt. Forced to plug a blade into the dust to keep her upright. Get it together Remedy; this is your chance. Break the cycle! Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Leaping double blade swoop CLANG! PARRIED! That’s some pretty mean instinct Irresistible pace meets immovable object HIT! That’d be Remedy hitting the floor “Yurgh.” She couldn’t believe this brute had just scored a shot with a block; how stale is that? Remnant was the dope who was supposed to be getting roped. Hate to go out of my way as a narrator and all, but I’d like to point out to Remedy that she’s lying flat on the floor with some deranged dupe about to… REMNANT: Leaping overhead hack (CA) CLANG! PARRIED! Remedy’s instinct (unsurprisingly) similar “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” The crones rising to their feet in unison. Exchanging nods of appreciation. There was hardly going to be crowd trouble when the masses were of one mind. Blue mite still smirking. The lead hag unaware, engrossed in the action below. The unheard clank of the magnetic straps as Melodi laid them on the ground. You concentrate on the mirrorball while we retrieve a toy. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Riff One’s gonna be taking your patchwork dummy. I say grandmamma, what freaky drones you have… All the better to drown out the sound of me putting holes in your head. REMNANT: Leaping downward whack (HJ) MISS! Remedy with a neat backward roll REMNANT: Leaping downward whack (HJ) Did this fuzz-bitch have no imagination? MISS! Remedy with a swift sideways roll REMNANT: Leaping downward… MISS! Like Remedy couldn’t see that coming OK, let’s reflect. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Reverse roundhouse swish (HJ) CLANG! REMEDY: Spinning backhand twirl (BA) CLANG! REMEDY: Small package coil (HJ) CLANG! REMEDY: Backward plunge (BA) CLANG! “Ploddy dodger.” Remedy scratched her head. With a hilt, of course. Did nobody have the decency to stand there and get stabbed these days? The lead hag still transfixed on the action, the bump of her heart grating to blue ears; its dog whistle pitched, hall-wide echo. Because blue ears hear everything, and then some. Little Doloroso picked up off the floor. Sneaking into the pick-up’s grasp. “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Riff Two; hold your doll in front of your heart with the tug-gloves. I say grandmamma, what useless restraints you have… All the better to squeeze out of and approach, murder in mind. REMEDY: Charging double-blade spiral CLANG! That was a bigger clang that normal. It stung like being stuck in a locked pen with a swarm of jug-tugs. Internal shatter-storm; let’s hope nothing’s broken. Swords and fingers crossed, hey? Our intrepid kiticlaw almost dropped her blades. Such was the reverberation of metri against metri. Surely those quirky mirror-swords weren’t real metri. Still panged though… REMNANT: Double-blade blast CLANG!

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The biggest clang yet. And this time Remedy did drop her blades. Strewn across the pit like fumbled chopsticks on a restaurant floor. Lost like priceless lockets dropped into icy waters from a speedboat. Gone like youth. Like wonder. Like the dead. On behalf of the Assembly of Tutors I should remind Remedy of Academy Dictum No. 1:

Yeah, she knew all that. And she also knew that dictums were all well and good back at home in the Academy. But out in the wide, wild world… And in any case, she was only being… You know… different. You know… adventurous. You know… rebellious. You know- suicidal? Renmant stomping in for the kill, rusty toe-dragger as she was. So what next; fuzz-jacks? Not in such a confined space. Last resort; kiticlaws.

She nudged herself into the wall and began picking at her meaty knuckle duster. That’s no ordinary knuckle duster, I’ll have you know… That’s a status symbol of the catch clique. That’s style, and in the direst of circumstances it's also salvation.

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The blitzblades each owned a set of kiticlaws. One paw, on the back hand. The one that only needs to move at the speed of light, not beyond. On the hand that can afford to be weighted down a tad, but only a tad. Because made of sliver-fine metri, kiticlaws weren’t as weighty as they looked, and Remedy’s were strangely shaped knives put together by uncrumpling the fold-away rivets. Open up the caps on the wrist, unfurl the Meccano-style daggers and voilà; four lengthy claws screwed right onto your hand, one four inches, one eight, one twelve, one sixteen. (If you happen to live in a world where they measure in inches) One shaped like a potato peeler, one shaped like a kebab skewer, one shaped like a kitchen knife, one shaped like an arrow-headed spear. Not too swish, but if you’re in a tight spot… And tight this most certainly was. But it this way; it wasn’t a spot she’d expect to be in. Up on the balcony, Melodi’s gloves turned to flame. The lead hag about to get her comeuppance. Flickers in the blue girl’s eye. Getting hot in here… “Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!” Riff Three; watch it all go up in ethereal flames, elbow to elbow. I say grandmamma, what a freaky old hag you are… All the better prepared for…

Time to

REMNANT: Leaping clump (A repetitive movement gathering velocity with each strike as it whips up wind channels) MISS! Remedy sliding under the blades with a low roll REMEDY: Backhand swish (kiticlaws) HIT! Achilles heel (and no, they didn’t have apt Greek literary references in Psytopia) Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy crunched her knuckles. Kissed a claw. Don’t get frustrated, get thinking. Frustrated thinking leads to dead girlfriends; remember that. Face to face now. The dirtiness of hair. The glairiness of eyes. The absence of teeth. Mirror image as she was, Remedy could guess what Remnant was thinking, so reach over and slam on the breaks before lil’ sister ploughs the car into oncoming traffic. REMEDY: Cross-face swish (kiticlaws) MISS! Remnant already leaping off the ground, out of reach Flying freaks = bad news.

You’re seeing a veritable übertek showcase here. And the Total Torment was a particularly damaging one. Second only to the much-feared Mein Requiem epitaph. But that one’s a kamikaze technique, so best not to pitch that if you want to live. Epitaphs were easy really; most brutish tactics were. You just tread water. Or tread air. Up, up and… Imagine a superhero getting their arms sliced off half way to the stratosphere. Which way now? Probably down. And this was the point of the epitaph. The impact zone. 100 BHP. What’s that falling through the air? 200 BHP. A bird? 400 BHP. A plane? 800 BHP. An übertek!

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REMNANT: Total Torment Epitaph (prelude) MISS! Remedy leaping onto a wall, plunging her kiticlaw into the slope and miraculously hanging there Better close your eyes belle blaze, ‘cos this über ain’t over yet. Just the tip of the iceberg. Did I say ‘ice’? Silly me; I meant ‘fire’.

S M AS H! The ground shakes. I mean everything shakes. Possibly the entire plateau.

BOOM! The floor ignites. Around our vicious brute-blade. And expanding across the pit floor.

FRAZZLE! Mushroom cloud! Engulfing everything. All the way up the spiral dome. HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT!

REMNANT: Total CRONE A: Neon CRONE B: Neon CRONE C: Neon CRONE D: Neon

Torment Epitaph (nocturne) bone frazzle! OUT OF PLAY bone frazzle! OUT OF PLAY bone frazzle! OUT OF PLAY bone frazzle! OUT OF PLAY

Oh, let's cut the list short. Neon bone frazzles for every crone on the spiral walkway. No more ‘Diablo! Diablo! Diablo!’ for you! Everything suddenly falls silent, gargantuan mushroom cloud excluded. The crones were dropping like slippery bathroom mirrors. All the way up the spiral. With Remedy stuck to the resistant crystal wall by her kiticlaw. Holding on… just... thinking ahead really does fry said coco. The mushroom cloud losing pace as it traversed the stairway. All the way up… Bar one solitary platform. Rocked with a joint-jangling shudder. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMNANT: Total Torment Epitaph (nocturne… fade out) HIT! LEAD HAG: Slight bone tug on the foot. Slips a step HIT! MELODI: Slight bone tug on the ankle. Lands on her face Doloroso tumbling from her grasp… Gloves back to sterile cheques. Knees sporting ugly purple bruises. She was supposed to be the one doing the bone tugging here.

But well done, hackjaw. Now you've lost your home support. Not to mention burned your psychotic self the hell out. All show and no flow, bitch. Melodi shook her head. Stretched her legs. Picked herself up. Fretted over her bruises. The flip-flap of her braids. The click-clack of old bones. The lead hag; face to face. Examining each other. Like rat and cobra. Little Doloroso sitting innocently on the floor between them. A disjointed smirk from the blue girl. The lead hag reflecting her gesture.

“Freak”. Melodi reached. So did her counterpart. Had somebody dropped a magic mirror in between them while I wasn’t looking?

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A quick snatch. A wry smirk. Swifter than thou, grandmamma. All dolled up and ready to rock n’ fuckin’ roll! Melodi’s smirk could have lit up the spiral dome all by itself. In a rainbow of colours. Like stained glass windows illuminating a church. Every tooth a different hue like the keys on a nursery xylophone. I don’t suppose anyone knew she had multi-coloured teeth until now. I thought since she was never likely to smile there wasn’t any point saying so. I should have known she’d venture a grin when about to commit some gratuitous act of violence. Whatever turns you on.

Take out your patchwork dummy.

Hold it in front of your heart with your tug-gloves.

Watch it all go up in ethereal flames, elbow to elbow.

Piano playing.

Let's get into this creepy crone’s head, shall we? One on one. No need for puppetry. Just… what was riff five again? Oh yeah; death! Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melodi shaped a fiery finger into a fiery needle. All the better to kill you with. Her rainbow teeth on show for all the world to see. Sinister, moy? Or sadistic? Melodi jammed the flamy needle into Doloroso’s flaming head. Plunged like a rock into a tranquil stream. Examining the hag with gleeful anticipation as she shuddered. Does it hurt? Does it hurt? This will. MELODI: Plunges flamy needle into flaming doll head HIT! LEAD HAG: Head (remote blow) Yanking the burning needle out of Doloroso’s blazing head. Delayed reaction; wait for it. Manipulated brains need a moment to translate scrambled bunraku commands into action. Because there’s one thing nanos hate more than ethereal flame. And that’s being told what to do. Especially by external bodies. Takes a moment to register that they’d better do what the flames say or it's a question of who ate all the pyres. Nanos will eat anything but that, so they switch their poor victim’s genes just the way the fire tells them to. Which inevitably results in a bloodbath. Things with nanos in the blood; so easily coerced. MELODI: Pulls flamy needle out of flaming doll head HIT! LEAD HAG: Head (remote blow) The lead hag’s skull spurted a jet of crimson spew. Splattering to the ground in rhythmic patches. Splattering the slopes of the dome. Splattering the pit floor below. Splattering Melodi and Doloroso and bathing grandmama’s wizened face a ghastly red. I should have started that last stanza with a content warning, shouldn’t I? Oh well, we’re always exposed to the harsh realities of the wide, wild world without warning. Tut-tut old hag. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Killed by the nanos in her own body. How fitting. Grandmama on her knees now. Coughing, spluttering and spewing. Leaking gunky rivers. And Melodi watching them cascade over the edge of the balcony with the curiosity of a child. Let’s try that again. MELODI: Plunges flamy needle into flamimg doll HIT! LEAD HAG: Head (remote blow) MELODI: Pulls flamy needle out of flaming doll HIT! LEAD HAG: Head (remote blow) MELODI: Plunges flamy needle into flaming doll HIT! LEAD HAG: Head (remote blow) OUT OF

head head head PLAY

Grandmama had breathed her last. MELODI: Pulls flamy needle out of flaming doll head HIT! LEAD HAG: Um… MELODI: Pulls flamy needle out of flaming doll head HIT! LEAD HAG: For Zarathustra’s sake, she’s dead! I hereby retract the question mark I placed after my description of Melodi as ‘sadistic’. Down in the pit, Remedy winced at the splatter. A drip or two striking her shoulder. Her eagerly retrieved blades. Tinkle, tinkle little scar… REMNANT: Overhand swipe (CA) MISS! Remedy bobbing her head out of range Remedy barely avoided a humongous scar Watching the blue girl clamber from balcony to walkway. Hey, wait up goresprite, we haven’t all finished yet. Won’t you come down here into the dim mirror-light and help?

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And you don’t want a mirrored blue crew, that’s for sure. That’s cause a catastrophic argument. It was time to embrace seven years of bad luck. Let’s lose this spoke in the breeze. REMNANT: Cross-body swipe (HJ) MISS! Remedy lifts a leg… …into a pivot. The swiftest pivot she’d ever attempted. The swiftest pivot anybody had ever attempted. The swiftest pivot she could ever imagine. Quicker than thought, hey? Now that’s fast. REMEDY: Super-swift pivot into...

? Not quite as devastating as that, but a whole lot quicker.

400 RPM. One step 800 RPM. Two step…

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All you could see was Remedy launching into a backflip loop… and she was gone. Only for a moment, mind. Absent, invisible, vanished. Only for a moment, mind. Nought to eight hundred RPM in no more than a click. The swiftest, shortest pirouette anybody had ever seen… Or not, given that she had just vanished into the totality. Only for a moment, mind... then she was back. Reappearing on the other side of her opponent. On the other side of the pit. On the other side of the mirror. Remy through the looking glass. Swords held one up, one down, vertical and horizontal. Sparkly and shiny, like they’d just been through a car wash. Reflecting the slivers of light which came through the broken shards of mirror above, twinkling like ripples. Glitter, stars, reflections...reflections in which she wasn’t present. Delayed reaction, you see? Remedy had just moved faster than time. Muhammad Ali could flick a switch and be in bed before the room got dark. Remedy had woken up and gone to work before she’d even flicked the switch. Remnant turning around to face her. Half-turning, anyway. The top half. The bottom half stayed where it was. Split at the waist. Her top half slipping off her body like a felled tree. Timber and splat! The legs followed suit a moment or two later. Remedy had just created a brand new übertek. Um… you’re not authorised to do that… Didn’t see that coming, did you squib? Because reflections can’t do anything new. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Flickswitch Pirouette: Backflip loop (HJ) HIT! REMNANT: Through the midsection Sickly, gorily OUT OF PLAY

Half a Remnant staring back up at the broken mirror from the dusty pit floor… that’d be a remnant of a Remnant, wouldn’t it? Smirking on the other side of moy face now, aren’t ya? Thank Zarathustra Remedy’s swordplay was slicker than her wisecracks. And thank the wide, wild world that she was finding a balance between thinking and doing.

Attacks- 18- An epic one-on-one encounter! Hits- 2- Not a great ratio, but it worked. Misses- 0- We’re not counting blocks. Straight out-of-play hits- 1- At least it counted. Injuries sustained- Dislocated rib and some bruises. Play awareness- As sound as her opponent's. No shocks there… plus kudos for strategic thinking. *Bonus for fighting pretty much in the dark. *Bonus for creating a brand new technique! *Bonus taken away; freshers aren’t allowed to create brand new techniques.

*Perhaps use that one decisive shot at the start of the play next time? She squeezed her sword handles, shook her head. She could see properly now; sunlight peeking through the creaky door at the top of the spiral stair as Melodi heaved it open. Heaving it open and vanishing into the sunlight and away. Sigh long, breeze queen; you’re not a leader yet. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy presumed she’d find Melodi on the Crystal Plateau. It was next door after all, and she’d spied that little blue shape scurrying through the fuzz-field. I’ve said Remedy was a firebrand, I didn’t say she lacked simple common sense. And I said she was learning, so let’s keep her on the right track. She z-locked here and there across the plate. Not that she was very good at it. She was easily distracted. Chane of attitude or not, she still had a bit of a monkey mind. The Crystal Plateau was a world of ice. Crevasses, glaciers, snow slopes. Actually it’s not quite right to say it was a world of ice. More like a world of glass… but you know all this already; you’ve been here before. Remedy didn’t particularly care whether the crystal plate was a world of ice or a world of glass. Or about crevasses, glaciers and snow slopes. She didn’t particularly care about much. That’s the measure of a monkey mind. It’s also the measure of an enlightened mind, so pay attention. Now, when I say Remedy didn’t care, I’m using a very misleading word. And I’m using it because us human beings like to think in black and white don’t we? Even our language denotes black and white. Remedy may not have been interested in her surroundings right now, but she certainly cared. She loved the world and every breath she breathed. That didn’t mean she wanted to tear it apart and cram it under a microscope to know what it was made of and how it came to be. She just… had other priorities right now. Remedy liked the world enough to just enjoy it. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And firebrand or not, she was one of the most principled people you’re ever likely to meet… Although you’re not likely to meet her at all because she’s not real, but if she were… Yep, Remedy followed the breeze bible to a tee.

1 In the present, there’s stuff. 2 If you look at it, you’ll see stuff is good. 3 Don’t look too hard though… 4 Hey, how come you’re still looking ya stodgy ditz? THE END

The breeze bible didn’t really exist, of course. But if it did it’d probably be the shortest book in the world. Yes, life is simple. If I tried to explain it any further I’d be making an open admission that I don’t know what I’m talking about. For the record: Things Remedy cared about, in no particular order*Her swords. *Her fellow blitzblades… With the exception of one banished breezer >SHIVER!< of whom we do not speak. *Her other comrades… With the exception of one squibby maniac >GRRR!< of whom we try not to think. *People in general. *Pyro. *Living life. *Mojo. And then it hit her, like a ray of light from that big, sunny sky. >THUMP!< Tag-grass. Funny; she'd been thinking about Mojo…

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But let's be all leader-like and keep; keep a stiff upper lip. She had a pick-up to pick up, remember. So she gathered the tag-grass and cradled it close to her heart, adjusting its position quickly as she realised how passionately it was thumping. ‘Sponsy... Mojo… How Remedy missed her. Her best friend, don’t you know? Her bestest buddy-belle in the widest, wildest world. The only blitzer who tripped swifter than she. The only blitzer who tripped more fluid than she. The only blitzer who tied her heart in knots whenever she thought of her. The only blitzer who tugged her up when she was down, which wasn’t often, but that’s not the point. They’d known each other since birth, Remedy and Mojo. OK, so she didn’t know that, but she didn’t know any better, so why not? They were orphans after all and nobody remembered the time before that; before the Academy took them in. They took the rest of the class in at the same time. Six little bundles of joy, they were. Most swordstrils were orphans of the Karakuru massacre. Not that family was all that important in Psytopia; few people had one, and in any case, Remedy’s closest family were the blitzblades. And they just clicked. Like notes, like verses, like instinct. And Remedy and Mojo clicked a click deeper than the rest. When she smoked a tag from Mojo, all the cluttered contents of the wide, wild world fell away. But she’s asked an unasked question last time, hadn’t she, so eeek… heart pirouetting again; let’s leave it for later.

*REMEDY’S OWN SPECIA L ASSIGNMENT BRIEF* *Skip across the scarily thin roofs of the crevasses. Psytopia Adagio 1

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*Don’t look down. *Catch up with the blue girl. *Smoke the tag… maybe… hopefully... *Cross swords the tag says what I want it to? *Get to the White Plateau. *Have the talk. *Be happy. *And don’t think along the way. Alright, that sounds like a doable mission statement to me. Fingers crossed that the wide, wild world didn’t have alternative arrangements. So she braced for every speed bump and delighted in her tingles. The momentous shadow of happiness just a hop and skip away. Melodi had no such mission statement. Hunched up in the snow. OK, in the very small particles of flexiglass or whatever… If you must be so accurate, tough. The chitter-chatter of her teeth. Stained glass iced over. The tired roll of her eyes. Sleep gradually taking her. The crickle-crackle of her lips. Cold, numb and bluer than her face. Her arms crossed tight. Too frozen to part. Her heartbeat slowing down…

You may have noticed by now, but Melodi wasn’t a normal girl. So why would she have a normal heartbeat? Her heartbeat was complicated. It beat in different places and at different pitches. It often beat in numerous places and at numerous pitches at once. Beats on top of each other, circulating, rising, falling, building up and drooping down. But keeping themselves… I don’t know; in clusters? Chaos with a design. Like polyphonics. Imagine that… Psytopia Adagio 1

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But nobody’s heart beats for long in cold like this, however abnormal they are. Melodi knew all this. She just found it difficult to do anything about it. It sounds like her problem was similar to Remedy’s. Knowing, doing and the pitfalls between. Instead of doing anything, she sat in the snow. In the flexiglass particles, if you must. I suppose the difference is snowfall is pretty much white whereas glassfall reflects whatever colours it lands on. And if it lands on other very small particles of flexiglass, it reflects what they reflected and so on. So on Remedy’s hair they reflected orange and on Melodi’s skin they reflected… Every colour under the sun. Well that’s not right, is it? But then, she wasn’t a normal girl. Sitting there gradually drawing the interest of icy glassicles. Sitting there half way down a winding gully, gradually becoming part of the glassier. The patch of reflected colours around her growing weaker at the edges of her sphere, finally becoming glazed ice again. Yes, Melodi had a lot on her chilly little mind. But I'll ask her one question. Why was she sitting in the snow? She wasn’t; she was over there, walking. No she wasn’t. She was over there, kicking the glassigmites and glassigtites apart with those funky platform boots. No she wasn’t; she was over there, making snowballs. Over there, I tell you. Approaching that frozen little blue girl… Wait a minute, that’s Melodi too. Oh, I give up. The standing Melodi giving the seated Melodi a lecherous grin. Blue girl to… red girl? Psytopia Adagio 1

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I’m not going to go into the whys, hows, ifs and maybes of there being eight Melodis. You’ll just have to do what Remedyy did with the love; don’t think about it and I won’t have to say. That way we can both carry on enjoying the mystery. But I will say this. When Melodi was at death’s door… On the edge… In the cooler… …Strange things started to happen. Strange things happened wherever she went, but humour me. Stranger things happened. Perhaps stranger things happened because now there was more of her to go around. Every way she looked. Omnipresence of the weird. An eight-way jinx. A superhex. Or more accurately, the splitting of the id. “Alone?” Red Melodi carried on grinning. “Always.” Our familiar blue Melodi’s voice sneaked between shards of glassy lipstick. Fainter somehow, as if diluted. Not quite so rich. Not quite so swirly. Not quite so confusing. Psytopia Adagio 1

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ORANGE MELODI: (Making snowballs) “Don’t have to be alone, you know.” BLUE MELODI: (Sulking) “I do.” PURPLE MELODI: “Technically you should.” WHITE MELODI: “How else will you keep together?” YELLOW MELODI: “Yet she’s breaking apart…” BLACK MELODI: “And dying.” BLUE MELODI: “I’m not dying.” GREEN MELODI: “Then why are we here?” BLUE MELODI: “You’re not.” RED MELODI: “Clever.” ORANGE MELODI: “Girl’s a sprite.” BLUE MELODI: “Don’t use that word.” RED MELODI: “Why not, diablo?” BLUE MELODI: “Or that.” PURPLE MELODI: ”We have to call ourselves something.” BLUE MELODI: “You’re instruments, that’s all.” Chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter. Melodi could barely hear herself think over the rattling of teeth. This was probably a good thing. If she could hear herself thinking she was having a conversation with herselves, she would probably think she was mad. GREEN MELODI: “She's saying we're just instruments?” YELLOW MELODI: “There’s no orchestra without instruments.” BLUE MELODI: ”What do you know?” RED MELODI: “Nothing you don’t.” Good point. BLUE MELODI: “You’re chambers, that’s all.” BLACK MELODI: “And what are you?” ORANGE MELODI: “We’re not all that different…” BLUE MELODI: “I’m different.” WHITE MELODI: “You don’t look different to me.” GREEN MELODI: “Or me.” PURPLE MELODI: “Or me.” Not if you’re colour blind. Seeing, hearing or reading in black and white. But how rude of me. There I was letting the girls argue and I haven’t even introduced them yet. Psytopia Adagio 1

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A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old. Yeah we know all that. But I’ll remind you of what I said way back on the Saffron Plateau: Academy students would be wise to steer clear of things they don't understand. -Her lookShe had green skin. Leaf green. Emerald green. Shimmering; the colour rippling beneath the surface. She appeared naïve. Her ocean-blue lips, blue patchwork dress, long black and white chequered gloves, black and white trainers with bright blue laces and so on and so forth. Hair thick, shaggy, braided white. Yes, our own little Melodi, but in green.

A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old. White skin, green lips, green dress, green laces, black hair… Calm looking, but you get my drift.

Black skin, white lips, white dress… irritable...

In yellow. Nice girl. Does she come in purple?

How about orange?

Red?

Nah. I think I prefer our friendly old blue model. Psytopia Adagio 1

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If they stood together, the Melodis could have formed a cyclic kaleidoscope of colours. Like a rainbow all the way around. I’m not going to analyse why red Melodi had blue hair, why black Melodi had white lips and all; the wide, wild world has wide, wild ways of making things spoil one's enjoyment. Because the strangest, rarest, most wonderful things are often ruined by too much thinking! And of course it doesn’t matter. The processes of life and living are very different things after all. Cycles exist everywhere we turn in the wide, wild world; the mysteries of maths. I’m not a mathematician and even if I was, maths can’t tell you what things mean, it can only tell you what things amount to. What this split id meant and what it amounted to happened to be the same thing to Melodi though. A whole world or trouble. BLUE MELODI: “I never asked any of you to be here.” RED MELODI: “Neither did we.” ORANGE MELODI: “Well, at least this meeting doesn’t have to last.” GREEN MELODI: “Can you feel your heart stopping?” BLACK MELODI: “Your blood freezing?” WHITE MELODI: “Your breath ebbing away?” BLUE MELODI: “You’re sick little bitches, aren’t you?” YELLOW MELODI: “Roughly as sick as you.” PURPLE MELODI: “Exactly as sick as you.” GREEN MELODI: “It’d be nice to have friends, wouldn’t it?” ORANGE MELODI: “Friends part the darkness, so they say.” WHITE MELODI: “But who’d want to be around you?” GREEN MELODI: “It's just us then, isn’t it?” BLACK MELODI: ”What a funeral.” RED MELODI: “At least you managed to get us to attend.” GREEN MELODI: ”We’re her red girl, aren’t we?” RED MELODI: “Not a great turn out then, is it?” BLUE MELODI: “Oh, go away.” GREEN MELODI: “Or you’ll cry?” Psytopia Adagio 1

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WHITE MELODI: “Now that might just be the end of the world…” BLUE MELODI: “I’m glad I’m dying.” ORANGE MELODI: “Now, that’s not very positive, is it?” PURPLE MELODI: “You could probably stay here with us…” BLUE MELODI: “I’d rather be with other people than be alone with you.” Wow; Melodi’s met somebody she hates even more than everybody else. Herself. Remedy hadn’t heard all of this, and if she had, she’d probably have shaken her head and walked away. Nah, Remedy’s not like that. Remedy had more pressing things on her mind, or on her heart or wherever it was. But don’t think about that, will you; don’t want to jinx it. Speaking of jinxes… “Hey! Melodi!” She’d spotted her. Down a winding path melted into the glacier. She thought she'd spotted her… She squinted. Yeah, that was her. Reflections every which way. It was like the end fight scene from a Bruce Lee film down there. The glassy glacier creating reflection after reflection, making it hard to tell which was real. “Hey! Lil’ sprite!” “Don’t call me… oh.” Melodi didn’t recognise the voice as her own. Must be somebody else here then. “Mel! How’d you get down there?” Remedy standing on the ridge above, boots slipping, almost taking a tumble. “You don’t want to come down here.” “Sure I do. Yeek!” Psytopia Adagio 1

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Our nimble blitzer balanced on a foot. You sure this was glass and not ice? “It's OK Remedy; come on down.” “I am, siz, just hang a shade.” Remedy picked her steps. Crunch after worrying crunch. A drop equivalent to the distance between an übersaur’s scalp and the floor. That’s a perilous drop. ORANGE MELODI: “Come on Remy.” BLUE MELODI: “No, don’t listen to her… me…” WHITE MELODI: “Go edge.” YELLOW MELODI: “Go side.” BLACK MELODI: “Go tip.” GREEN MELODI: “Go faster!” PURPLE MELODI: “Take your time.” REMEDY: “Hack ya froppy ditz; hang a click, I’s ‘fused enough already.” Remedy took a breath. Charged down the glassy slope and landed in a heap. At least she didn’t do herself any serious damage. And at least that had stopped Melodi bickering with… herself. “Yipes.” She clambered to her feet with a helpful hand round the wrist. “You know you’se a trickerty little orange girl and that’s no… orange?” Yes, orange. And purple, and yellow, and black… If only Remedy had remembered to z-lock from up there on high. Perhaps she’d have decided she’d had enough magic mirrors for one round. Perhaps she’d have left Melodi to her own devices. All eight of them. “OK, this be plexin’ me.” She shrugged her shoulders. Mopped her brow. “Which one of you’se… whatever-you-ares are gonna sharpen this plexi-poy muddle up’?” Psytopia Adagio 1

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Let's be honest; Melodi’s not going to give a straight answer. Not the type. Everything she says is going to be as oblique as a foot-thick sheet of glass, flexed to the max, all crazed and contorted. Melodi didn’t do answers. I can fill you in on a few things, but don’t take my word for it. I deal in entertainment so I won’t be parting with any mysteries. Answers don’t sell. The anticipation of them though…

Sorry but I’m not going to make up my mind. Maybe the glaciers were made out of a combination of the two. Nanos did that kind of thing you see; they mixed elemental cocktails, but they weren’t particularly good at their craft. No discipline. They couldn’t manufacture elements like nature could. But there were no nanos on the Crystal Plateau. That was why the stuff was so useful. Why ancient people melted it down and took it away. Then mirrored it ad infinitum into the kind of madness you saw in Cronesville; nano-infused nature, like most of it nowadays. Like fate-swirls, shatter-storms and other mischievous things. Yes, nanos were the poison of the wide, wild world; the invention that sparked the age of gravimagmathics and all, and the little gods were really starting to bore Melodi now if the truth be told. Spooks, dupes, bad blood- different smears of the same gloop. Nanos liked messing with dead bodies, but dead spirits? When have you seen a sci-fi movie with a robot and a ghost? Not often; two archetypes which tend to fulfil the same purpose. Same purpose, different worlds. So you’re probably wondering how Melodi was spawning dupes in a plate without nanos. The answer is simple, and typically with Melodi, it’s a question: who said she was spawning dupes? No, those other seven Melodis were in her all the time, and when she was close to death… well, the tracks started lifting from Psytopia Adagio 1

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under their feet and they began to rise. Polysoulphuric; that was what she was. Not exactly dead, but haunted by herself. No wonder she was such a hopeless brooder. Imagine all the internal arguments; eight different melodies playing over each other like scratchy films projected on the same wall… what a mess. Starting to see why she was so confusing now? It was a good thing Mikado hadn’t had to give the blue girl medicative attention at any point. The sensory overload would have resulted in Melodi killing the poor thing herself. “These aren’t me.” Melodi’s explanation wasn’t entirely convincing. Remedy scratched her head. “They look like you’se siz.” WHITE MELODI: “That answer doesn’t make sense.” RED MELODI: “She’s dying.” BLUE MELODI: “I’m not dying.” REMEDY: “Are you… dying?” A strange word to Remedy. An alien concept. She was aware other species spoke about dying… But she never imagined it’d be anything like this. BLUE MELODI: (Resigned) “...Yes.” ORANGE MELODI: “Shame.” GREEN MELODI: “Does this really mean it's the end of the world?” BLUE MELODI: “Dying will save me the bother of having to listen to myself… and of breathing.” “Melodi.” Remedy ignored the others. Funny how when you know someone, you know the acts from the reality. Sure, you may play along, but when push comes to shove… Melodi was taken aback. Did this mean Remedy knew her? And she was still making effort? The blue girl almost spewed. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: (Holding BLUE MELODI’S wrist) “Siz, you’se cold.” PURPLE MELODI: “In actual fact, she’s freezing.” WHITE MELODI: “It is cold around here...” YELLOW MELODI: “But not quite deathly cold…” BLACK MELODI: “She’s not tough enough to live.” ORANGE MELODI: “She’s fine.” RED MELODI: “She’s dying.” GREEN MELODI: “Are you sure she’s dying?” REMEDY: “Hey, sheath it, ya squabbly squibs.” Remedy wasn’t interested. She didn’t much care where these other Melodis had come from. She had other things in her mind... her heart… Don’t think about it, because remember:

YELLOW MELODI: “There’s nothing you can do.” RED MELODI: “Let her die.” BLACK MELODI: “Dying to be born.” WHITE MELODI: “Dying’s what she needs.” REMEDY: (Holding BLUE MELODI’S wrists, tearing a sheet of pyro from her belt) “No it’s not what she needs.” PURPLE MELODI: “Now, think about this Remedy.” GREEN MELODI: “That stuff won’t kill her will it?” REMEDY: “Mel, will this stuff… kill you?” The blue girl shook her head. Perhaps Remedy knew her after all. Perhaps Remedy liked her. Perhaps Remedy… was her friend… REMEDY: (Rubbing it in her hands, creating liquid) “The pyro’ll warm you up siz. Might make ya coco a little loco tho.” RED MELODI: “It’ll kill her.” BLUE MELODI: “No it won’t.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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WHITE MELODI: “Overload.” YELLOW MELODI: “Total vibe extraction.” PURPLE MELODI: “Chaos.” GREEN MELODI: “End of the world?” REMEDY: “Will you dupey jacks shut up?” RED MELODI: “We’re no dupes, fresher.” Pyro stops a dupe’s heartbeat, see; and speeds a blue girl’s up. “Don’t haz you’self; I’s pretty sure a blade through you’se skull wouldn’t snag moy Melodi.” Blue Melodi raised a tentative hand. Well… let’s not leave that to chance… ORANGE MELODI: “We’re as much Melodi as she is.” RED MELODI: “We're elements of her.” GREEN MELODI: “Could we say parts of her heart?” WHITE MELODI: “The Psytopian doesn’t get it.” PURPLE MELODI: “Well, Psytopians are children.” YELLOW MELODI: “She doesn’t hear straight.” ORANGE MELODI: “Much as she’d like to…” REMEDY: (Drawing a sword) “Hey; I hear just dandy alright suz.” Blue Melodi reached out and grabbed the blitzblade’s hand. Licked the pyrojuice off her palm. She’d be needing that. And she’d like to keep her id intact too. A little heat. Sizzling on her lips and tongue. Nothing like a hot drink to put Humpty back together again. “Hey siz, that stuff’’s pretty slick; first timers shouldn’t just…”

GULP!

A scatter of melting icicles. A collapse of colours. A wide, wild world holding its collective breath. So as not to be caught out… Melodi felt like she’d been woken with a pail of icy water. Like she’d been sat under the glare of an almighty spotlight. Like bags of thumb tacks tossed across the glassy floor, making it coarse again. Because Melodi felt all eight of her and the breadth of the Psytopia Adagio 1

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coloured snows surrounding them as if they were extensions of her own skin, which had at last stopped slipping away. I’m not going to pretend that I understand how Melodi perceived this world; ask a synaesthete. Let’s a refreshing glaze passed over her flesh as time slowed. As if she was a model in a slow-mo shot from a shampoo ad. And as it slowed, it slid back into its normal sync. The very fabric of the plate rippled for a moment, out from the epicentre and across the glass. A slight shiver from grand old Mother Nature. Close call, because if her heart beat any faster, we might be looking at Richter scales and the world in comparison might be slowing to a stop because… well, reasons. By the time Remedy looked round it was just the two of them. Melodi’s expression slightly more cheerful. Melodi’s heartbeat slightly more fluid. Melodi’s skin slightly… more blue. Revitalised with colour. Remedy sheathed her sword. “Eeer… What happened?” “Nothing.” Oh, just the answer we were looking for. Melodi smiled a plastic smile. The kind of smile you give in-laws. Traffic wardens, bank managers, clients. The pyro’s warmth had pulled her heart strings back together. “You reckons that was nothing?” Remedy shook her head. “I mean it's ok. They’ve gone. I’m glad.” Her voice gradually slithering back to normal, if you could call it that. “Hmmm.” Remedy looked her up and down. Felt responsible. “Now I hope you’se not gonna get addicted to that stuff, K?”

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Perhaps if she offered enough plastic smiles, Remedy would go away. No, she didn’t want her to go away; she liked Remedy. Melodi frowned. Barf? “Pyro’s not good for you. I’s learnt that… kinda.” Nice facts; can I interest you in… a plastic smile? Melodi knew what pyro was… better than most. Let's just say it was a substance close to her heart. “Well another thing I’s learnt is it's best not to think about things.” And in any case, if she was going to think, there was no competition for what it'd be about. Miraculous multiplying Melodis? Please. As far as the blue girl was concerned, if there weren’t going to be any questions, perhaps they could be friends. Friendship wasn’t easy for Melodi; she was weird. People don’t like weird and Melodi didn’t like people, so do the maths. Around her, birds suddenly fell out of the sky dead and lovely fruity roses withered and died. Because… you’re asking questions again- stop it. It wasn’t her fault of course, it was the hues. The chambers, the instruments, the strings. Aw, what does it matter; they were all a part of her anyway. If only she was simple like Psytopians, but…

Either way, Remedy had decided this was as good a time as any to set up camp. So Melodi could sit by the fire and get warm. So Remedy could have a moment to think? Just don’t tell anyone, OK? Psytopia Adagio 1

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The rainbow tent in place. The pyro sheet burning in the golf-hole basin. And a little bit of bodily warmth. It can save a person’s life, or even a sprite’s. They sat in silence, safe from the burdens of questions, and more importantly, from unwanted answers. Because it’s the answers that make the questions scary in the first place, isn’t it? Remedy lay down with her sword sheaths by her side, watching the flames flicker as the crystal hues around them faded to night. Running a sprig of tag-grass from finger to finger, composing in her head- thinking, thinking, thinking; what to say, what to say? Think in moderation Remedy, but that is all, because it’s easy to grow obsessed. About swordplay. About seeing somebody again. About eating brains. It’s all much of a muchness and we all get hooked on something from time to time; that doesn’t mean to say that something is necessarily a bad thing. It’s quite possible we’ll get hooked on something wonderful. But the thing you’ve got to remember is… Hang on; did I say eating brains? I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Oh no, I’m right on cue. Because remember those shadows Remedy neglected to notice back there on the snow flats? Her neither, but they'd been following her. If she hadn't been thinking of Mojo, Remedy would know they'd been following the scent of pyro. It’s a scentless scent, you know? But there’s some kind of aroma in there… Not from the pyro itself, but from the burning of the air around it. And nano-crazed thingies tend to sense that kind of thing. Danger. People brought danger, but they also brought fresh, warm, edible brains. Some nano-crazed thingies hide from the world or make their Psytopia Adagio 1

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own private ones where they can be as crazed as they like, but you may notice that most nano-crazed thingies were fucked up.

Brain filchers were dirty so-and-sos. Nasty, too. Dirty, nasty, vicious… Not the kind of people you’d bring round to meet your mother. Unless you really didn’t like your mother and she had a particularly tasty brain. So keep your thoughts to yourself, glitzblitzer, and look around. Because you may just spy people who want to filch your brain.

Aw wite mate so y’ wanna be a brain filcher do ya? It's an’ ‘ard trade, I’ll tell ya that for nuffink. It’s simple, 'wite? Even for a scabby lil’ gimp like you. That’s royt; scabby lil’ gimp; doncha forget it. Wait a tick. You got a brain, doncha? Gis! Gis! See that’s wot we do, a'wite? But I ain’t filchin’ your brain; nah. I gotta learn ya, ain’t I? Aw wite scab, I’ll learn ya this: But doncha be wastin’ my time or I’ll be scalpin’ ya f’wuckin’ brain jus' like that! First fing I gotta learn ya ‘bout filchin’ is… Ey! You listenin’ scab? I ain’t f’wuckin’ stupid, a'wite? I’ve got a f’wuckin’ brain. Now you go get yours.

The brain filchers were a sorry bunch. Savages, in fact. Not Anarchists; savages. Pyro addicts, in fact. That was why they were so tetchy. Psytopia Adagio 1

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That was also why their speech was so garbled. Burnt out brain cells, you see? Fried genes. I hope Remedy’s taking notes. They were burly built, messy haired, stubbly, untidily clothed Psytopians whose addictions had become so deep they’d do anything for a fix. Do anything. Kill anything. Steal anything. They’d do, kill or steal their own mothers. You think your brain is safe? They were outcasts; even back on the Auburn Plateau where they used to steal root. Not to eat, mind. To swap. There was no money in Psytopia, so if you wanted something really badly you had to barter, and everyone needs to eat. In any case, since then they’d found themselves a more valuable commodity than root. Brains. Yes, people bought brains. Anarchists, of course. They used brains to stir spirits of the dead. To conjure demons, or so people said. Because demons ate brains, or because brains grew back bodies or because brains contained traces of the dreams of those passed to the Third Heaven or something like that. And a good few brain filchers ate brains too. If it was good enough for demons… They say once you start you can’t stop. One to swap, one to munch. And yes, these three were the munching kind; sorry kitz. A'wite, so you wanna be one of us ey scab? Well let’s see how tough y’are.

Aside from their super-thick clothes and their super-rough facial hair, brain filchers carried the tools of the trade: Gogs. Luminous pyramid goggles which highlighted living things in fluorescents. By spotting them breathe. Gogs could even spot the movement of tiny nanos in the bloodstream. Don’t ask how they worked; everybody’s forgotten. Strings. ‘Tumblestrings’ were metal garrottes wrapped in luminous plastic at either end which elongated out of hand-held cylinders like traction mechanisms on vacuum cleaners. Psytopia Adagio 1

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You could toss them like lassos if you wanted to, but that took craft and… Well, these are brain filchers we’re talking about. Pads. Patchy gauze gloves and slippers with metal slabs across knuckles and toes, used to pummel victims into submission. Flints. Jagged pieces of sharpened stones with which they scalped their victims. And once that was done it was dinner time. Easy, innit? Self-‘spanitory. Well whacha waitin’ for? Go filch us some brains! Remedy didn’t see them coming. She was relaxing. Transfixed somewhere between the flames and her thoughts. She only saw as far as the pyro flickered but by then… let's just say the canteen was open for business.

Remedy & Melodi Shh! Don’t tell them there’s a fight on; they’re resting. No kind of ambush now, is it? The brain filchers Two of these. They always worked in pairs. One to hold, one to scalp, one to munch. Hang on, that’s three isn’t it? Crafty buggers; no wonder they got away with pinching so much scoffable nerve tissue.

A moonlit grotto in an icy crevasse on the quasi-snowy, quasi-glassy Crystal Plateau.

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Hang on, didn’t your mother ever tell you that if you must thieve somebody’s brain… It's polite to introduce yourself first? No, or did you just eat her brain before she got the chance? Carry on, carry on… FILCHER A: Tumblestring around the neck CATCH! Remedy yanked up off the floor. Barely managing to hold on to the wire to prevent it digging into her neck. Dragged backwards through the light pyramid around the camp and deeper into the gloom. Because brain filchers could even see through camp walls with those crafty gogs.

“Remy!” Melodi reached a hand. Out into the gloom. Too late. Funny. The filchers hadn’t noticed her until she spoke. Still as a mouse and invisible as a ghost. Story of her life… FILCHER A: Back tracking tumblestring drag HIT! Remedy’s hand was bleeding all over her top and trailing messily back towards the camp as she gripped the wire. “Mel…” Calling for help wasn’t the best use of quickly dwindling energy. You can’t shout if a dirty, nasty, vicious garrotte is wrapped around your voice box. The tutors take note; Teach Remedy about priorities. Conserve that strength. You might just need it. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melodi didn’t need it. Melodi didn’t need anybody or anything. Melodi had other, crueller means of defending herself. Out pops Doloroso and away drops your life. FILCHER B: Paw-pad swipe HIT! MELODI: Hand Knocks Doloroso from one side of the camp to the other

“Ow!” The sting. “Aw.” The distance to the doll. Now Melodi did need something. A miracle. Remedy hoped for something slightly more likely than a miracle. Perhaps if she reached hard enough for those swords, they’d fly to her; over from the other side of the camp. If she willed it, perhaps they’d come… So, on one hand we have a miracle and on the other a scene from Star Wars; is that crystal underfoot or very, very thin ice?

To be fair, she’d merely put them down to compose her tag… so another choice between sword and sweetheart. Remedy clearly had yet to learn that the difference between bad luck and tragedy rests tentatively on the edge of a blade. She’ll learn… And then she can tell all the other hapless swordstrils in the Third Heaven all about it. FILCHER A: Tumblestring yank HIT! REMEDY: Wire digging so deeply into her fingers she could swear she felt it grating the bones FILCHER A: Tumblestring twist HIT! REMEDY: Now she was in pain Psytopia Adagio 1

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Teeth clenching. Hand bleeding. Feet scrambling, Pulled forever backwards, on and off her knees. Eyes jamming shut. Voice box cracking. Pulse racing. Lifting herself up on the balls of her feet. Not easy in big boots… on ice. A little luck? Good luck or good balance; either would do. A deft bounce and you never know… REMEDY: Overhead kick HIT! FILCHER A: Arm Remedy landing back first in the ice with a crash. Head still attached. That meant she’d pulled it off. He’d let go. The tutors take note again. Last resorts are all well and good, but... You’re better off not getting into such situations in the first place. And seriously, was Remedy condemned to spend the rest of her existence battling brutes? She retreated with a slip and a cough. A grab of the throat. A cradle of the hand. A splutter of blood. “Squippy… bricker.” Examining her palm, cut to shreds. >FLICK!< >SPLAT!< on the icy floor. Even more slippery now.

-Basic Health & Safety Dictum Number One‘Don’t flick a bleeding hand, Remedy. It's disgusting.’ Psytopia Adagio 1

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Meanwhile… FILCHER B: Paw-pad hook MISS! Melodi ducks EDIT: Melodi collapsed to the floor. Martial arts, first lesson; break falls. They didn’t have martial arts in Psytopia, not as such. They had good fortune, although sometimes not quite enough. She’d fallen further away from Doloroso. A familiar grimace. Did life ever get to be worthwhile? These girls weren’t quite so nifty without weapons, were they? Remedy staggered, bemused. She’d never seen so much of her own blood before. Lucky she was out in the scant moonlight. If she’d been closer to the lights of the camp she’d have seen a whole lot more. It made her panic; made her shiver. Made her feel pins and needles and nothing much more. Made her feel vulnerable; mortality dripping through her fingers. You know what would feel worse? FILCHER A: Paw-pad punch HIT! REMEDY: Jaw “Yerk!” She felt herself thrown into an involuntary toe-spin for a moment. Felt the world spiral in the opposite direction. Felt her teeth secrete goo. That’d be more blood, Remy. Try not to think about it. “Yipes.” She back peddled… front peddled… she wasn’t sure. But she was sure of this. These guys were just rude. “What you gangly schquibs want?” Better not to ask.

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A manic grin. “Gis, girlie; Gis!” Remedy blinking heavily, her world settling itself again. The glow of the camp fire just a few yards away. If she back-tracked just right, the angle would be in her favour. She’d be able to see him better. Side-step; let's see if he buys it. OK, he’s dumb; that’s a point in her favour. She held her face as she side-stepped a few paces more. “You ambly bluntsch wanna jive, you schlip me moy schwordsch… hack I can’t even schpeak right…” Loosened teeth and puffy gums tend to do that. Life’s lessons being learnt as we speak, even as we do so badly, and here’s another one. FILCHER C: Paw-pad hook HIT! REMEDY: Side of the head You guessed it; the lesson was ‘watch your back’. Remedy dropping sideways onto her knees, a nasty cut opening up over an eye. “K…” She blotted her eyebrow with a palm, all the noises of the world spinning into a stew. “That waschn’t fair.” She clambered uneasily to her feet. Double vision; she could see two of them. Pointing, nodding, whispering this and that. There were two of them. Remedy attempted to raise her fists, but it felt as if she was carrying heavy suitcases. Two on one; muddledy maths… She hadn’t been taught how to do this, so she’d have to improvise. Just act as if she was holding blades and everything would be blazey. REMEDY: Overhand swipe MISS! FILCHER C: About a mile away Remember, your arms aren’t quite as long as swords... Psytopia Adagio 1

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FILCHER C: Paw-pad swing HIT! REMEDY: Side of the head >THUMP!< That’s a knock-down. How come she was lying on the sky… no, wait… While Remedy was getting floored, Melodi was making a lunge for Doloroso. FILCHER B: Toe-pad swipe MISS! Melodi abandons her lunge mid way through Now that was rude Remedy gazing at a line of blood in front of her, leading back towards camp. A sword’s length of it, like a path of breadcrumbs in a maze. Don’t let the spinning of your brain make you hallucinate, Remy; that’s your blood, laid exactly where you just spat it. She shuffled down the crimson trail on her knees, aware of the filchers chatting behind her. She reached for her blades. Spatial awareness falling apart, belle blaze? You’re a mile off again; the filchers are shuffling towards you... So instead she cradled her injured hand to her chest. Picked at it with the other. Assembling her kiticlaws. A set of blades on the hand worth a punch in the mouth. Just one step closer ya gaumy hackjaws… REMEDY: Turn-around claw stab (on her knees) HIT! FILCHER A: Thigh A guttural groan. Nice shot. Perhaps luck was on her side after all. Now if she could only pull the claw out of her opponent’s leg before… FILCHER C: Overhead paw-pad whack HIT! REMEDY: Nose Psytopia Adagio 1

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Oh, that got the claw out. Thanks for the assistance. No thanks for leaving Remedy in a dizzy heap with her nostrils spurting vermilion gunk as if she was an overturned truck full of raspberry juice. At least she was another step closer to camp. “Yurrrgh…” She dabbed her nose. The sickly trickle. The plain fact that contrary to her previous opinions on the matter, this fighting thing sometimes wasn’t any fun at all. It seemed she cut up easily. Plus these cloggy goons hit hard. She hadn’t been thumped around like this before. They didn’t teach fist fighting at the Academy.

FILCHER B: Downward paw-pad whack MISS! Melodi ducking, on all fours Come on Doloroso, come to mummy… Sitting there by the pyro fire, smirking a lopsided, stitched-up triangular smirk… Stupid doll. Almost as stupid as people. “What d’yu reckon, Skunk?” The filchers debating what to do with Remedy. “Dunno Skribble.” Skunk tore a chunk of material from his tunic, tying it with a nasty squish around his bleeding leg. “Yu reckon she’s a cleva’ one?” “Nah. Don’t even talk propa’.” Remedy scrambled backwards on her hands and feet, buying some time… “Hey! Schpeak for yourschelvesch.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Dunno if she’s cleva’, but I reckon she’s got a tasty brain in that there ‘ed.” “Yeah. Reckon. Ain’t tasted tasty in a long time.” “Taschty brain?” Remedy back-tracked faster. What was the wide, wild world coming to? Best not to think about it; best to act. She swung around, top half of her body back into the camp, good arm reaching… For the Blessed Angel. >WHIP!< FILCHER C (Skribble): Tumblestring lasso SNAG! Around Remedy’s reaching arm “Schquap!” That was her claw arm too... FILCHER A (Skunk): Tumblestring lasso SNAG! Around Remedy’s trailing ankle Double squap! FILCHERS A & C: Tumblestring yank PULL! Remedy dragged out of the camp pyramid like a yo-yo Wonderful. Two against one, eight limbs versus two and still no swords. Lady Luck was quite literally kicking her in the teeth with mean stilettos today. Not only was all this artless, but it hurt. FILCHER B (called Skrap, by the way): Wild toe-pad boot MISS! Melodi was a small target and that was a big, cumbersome boot… She wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life fortuitously evading pad plate swipes, however short that life was likely to be. Time to meet your maker, membrane muncher. She reached for a sword. Although she knew she shouldn’t.

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But needs must, and little blue girls… Well, self preservation is pretty high on their agendas. The Holy Judgement… And I swear it did start to fly hilt first towards her before she ever laid her fingers on… oh. FILCHER B: Tumblestring lasso SNAG! THE HOLY JUDGEMENT: Whips it away Melodi sighed. The wide, wild world doesn’t ever change, does it? Remedy was finding it no kinder. Tied up, one side of her body out of contention. On her knees. No, on her side… No… on her back… Avoiding paw-pad swipes like her life depended on it. Um… hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it did. FILCHER A: Paw-pad swipe MISS! Remedy bobs her head FILCHER C: Paw-pad hook MISS! Remedy weaves her body Stick with what you know; avoiding shots. She’d learnt that in the pitch panel hall. She was good at avoiding shots, too. If you’re going to play breezy you have to be. FILCHER A: Cross-face pawpad punch MISS! Remedy ducks to one side FILCHER C: Wild toe-pad boot MISS! Remedy dives to the other You can’t duck and dive forever either. Remedy wasn’t doing a bad job considering she was being tugged around like a dog on a lead tied to a post. Round and round and round and round. More like a swingball tied to a post. Thank Zarathustra these thugs weren’t clever enough to pool their resources. One tugs, the other volleys. It's official; eating brains does not make you more intelligent. But thankfully Remedy’s brain was still attached, so let’s plan. Psytopia Adagio 1

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She couldn’t reach her swords; on the other side of the camp. But if she stretched in one of her shackles and reached into the light pyramid, she could just about snag that freaky doll-thing. Score! She dragged herself onto her feet, held Doloroso to her chest and did what the blue girl did.

Take out your patchwork dummy.

Hold it in front of your heart… Now, how does this thing work? Nothing happened. Marvellous. Somewhere across the camp, a blue face almost went purple, hands covering it in despair.

Nothing happening, except of course… FILCHER C: Paw-pad uppercut HIT! REMEDY: Chin Knockdown! Flipped like an egg timer. THE GLASSY FLOOR: Stays where it is. Bes hard. HIT! REMEDY: Face and chest TENSION IN THE TRIPWIRES: Acts as gravity dictates HIT! REMEDY: Bruised forearm and ankle Since she’s overcome with shock and agony I’ll say it for her. Yow. At least Doloroso broke a fraction of the fall. A bloody print of Remedy’s face emblazoned on its patchwork chest. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Busted eye, nose, mouth, chin; the print could well have been a mirror. “Yerk!” Remedy woke up; she’d had enough of mirrors for one lifetime. And for that matter, she'd also had enough of having the proverbial shit beaten out of her. Melodi was also seeking unfamiliar weapons. You don’t need trans-mutating arms or trans-mutating gloves or a trans-mutating soul to wield a sword, do you? Any idiot can do that. So she scampered across the camp. Towards the other blade. The Blessed Angel. Scamper, scamper with the filcher close behind. Slow and steady wins the race, huh? I don’t think so, stompbucket. Not in this world. One final dive and grab…Got it! But… oops. FILCHER B: Tumblestring lasso & yank SNAG! Melodi’s trailing foot Caught her in mid air, too. Little Miss Blue pulled back to whence she’d come. Sword handle in her grasp, momentum unsheathing the blade. Her velocity throwing her into a helpless spin. >THUMP!< Landing upside-down on the filcher, head banging into his knee. HIT! MELODI: Head He was still standing though. And she was still hanging upside down. As if she he was a fuzzy-felt wall and she clad in velcro. Then she became aware of the drip. On the ground beneath her head. Blood. She sighed. She was bleeding. Psytopia Adagio 1

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That knock to the head must have been worse than she thought. She was probably going to die. Well, that was alright; wasn’t worth living anyway. Wasn’t the end of the world. It was though; that was the problem. But wait a minute; that blood was red. What colour did you expect it to be? Shut up narrator-guy. If the blood was red it meant one simple thing; it wasn’t her’s. Aw, she wasn’t going to die after all. She looked down… up… whatever; down to her, up to us. The Blessed Angel still in her grasp, and stuck right through the filcher’s chest. MELODI: Completely inadvertent back somersault stab (BA) HIT! FILCHER B: Through chest. OUT OF PLAY

“Cool.” She smirked a satisfied smirk. …Then felt the meaty thug’s corpse topple forward, trapping her under its weight. “Bricky amble-plod…” Now that wasn’t funny. Meanwhile, Remedy was fighting a bruising battle. Looping the loop. Slipping the leash. Freeing an arm with a couple of fortunate dips and weaves.

FILCHER A: Paw-pad swing HIT! REMEDY: Stomach

Remedy doubles over. Blinks heavily, spits blood. Remy wishing a fight was over? Yes, the wide, wild world really had gone to pot. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Mel!” Remedy calling for help. Excuse me while I nip out to church and convert. Remedy is asking Melodi for help; scrub your brains ready for fine dining in hell because the apocalypse must be coming. “What?” “What do you mean ‘what’?” “I mean what do you want?” ”I want help, ya fruity schprite.” “I can’t help; I’m stuck.” “Well, wriggle.” “He’s really heavy.” “At leascht he’sch dead.” Dead. Remedy used the D word. Perhaps the harshness of the wide, wild world was making her… you know, think negatively. Making her doubt what she thought she knew. “There’s a corpse on me!” “Pusch it off!” “I can’t push it off!” ”I juscht need the schword.” “Alright…” Melodi grit her rainbow teeth. Reached around the filcher’s brawny body. Wheezed… FILCHER C: Tumblestring yank TUG! Remedy whipped off her feet and onto her face Knowdown! You know swordstrils were taught not to let go of their swords? This means they were not taught to land on their hands. Are you starting to think that perhaps the Academy could have missed a few training tips? Or that perhaps they meant to?

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“The schword.” A little more desperate now. Melodi stretching her little blue hand, sliding the blood-caked blade out of her humanoid bed sheet’s dribbling torso. Grimacing as she was unceremoniously caped in goo. FILCHER C: Paw-pad thump HIT! REMEDY: Gut “Schword…” He voice was trailing off. Her arm reaching hopelessly, an eye closing gradually. Lips losing blood, legs losing balance, brain losing touch. If there was a towel around, it would be nice if somebody was to throw it in round about now. They didn’t have towels in Psytopia. Will a sword do? The Blessed Angel. Flying through the air with the greatest of breeze. Well, not quite. Little Melodi wasn’t equipped to hurl swords that far. Remedy’s hand reaching… A loved one falling off a precipice. A winning lottery ticket fumbled in the wind. The holy grail… an inch away. But Melodi only managed to throw the thing a scabbard’s length, and mathematically speaking that may as well have been nowhere. FILCHER A: Tumblestring lasso SNAG! THE BLESSED ANGEL: Yanked off the ground and back past Remy’s head Two burly brutes against a bruised and battered Remedy. Eight free limbs between them, she reduced to three, and now they had her sword. No curses could comfort her, no words sufficed. All Melodi could mouth was a stranded ‘sorry’. FILCHER A: Downward paw-pad swing MISS! Remedy rolls her head. Pad hits ground Psytopia Adagio 1

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But you know, luck’s a trickerty slipster, so maybe if she just tempted fate and took a wide, wild... REMEDY: Wild upward kick HIT! FILCHER A: Jaw. Reels back “Yowz!” Remedy clutched her boot. “Yowz! Yowz! Yowz!” No, they didn’t teach swordstrils to kick properly at the Academy either, because such things are uncivilised and downright rude. But Melodi was keen to make amends. She seldom cared about such things but let's face it, Remedy had come looking for her with all the right intentions. And let’s face it, she’d just royally fucked up. Let’s not tell her it was Remedy’s pyro fire that attracted the filchers in the first place. Otherwise merry Mel might just think they were even and leave our intrepid swordstress for dead. OK, the other sword... Melodi wriggled herself free. Stretched her arms and legs. Checked her shoes weren’t stained. Stroked her hair back out of her face. OK. Now she was ready to save her best friend’s life. The Holy Judgement. “Mel; the schword!”

>TWACK!< That was probably the squelch of another loosened tooth or two. OK, the sword… There it was. Just where that all-too familiar corpse had dropped it. All she had to do was pick it up… “The schword!” Yeah, she knows; don’t rush her. The Holy Judgement.

“Ooooh…” Melodi’s fingers twitched. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Her head span, her eyes glazed. She really didn’t want to pick it up. It was reverberating at her again. What? You haven’t noticed it reverberating before? The piercing buzz-saw hum like a sack of angry timeswirls? The subtle, tempting glow like an open lid or a sunlit porch? No? Maybe Melodi was the only one. Some swords did that. The ones with destinies. They sang to Melodi so sweetly… Um... may I point out the filchers have Remedy by the neck? SKUNK: “The girlie’s brain!” SKRIBBLE: “Gis! Gis!” SKUNK: “Get ‘er ‘ed open.” SKRIBBLE: “’Ere, use ya flint, Skunk.” SKUNK: “I’m usin’ me f’wuckin’ flint.” SKRIBBLE: “Gis ‘er brain then.” SKUNK: “Git your own brain.” SKRIBBLE: “I got this brain.” SKUNK: “What about the ovver one?” SKRIBBLE: “I can’t even see the ovver one.” SKUNK: “Take your gogs off Skribble; she’s roight ovver there.” SKRIBBLE: ”Oh yeah. Innit funny? Couldn’t see ‘er before.” SKUNK: “Go git ‘er. We’s bouf got brains ta munch.” SKRIBBLE: “Gis!” Filcher C stomping off across the camp pyramid. Splitting up, huh? Like the battle’s already won. Yes, these squips were stupid. Remedy had lulled them in just right. OK, so she hadn’t quite planned it this way and chance had lulled them in just right, but I digress. Never leave a battle until the final shot is cast. Because you never know how quickly a play can crash into an unexpected crescendo. Psytopia Adagio 1

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They didn’t have many fat ladies in Psytopia. Or fat anything else. Root didn't come super-sized. Not necessarily true of brains… if you’re that way inclined. FILCHER A: Paw-pad thump HIT! REMEDY: Midsection She made a meal of it. It really hurt but she made a meal of it anyway. Doubling over, secretly cutting the tumblestring with her claw. Not quite as helpless as she seemed. FILCHER A: Wild swing (BA) COUNTERED! Remedy grabs his attacking wrist and performs a clever twist. Sending the Blessed Angel into a wide-arching loop… HIT! FILCHER A: Scalped! OUT OF PLAY Fate-swirls… eat your brain out. That was a very clever twist of fate indeed. Who said Remedy wasn’t clever? Whoever it was, they must be pretty stupid. Meanwhile Melodi was standing transfixed over that blade. The Holy Judgement.

Singing to her… Unaware of Filcher C stomping towards her from behind. Ooooh, she really shouldn’t pick that thing up… Who knows what might happen…

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! >He’s behind you!!!< Psytopia Adagio 1

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Oh, she’d just have to chance it and pick it up. Filcher C leaning over her brittle neck, tumblestring garrotte poised to strike. >SPLAT!< Melodi stopped reaching; look of terror in her egg yoke, Nike tick eyes. Look of terror in the filcher’s eyes too. You can’t blame him; somebody had just embedded a kiticlaw into his skull like a skewer, and he must be in one of the heavens because he could swear he could see brains... Remedy watching the brute topple from the other side of camp. Good throw. REMEDY: Long-range kiticlaw toss HIT! FILCHER C: Through skull. OUT OF PLAY How about your brain eats that?

Attacks- 6- I'm sure she'd have thrown more if she had swords in her hands Hits- 5- OK, but since none were sword swipes… Misses- 1- Should have been 0 if… you know what Straight out-of-play hits- 2 Injuries sustained- Loose teeth, cut eye, busted nose, split lip, sore chin, cut fingers and hand, broken rib, sliced forearm, gashed ankle, various bumps and bruises. Overall not in a very healthy state. Play awareness- Tutors find brawls hard to score… *Bonus for protection of pick-up. *Bonus for not having her brain munched. *Both bonuses deducted for allowing herself to get into a scrappy, brutal and downright messy fist fight, the likes of which puts the Academy to shame.

Pick-up and therefore exempt from analysis

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*Remedy learnt a lot about the wide, wild world during this battle. *If Remedy is unfortunate enough to come across another mirror any time during her travels, she should look at the state of her face and recall this:

So after all that, Remedy didn’t say anything for a while. Just sat there by the fire, swigging a sheet of pyrojuice and staring into space. Not that they had space in Psytopia… not as we know it. The thing was that the juice didn’t do anything for her anymore. Was she beyond it? Or was she just numb? Was she thinking now? Not a wise move. No, she wasn’t thinking. She was just spaced out. It had taken Melodi a little effort to prise her hand off the dead wrist of that scalped filcher, a little more to walk her back to camp and sit her down. And more still to sizzleknit that cut above her eye back together.

An ethertek; Melodi knew one or two. I’m not even going to pretend to know how it works. Melodi placed a sheet of pyro on Remedy’s eye, waggled a finger in front of it as if conducting a very small orchestra and voilà; the wound laced itself shut. Only stitch-shaped scorch marks suggested damage had ever been done, so yes, cuts Melodi was OK with. Other injuries… call a medician. Melodi had made effort, and you know what? It hadn’t hurt. Well done sweetheart; you can start calling yourself a friend. Psytopia Adagio 1

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But at least she had her reward; her lickle prezzie. The thing that’d kept her going through that particularly artless brawl, clenched in her fist the whole time. Funny, that; she’d somehow just never let go. That thing she’d been putting off; the filching of her brain perhaps a better solution to the whole heart-bumping conundrum that’d been going on in the back there plate after plate, even freak mirrors, absent friends and sudden murders proving little more than a distraction? That tag-grass from Mojo. But what if this message wasn’t a happy one at all? A ‘thanks but no thanks’? A ‘we need to take a break’? An ‘I can’t give you what you want from me’? A goodbye? What if she’d insulted her precious Mojo? What if she’d confused her? What if she’d hurt her? Wow Remy, you don’t often think too much but when you do you really go to town, don’t you? THERE SHE WAS. SMIRKING. Thank Zarathustra she was smirking. All the worries of the wide, wild world suddenly lifted from Remedy’s mind, so glad nobody had filched it. She didn’t hate her, she didn’t hate her, she didn’t hate her… Of course she didn’t hate her, stupid. But we always fear the unlikely, don’t we? When it really matters. THE SMOOTH CURVE OF HER CHEEK… THE LUSH CURL OF HER LIPS… THE GLOSSY COIL OF HER LOCKS… THE SPARKLY BLACK OF HER EYE SHADOW... THE SLINKY SHIMMER OF HER HAIR... THE CRINKLY GLEAM OF HER PLASTICY TOP… Hey come on Remedy; for all intents and purposes you’re friends, alright? Two spangly belles appreciating each other is fine and dandy but… you don’t even know what you feel yet, so at least find out what she thinks. Don’t go swishing swords together before you know they match. Psytopia Adagio 1

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MOJO WAS GOING TO BE SERIOUS FOR A MOMENT. THERE WAS SO MUCH SHE NEEDED TO SAY. SHE DIDN’T WANT TO SAY ANYTHING. SHE JUST WANTED TO HOLD REMEDY’S WRIST AGAIN. THAT WAS ALL SHE NEEDED, SO THEY COULD FACE THIS WONDERFUL PUZZLE TOGETHER. MOJO COULDN’T MATHEMATISE HOW MUCH SHE MISSED HER.. Remedy grinned at that; Mojo was the only person walking the plates who knew less of numbers than her. How beautiful the world was without them. MOJO FELT LOST IN EVERY PLAY WITHOUT HER. IMAGINED REMEDY BY HER SIDE. SOMETIMES SHE EVEN HALLUCINATED; HOW STRANGE WAS THAT? BACK TO BACK. WRIST TO WRIST. CHEEK TO CHEEK? MOJO’S HEART FIZZED JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. BUT THINKING ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH IS IT? GOT TO DO. Remedy shuddered to the bone. Big dipper. Free fall. Speed bumps. She reached out to the misty mirage of Mojo conjured by the tag. Wafting her in, pulling her near, calling her close. It’s an illusion Remedy; keep yourself together. MOJO ASKED HER IF SHE COULD SNEAK AWAY FROM THAT AZRAEL AND CO. SHE WAS ON THE WHITE PLATE; SOME FANCY COURTYARD. MOJO COULD DITCH HER BAND AND MEET HER THERE. SHE’D MATHEMATISE HER WORDS UNTIL THEN. SAYING THEM WOULD BE HEAVEN IN ITSELF. AS LONG AS SHE SAID THEM TO HER FACE. BUT SHE WAS BEING CALLED URGENTLY NOW. THAT GEKKY PRE-GRAD PROBABLY WANTED HER TO SAVE ANOTHER PLAY. YOU KEEP YOUR SWEETIE COCO SELF SAFE, K? Remedy fidgeted; pre-grads! The tag-grass was almost out and our blitzy heroine was itching. What did all this mean? A ‘thanks but no thanks’? A… don’t over-analyse, belle blaze. You'll start seeing tears in perfect fabri which aren't really there. What about the answer to that question she hadn’t asked? One last line in the grass. AND REMY, IN CASE YOU’SE STUMPED, THE ANSWER’S YES. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy kept her eyes closed. Not because she was imagining or hallucinating or clinging on. Not because of the blood and bruises forcing them so. Not because she wanted to keep Mojo here and the world out. But because time just stopped. And there’s not an awful lot you can do about that. Time was just… gone. She held that tag-grass between her teeth. Something her Mojo had touched in her mouth, representing her. She could let herself think stuff now, couldn’t she? She could let herself think things two young female swordstrils weren’t supposed to think. Why not, if it felt so good? Or, better than that, she could just feel. And then time began to find its feet again. Tugged her back from between its threads. Leaving her to fumble ineffectively with her imagination as if she was waking from a magnificent dream, the real world seeming so stale and old in comparison. As the last of the tag burnt her lip, reminding her of pain again. There’d been a lot of pain lately; almost enough to knock a blitzy belle off her stride. But it was all just surface, wasn’t it? Aching body, tired mind, wildfire heart. But aren’t leaders supposed to be ready for anything?

Remedy could’ve drifted forever in that blissful limbo. The Second Heaven; the haunting plane. But she had somebody to be with. “Mojo.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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She saw Melodi instead; saw in her eyes a little caution. Saw in her eyes that she cared. Now that’s a turn up for the books. Little blue girl growing… human? “You patsched me up; Thanksch.” Remedy frowned; talking hurt. Melodi grinned back. Her mouth hurt too; not used to curving that way. But you know, every story needs a heroine. Heroes and heroines; these roles evolve in the fullness of time. Or decay; take your pick. Because change is the only thing that always happens, whatever you do. Remedy had rolled with the punches. Dragged herself through the dirt. Taken the changes on the chin. And that was how she became the heroine.

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Think of the garden of Eden. The hanging gardens of Babylon. Your own back yard, if you’re particularly rich or happen to live somewhere in the untouched countryside. The Green Plateau was such a place, and he might as well admit it; Azrael was surprised. Green, lush, pleasant, cosy. In short, the kind of place you’d retire to. In short, the kind of place you’d like to be buried. In short, not the kind of place you’d expect to find Anarchists. Surely Anarchists like archaic things. Surely Anarchists don’t like peace and quiet. Well brace yourself there my dutiful swordstrils. Because some assumptions are about to be shattered.

Example one. Assuming what people teach you is the truth. People seldom teach you things because they’re the truth. People teach you things for their own reasons, and the last thing they’re likely to teach is that your reasons and theirs don’t match. Working out agendas can take more time and energy than you need for just getting on and living life. So let people teach you things. But don’t take anything they teach you as gospel, especially if they’re teaching gospel. Because otherwise simple scenes like the one Azrael found on the Green Plateau might just mess you up. Psytopia Adagio 1

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You’ve probably noticed by now that the Academy’s Psytopian culture worked well with nature. Perhaps it had amends to make, but in any case, Psytopians loved nature. Agriculture, environment, vegetarianism, fluffy creatures and pretty flowers; except the ones that tried to eat you, obviously. I’m talking both creatures and flowers here. But in any case, the Academy loved nature. Which meant by logical contrast that Anarchists did not.

OK, that’s not the dictum, but you get my drift. It’s easy to see the world in black and white. That’s why we teach kids to think that way. Because it's easy to point and tell. But is the wide, wild world really like that? Well, what do you think? Lesson time is well and truly over. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never learn anything new. Like, for example, that these so called Anarchists… For savages they really seemed to be keen on their horticulture.

As I say, it was pretty lush around here. Vast flower beds set out in neat triangles; triangles of triangles. Carrying wave upon wave of tinted petals. The colours almost melting into each other as Azrael’s eyes gazed across the plate. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melting into each other like sheets of finest linen laid one over the next. Green, white, black, yellow, purple, orange, red, blue. And cut into the triangles were intricate lines, dots and arrows. Like crop circles; made from the careful regimentation of plants. Here and there stood small pyramid sheds cut out of huge, gnarly tree stumps, and loose-hanging vines connecting them. Vines glowing a variety of colours, complementing the petals below, dripping ever-so slowly with some kind of glowing liquid. Water? Fertiliser? Pyrojuice? The plate was full of sumptuous plants Azrael had never seen, heard of or imagined. It was a sight to behold and no mistake. Even in the dark. Yes, the dark. Thank Zarathustra for the glowing vines. Lighting up the scene in many vivid colours. Green, white, black, yellow… it depended on where you stood. Actually, this wasn’t Zarathustra’s work; far from it. This was the work of Anarchists. Funny then, how the Green Plateau was so tranquil. The flowers, the sheds, the vines, the gardeners. There had to be gardeners. A place like this required quite a bit of maintenance. Spiritually, geometrically and mathematically perfect. Well Azrael, it seems your insight hasn’t entirely forsaken you. Mathematical because it was pyronettes who’d built this place. Put it together with a dash of Feng Shui. OK, it was maths, but let's say Feng Shui and be done with it. The disgrace of it all; pyronettes moonlighting for the Anarchists. Everybody knew pyronettes were obedient. But nobody ever said they were exclusively so. That would be an assumption. And remember what we’ve said about those.

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Pyronettes didn’t do everything by the book. Not all the time. That’s the Academy’s book you’re talking about, right? Well why on Earth, Mars or Psytopia would they feel they had to follow that? There’s no good and evil in maths, after all. No black and white either. So why takes sides? It would be statistically foolish to hedge one’s bets.

They were actually good for many things. Many simple, manageable tasks- the kind of thing for which such peons were made. Like gardening, for example. That was why Valhalla employed rag-tags. Azrael drew his sword the moment he caught sight of them. Peacefully gardening away… Dotted around all over the garden. And not even noticing him. Getting on with what they’d been assigned to do. Hypnotised to do, for want of a better term. An arcane automated tayū machine sat somewhere on the plate, keeping the things in check. Tugging their grotesquely exposed bones. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Yes, even bunraku had become technofied back in the day. Sad how art becomes convenience. But in any case, they carried on gardening. Pulling weeds and squishing stikklebugs to their clockwork heart’s content. This wouldn’t be the first time Azrael had drawn his blade since leaving his party behind. These wouldn’t be the first squibs he’d sent to the Third Heaven. Squibs, people… they were all the same to his sword, and it pulsed a deeper crimson with each life it took. I’ve avoided following Azrael for a couple of plates because… well… spoilers, and because… well… he’s no longer the hero. Blood dripping from the rag-tag’s crushed strawberry eyes had to be mopped off petals. Drips from their wet potato-sack mouths adding to the workload. Crooked double sided scythes whacking into the rooty soil with every gruff moan they made. And even as Azrael drew his sword they carried on. As if they didn’t even recognise the impending doom of combat. Carrying on unabashed. All except one. And that one wasn’t a rag-tag at all. She was more… interesting? She was more humanoid, that was it. She was more… intriguing? She was more Psytopian; that was all. She was more… attractive? More supple, more pliable, more silky-smooth, more mischievously animated, more captivatingly curvy, more torturously, temptingly tangy to the touch… Hey, wake up Azrael; what are you thinking? Whatever she was, she’d immediately scattered his sync. As she backed off into the black waive of flowers before he could see much more. He smelt her tongue-tinglingly tactile taste… He saw her finger-fidgetingly fertile flesh… He sensed her pulse-poundingly potent presence… Come on Azrael; you’d noticed something about her swords. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Just a sneaky glimpse as she moved back into the darkness. Just a voyeur’s glance. Your hands may have got dirty Az, but are you really still such a nerdy sword-spotter? “Those look like Academy blades.” “So's those.” “Come back; I want to see…” “Not before I spies you’se, siz.” >SNAP!< That was the fingers. And oh-oh. The rag-tags turn. Back to an older piece of programming. Gripping their double scythes. All tortured moans and manic charges. Back to a more familiar program. Killing people.

Azrael On his lonesome. Don’t feel sorry for him; he deserves it. Rag-tags Just a handful; identities N/A, but what I do know is they’re damned good gardeners.

Amid a neat triangle of flower beds on the Green Plateau.

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RAG-TAG A: Leaping (and shrieking) scythe swoop MISS! Azrael side-steps AZRAEL: Inside-out hook-swerve HIT! RAG-TAG A: Through ribcage. OUT OF PLAY That was easy. RAG-TAG B: Charging scythe slash MISS! Azrael side-steps the other way AZRAEL: Underarm swish HIT! RAG-TAG B: Through stomach. OUT OF PLAY And it just gets easier. RAG-TAG C: Hopping scythe swing MISS! AZRAEL: Diagonal step AZRAEL: Overhand stroke HIT! RAG-TAG C: Through chest. OUT OF PLAY Easiest thing in the wide, wild world. RAG-TAG D: Looping scythe smash MISS! AZRAEL: Another diagonal step AZRAEL: Uppercut slice HIT! RAG-TAG D: Through jaw/face. OUT OF PLAY Now that was swordplay just the way it was intended. Simple. Azrael had cleared his confused head. And illustrated why rag-tags should stick to their day jobs.

NOT APPLICABLE

*None.

Evil Azrael is a pretty efficient killing machine. But he could swing back by the Academy and take his punishment like a manâ&#x20AC;¦ Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael took a moment to pop his sword out of the last rag-tag’s gloop-dripping cloth head. Kept his eyes on the girl in the shadows all the while. He hadn’t even taken them off her while dispatching the drones. That deserves a bonus point in itself. “You speak like those pyro-crazed freshers. Who are you?” The shape in the shadows swished her swords. “I’s no fresher, blockhouse. I know way too many tricks…” Azrael still couldn’t make her out. Her silhouette evanescent, pert, sassy… A shadowy, provocative pose like a pin-up in the night. “Two swords. Like a blitzblade.” “Oh I’s no blitz belle, gatinhogarra. Not anymore…” Toes placed snazzily before heels as she stepped slowly into the light. “I’s you’se wettest dream, you’se bloodiest nightmare.” Corona had clearly read the super villain rulebook. Dictum number one; ham it up big time. Azrael and Corona. Face to face. Eye to eye. Oh, they’d be getting a lot closer than that, she’d assure you. Cheek to cheek? Hip to hip? Flesh to deeply aroused flesh? How close did he want it? Enough to touch her? To grab her? To strip her? To go a lot further than that. Eye to eye; disciplined… playful. I’ll let you guess which is which. I’m sure you have an idea already what thought was generally banging around in Corona’s mind. There’s a clue in ‘banging’…

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Nope; he’d looked down. She knew he’d look down. Of course she did; tease mistress extraordinaire. So round one to the anarchist. To be fair, she was wearing a very, very slinky corset very, very tight and very, very exposed at the waist. And very, very close-fitting acrylic cargos, worn very, very low. So very, very low you could see just about every inch of her underwear. If you looked… which most who possessed a pulse, a set of eyes and male genitals would. Possibly females too. And did I mention it happened to be very, very small underwear? Very, very shiny black latex smalls clinging just barely to very, very, very well toned flesh. And did I also mention the very, very long thigh-length boots? No? I must have gotten distracted; sorry. So here’s a lesson they don’t teach at the Academy. If you’re crafty, you can win a sword fight before it starts. Corona knew what men wanted and had developed a habit of acquiring it. All the skills a girl needs in the wide, wild world.

You could probably say Corona was slightly cocky, but they did tend to want her, suckers as they were. On the floor, against a shed, in the flower beds, over and over. And over… just to be sure. Enough to make all her sword holes sore. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And Azrael couldn’t even meet her gaze; hook, line, sinker. One little shimmy and smirk and she could reach and pull him right into her, and I’m not talking about pulling on his sword… Innuendo; you knew it was coming. OK, I might tone it down when Corona’s not around.

A feisty hell’s belle and no mistake. Vocally niggly, athletically nifty, utterly nymphy. And that just about sums her up. -Her historyFormer swordstril. Former blitzblade. Formerly sugar, spice and all things nice? Probably not quite. Corona was an excom now. Excommunicated. Expelled. Exposed? All of the above, and the latter often. She wasn’t bitter about her expulsion. Wasn’t getting enough in there anyway. Them and their betrothement. Them and their rules. So for the last couple of terms or so she’d been wandering the plates, getting some. Because Anarchists… well, shady politics aside, they tended to have a lot of energy. Passion. Fire. Anger? Mix the lot and you’ve got a pretty frothy, hard-hitting cocktail which really shoots to the back of your throat like a… Anarchists weren’t so stuck up; that’s what I’m saying. Either way, Corona didn’t follow dictums, wasn’t anyone’s student or servant or whatever, and lived by her own rules. And she liked every moment of her freedom, thanks very much. -Her lookShe had short-cropped hair; blonde with red tips, curling at the ends like fishing hooks. Her eyes incorporated bold black-yellow triangles dancing around a flame-red iris; a piercing effect which made everybody look. As if they weren’t looking already… She sported a series of gold rings in her lip, eyebrow, ears and nose, a sparkly star above the chin and novelty burn holes in her ear lobes; a popular fad amongst Anarchists. Edgy thing, anarchy. And oh-so hot. She had gold teeth decorated with intricate flames. Psytopia Adagio 1

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All of them in fact, bar one; the others had probably been knocked out while performing high risk techniques. Aside from that, Corona was slick, agile, confident and dirty. And as far as she was concerned there’s nothin’ wrong with that. -Her getupModified catch clique clothes. Tight lace-down corset cutting off at the stomach, dark blue with yellow-red flames. Arm warmers from triceps to forearm, similarly blue and flamy and ringed here and there with bracelets of what could be described as small star-shaped liquor bottles. Figure-hugging drawstring acrylic cargos; slinky blue, flamy and worn low enough to display curvature which most would probably keep covered. Thigh-high black vinyl boots with gaps in the legs, riveted together with metal ring buckles. Her kiticlaw: (although she preferred to call it a katscratcher); a curved knuckle duster with penknife blades which she used more for sex than for combat. She wore a rubbery belt from waist to thigh decorated with severed sword tips, and black hand wraps lined with red sheets of pyro finished off the outlandish look. She wore a curious metri door lock on a chain around her neck… but let's put that aside and admire her swords; the Tempo Teaser and the Savage Caress.

A strong, long, zippy blue blade with a certain pang. Because she liked it hard, fast and deep. Now I did warn you when I used the word ‘nymphy’, didn’t I? The blade itself was made of super-springy metri. If you slashed it well enough you might find it come back to you. It had teeth in sections like tank tracks which buzzed and span with a click of the handle. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The handle was thick and rubbery, incorporating a comfortable, sticky grip… and that one wasn’t even meant as innuendo. On the end of the hilt was the symbol of a door lock on the head of a skull and crossbones, whatever that meant. Corona didn’t care what it meant. It was cool. The Academy didn’t like random symbols. Well fuck the Academy. Oops, she already had. A good fair few of their number anyway.

A slight, light, pipey blade used for attack, counter and knowing her, probably masturbation. It's all about filling in the holes… because it had changeable tips which could be inserted for different situations. The blade itself was not unlike a kendo stick, except with a cutting edge- plug it with extra spikes or play it like a didgeridoo. As weightlessly hollow as it was diverse. Spike tips, arrow tips, hammer tips, hook tips… They clanked on like magnets rather than screwed. We’ll leave that to our devilish little breeze belle. The handle was plastic and extended down the arm with a clip-around wrist cover; it could be attached to the forearm, making the blade an extension of the limb. Corona’s blades were as twisted and leftfield as she was. OK, so now we’ve been introduced. Not that you need introductions. Introductions tend to get in the way. Introductions… inhibitions… clothes… thank Zarathustra all these things can be discarded. Corona licked her lips… Eye to eye. Him wanting her and she knowing it. The kind of woman he didn’t have to know to get into. She shrugged. He wasn’t too bad himself. Rough chain-mail, strong hips, chiselled physique. A dutiful soul with a dark side. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And every Academy boy carried two swords. She’d prize the hidden one free. Easy as yanking a stiff, clogged tube out of a broken car engine. She could have fun with this one… “Corona. Who is this?” Ah; rumbled by the boyfriend. With emphasis on the ‘boy’. Valhalla. “Aw, you’se back from the paste mill… moy batucada.” She kept her eye firmly on Azrael as she bit Valhalla’s neck. Pressed her chest against his shoulder, ran a hand down his side, stopped as she reached his belt. Head back, tongue across the inside of her lips with a wink. At Azrael that is; never the boy she was actually holdingwhere’s the risk in hunting something you already have? Almost making Azrael lower his sword. Perhaps these two could fight over her; she’d pick up the pieces. Who says Anarchists don’t think tactics? “I didn’t catch his name.” Corona turned her attentions to Valhalla. A satisfied smirk as she stroked a hand down his front. “I’s not so dandy at picking up names.” “Azrael.” He swished his sword like a crackpot general leading a military parade. Made himself sound impressive. “From the Academy.” “Chato…” Corona squeezed Valhalla somewhere unethical. Investigated the novelty shape burnt into his ear with her tongue. She could push her boy onto his knees right here in front of him, demonstrate what the Academy was missing and who knows, perhaps this Azrael would have the balls to join in… “The Academy, yes?” Valhalla pushed her off. Corona sulked. “That’s right. The Academy.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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Oh, leave the boys to their toys. Once they’ve warmed them up, they could turn them on her. “So I imagine you must be here to… kill me?” Valhalla spoke with the clarity of an upper class gent. Like the speaking clock, the narrator on some wildlife documentary, trailer guy; not exactly anarchic. But he used words such as ‘kill’, so he must be evil. “I’m here to send you to the Third Heaven.” ”Third Heaven. Interesting.” Valhalla paced up and down. Corona bit her fingernails and watched them. The pair of them; the pair would do, preferably at once. “And I suppose the spook stories have already been told, yes?” “Spook stories?” Azrael tightened the grip on his blade. He was here for action, not stories. No wonder Corona saw something… promising in him. VALLHALA: “The spook stories. Myths. Mock-ups…” AZRAEL: “Mock-ups?” VALHALLA: “The natural progression of species, the peace of passing, the Karakuru tribe…” AZRAEL: (Angry) ”I’m from the Karakuru tribe.” VALHALLA: “Of course you are. A school of poor little orphans, yes?” AZRAEL: “Yes.” Azrael grit his teeth. Typical wind-up merchant. Evil as hell. And did this babbly anarquista ever stop saying ‘yes’? VALHALLA: “Curious how angry the mere mention of this tribe makes you, no?” AZRAEL: “You people sent my… people to the Third Heaven.” VALHALLA: “The word you are looking for is ‘family’. Familia. I believe this word is seldom taught at the Academy, yes?” AZRAEL: “You sent them to the Third Heaven…” VALHALLA: “Which I am assured is good, no?” Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael had had enough. Because he’d learnt a few things in the wide, wild world. Like efficiency; how to make firm decisions on the fly. Though alongside it, he’d developed a bit of a short fuse. AZRAEL: “My assignment brief is to send you to the Third Heaven.” VALHALLA: “Because I and my kind sent the Karakuru tribe to the Third Heaven, yes?” AZRAEL: (Tensing every bone in his body) “…Yes.” VALHALLA: (Contemplative) “You know, one small consideration alludes me.” Azrael's murderous eyes followed him. Killer to killer. Predator to prey. In Corona's opinion, killers were really pretty hot... Valhalla paced some more. Alright Anarch, where exactly do you wanna fall? Back or front? Gutted or beheaded? Tye-talking, odd-dressed, pale-faced weirdo. Trying to confuse him; asking questions. Right or wrong, follow or lead, girlfriend or sword; too many twopronged questions, attempting to trip him. Azrael had learnt questions only made sense when you silence the person asking them. “To your knowledge, does anybody from your illustrious Academy remember the Karakuru tribe; has anybody ever visited the ruins of their settlement or made a pilgrimage to the spot where they were supposedly cut down?” Alright, now he’d done it. One monologue too much. One insinuation too far. Now he’d laid the last straw on the camel’s back. Now he’d placed the final nail in his own coffin. Now he’d tied himself up in tumblewire and stapled a note to his forehead reading ‘flay me’. Now he’d gotten himself into a fight. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael He’s bad. He’s mad. And now he’s gonna get even. Corona I think we're as close as we can get without penetration already. Valhalla Just give me a tick, alright?

Slap-bang in the middle of the well planted, well preened, well preserved Green Plateau. (Ignore the cloth-head corpses and innuendo and it's just the kind of place you’d take the kids)

AZRAEL: Cross-body hook MISS! Valhalla back peddles That’s OK. It was only a warning shot… yes? Because it would be rude of me to slice up a character before you even knew who he was.

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A dirty, filthy, squib munchin’, mass murderin’ Anarchist. -His historyHis kind massacred the Karakuru tribe. That’s all you need to know. It's all pretty black and white really. -His lookTriple black mohawk (should that be a trihawk?) with white tips. I’m not sure if they had gel in Psytopia but he’d have to have used something. He’d probably used Karakuru blood. Around six feet two, give or take. Same as Azrael and just as sturdily built; must be all that massacring and running away afterwards. And he had a solid, grounded composure to match. -His getupGauze top made of mood-sensitive litho sheets, lined with shards of reactive metal. Bullet proof vests don’t get harder when they feel threatened, do they? This did. Long bit-link trench coat riveted together in stages. One link from neck to shoulder, one triceps to elbow and so on. Riveted with arrowheads down one arm, the other sleeveless. Let’s presume the intricate dot, line and arrow themed scarification on the bare arm was also present on the covered one, but he’s an Anarchist so maybe best not to presume. Patchwork trousers, black like everything else and knitted together with various fabri. Pad, gauze, metal, mirror; you name it. Add to that snaky seethrough tubes which surely served some malicious purpose… Plus funky platform boots also sporting plastic piping. See-through red finger-gloves ending at the palm and looping around the thumb, apparently made from a reinforced pyro sheet. Green fingers? Red fingers. No surprise. Murderers. Dot, line and arrow holes burnt into his ears. Nike swish/fried egg icon on the back of his coat, caps of his shoes and leg of his trousers… Much have meant something fiendish. Take this mug shot to the FBI right now. Most wanted? Azrael was about to pick up the bounty.

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He didn’t have a sword. He was an Anarchist. Anarchists were far too uncivilised to use swords. How do you propose they massacred the Karakuru tribe then?

The Karakuru tribe were a group of ex sword fighters. Have you ever wondered what swordstrils did when they retired? They couldn’t all become Principals of flashy new Academies. When soldiers completed their last tours of duty, they’d set off to join their forefathers. In an idyllic retirement home on the tranquil Emerald Plateau. They were war heroes, these people. And the Anarchists massacred them in cold blood. With their dirty, filthy hacksticks. A hackstick, for the record, was any craftless, blunt form of weaponry, and so you know, all Anarchists used hacksticks... But not just hacksticks. Oh no. The Karakuru heroes would have easily fended off a hackstick attack, so the dirty, filthy Anarquista used their scramblejack. What’s a scramblejack? Only the worst thing in the wide, wild world. Only the doomsday device. Only the A-bomb. But worse. A dizruptivist warhead packed with brain-frying pyrojuice. It was only the children who survived, and it was for these orphans that the Academy was built. And for peace, chivalry and order in this world. See how nasty, filthy, dirty and downright evil Anarchists were? The Karakuru massacre was Psytopia’s equivalent of the Holocaust… The only difference being that the Karakuru massacre didn’t really happen.

In fact, the massacre was just a propaganda exercise. A historical invention which encouraged black-and-white attitudes in young student's minds. Black, white and the solution- avoiding extremes. Psytopia Adagio 1

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But you’ve got to know who your enemy is, haven’t you? And you’ve got to… well, you’ve got to not like them very much. So the Academy created a thing called the Karakuru tribe. That’s right; even the tribe didn’t exist, let alone the massacre. And if they did, you’d have thought they’d at least consider coming up with a better name… Retired swordstrils? Most of them entered the Third Heaven before they got that far. But don’t tell freshers any of this. They might freak. Just like Azrael had. Students were prone to such things, especially when Anarchists attacked screaming things like… “Liberdade!” As if they even knew the meaning of the word… VALHALLA: Overhead hook (jab-gun alpha) MISS! Azrael rolls his head out of range

Fighting instruments not unlike tattoo irons in both appearance and application; small, buzzing devices held in rubber grips and powered by a minute system of electromagnetic coils. The coils span rapidly and resonated with a rattling vibration. The tip of the appliance was fitted with a hollow needle through which pyrojuice dripped via a selection of tubes. The juice was kept in the user’s breastplate clothing, so the tubes extended down the arms, warming them up and exciting their blood somewhat; keeping it rushing in a fight. They were modified from technology which survived the Fall; symbols of alternative thinking and art. Because according to the Anarchists, both of the above were suppressed in modern Psytopia; no extremes, you see? A philosophy which was… kind of extreme? For this reason, jab-guns were as much icons of the resistance as kalashnikoffs are to us. Anarchists didn’t really use ‘hacksticks’; another idea dreamt up by the Academy to make them seem like savages. So, in fact, was the word ‘Anarchist’. But in any case, many Anarchists wielded jab-guns, and a fair few (like Valhalla) wielded two at once. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The needles put pin-prick gashes in the skin. You would hardly notice it, but you’d notice the dose of pyro it sneaked underneath; not only did it burn, but it intoxicated. Because heavily jinned combatants are easier to floor. Wielding a jab-gun was a little like wearing boxing mitts. You'd jab, hook and uppercut, subtle mists left in the air with each swipe, painting the sky like smoke pouring from planes. Is that art? Who knows? Eye of the beholder. To Azrael, jab-guns did not constitute art, they constituted barbarism, and barbarism needs to be beat up, cut down, mashed into pieces and left to bleed to death. Um… fuzzy logic? But back to Azrael and Valhalla. The pair of them exchanging respectful nods. So they both knew how to evade simple offensive motions. The swordstril was happy to meet the Anarchist’s challenge. “Interesting anarchic weapons.” Azrael turned up his nose. Neotech, old skool, magnopunk. Call it what you will. Valhalla clanked the ringlets in his lips against each other like milk bottles. “Interesting that a counter fighter attacks first, yes?” Azrael grit his teeth. “I’ve evolved.” Corona watched with a frown. If she just sat back she might find herself kicked out in the cold. So she revved it up from afar. What do you mean ‘revved what up?’; what do you think?

With her own snazzy tilt added to the technique. She build it up so by the time she reached her target… he’d already be locked into her flow. And just like sexual attraction, there’d be no way out. Not until he’d pumped it out of his system. Psytopia Adagio 1

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She jabbed her front leg into the ground and pivoted into a diagonal swirl. Swivelling on the balls of her feet like a leaning whirlwind. Roundhouse over overhead over roundhouse over overhead... Starting off like a faltering set of propellers, but gradually gaining pace. CORONA: Devil's Pirouette Roundhouse whirl (SC), Overhead twirl (TT), Roundhouse whirl (SC), Overhead twirl (TT) MISS! She’s not aiming at anything, she’s just gathering pace 25 RPM. Roundhouse twirl (SC), Overhead whirl (TT), Roundhouse twirl (SC), Overhead whirl (TT) MISS! But you just wait until she hits something… 50 RPM... A cutty-slicey tilted tornado approaching rapidly from a distance… Azrael wasn’t worried. Yet. Not about her at least. This Valhalla character though… He could tell Azrael was fighting counter with a single shot. This jab-pitcher knew his styles, he’d give him that. But did he not know Anarchists never prosper? VALHALLA: Thumping hook (jab-gun alpha) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Outside-in hilt cover AZRAEL: Cross-face swish HIT! VALHALLA: Paper cut across temple A warning shot across the bow VALHALLA: Rising uppercut (jab-gun beta) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Inside-out hilt cover AZRAEL: Cross-body swerve HIT! VALHALLA: Breastplate soaks it up The two stepped back. Stared… Prepared… Subconsciously aware of a tumultuous buzz-saw roaring towards them. Psytopia Adagio 1

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CORONA: Devil's Pirouette Roundhouse whirl (SC), Overhead twirl (TT), Roundhouse whirl (SC), Overhead twirl (TT) MISS! Keep it coming… 100 RPM. Roundhouse twirl (SC), Overhead whirl (TT), Roundhouse twirl (SC), Overhead whirl (TT) MISS! When something gets in her path it’s so gonna die… 200 RPM… Azrael and Valhalla stepped forward. Stared… prepared… Cycles three and four of a strangely regimented dance. For an Anarchist. VALHALLA: Thumping hook (jab-gun alpha) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Inside-out hilt cover AZRAEL: Cross-body swerve HIT! VALHALLA: Breastplate soaks it up VALHALLA: Rising uppercut (jab-gun beta) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Outside-in hilt cover AZRAEL: Cross-face swish HIT! VALHALLA: paper cut across the cheek A sneak slap shot And all the while… 400 RPM… Do you see maths in these sword swipes? If you don't, you're not missing much. How about rhythms? No? Well rhythms are hiding behind the surface of everything, you know. Does sensing rhythm constitute enlightenment? Who knows? Nobody enlightened would claim they were such a thing. But I’d better shut up because somebody’s about to break the cycle…

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“Hmmm.” Valhalla wiped his cut cheek with a thumb. Studied the blood like a jealous wife examining a lipstick smear. “What the travellers say is correct; you carceiros train well, yes?” “Carceiros…” Azrael raised his guard. More against the use of ancient dialects than his physical opponent. Whatever it meant it was probably a curse. “Jailers.” Valhalla buzzed his jab-guns as if a wild west gunslinger cocking the triggers. “And though technically gifted, your style is as caged as it is smooth.” So they said in ye olde Soul Cage Cult.

“Caged, huh?” Azrael shook his head. Anarchs; all talk. Liberdade this and liberdade that. He’d liberdade Valhalla’s head from his shoulders. Then he could tell all the other squibs in the Third Heaven how ‘technically gifted’ Academy swordstrils were. As if they didn’t know already. But Azrael had risen above the predictable, so let’s switch. AZRAEL: Cross-face swish/cross-body stroke/upward swerve combination DOUBLE MISS! ONE HIT! VALHALLA: Breastplate. Back-tracks VALHALLA: Looping… AZRAEL: Downward swerve/cross-body stroke/cross-face swish combination Psytopia Adagio 1

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TRIPLE HIT! VALHALLA: Slit across temple, slash across chest, slice across shoulder Valhalla fell backwards into a perky-coloured flower bed. Crushing petals and fruits with a momentous crash. Not so perky now; musky earth mixed with grim Anarch blood. And a wry grin from the ‘carceiro’. Because Azrael was no one step pony. He also fought tech, and tech-heads stepped in threes. Plus, he’d worked out how Valhalla’s breastplate worked. It concentrated defensive mood juice in one place, so if he switched his targets quickly, it lost track of him and his blade sneaked in to score. See; not just a pretty face; this evil Azrael was crafty with it. But that doesn’t mean he saw everything coming. Things that become more and more invisible with every revolution… They aren’t so easy to pick out of the haze. 800 RPM. Because Corona was feeling it…

A million sword swipes rolled into one. A whirling ball of death whipping up a storm. That tilted tornado, spinning like a top. The cacophony of concurrent clangs ringing in Azrael’s ears as he dropped to a knee with a cover. The static flicker of Corona’s form from visible to invisible. Unable to decide which to stick with. In and out of the threads of reality like fish through gaps in a net. An almost floral flurry of visible echoes; wisping lines, dots and arrows unfurling behind her as she went.

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Like banners. Like sheet music. Like chattering winds… Then she slipped on a flower, landed flat on her back and was suddenly visible again. “Hack!”

CORONA: Devil’s Pirouette (attempted) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Innumerable blows, deflected desperately but effectively Azrael took a breath. Looked at his chain-mail. Sliced so savagely the sparks still hung in the air. Still red hot to the touch, sizzling on his skin. He threw the vest off as swiftly as he was able. Great; now he was exposed. Corona, holding her dizzy head on the floor, indulged herself with a gleeful smirk. Now he was exposed; great…

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Valhalla struggled to rise, holding the wound on his chest like a newborn while Corona flipped onto her feet using her swords as handsprings. And no, she hadn’t dropped them. There are some lessons you never forget. “Tri danda, moy hackdash.” She ran a sword hilt across her midsection. Seemed to like being taken down. Licked her lips; a bit of blood prompting a smile and a shiver. Intriguing girl, but there was no mistaking the lingo. “You’re definitely a blitzblade.” Azrael couldn’t quite make her out. Couldn’t quite make out whether he wanted to send her to the Third Heaven or pin her down here in the first. Maybe one then the other. Corona offered a slanted smirk. “I’s evolved.” “I know your style.” ”Like it, huh?” He backed off as she eyed up his contoured chest as if it was a marble floor waiting to be danced upon with piercing ball heels. “I know how to counter it.” Corona polished her only real tooth with her tongue. “Let’s sees how you’se appease the breeze, cabra.” CORONA: Wild jump (knees up, feet tucked in, blades above head) And no, she hadn’t planned an offensive technique to go with it… yet AZRAEL: Vertical cross-face cover CORONA: Overhead hack (TT/SC) PARRIED! CLANG! CLANG! CORONA: Reverse 360 leaping overhead lunge (TT/SC) PARRIED! CLANG! CLANG! But the pace and ferocity meant even the block made Azrael lose his footing What pretty pictures she painted with her blades. Pretty if you like torn up canvases and random splodges spewed from paint pots kicked to bits. In any case Corona had him exactly where she wanted him. Exactly where she knew he wanted to be; on his knees. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Now it was Azrael’s turn to back-track. Corona panting; mouth open, wet hair draped across her face. Skin moist and shiny. Chest heaving. Subtle little groans let out with each outward breath which most people would keep in. Was she really exhausted or was she trying to get him aroused? Less of the ‘trying’… Corona didn’t keep anything in; what you see is what you get. Stood amid crushed flowers, shoulders hunched, blades held loose at her sides; defence entirely absent. Azrael felt the blade of his sword. The Crimson Harvest. Pulsing red. And hot to the touch. Nobody throws themselves into full spins at such close range. It's suicide. So close there’s no space to swing a sword and cut them down. Nobody fights into another swordstril’s sphere. Only brutes did that; brutes and scrawlers. But Corona was better than both; she was a curio. She’d picked up a bit of brute and seemed able to mix it. She made it work by making it fast; fast and almost naked. He liked fighting her... “Corona.” Valhalla was back on his feet. That nasty slash wound causing his heart to pulse blood like a fumbled petrol pump. Corona’s eyes lit up as she placed a hand on his chest. All red and warm and dirty. She polished that tooth. Bit Valhalla’s ear harder than usual; ground the flesh a bit. Made him yelp and cower a little; good boy, bad boy and her underlying mind game making them hard to tell which was which, and more importantly which she was after.

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She didn’t seem ready to choose yet... Valhalla stood straight; “I’m alright. He’s effective, but...” To be fair, she hadn’t asked. “I reckon I could spice him up…” she whispered in the boyfriend’s ear; “…open up his defence…” “And I’ll cut him down, yes?” Corona licked the blood off his chest. ”Then I’ll open up moy defence, doce-de-coco.” That sounded like a plan; viva anarchy! CORONA: Charging roundhouse coil (SC) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Vertical cover AZRAEL: Straight sting NOT THERE! CORONA: Leaping overhead swirl (TT) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Horizontal cover AZRAEL: Hooking plunge TARGET SLIPS AWAY! This girl was wild. She’d pushed Azrael’s step cycle wide open. You know if he wanted to push her wide open… She squeezed the edge of his sphere like taut fingers on a light bulb, tempting it to crack… CORONA: Leaping low-to-high 360 curl (TT) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Inside-out, blades clash half way down CORONA: Overhead whirl (SC) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Outside-in, clash quarter way down CORONA: Leaping high-to-low 360 swirl (TT) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Blades clash so close they clang hiltto-hilt above their heads Psytopia Adagio 1

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Spinning so close Corona’s figure slipped down across his like two sardines in a can. Wet and wild. Body slid down to body for a very precious, brief moment. Waist to chest, chest to chest, mouth to mouth. So many sensations trapped in that moment. Overlapping like countering sword swipes. Like cuddling limbs. Their lead wrists caught above their heads. Her slight smirk as their lips brushed. His other arm having found it's way around her hips as she fell through his guard. The warmth of the skin around the small of her back. His finger creeping innocently behind her underwear as it moved back into its place by his side, producing a rubbery twang. Her faint, startled sound as flesh skimmed against flesh. And their necklaces lifting as if by magic as their faces passed. Sticking together like moons caught in tugging orbits. His lock and her key; magnetic. Only broken apart as they stepped back. And Corona hadn’t even finished her step cycle. Perhaps the last shot was to the heart, not to mention other organs. Her touch making it stumble. Now that was a hit. So many thoughts running through Azrael’s head. Lips to lips, chest to chest, waist to waist. One forgotten moment flooding back… Bare and brutal, cast into the past, vagrant to his memory. He’d been close to her before… like a sword in a sheath… CORONA: Overhead coil (SC) As she moved off. Cheeky. With the hilt. HIT! AZRAEL: Temple You thought the memories were a headache? VALHALLA: Charging bowling ball hook (jab-gun alpha) HIT! AZRAEL: Square on the jaw, slam to the floor! Psytopia Adagio 1

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Teamwork. Four-step or one-step? Doesn’t matter; still playing the same tune; chaos. And leaving Azrael sprawled with a few things to think about. “Liberdade.” Valhalla held out a wrist. “Liberdade, siz.” Corona swatting it with her own. Wiping her lips with a sleeve. Pressing that lock to her sweating bosom with crossed forearms. Grinning that mischievous grin. She still had Azrael just where she wanted him. Maybe not quite. Was he stripped to nothing but his boots? Was he laid face up on the floor? Was she perched on his hips? Swordplay. Foreplay. What’s the difference? This was one belle blaze who wasn’t playing by anyone’s rules.

Corona’s style was a little different from Remedy’s. Of course they both played blitz, but styles (like lives) are touched by many different things. Attitudes, events, environments… Corona’s blitz was a little more… reckless. Does that mean I’m saying Remedy was responsible? Perhaps in comparison. Whereas Remedy liked swordplay, it turned Corona on.. Whereas Remedy took risks, Corona got off on them. Whereas Remedy skimmed close to the edge, Corona leapt off without a parachute. Yes, Corona was decadent and probably had a one track mind. Well, each to their own. And I’m sorry to scaremonger, but if you really believe that, and I mean really; no preconceptions, no exceptions, no passing of judgement, then you’re an Anarchist, my friend. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael caught a glimpse of his own blood amid the crumpled flowers. Watching Corona's hand slip down Valhalla’s front, delighted as the wound made him wince. Watching her and tasting his own blood in his mouth, he remembered. That he liked girls who could make him bleed. He got to his feet. Gripped his sword and thought strategy. Corona threw her next shot before the first one hit. Did she anticipate her own failure or did she simply fight for kicks? He wasn’t all that interested in Valhalla. Strange, since he had been the objective of his assignment. Valhalla was boring; a villain for a villain’s sake. So screw the assignment, among other things. He watched Corona as she swaggered and jived her way between the two men, wavering. The way her hardly-hidden chest bounced as she walked. The way her hands hung by her sides, the grip on her swords loose and free flowing. The way she stepped in those long, slinky boots, every stride drawing him in. Like curiosity, like adrenalin, like hunger. Which of course was her tactic. Didn’t you know sexuality is a blitzer’s third blade? Corona was clearly the only one who’d worked out this trick. An extra pang to proceedings with which she could slink her way into his sphere and… CORONA: Leaping cross-face curl (TT) HIT! Paper cut slice across the cheek Wait a minute; he'd let her do that. This one likes to be beaten around a bit. Up a notch on Corona’s ‘to fuck’ list. AZRAEL: Cross-body swish HIT! CORONA: Across top. Slices her corset strings Psytopia Adagio 1

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She stepped back with an impressed lick of the lips and a smirk. She may as well have packed her smirks in boxing gloves. Each one clocked him like a sledgehammer. She liked a guy who could undress her with a blade. Her corset hanging half undone; super-tight black plasticy bra exposed under the torn fabri. That and quite a bit more. Holding her top up with a wrist, just about smothering its contents from view. Which only added to the temptation to take a peek. Come on Azrael, have you not yet learnt this game? VALHALLA: Lunging hook (jab-gun beta) HIT! AZRAEL: Chin >SMASH!< Azrael hurled through the wall of a crumpling fruit shed. Groggy and confused. Gravity no longer making sense. His face sizzling as if it was being pressed against a hot stove. His legs weightless as if he was jogging on the moon. His head spinning as if it was a spoke on a bike wheel. He forgot for a moment who and where and why he was. Azrael didn’t have time to work it out. Nor did he have time to shake off the spinning stars, the swirly spirals, the cobwebs. In fact, he didn’t even have time to get up. Because Corona was on him. And I mean on him. Dropping to her knees, one each side of his body. Sitting on his chest. She grinned her most impish grin yet. Leant forward. Brushed her face against his. Licked his cheek. Whispered. “You stay right there, spug pie… moy’s gonna heat you right up.”

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She pulled back. Lock and key sticking together as if drenched in invisible glue. Gravmagtics. The most irresistible force in the wide, wild world. She launched herself into the air. Straight up. Up and up and up and… down? Bad news, especially when you’re travelling at a speed of say… 400 RPM. Or even… 800 RPM. That’s almost fast enough to disappear.

That’s right, Remedy wasn’t the only breezer on the block to invent her own übertek. A brute one, adapted to the blitzy philosophy, of course. That’s speed and anger hand in hand. Tread air a few steps, face the ground, fall into a kamikaze dive, blades crossed like scissors…and unleash enough sound and fury to take a swordstril’s head off… CORONA: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (prelude) MISS! Azrael rolls out of the drop zone Diced blucumber, anyone? Corona in a handstand position, blades half buried in the soil. I wouldn’t counter just yet though. Because all that stored energy has got to go somewhere… CORONA: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (nocturne) Electric snips dancing in four directions; darting here and there like little knife-winged fireflies in ground-skimming flight. Kinetic energy given form, expanding outwards in the shape of a perfect cross. >SNIP-SNIP!< >SNIP-SNIP!< like clusters of firecrackers. Zapping every plant, fruit, fiend and person in their path. Do plants go to the Third Heaven- well wherever they were going, I’d advise anybody watching to get out of the way.

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MISS! AZRAEL: Leaps over the fizzy shock-wave MISS! CORONA: Performing handstands on swords elevates you above drop zones HIT! All those poor fruity flowers… HIT! VALHALLA: Setting the rubber rims of his shoes on fire

That deserved the scolding frown it received. And Corona deserved her head ache. The fury membrane all burnt out. Lucky this girl’s fuelled by passion instead. Azrael could have finished her off there and then. Wide open as she struggled to tear her blades out of the topsoil. Watching her when he should have been finishing her off there and then. All cute and helpless for a moment… CORONA: Blind rolling leap and no, she didn't have an actual attack in mind... BUNDLE! AZRAEL The two of them crashing through another fruit shed and onto the ground in tandem. On him again. Knees either side of his body, sitting on his hips. Fortune clearly favoured the promiscuous. Her arms spread. Her knees pinning him down. Her chest damp and heaving. He could kill her now but... fuck that... He sat up and grabbed her. Arm around waist, face buried in chest. Fingers squeezing down the back of her underwear. Teeth through her corset and into her breast below. Oh, this boy was so delightfully easy to kill.

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CORONA: Cuffing swipe (SC- hilt) HIT! AZRAEL: Top of head She rolled off him and onto her feet. Examined the pretty little tooth marks on her chest. Pulled her underwear up with a rousing grin. This branch hugger could bang a little after all… “Corona.” Valhalla. Why do boyfriends have to spoil a girl’s fun? Where’s the anarchy in that? “He split moy top; look.” She placed Valhalla’s hand on her chest. Valhalla crunched his teeth, pushed her off. Touchy.

Azrael clambered up with the aid of a splintered shed wall. Beaten, bruised, dazed and loving it. He knew swordplay very well and being better at it was all he’d ever wanted. But now he wanted something new, so let's just cut to the chase and get it. VALHALLA: Hooking swipe (fist) MISS! AZRAEL: Ducks and charges AZRAEL: Midsection bundle HIT! The boys flying through the wall of a third fruit shed Psytopia Adagio 1

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Oh, I think I’ve worked out what Corona really wanted now. To rile them. To get them brawling desperately over her. Doesn’t that turn a girl on? Which of them was going to come out on top, as it were? Did she want Azrael or Valhalla? Of course not; this is Corona we’re talking about. She wanted both.

She stood back, bit her fingernails and let them scrap. This had been about order versus anarchy; now, not so much. Manipulation; sexploitation lesson one. Aren’t men pathetic? VALHALLA: Short hook (jab-gun alpha) HIT! AZRAEL: Jaw AZRAEL: Bad handed swipe HIT! Though it probably hurt Azrael’s hand more than it hurt Valhalla’s chin They don’t teach bare knuckle at the Academy, you see? It was a cultured place. And they didn’t even teach swordstrils to let go of their swords when caught in a brawl (because Academy students should never get caught in brawls). So bad hand it was; either that or... Psytopia Adagio 1

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AZRAEL: Desperate head butt HIT! VALHALLA: Nose Now that was below the belt… figuratively. This was one highbrow techster who wasn’t afraid to break a few rules or a couple of bones. Azrael reeled for a moment at the ringing sensation in his skull. While Corona dug a heel into a flowerbed and felt bored. She had a tendency to grow bored quickly. A lot of girls would stand back and watch these muscleballs scuffle over her, but Corona liked to be a part of the action. The filling in the sandwich? Perhaps she just wasn’t the submissive type.

CORONA: Leaping cross-face curl (TT) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Horizontal cover AZRAEL: Cross-body swish HIT! CORONA: Slices her remaining corset strings She stepped back. Her ruined top slipping effortlessly to the floor. Like a feather… a postcard through a letterbox… a wedding veil. Let's not get carried away; she wasn’t attached enough to any potential sexual partner for that. Except perhaps her own left hand. But she’d pause to consider how fitting this situation was. How promising. She and Azrael both standing exposed. Psytopia Adagio 1

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He with nothing but that phallic key around his neck. Must have been cold on his flesh. She with nothing but her lock and an unsubstantial bra. So cold they could have done with a nice, warm snuggle. “Slick shot, baboso.” She flicked the corset at him with a swish of the sword. Like a groupie tossing a soiled under-garment onto the stage. It took a conscious effort not to drop his sword to catch it. That's gotten him suitably distracted. VALHALLA: Underarm thump (jab-gun alpha) HIT! AZRAEL: Stomach. The force almost made him puke Now for the double-team. CORONA: Diving overhead sidewinding coil (SC) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Face-to-foot 180 vine cut swerve Blades clash so close they stop hilt-to-hilt above their heads >CLANG!< Sidewinders and vinecutters stored opposite velocities. And when they clashed… Azrael and Corona were forced back into full spins the way they’d come, hands stinging all the way. And >SPLAT!< into each other; torso to torso again Flesh against blushing flesh. Lock and key rising to meet in the middle, so close they could see each other’s hearts beating. She’d once again jammed herself right into his sphere.

Dont’ worry; Corona wasn’t interested in his heart. She was focussed on lower extremities. And OK; Azrael wasn’t thinking about cutting her down per se. Driving her down to the muddy flower beds below and placing a blade into… Psytopia Adagio 1

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Oh, let's just leave the kids to play. Play; Corona’s raison d’etre. But she hadn’t finished her step cycle yet. She dropped her head, leading with her lips. CORONA: Tantalising bite HIT! AZRAEL: Lower lip She moved off with a giggle. Go on Azrael, you might as well pass her those trousers now. She’s wearing them already. So in control she should have been holding a remote with his name on it. Always leave them wanting more; second lesson of sexploitation. VALHALLA: Charging thump (jab-gun alpha) HIT! AZRAEL: Mouth The floor; Azrael, Azrael; the floor. Oh, you’ve met already. I hate to point it out Azrael, but you’re hooked. And she’s just thrusting your defences open like huge, hulking blast doors again. Corona shook her head, chewed on a little finger. Laughed; she oh-so wanted to tear this one up in the sack. So innocent but so tough; knew how to take a beating and how to give one too. Oh yeah, she remembered what Azrael had forgotten. Why do you think she’d let him keep that key after all? You think it was romantic? People remember romance. She gave him the key so she could watch him with it. Watch him with his girl from afar. How gentle he was with meek Mikado; how it could’ve been? Watching, still feeling the bruises. So deep they’d bruised her soul.

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Back in the now, Azrael watched her with every moment he could, even as Valhalla’s fists came rushing at him. Running her index fingers around the rim of her cargos. Around… and around… and around… And the blades going with them, glinting in the glare of the hanging lights above. Hypnotic. The desire to snatch those hands and perform the action for her, but lower… and lower… Time to remove flailing fists in favour of fondling fingers? VALHALLA: Searching hook (jab-gun alpha) MISS! AZRAEL Weaves aside, eyes on Corona’s peeking underwear VALHALLA: Overhand left MISS! AZRAEL: Weaves aside, eyes on Corona’s flatpack stomach VALHALLA: Wild hook (jab-gun alpha) COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Rising uppercut stroke HIT! Up in between Valhalla’s guard and through his neck. Beheaded. OUT OF PLAY Amazing the things you can do when you put your mind to something else. Azrael didn’t even break the glance. Corona didn’t even frown with disapproval. Dead boyfriends, dead girlfriends… whatever. There were plenty of beasties in the squib pen. And some of those beasties were as wild as wild can be. Valhalla, for his part, saw a bright light. Alright, saw is the wrong word. He heard a bright light. You don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s OK, be thankful. It means you’re not dead yet.

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The Assembly of Tutors has already stated that Azrael no longer has any business in the field, as his assessment has ended in failure. Azrael may have succeeded in eliminating the anarchist he was dispatched to apprehend but this does not alter his standing with the Academy

*Azrael must return to the Academy so he can be officially excommed. *Then he can live his shameful life in whatever unscrupulous way he wishes.

The Assembly of Tutors have decided thus. Although the mission given to Azraelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s party was technically a success, his severe deviance from Academy protocal has made assessment of he and his assigned fresher impossible. Although this is unfortunate for the fresher in question, as the possibility for her to complete the task herself has now been removed, her assessment must also cease. As a fresher, this assessment has been a learning experience which we hope will teach her the serious nature of life in the wide, wild world and which will aid her in completing her own final assessment further down the line. Psytopia Adagio 1

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All Academy dictums are made to be simple, are made to make sense, and are made to be followed to the letter. Success and failure must be measured in black and white. However, freshers still have three terms to make their assessments count.

And then there were two.

Azrael Slightly unhinged Academy student with a big fat ‘X’ mark hanging over his head. Corona Expelled Academy student and a mischievous little minx with sex on the brain and tricks in the tail. NOTE: She didn’t actually have a tail, although it should be noted that she owned a pretty sharp set of kiticlaws. Or…

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VS.

What? You thought it was the other way round? So did Azrael. Let’s see how this thing pans out.

A lush garden scene on the Green Plateau. To be fair, it's less lush now, what with all the sword-slashed flowers and boot-trodden earth, but we can reminisce, can’t we?

Azrael. Sword at his side. Sweat on his chest, expanding and contracting heavily. Dripping. Corona. Swords at her sides. Sweat on her chest, expanding and contracting heavily. Panting. Oh, just get a room. Azrael shook his head clear. He ought to kill her. But hadn’t been doing quite what he ought recently. He ought to get back in sync, but...

AZRAEL: Deep breath, preparing to speak COUNTERED! CORONA: Innocent tilt of the head HIT! AZRAEL: Interested… She knew exactly what Azrael wanted. And he knew she knew… oh you know. Because her allure was sharper than any blade. Forbidden fruit is always the tastiest kind. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Those flickering, fiery iris. Eyelids drooping somewhat, gaze drifting somewhat, eyes tugging at his clothes. Corona would’ve been good at bunraku; manipulation from afar. But let’s not put ideas in her head; simulated sex with dolls isn’t particularly arousing. You can’t expect rule breakers to play by the book. You can’t put a bird in water or a fish in air. You couldn’t put Corona in a nunnery. She’d turn it into a brothel. You can’t play rule breakers by the rules. They’ll walk all over you. Swish your swords away and leave you breathless. Because rule breakers shake up the track. BEFITTING OF AN ACADEMY STUDENT: Cut her defence down and slice her life away with a swift sword strike to the throat.

UNBEFITTING OF AN ACADEMY STUDENT:

Take her body down and strip her clothes away with a quick fumble of bra, breasts and boots. BEFITTING: Hold her blades in custody and drop her off back at the Academy.

UNBEFITTING:

Hold her hips and drop to his knees. BEFITTING: Impale her with his blade through her stomach and watch her choke on her own blood.

UNBEFITTING:

Slice her clothes to bits and fuck her against the fruit shed wall. Corona smirked to herself. This was possibly the easiest fight she had ever stumbled into. Catch of the day. Enough foreplay; reel him in.

CORONA: Hand his sword with a wrist, then into his belt HIT! AZRAEL: Flustered CORONA: Creeps his arm over to her shoulder; flicks a bra strap off with a finger HIT! AZRAEL: Hooked. Then the other strap... Psytopia Adagio 1

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Two duelling voices in Azrael’s head.

Ethical. Principled. Focused. Calm, cool and collected. Model student. Hero.

Sick. Wild. Flustered. Narcissistic, nihilistic and nasty. Menace to society. Villain? Villains know what they want... so what was Azrael waiting for? He dropped his sword. Arms around her waist. Teeth into her shoulder. Up off the floor and through the fruit shed wall.

*Corona won that one hands down didn’t she?

Our Corona had always been a little different. A little delinquent. A little troublesome. A little old for her age. She’d say just a little curious. In any case, she was always prepared to go that extra mile, and I know you know… Oh you know. Our Corona had always been a bit unwise. A bit feisty. A bit hyperactive. A bit too eager to put herself about. She’d say just a bit bold. I’d say a bit over-sexed, but hey; sensualidade! She should have enjoyed her youth while she was young. Her innocence… but Corona didn’t care much for innocence. Not unless she was taking somebody else’s away. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Innocence. Coyness. Restraint. Safety. Rules. Much of a muchness. All of the above hold you down. Funny, as Corona generally liked to be held down. Preferably with the coarsest ropes, chains and wires you could find. Preferably run mercilessly over tender extremities as they were secured. Preferably while she scratched and kicked and butted and bit. And she liked to hold others down too. Preferably people of the naked, male variety. Preferably dirty or brutal or desperate or a mix of the above. Preferably armed with a sword or two. (Decide for yourself whether that’s a metaphor or not) Innocence doesn’t get you any of that, does it? But whether she chose to acknowledge it or not, she was innocent once. We all were. Our Corona had always been an ‘adventurous’ girl. I’ll use that word as it's probably the kindest. She was young after all, and impressionable. Although put it this way; back in the Academy, Corona was generally found to be adventurous far more often than she was found to be clothed. When the other kids were out playing mock safe-stick fights, Corona’s petite and not-quite-yet-full figure was being rammed against the cold metal wall of the squib pen by a selection of sparring partners far more advanced in size and age. In energy? They wished. Pre-grads? Post-grads? Squibs? Who could tell in the dark and did it matter? OK, so even Corona would draw the line at squibs, but I digress. While the other kids were sitting in prep class, watching their tutors display simple scrawl swipes, Corona’s bruised and bloodied form was being pummelled on the grassy forecourt of the Academy where surely someone (or everyone) could see... Which was a large part of the pleasure. Part of the trouble? Trouble turned her on. Pre-grads? Post-grads? Tutors? Who cared as long as they made her puff, pant and sore? OK, so even Corona would rather not get caught, but I digress. As the other kids were tucked up in the medipen, cleansing their minds of distraction, Corona’s strapped, trapped and buckled body was being pressed face first into a pile of broken freezes in a corner of the tyebrary, her mouth gagged with a harness, her knees and thighs whipped with strips of juralith hide, her sheaths Psytopia Adagio 1

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(urgh; innuendo) filled with swords. And did that shake her world? Her bones, perhaps; that’d do. Pre-grads? Post-grads? Any old sadists? Who’d know if a gaggle of giggling children stumbled on the scene, showing up to swot? She’d just smirk and grab that shelf edge a little tighter, gasp a little louder and urge her sparring partners to work a little harder. So, I’ve probably established by now that Corona was a tad on the dirty side, and this was all when she wasn’t much over seven and a half thousand rounds old. She was just a kid really; you can’t blame her. A kid being drawn into adult things, and doing the drawing in herself as she got older and more adult than the adults. Imagine what she was like now in the twilight of her teens. Well, think of a crashing train; it was off the rails back then. By now it’d slid half a mile down the tracks, skidded through a corn field and careered off a cliff down into a bottomless gully, slicing the locals into fleshy compost as it went. Yes, Corona had been innocent once, and she wanted to feel that way again, but she’d forgotten how she’d started. She wanted to go back to when it had hurt. Come on now, I told you she was off the rails, didn’t I? What did you expect her to want? Cookies and cocoa, huddling together in front of a roaring fire, watching a rom-com? No, Corona’s memories were a little more invigorating than that. The fantasy: Play like this was her first time being broken. As if… So with all that history in mind, I'm going to keep it cleanish and avoid telling you what happened between Azrael and Corona. As she dragged him to the Emerald Plateau to have her wicked way with him. If you want to know the gory, gratey, moany, groany details, you'll just have to do what Cory did and use your imagination. After all, before she came along, this was a family book...

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Remedy had taken all the wide, wild world could throw at her. Surprise, confusion, gargantuan foes, pain, shock, responsibility. Yes, Remedy had been through a lot these last few rounds. But the strange thing about the wide, wild world is that just when you think you’ve taken everything it can throw, it goes and hurls something new, and lo and behold, generally something worse.

That was what Remedy had learnt at least. Yes, she was even thinking up her own sound bites now. I think she’s learnt almost enough harsh lessons to be ready for that, don’t you? But that didn’t make her ready for the rain. It hit her like a speeding pick-up truck into a zebra crossing full of horrified children, turning her flamy-coloured clothes sodden and wet in no time at all. Making her hair stick to her face like seaweed. Making the flared wrists of her arm covers heavier than swords. Just what she needed; an absolute downpour. Well, it would be wise to get used to it. Because around these parts rain was the only weather they'd ever get. Remedy and Melodi exchanging pouting glances. Shaggy dogs chained to posts in a flash flood.

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As you can see, there’s a cloudy spell in store. And that means rain. Nothing but clouds in the sky of the White Plateau, which after all is how it got its name, but as you can see no storms as such, just a steady deluge all day, every day. There aren’t really days here, so that means always. Some would say it rains the tears of the ancients; from clouds which formed from their dreams. So if you don’t like it wet and wild… Well what on Zarathustra’s plates are you doing here? It doesn’t take a weather man to know which way the rain blows. Every way. So the White Plateau was cushioned from the world by clouds. Hanging overhead like giant cotton wool buds. The clouds were white but the rain poured relentlessly. This was pure rain, not the kind of muck we’re used to.

Experience the refreshing natural vistas of the White Plateau as you embark on an invigorating stroll through its winding hillside rain paths! (Note I said ‘experience’, not ‘see’. The Soul Cage Trust doesn’t condone false advertising; it’s a bit hazy here). The wonders of the White plateau, where the denseness of the mist is only comparable to the depth of your heart! Take a walk covered from the ferocity of the rain under neat, grassy overhangs and kick-start your senses listening to the magical sound of raging chasms below and the fresh scent of brackens and ferns wafting in from the surrounding hills. And if you‘re feeling particularly adventurous, how about following the paths into said hills from whence they say the ancients still watch the theatre of life go by, hidden in their dreams! One walk down the rain paths and you’ll want to hide here forever too. Bring waterproof clothing. Hot soups sold at the canteen; show your Soul Cage earlobe holes Do not climb into the water; the Soul Cage Trust will not be held responsible for accidents. No paddling, No diving, No fishing. No water sports.

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Remedy wasn’t interested in Psytopia’s natural beauty spots. She would have been had she a certain special person to share them with… She only wanted her Mojo, her justice and preferably a bit of shelter, and as soon as she wished for shelter, she spotted it! See how quickly dreams can come true? A damp, crooked path curving under a rocky overhang, surrounded by roaring rivers and pattering rain clouds… An old, white marble path like everything else, somehow untouched by time- as if newly carved and tucked into the... Oh; Melodi had shaken and shivered over there already. Who's drizzly dream was this? Remedy quickly remembered leaders don't moan about trivialities; they do reconnaissance! The pathway appeared to carry on as far as the eye could see, which admittedly wasn’t far. There were possibly grassy hills and valleys beyond the thundering rivers. There were blobs, at least. She led Melodi by the wrist. Bunched in under the overhang. Listening to the raindrops tinkle around them and the waters rage down there out of view. Perfectly safe and relatively warm. “I don’t think this girl you're looking for is here.” Melodi raised her little voice, its curious echo swirling as if it was circling the raindrops as they crept through the rocks above. If you watched them, you’d notice they'd hang there for a moment around her as the sound of her voice reeled them in like spiraling lassos. Pausing to listen to those words sneaked in between the lines. “Her name’s Mojo.” And let's just not ask how she knew Remedy was looking for her… friendly intuition? Remedy shook water off her arms and legs. Breeze fighters do not like carrying extra weight around; slows you down.

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“Well, I don’t think we’re safe here.” “Wouldn’t that be a shocker.” Cynical fresher, scared blue belle. Some team. The grassy overhang was scant protection from the endless rain. Drips from the clouds above and spray from the river below. The waters so cruel that the stuff swirled up at them as if they were on a wave-torn ship. That sinking feeling again… Melodi pressed herself up against the flat stone wall. “We’ll be swept into the chasm down there!” “We’s be dandy.” Remedy took the time to kick off a boot and pour out a puddle’s worth of rainwater. “The girl must be somewhere else. Can we get out of this place?” “Now, I dunno how you'se scannin' moy coco but...” Remedy emptied the other boot with a frown. “She’s moy blitzy belle; she’ll be here.” “She could have got killed… or something.” “Melodi!” “Move!” “What?” Remedy followed the blue girl’s finger. Pointing out into the mist. Towards what looked like hills. Alright, they looked like blobs, but trust me, if the vapour wasn’t so thick you’d see hills too. But she wasn’t pointing at the hills. They were merely the backdrop. She was pointing at something closer. Closer… and closer. It was getting pretty close pretty fast. A pinpoint blob with a neon green tail. Like a fairy light tossed into thick, falling snow. Like a lit match tumbling through the air.

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Like a meteor dropping towards them… “Remedy, move!” This time the blue girl almost wrestled her over.

Take it to the press; Melodi puts herself on the line to save a friend- if they had tabloids in Psytopia, I’d make a mint from that scoop. They didn’t, but they did have jig arrows. And you don’t need a two-page spread to tell you one of those will put a hole in your head. So you’ll have to make do with a paragraph.

Molten arrows made of mystical stuff called jigjuice; a poorer equivalent of pyrojuice. Poor because pyro was distilled from residues of the Third Heaven and jig from the Second. You don’t need to understand what any of that means, you just have to do a little maths; three is better than two. But actually you don’t even have to do that, because as every Psytopian with half a brain and a fraction of education will tell you, jigjuice doesn’t exist anymore because those who distilled it don’t exist anymore and consequently, that means jig arrows couldn’t exist anymore either. Well, Remedy wasn’t a model student. Perhaps that was why she had just found herself under fire from non-existent weapons. The Assembly of Tutors say this: Pay attention next time! Melodi hadn’t had an official schooling at all; funny then that she always seemed to know a lot more than she let on. The jig arrow had embedded itself in the wall behind them with a tuneful ping, and it was the sound Melodi had heard, seen or whatever over the noise of the rain. Remedy would only have clocked its musical whistle as it whirred away in her punctured skull. So let’s just be glad of little blue mercies, shake ourselves off and coach our apparently trained ears to catch up.

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She heard the ringing now as the jig’s colour faded into the wall; similar to the dualistic rhythm which stuck on some of Melodi’s words. The hidden messages she didn’t quite know she was saying. The contents of her abundant id. But you don't need an abundant id to know they were sitting Psytopians and blue mites right now. “Alright.” Remedy thought on her soggy feet. What would a leader say? “We’re gonna need cover from them shin spangly-dan thingies.” A blue nod. Woah… Remedy’s strategy on point? “What we's spyin' out for is a courtyard, check? And a minty sapphire breeze belle called Mojo.” Wait for the nod... Don't wait forever, boss; those are jigs sweepin' your way! So let’s just make sure somebody’s leading. Melodi pulled Remedy by the wrist to a crossroads and up a winding path as if she had the blueprints in her blue fingers. Maybe she just didn’t like being battered by rain. Or by molten arrows. “What was that anyway?” Remedy looked back, because leaders have to be aware; you know, of spectres in rear view mirrors? “This way.” Melodi put her head down and led them down a fork in the path. “Was that a lickle beastie of some sort?” Melodi took a right turn. “That wasn’t a beastie. It’d kill you though.” “Where’s we goin’ sprite?” Remedy wanted to battle the beastie. “Here. We’ll be safe over here.” She yanked her blitzy buddy up a stony path. Remedy stood her ground. This was her party now… and eerr; to be fair if it’d been a party of more than two, she'd have lost sight of the rest in the mist. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Safe from what?” “They’ll kill us.” Melodi yanked her wrist. “Who’s gwan kill us, ya plexy ziz?…” she shook her head relatively responsibly, “and ‘kill’' is a scruffy word, kitz.” “You would rather I said ‘pass to the Third Heaven’ while we’re being shot at?’” “I’s rather you’se stop a sliver and ‘fess me what’s we’s yeekin’ from.” “You don’t know these people like I do.” “What pe…”

Three black-tailed projectiles landing somewhat tunefully in the rocks above Melodi’s head. Splitting them like silver spoons scalping hard boiled eggs. Rhythmic as they flew and hit like artistic fingers striking piano keys in melodic succession. The sound still coiling after the darts hit. “Well, these people of yours ain’t such styley shots, are…” The rocks collapsed across the walkway, causing a small landslide of mud and boulders. “Oh.” Melodi grabbed Remedy’s wrist and led her back down the pathway…

as they escaped. Back to the junction, taking a left this time; heading downhill, the water growing deeper and the mud growing denser all the way. Rain’s a pretty powerful thing; you shouldn’t disturb it. Makes mud pits out of mountains. And people who live in the rain?

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Well, these ones had been known to make short work out of swordstrils; in their dreams at least… Melodi buttoned her lip. They could hear where she was going. Finger over mouth, downward wave of the hand. Telling Remedy to be quiet. The swordstress begrudgingly obliged, following her down the pathway as it passed closer by the raging river. As her boots took on more and more water. Wading in two inches, three inches, five inches, eight… Not so muddy down here; the water washed the gunge away. Fancy symbols on the walls of the walkway; lines, dots and arrows cut or burned or just psyched into the marble. The river having burst its banks. Water cutting across the path before them. Churning like the stomach of a parahack on some hellish plateau where taste buds didn’t function. Melodi wading through the icy waters, urging Remedy to join her. Twenty one inches, thirty three… The damp so deep it was almost pulling at her bones. Oh, to be wrapped up in camp with a sheet of pyro right now…

“Yeek!” Remedy threw herself into the stream. That last jig had bounced off one of her sword hilts. Missed her spine by a hair’s breadth. Alright, this was war… when she was out of the water.

Melodi up to her chest; Remedy up to her waist. The eerie floating motion of the coloured jigs falling through the mist like headlights on a UFO. The easeful rhythm of them hitting the water… Not quite enough to alleviate the fear of being hit by one. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Where are those things coming from?” Remedy tried to z-lock on the large blobs amid the foggy haze across the raging river. The hills, or so she assumed. Melodi pulled her on; no time for sightseeing just yet.

“Yike!” This time it was Remedy’s knuckle duster, as if to heighten the blue girl's urgency. The pair emerging from the other side of the stream a little safer and a whole lot wetter. Up the pathway and into a covered area where they finally caught a breath or three.

Against the rocky walls of the courtyard.

Against the ornate door and window frames.

Into the violent waters surrounding their safe haven. And what a timely safe haven it was. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“Alright moy froppy belle, now you’se tellin’ me what all the fuzz is for.” “The Ravani.” Melodi sat down on a lavish jelephant sculpture. Her voice echoing around the garden as if it was strapped to a spinning roundabout. They didn't have jelephants in Psytopia... except perhaps in somebody's dream. Remedy cleared her head. “Who’s that?” She paused a moment and looked up; a string of neon-tailed comets breezing through the wind. Strange; the garden was roofed half way across and walled all the way round. She couldn’t see the things, but she knew they were there. Heard them between the chatter of raindrops on the roof. Doubly strange; Psytopians couldn’t compute more than one sound at once... But she heard them sailing through the air so clearly she could even predict where they would land.

Arcing over the roof and into both floor and statues on the far side of the garden. The floor, statues, walls, the water beyond and the rain above. Each thud and ping setting off lingering rings in her head as if clanging cymbals. Rings which remained despite the backing drumbeat of the rain. Was this… music? They didn’t have music in Psytopia… poor sods. Remedy’s mind constructed visuals of these things as they fell. Standing there amid the lights as they bore down on her. Like bright neon banshees gliding through a spectral fog… all in her head but not; her head out in the mist, the mist in her head? Psytopia Adagio 1

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A strange sensation, that much was clear. Made her all giddy, happy and frustrated in one. But she’d asked a question. About the Ravani. And since Melodi’s not going to answer for fear of being pin-pointed by a sky-screeching jig to the head… Well, I might as well do the talking for her.

Contrary to popular mythology, reports of the Ravani’s extinction were greatly exaggerated. They weren’t hearsay, they were just secretive. Like aliens. Like Nessies. Like Big Feet. Only the Ravani weren’t extra-terrestrial, weren't monsters and weren’t all that big either, just unusual, and that’s scary enough. Roughly human size, but a little strange looking. This may have had something to do with their seclusion from the rest of the world; something to do with their heritage. Perhaps it was to do with their semi-transcendent nature. Who knows, and who’d dare ask? And to be honest, who’d believe anyone who asked, even if they obtained an answer? The Ravani had green skin, neat trimmed beards and big canines in their lower jaws which clamped over their upper lips. They dressed in chequered robes with silver trim and gold tassels; tassels which spurted out into wild, rotating blades when they whipped the material. Like pulling a highly lethal table cloth off a fully set dinner table. Oh, I didn’t mention they liked to fight? You didn’t notice from the bombardment of jigs? Yes, they liked to fight. In the most honourable, chivalrous way possible, of course. They wore big gold gloves, jewel-encrusted helmets and coloured blindfolds over their eyes and ears… but more about that later. And every article of clothing was decorated with intricate lines, dots and arrows. Not that they invented the lines, dots and arrows, but it was likely they understood them. They understood arrows at least. But what am I doing explaining to you what the Ravani were? A coarse, stupid, limited little thing like me? If you asked them direct, they’d probably tell you through the medium of flesh-searing jigs applied via rhythmic thuds to your skull, so I think it's safer for me to carry on. Psytopia Adagio 1

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They liked to pose on one leg and bound and leap a lot. Both forms of meditation. Now, the Ravani wouldn’t call it meditation. They wouldn’t call it anything per se because they were too highly evolved for words. Words are dirty, filthy things. The other reason why they wouldn’t call it meditation was because they did it all the time. If you’re sitting there and I say ‘what are you doing?’ you may well respond ‘nothing’. Well, you’re wrong because you’re actually doing a lot of things. You’re breathing, digesting, sensing the world around you, you’re being hungry, thirsty, and you’re probably thinking too. The Ravani were clever creatures who had no vices and few distractions, except one small hobby which was probably what kept them anchored to this world. What was their favourite pastime? It was their only pastime, when they got a chance. They only thing they lived for. Because the Ravani were through-and-through warrior types. Yep; sorry Remedy and Melodi, but they liked to fight.

Long ago the Ravani attained the ability to transcend reality. To exist in shadows. To sleep, without much able to awaken them. It was a trick they learnt from an even more ancient race who also kept themselves pretty much to themselves and possibly didn’t exist in any conventional way in the first place. That's what they said in the Academy anyway.

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No, that wasn't a genuine dictum; there weren’t that many. Although one way or another, it would be a fitting comment on the failings of formal schooling if it was in there somewhere. On this occasion, what they said in the Academy was true. The Ravani lived and trained in solitude, disappearing into the mists, living independently of the world around them. They didn’t eat. They didn’t sleep. They didn’t argue. But they dreamt all the time! In fact some said the wide, wild world was a Ravani dream! It’s all a mesh of molecules without us dreamers after all. The difference between us and them was that they knew they were dreaming. That’s why the Ravani wore blindfolds over their eyes and ears; to avoid the delusions of the wide, wild world. So when Psytopians came snooping on their land, they watched. With their minds. Andf those Psytopians were particularly interesting, they watched hard. Like strange little blue girls. And when the Ravani watched hard, they tended to react. Remedy squinted. Through a small hole in the garden wall. The disorienting sound of the jigs had died down. Peace and quiet in the garden of the dreaming? Or simply the eye of the storm?

I’m not going to tell you about the Ravani’s battle strategy as: A.) It's too complex to be captured in words and paragraphs. B.) If I was to try, I’d only demonstrate my own confusion. C.) They’d probably put an arrow in my head and I'm not partial to being skullcapped. They stood over on the hills which Remedy couldn’t quite make out, switching coloured blindfolds. Out goes the all-out onslaught (black cloths). In comes the technical attack (purple cloths). It doesn’t really matter; they only did it to taunt. To show victims they had all the time in the wide, wild world. The hole she was peering through was a mere centimetre thick. And they were just blobs on the horizon. There was no way in hell the jigs would get through. So she cooled down and watched. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel Remy; you are not a Ravani. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The jig was like a small dart with a purple tail which almost seemed alive, flickering like pyro. She could make out more detail as it came closer; her eye following it, her mind locking onto it like a mental magnet. Bombing towards her… She could make out little lines, dots and arrows scrawled on it. Not scrawled so much as melted. Bombing towards her… The way it moved through the sky suggested it wasn’t solid. Made of liquid. Piping hot, super-speeding liquid which whistled tunefully in the mist and was… Bombing right towards her… She jerked back as the molten dart snuck through her peep hole. As it shot across the garden. As it struck an ornate jelephant statue with a dull... As it hardened immediately on contact and emitted a high frequency twang. The sound seeming to pass her face independently of the object. She received nothing but a wry glance from Melodi. And a flustered heart beat. Tiny jig, tiny peep hole. That shot had been incredible. That shot had been close.

Since it's quite possible Remedy won’t be around much longer and I’ll lose another hero, I think I should explain whirlijigs now. That way at least you’ll know what she got killed by. You’ll have seen that the Ravani favoured bow and arrow style weapons, though the ‘arrows’ were more like hot candle wax. The weapons from which the Ravani launched their ‘arrows’ were called whirlijigs, and they worked a little something like this: They were worn like gauntlets, covering the fingers and back of the hand but not the palm. They wore fancy gold gloves already so the whirlijig certainly wasn’t for warmth or decoration. It was for causing damage… in the most tuneful, poetic way possible. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The whirlijigs were made of a rubbery material and could be stretched to ridiculous extremes, which allowed for a huge variety of angles, velocities, notes and pitches to be played. Yes, the Ravani used the term ‘play’ to describe battle. It was probably from here that the swordstril term derived. Not that the Ravani would say ‘play’… they’d just speak a shape. You can’t speak shapes? Pah. You’re not very far up the evolutionary scale, are you? In any case, if you were Ravani (and let's face it, you’re not), you’d pour jigjuice into the hole in the top of the whirlijig, grab the fingers of the glove with the other hand and pull them down. You’d elongate the thing like pinging a handful of rubber bands or pulling the string of a bow, then you’d place your fingers in the desired arrangement, or ‘motion mudra’. Mudras governed various projectile effects like pace, elevation, curve, force and scatter-fire. Then you'd let that hot shot go! And shoot underarm; it’s far more stylish that way. The jig loops up into the air then down towards it’s target like a long range basketball shot. You know how to do that, right? I only ask because you don’t even know what jigjuice is, do you? Oh come on. It was the hot, waxy substance excreted directly from the pineal glands of Ravani masters in deep hover-prayer. It was therefore the only substance in the wide, wild world which hadn’t come into contact with the abominable contents of ‘reality’, and thus avoided being horrifically defiled. It was diluted dreams; let's put it that way. And it’d cut your socalled ‘real’ world to pieces with a simple touch…

Jigs could have any of eight different coloured tails. They all indicated slightly different styles of shot and were there to give opponents clues. You don’t want the battle to be over after one salvo, do you? What kind of warrior-type are you? For the record, jigtails were very bright and helped victims see their fate coming. Except the black tails obviously, because those were for making Psytopia Adagio 1

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a firmer point. The jet streams gave targets a chance; a passage. A moment to contemplate their next move before they were killed, or possibly just to repent to whatever god they might happen to believe in. Different colours also made different sounds, so even if you’re particularly suicidal and you want to blindfold yourself against them… you can still hear them coming, and what lovely tunes they played as they popped your head and heart. All those multi-coloured jet streams dropping through the sky… Whistling their songs and plugging their targets with a colourful ping, pang, pong! Remedy and Melodi listened to the rain. Or more specifically, for other sounds sneaking around within it. In between the homely pitter-patter. They exchanged nods, took breaths. Nothing besides the pitter-patter. Which has got to be good, right? Were they safe? Like a surfer sitting in the shade of a gazebo as the rest of the beach is baked by the sun. Like a starving farmer walking away from a relief truck with his family’s sack of grain as the rest of the town charges for food. Like a football fan safe in a box seat as the crowd is trampled this way and that by hooligans and riot police. It’s nice sitting safely while a storm rages outside; makes you feel good to be alive. The pitter-patter. The splish-splosh. The stamp-stamp. The stamp-stamp? Where was that coming from? Remedy backed up against a wall. Gestured to Melodi to do the same. These two were becoming quite the unit now, weren’t they? Quite efficient… at not getting killed, at least. Well, we’ll see about that.

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“They’s on the move.” Remedy struggled to read their steps. Not easy with the rat-a-tat of the rain. Not easy if your ears only pick up one isolated sound at a time. Not easy when the people you’re listening out for hop rather than walk. Yes, the Ravani hopped. Everywhere they went. It was part esoteric exercise, part taking the piss. One leg, blindfold, cocksure? They’d tie an arm behind their backs too if they didn’t need a pair to operate their whirlijigs.

You can’t dance with the dead after all. Remedy leaned her head to the side. “I reckon they’s going that way; parallel walkway.” She was right, of course. The advantage of hearing only isolated sounds is when you pick the one you want out of the broth, you hear it very, very well. So here’s the Ravani’s strategy: *Scare them a bit with a few pot shots. *Drive them into the only 'safe haven' in the necropolis. *Lull them into a false sense of security with a limp set of salvos. *Charge up a little slope leading to the courtyard and wake them up again. *While their attention’s taken... get on the roof and pick them off from above! They could have done that from the outset... ...but why bother carry on living if you're not having any fun? Psytopia Adagio 1

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A five-step plan. The Ravani liked five-step plans. That was their natural cycle after all. And it tended to work. Here’s Remedy’s plan: *Run. Done. *Hide. Done. *Hear them approaching up that little slope up at the end of a parallel walkway. Done. *Wipe them out with fuzz-jacks. Game, set and match! Collision course; one single Remedy and five Ravani masters. Yes, five; no wonder Remedy was so confused. No wonder her tactics weren’t quite there. The footsteps said five legs; that meant two and a half people… She hadn’t quite worked this one out, had she? Remedy reached into a pocket. “Mel, you know these ziz-taggin’ sparks, right?” Melodi covered her mouth and nodded. “So you know their weaknesses, right?” Melodi shook her head. “They ain’t got weaknesses or you don’t know?” Melodi shook her head to both. “They’re almost at the junction.” Good mental scouting, Remedy; almost mathematic, or geometric, or gravimagmathic- Mana, the Ravani and the crones would be proud. Remedy would shrug and call it a born leader's instinct. She did the maths; two-and-a-half against one. Let’s hope she’d worked out they were hopping by this point. Five against one; maths doesn’t get any fairer when you get your sums right. Remedy zipped a handful of fuzz-jacks. “You stay tight moy sprite, this won’t take a click.”

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I don’t know about that. You are fighting the Ravani after all. Yep, I’ve just upgraded it from target practice to a fight. May the best warriors win! (Hint: the Ravani were the best warriors) Hedge your bets!

Remedy & Melodi Just the two of them. You’se and moy. The Ravani Five of the greatest warriors history had ever been absent-minded enough to forget. It’ll remember soon enough.

A semi-covered, mist-strewn garden in the Amanati necropolis on the White Plateau. Compete with high, grassy roof, intricate jelephant sculptures and a ton of precipitation.

Remedy kept herself pressed against the wall. Listening. Preparing to bounce the fuzz-jacks down the slope, around the corner and into their path. Then back up against the wall listening again. For carnage.

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REMEDY: Fuzz-jack toss! (x4) MISS! RAVANI MASTERS 1-4 hop back RAVANI MASTER 5: Glove swipe Sends the last fuzz-jack bouncing back up the slope. MISS! REMEDY: dives into a forward roll with a yelp >Pop!< >Bang!< (x4) Calmly batting a fuzz-jack back at its thrower. Like playing Russian roulette using a six shooter with only one empty chamber. Like opting to keep goal using an active grenade as a ball. Like building your house on a plot infested with land mines. Now that’s cocksure with a capital ‘C’. RAVANI MASTERS 3 & 4: Black-tailed jigs (low arc) Up out of the parallel passage and down through the roof of the garden, burrowing through it, slowing them down. PARRIED! REMEDY: Desperate swipe (BA) RAVANI MASTERS 1 & 2: Green-tailed jigs (high arc) Right over the top of the garden roof and in through the holes. Those would be pot shots. PARRIED! REMEDY: Desperate swing (HJ) Melodi’s eye roll directed her blitz buddy to calm herself. Not easy when those shots had both stunned and inspired her. Divert and destroy; a simple tactic. Tell you what, kittyclaw; let's play it really simple in return. Let's just hang back and let them come to us. “Um… yeek?” Remedy was beginning to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Remedy: Backing up a bit into the courtyard; sneaky drips of rain through the roof dousing her fire sizzle by drizzle. Melodi: Hanging by her, that freaky dolly in hand. Ravani masters 1-5: Hopping up the slope with lovely, brutal combat in mind! All in all, their situation was a lot more thorny than it was rosy.

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REMEDY: (Speaking quietly out of the side of her mouth) “Alright lil’ siz, this ain’t dandy.” MELODI: “They’ve caught us.” REMEDY: “Check. I noticed.” MELODI: “There’s no way out of this place.” REMEDY: “We’s muddled this jive, hey? How about that dollomono of you’se?” MELODI: (Studying Doloroso) “I can’t kill them.” REMEDY: “Sure you can. You’se got superpowers and stuff.” MELODI: ”I haven’t got superpowers.” REMEDY: “You’se got funky tricks; same deal.” MELODI: ”I said I haven’t got gekky superpowers, alright? We can’t get out of here.” REMEDY: “You can’t ‘fuse these squips?” MELODI: “I can only control simple minds.” REMEDY: “Oh… hack.” Plan B just went out the window. The Ravani quintet lining up in a star-shaped formation. Fancy looking, they were; and cocksure. Melodi shrugging. Death couldn’t be so bad. Remedy’s head searching for a plan C. All seemed futile. All seemed hopeless. All seemed lost. This seemed like a massacre, and as anybody who’d survived one will tell you, massacres are no fun at all. Ravani masters 1-5 hopping over to face their captives. Ushering them forward with waves of the hands. If you're going to take somebody's life, you should at least give them a chance to defend themselves. “These are pretty civvy jacks, hey?” Remedy went for a sword. >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!<

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That’s the sound of five Ravani masters drawing two blades each in less time than it took Remedy to draw one. “Oh… K…” She drew the other. Not often she was outpaced. Melodi covered her face. Swayed from one uncertain foot to the next. Thought about whether she wanted to be buried or cremated. This was going to be… interesting.

The Ravani’s close range weapon. What kind of ‘greatest warriors history had ever been absent minded enough to forget’ would they be if they only carried a couple of instruments? The Ravani carried around whole string bands. Enough jig to host a barn dance… Because they had to have five methods of attack and defence… Whirlijigs. Scorch straws. Razortrim. Knitty tusks. Jigabytes. These were swords with two blades. I didn’t say two swords, did I? But they could use them that way if they wished. They were kept in lovingly decorated gold-rimmed pockets which ran from breast to waist and opened like coffin lids. In fact they would have been quite useful in armouring the Ravani against jig assaults… if there was anyone else in Psytopia broad minded enough to try using such devices. The Ravani whipped these things out as soon as they were in striking range, and I mean when they were geometrically exactly in striking range. Why bother if you’re not? That meant they were standing right at the edges of Remedy and Melodi’s spheres. It’s OK; the Ravani understood spheres. They'd invented them after all, it was just that like their minds, Ravani spheres were a pace or so bigger. In any case, the swords were reminiscent of spatulas and shorter than your average Psytopian blades, making them faster. They were lined with tiny black spikes and could be slotted together at the hilt to form a single weapon longer than a Psytopian sword with the handle in the middle of the blade. Squeezing the elongated grip made the blades whiz like a double-sided chainsaw, the spikes really coming into their own. The sections of the jigabyte rotated across the width rather than Psytopia Adagio 1

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length; five sections per blade, each spinning in the opposite direction to the last for maximum flesh, bone or solid stoneripping effect! Jigabytes would be terrifying weapons even if wielded by rag-tags, but in the hands of the Ravani… I hope you’ve got that one way ticket to the Third Heaven in hand… The Ravani stood in their star-shaped formation. One in front, two on the flanks, two at the back. They assembled their swords, struck one-legged poses and strapped on green blindfolds. Cycle one. Let’s see if our courageous kiticlaw can crack it. RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigabyte strike MISS! Remedy ducks RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte slashes MISS! MISS! Remedy weaves from side to side RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Greentail jigs (high arc) PARRIED! REMEDY: Cross-face curl PARRIED! REMEDY: Cross-body coil She stood back. That was pretty harsh. They attacked almost at once; the slimmest of clicks in between. I hate to break it to you Remy, but that was only step one of the cycle, and it was the scrawl step, indicated by green blindfolds. In the moment it took her to stand back, they’d thrown on a fresh set; white. RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte crosses COVER! COVER! Raising her blades to her sides RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigabyte clash COVER! Crossing her blades at her chest RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Whitetail jigs (skimmers) MISS! MISS! Remedy with an evasive backflip ...landing painfully on her front. “Posey squabs.” Remedy didn’t often use that word. Posers were overly inventive fighters, which blitzers generally tended to revere. Melodi offered her a shrug as Remedy picked herself up and launched a wild attack. Easily enough time for the Ravani to wrap on black blindfolds. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Wild diving hack (BA) >CLANG!< COUNTERED! RAVANI MASTER 1: Razortrim charge Being swished at by blades set into an opponent’s coat. Remedy wasn’t expecting that! RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Razortrim lunges HIT! HIT! Cuts to both Remedy’s sleeves RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Blacktail jigs (hard hits) PARRIED! MELODI: Drops Doloroso’s right arm Jig embeds itself in the ground next to Remy’s left foot. PARRIED! MELODI: Drops Doloroso’s left arm Jig embeds itself in the ground next to her right foot. Remedy didn’t often get scared for her life, but this was one of those times. Suddenly she appreciated how bumbling squibs felt when they had to face her. Melodi however, seemed to have predicted those shots. If only they could confer in the time it took the Ravani to slip on yellow blindfolds… One thing blue gal could’ve told her bestest buddy was this:

You know the Ravani were snazzy dressers. Lightweight gold gloves, shoulder pads, helmets, shin guards and under those what were not unlike saris. They could have been something out of a Thai beauty pageant. Flash... posey... just a different class altogether. But don't mistake them for sheltered weaklings, now... Because you also know the Ravani were slashy dressers. That their togs were lined with razors, so whip like a cable and... Are those slash marks under your eyes or are you really, really sad to see me? RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte pangs MISS! MISS! Remy just avoids getting her head lopped off RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigabyte plunge HIT! REMEDY: Covers the cut but is barged to the floor RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Yellowtail jigs (close up!) COUNTERED! MELODI: Crosses Doloroso’s arms Jigs slam into each other mid-air.

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Remedy flipped up onto her feet, returning Melodi’s shrug. These green-skinned sparks seemed to be masters of every sword fighting style. They knew scrawl techniques, grounder techniques, brute techniques, counter techniques. And how they stepped in and out of each other’s spheres while maintaining the star-shaped formation… But Remedy’s brain couldn’t calculate her observations in the time it took them to don purple blindfolds. RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigabyte slice MISS! Remedy ducks RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte swerves COVERED! Remedy instructively swishes BA/HJ RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Purpletail jigs (straight) The jigs changing shape, sneaking in gaps between blades PARRIED! REMEDY: Sword hilt (BA) PARRIED! REMEDY: Sword hilt (HJ) This was growing somewhat troublesome. These guys were crafty, skillful and fast. In fact, they specialized in everything any swordstril could chose to specialise in, but at once. And did I mention there were five of them? The cycle had ended and Remedy hadn’t understood how they operated at all. At least they were leaving the lickle blue girl alone. She held her head, the rain starting to come through the holes in the ceiling. Making her hair droop, her eyebrows drip, her clothes heavy. Oh that'll help. What with the Ravani in their waterproof gold and approximately five times faster already. Five times faster than her… She never thought she’d see the day; now she wished she hadn’t. They thought five times faster, at least. But she had a moment while they switched formation to work out strategy, and in that moment, all she could muster was a phrase you’re more likely to see communicated in tap. WTF? Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melodi had worked out their step pattern of course, but not by doing maths, because Melodi and maths didn’t mix. Melodi wasn’t some cocksure, pursed-lipped warrior type. But she read vibrations much like the Ravani. Call it sonar if you like, or rhythm or ESP or hearing colours. Who knows what it was?

Remedy could do with some of that info. The rain making it difficult to see. Forming bothersome puddles all across the courtyard floor. Splishing and sploshing with every step she took and spraying every which way with each exchange of swirling blades. No time to worry about that though; just enough for Ravani eyes to be swathed in orange blindfolds. RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Jigabyte coils MISS! MISS! In a fashion. Remedy lost a few locks of hair RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte curls HIT! HIT! REMEDY: Shoulders. A couple of paper cuts RAVANI MASTER 1: Orangetail jig (rapid fire!) HIT! REMEDY: Embedded itself in her necklace… Too fast out of the whirlijig for Melodi to redirect. That verse of the dance was unfair in so many ways. Not only had they cut her, torn her clothes, broken her necklace and almost killed her, but they’d used breeze techniques! Was nothing sacred to these… people? Better get up quick, Remy. Because these snazzy swishers didn't just know all the Academy styles, but a couple more besides. They remembered what the Academy sought to consign to history. Thank Zarathustra the Ravani weren’t interested in bringing the plates to their knees! Where’s the fun in that? And moreover, where's the wisdom? Pay attention; they’d just slapped on super-styley red blindfolds! Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: 360 degree roundhouse swirl (BA/HJ) HIT! RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Decapita… RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Shadow Mirror! The Holy Grail of the counter style (turns back time and reverses the technique HIT! HIT! REMEDY: Swords, knocked out of her hands RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Shattershock Reverb! HIT! HIT! REMEDY: Either side INFLICTS: Remedy’s little toe on her right foot. Broken INFLICTS: Remedy’s little toe on her left foot. Broken Holy Grail of the grounder style; pick a bone and snap it Remedy on the floor. They were playing with her RAVANI MASTER 1: Redtail jig (sureshot!) COUNTERED! Mel jumps into the path of the jig HIT! DOLOROSO: Stomach HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Belly; doubles over Melodi felt a little guilty about keeping her mouth shut. She didn’t know much about swordplay, but she’d clearly heard some legends. Red blindfolds meant grail chains only. It’s like buying a magic pack of trading cards which turns out to contain all glitters. But I’d ignore those broken toes, grab your swords and get up quick Remy, because you’ve just given the Ravani time to put on their blue blindfolds.

That’d be the blue blindfolds in full effect. And the fact that the Ravani drifted on the edges of the trip 24-7, 365... (Earth time) made trip slippin’ extra easy. The kids don’t know all the moves, you know. They’d be wise old prime movers if they did. The blindfolds were only there to offer anyone unwise or mountain-moving enough to face the Ravani a hint at the carnage to come.

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RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Open range razortrim pirouette 800 RPM. TOTALITY Totality flicked on like a switch And Remedy thought she’d invented that move… The Ravani had been doing it since ancient times. HIT!HIT!HIT!HIT!HIT! REMEDY: Who knows where… they’re invisible, and her brain hadn’t twigged the pain yet RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Razortrim pirouette 800 RPM. TOTALITY HIT!HIT!HIT!HIT!HIT! REMEDY: All over Felt like she’d been put through a see-through mincer RAVANI MASTER 1: Bluetail jig (straight shot) Straight through the other Ravani; out the other side! >DING!< HOLY JUDGEMENT: Grazes it…

That woke Remedy up. A hundred paper cuts throbbing with the sting of the rain. So, these posers could totalify at will, hey? Handy; even Melodi and her dolly couldn’t stop tripping jigs. It was time they stopped playing… as soon as they’d switched back to green blindfolds.

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Thankfully, I do have time to answer that, not that my answer is likely to make much sense. Maybe it was because the Ravani respected Melodi. (Note the wishful thinking!) ot perhaps they just couldn’t sense her and didn’t know she was there. After all, they covered their eyes so they probably couldn’t see her physically, and we already know pieces of Melodi’s words slip through gaps in things, so why not? It could’ve been because like spooks, the Ravani drifted a little between Heavens, though the Ravani chose to. But it was much more likely it was because she wasn’t a warrior. Wearing a sword and waving it around doesn’t make you a warrior, or even waving a doll, however powerful it was. Melodi wasn’t waving a sword, so even a Psytopian gimp could tell she wasn’t a warrior, and no, as far as I know they didn’t actually have gimps in Psytopia. Perhaps on the Charcoal Plateau, but that’s another story… Plus there was the fact that she couldn’t strike them. That’s right; she was actually being straight with Remedy on that one; bunraku only worked on creatures with limited minds. Ergo, it didn’t work on beings who could slip into the trip without a second thought- that’s the ultimate state of being; that’s not child’s play. To trip by chance is one thing, especially if you play chance a lot, but doing so on a whim is like picking the winning lottery numbers and scoring a slot machine jackpot at the same time, every time… people who can do that kind of thing know something others don’t, or they’re cheating. The Ravani weren’t cheating- why hit those who can’t hit back? But nothing’s stopping Melodi getting caught in the cross-fire... RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Jigabyte swipes MISS! MISS! Remedy ducks and dives RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Jigabyte swings MISS! MISS! Remedy bobs and weaves REMEDY: Pivoting double-spin swoop (both blades) HIT! HIT! RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Cut chests RAVANI MASTER 1: Greentail jig (pot shot!) PARRIED! REMEDY: Cross-court smash HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Jig lodges in arm Return service! Psytopia Adagio 1

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That was more like it; you scrawl, you fall. Remedy rolled her shoulders, her brain finally catching up. She’d better keep asserting her step cycle because as far as Melodi’s calculations went, she had seven rounds before the fatal red blindfolds made an unwelcome reappearance. Remedy wasn’t even going to leave them time to drape green with white; let’s spin that cycle straight back, supercharged.

REMEDY: Overhead hoop (BA) MISS! RAVANI MASTER 2 hops backwards REMEDY: Backstroke loop (HJ) MISS! RAVANI MASTER 3 hops backwards RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Inside-out droops MISS! MISS! Remedy bobs and weaves RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Outside-in droops MISS! MISS! Remedy ducks and dives RAVANI MASTER 1: Whitetail jig (skimmer!) COUNTERED! MELODI: Raises Dolly’s arm Jig soars through a hole in the roof Ravani master one was still wondering where his jig had gone as the quintet switched formation; reorganising the star. Remedy and Melodi exchanging a series of points and waves. Doloroso’s arm still up in the air as if performing a Nazi salute. Waiting for them to tie their black blindfolds with a plan in mind. MELODI: Drops Doloroso’s arm White-tailed jig turns on its axis; down to earth HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Jig rips through thigh REMEDY: Leaping swoop (BA) HIT! RAVANI MASTER 4: Across shoulder REMEDY: Spinning loop (HJ) HIT! RAVANI MASTER 5: Across shoulder REMEDY: Up n’ under scoop (BA) HIT! RAVANI MASTER 2: midsection REMEDY: Spinning over n’ under hoop (HJ) HIT! RAVANI MASTER 3: Midsection Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy backward-rolled away as two black tailed jigs fell embarrassingly short. Now she was forcing them into mistakes. And have you noticed this battle and even these paragraphs have become a four-step affair? So go on; grab yellow blindfolds and counter, why don’t you? RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Jigabyte pangs MISS! MISS! Remedy side-steps this way and that RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigabyte tang MISS! Remedy ducks RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Yellow tailed… COUNTERED! REMEDY: Blitz break chain Overhead twirl (HJ) Backhand whirl (BA) Roundhouse curl (HJ) Backspin swirl (BA) PARRIED! RAVANI MASTER 2 PARRIED! RAVANI MASTER 3 PARRIED! RAVANI MASTER 4 PARRIED! RAVANI MASTER 5 Remedy flips the chain! Backspin swirl (BA) Roundhouse curl (HJ) Backhand whirl (BA) Overhead twirl (HJ) HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Left forearm slash HIT! RAVANI MASTER 4: Right forearm slash HIT! RAVANI MASTER 5: Left forearm slash HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Right forearm slash That’s reversed the tide of war in her favour! Masters with swords nursing injuries, jiggers at the back a-ok. Remedy set her stance set before the Ravani’s this time; a moment to listen to rain tinkling on her blades like impatient fingers on tabletops; signal to the blue girl; two crossed fingers. Three rounds before they unleashed their red verse; grail chains. Hurry up and get those purple blindfolds on! RAVANI MASTER 1: Staggers… You’re not gonna be swishin’ razortrims with battered arms... RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Weak-wristed ‘trim tugs PARRIED! Remedy soaks it up RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3: Purple-tail jigs (shifters!) COUNTERED! MELODI: Crosses Doloroso’s arms 2-HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Jigs thud into hands Own goal! Jigabyte blades fall like raindrops! Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remy spat wet hair from her mouth, watching master one like a hawk stalking a field mouse. It may seem cruel, but sometimes you can’t afford to play around; because sometimes field mice have pangy teeth. Four of the five were healthy enough to don orange blindfolds. Let’s pick off the stragglers! RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Overhead curls MISS! MISS! Remedy was already in their spheres REMEDY: Double bubble-scratch coils (both blades) FYI that’s a subtle in-sphere tech; blades stop-start, fast-slow Opponents don’t know what they’re getting ‘till they get it! 2-HIT! RAVANI MASTERS 4 & 5: Across chests RAVANI MASTER 1: Holds his bleeding hands open RAVANI MASTER 1: Accepting nod REMEDY: Leaping plunge HIT! RAVANI MASTER 1: Through chest OUT OF PLAY: becomes a misty raincloud RAVANI MASTERS 2 & 3 lower their whirlijigs

A Ravani master drifts into the Second Heaven If he/she/it/whatever wasn’t there already, Remedy stood her ground. One step back. The Ravani doing the same. Every point of the star bar one. The mist cloud which had once been a Ravani master dissipating into a spectrum of eight colours; fading to blue, rising to become one with the sky. The rain appearing to slow down or Remedy’s perception having sped up, or a bit of both. Drip-drop off Remedy’s trembling blades, drip-drop off Melodi’s drenched braids, drip-drop off the Ravani’s buzzing jigabytes. Aren’t you lot going to switch blindfolds any time soon? The answer was no. Because the Ravani were warrior types. And there’s something to note about warrior types. They respect each other.

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You see, dreamers didn't fear death. Not when they know they’re dreaming. On the contrary, they welcome it; as much a part of living as eating, drinking, bleeding, breathing. Better than that; waking. One warrior leaving the world, another taking their place.

The strike force backing off, retaining their formation as they faded back into the mists, their job done… theirs, at least. Melodi anxiously cuddling her doll to her chest. Remedy left bewildered amid the wilting slow-mo of the rain. “That’s it?”

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She was exempt from analysis from the beginning. So... could Remedy bring her back to the Academy for analysis soon?

*Remedy is developing a tactical mind. *I believe she might say something along the lines of:

*A reason to stay away from that brain-frying pyro junk? But don’t go getting any big ideas about yourself, OK? ”Looks like we’re safe after all.” Melodi watching the last of them make their gracious exits. Remedy shook her sleeves, all soaked and weighty. Tried to feel her little toes, all tense and numb. “If I ever wanna jive with zizsticks like them again, just kill moy first, K?.” “Now you’re using nasty words.” Remedy wearily sheathed her swords. “Well, we’s playin’ in a nasty world.” Melodi offered her a smile. That’s right; wonders will never cease. A smile and a flash of rainbow teeth. And then; what was that just after; a grimace?

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Remedy raised an eyebrow. Picked up on a sound. A voice familiar but… out of place. The sound of crying. Her audio faculties locked on the noise. Picked up, located and analysed. The sound of somebody in pain. And that was when her expression dropped... she’d know who it was any number of plates away. “Mojo!” Melodi had already heard it. Or saw it, tasted it, or whatever she did with those eyes of hers. Even Psytopians could see with their ears if they cared enough to listen; if you train hard, anything's possible; except perhaps cheating death. Remedy had really tried and really cared, and despite all her maverick tendencies, her free spirit and chaotic outlook (or maybe because of them) she’d gotten her head around two of the three Heavens now, if you’re keeping count, but whether or not you bob and weave those shots, the third one might just loop round and get you in the gut. They found Mojo on the other side of the necropolis. They found her propped up against a statue of an ancient whatever-in-was in some fancy courtyard. They found her in harsh contrast to its nimble one-legged pose and sparkly gold sari. They found her with her swords on the floor and a hole in her side, bleeding all over the intricately decorated wet stone floor. They found her close to the Third Heaven. And Remedy found her world brutally torn apart. Sinew from sinew. Limb from limb. Mainly because of this: Psytopia Adagio 1

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When Remedy found Mojo, she wasn’t quite dead yet. Gushing vermilion waves from her side like a tanker of pasta sauce flung against the rocks. She only had a few moments left. And fate had allowed her to spend them with the only person she’d wish to. When Remedy found Mojo, she couldn’t quite believe the sight. Weeping down her face as if her eyes were a pair of burst drainage pipes. She only had a few moments to cling to her. Fate had been equally cruel and kind. When Remedy found Mojo, the rest fell aside. Like daydreams retreating into the mist. No time to play the leader. Time wasn't the kindest thing she had. “Mojo…” Remedy’s face a mess of tears. Her voice reduced to a timid quiver. Her palms reaching desperately to plug the wound. Her eyes darting this way and that, trying to psyche the mammoth slice back together. A sword slice. A slick slice. A lethal slice. A game-changing one. Remedy nodding her head towards Melodi, prompting her to help stem the blood. Psytopia Adagio 1

572


A sigh from the blue girl, because she really was sorry this time. Not that she’d done it, but because she couldn’t stop it. Stemming hands and plugging wounds and the fading dream of hope are all well and good, but death slipped by even her; couldn’t even see her. But she’d help even when help was hopeless, because as far as her limited understanding went, that’s what friends do. A stream of blood. A surge of blood. A deluge of the stuff. Remedy and Melodi kneeling by her, precious liquid sneaking through their pressing fingers. “Remy…” Mojo’s face a wash of blood. Her voice reduced to a faltering shudder. Her palms wrapping messily around Remedy’s wrists. Her eyes drifting shut, accepting the numbness, urging Remedy to stop helping her and start holding her.

But while we still have the chance…

A blitzblade. A no-holds-barred party girl. But during her travels in the wide, wild world, she’d realised the value of who she was and what she missed. Who she missed. And of course, why. We all know why by now, don’t we? Let’s not say it, since it's a word which shatters hearts in circumstances like this. That word which despite possessing a mere four letters is always so unbearably large. -Her lookShe had neck-length black hair, drenched in blood. She had one red iris, one black, drenched in blood. She was so drenched in blood it was difficult to tell much more. Psytopia Adagio 1

573


-Her getupBlack shoulderless vinyl top over mesh vest, drenched in blood. Black flamy cargos, drenched in blood. Blood or no blood, there isn’t much point describing her now. She’s about to pass into the Third Heaven; just don’t tell Remedy she can’t go with her. Because that’d be… crueler? Her swords:

I could describe it… But it’s drenched in blood and it’s just lying absently somewhere, tinkling in the rain and people are focused on other things.

Blood… discarded… I’m not going to bother. Remedy smiled. A get-out clause. “Mel; you'se got some crafty trick to fix this, right?” “Well...” Remedy scowled. “A crafty, snazzy trick.” “Remedy, there's no crafty tricks that can...” “You have a trick, Melodi… you must...” Remedy sobbing. One side of her face pleased to be close to Mojo again… The other knowing these were stolen moments about to expire. Sobbing… grinning… batted painfully between the two extremes. Her hands plugging. Her thoughts racing. Her heart cranking up the beat like a turbo-powered sub woofer. Helplessness becoming anger as it swirled in her torso like a hula-hoop. Psytopia Adagio 1

574


Remedy smiled. Get-out clause two. “The Ravani. We’ll get the Ravani.” “How can they help?” Remedy scowled. “They can turn back time.” “Nobody can reverse it long enough to bring a person back…” She glanced up at the statue onto which Mojo’s blood was so mercilessly splattered, her chest thumping with more beats per moment than it was naturally inclined. 25 BPM Remedy sobbing. Clutching Mojo around the shoulders and head. Each passing moment jabbing her on its way by like a dagger in the heart. Sobbing… grinning… as each wonderful moment of holding her… passed. 50 BPM. Her tears streaming. Her head spinning. Her heart clanking through the gears like a rusted 4x4. Becoming precarious as it rose; that 4x4 clambering up a rocky hill, forever threatening to fall. 100 BPM. “Remy.” Mojo squeezed her wrists. Pulled her down. Opened her hands and linked their fingers. Let the blood seep away. 200 BPM. “Remy. ’Tis dandy.” She pressed her temple against Remedy’s chin and held her hand tight. “’Tis not dandy.” Remedy went to unlock their fingers to get back to the wound. Mojo tied them straight back up. 400 BPM.

Psytopia Adagio 1

575


“Remy.” She pressed her cheek against Remedy’s jaw and held her fingers tighter. Remedy struggled to disentangle them. Hindered by the gory slip of the blood. A battle brewing between those two sets of fingers. “I can stop the...” 800… “Remy!” Mojo pressed her cheek against Remedy’s. Squeezed her hands as tight as she was able. Calmed her with confidence. Teeth clenched, eyes clenched, hands clenched, so far from that wound… that terrible wound... 400 BPM. “Oh Mojo…” Remedy’s heart slowed down, meeting Mojo’s in the middle. Tears mixing with blood, tumbling in twisted unison to the ground below. Fingers squeezing each other eagerly between pasty little squelches of bloody, teary goo. Life and death and the dream they shared in the gaps between.

You may have noticed than Psytopians had a tradition of holding wrists rather than hands. This was a gesture of reassurance; of friendship or support. Psytopians held wrists to say they were sorry. To say they had your back. To say don’t worry. Psytopians only held hands when they were betrothed. You know; linked at lip and hip for ever and ever. And betrothment only took a simple kiss on the mouth. As long as it was accepted, of course. Holding hands was akin to holding hearts. Plus, the interlinking of fingers was considered highly sexual. They indicated other uses of those digits. Mojo was past the point of caring whether such things were PC or not, and where love was supposed to sit in the order of things. Sneaking between the gaps and pushing it all apart. Psytopia Adagio 1

576


Melodi sat back and tried to look the other way. She usually found that easy; maybe even she was growing up. They all knew it was fruitless, and the blue girl being here in their sphere seemed wrong. She might even shed a tear before Mojo breathed her last in this world, but let’s try to avoid that shall we?

Mojo held Remedy close. “’Tis dandy Remy, moy sparkly lickle clove.” Remedy held back. “’Tisn’t dandy...” Maybe it wasn’t altogether dandy, but at this point it was somewhat unavoidable. Mojo rubbed Remedy’s cheek with her own. “It's OK siz. I’s passing somewhere spangly.” Remedy’s tears dripped over her upturned lip like water over the edge of a fall. “I want to be there too.” “You are.” She closed her eyes and kissed Remedy’s lips.

Mojo’s hold became weaker. Remedy’s tears splashing on her girlfriend’s eyelids like hands on bongos. Like petals on grass. Like rain on stones. Remedy held Mojo’s hands tighter. Willing her back from the brink like a fish on a reel. Like a fallen rock climber on a rope. Like a dream in the harsh light of a new day. And that was what it’d been, hadn’t it? So much more than life. Psytopia Adagio 1

577


The dreams of how things had been, what they'd meant and why they hadn’t realised sooner. The finishing of each other’s crackpot sentences. The mock sword fights in which they’d swish and swirl in mutual admiration and end up laughing until they cried. The way they’d thrilled, entertained and delighted each other as fluidly and innocently and spectacularly as two people could… Until the wide, wild world ripped it all away.

Mojo’s grip weaker. Remedy’s grip tighter. The last breaths they had together as they rose and fell. Until Remedy was the only one doing any holding at all.

She cried at first; a subtle sob. Holding the vessel of her absent dream close to her cheek as the world continued to pass by. As if the most horrific thing which could befall a person hadn’t just happened. As it it had happened so easily or quickly or insubstantially that the wide, wild world could just pause a breath then carry on. Well it hadn’t been easy or quick or unsubstantial to her. And the big dipper pang was that because it hadn’t been those things to her, it must’ve been real. Psytopia Adagio 1

578


Psytopia Adagio 1

579


She cried at first, and held and squeezed and shuddered. A bone-jangling shiver. Holding her eyes shut, knowing time would start again when she opened them. As if jamming them closed would keep it frozen forever a moment ago when they were close and together and happy. She cried at first. A stream of private tears. Holding the moment, kissing her girl here and there; cheek, temple, eyelids, lips. As if she’d find a place she could kiss which would bring her back. But she didn’t want her to come back. Not from there. Not from the Third Heaven, where she was safe and warm and at ease with the breeze. But she didn’t want to carry on alone either, so when Melodi leant a sympathetic wrist tug... “Get off.” Remedy with one eye open. There was no holding time back now. Melodi retracted her hand. Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do?

She pushed her away and then held onto her; Melodi just about managing to hold back. “Moy Mojo…” Remedy smiled at the memory, grimaced at the loss. Tears or no tears, she wasn’t quite sure if she was happy or sad. Psytopia Adagio 1

580


Happy? *Mojo didn’t have to suffer in this place anymore. She’d no longer bleed. She’d no longer cry. She’d no longer get so close to the most wonderful thing in the wide, wild world only to have it torn violently away. *Mojo didn’t need to be tethered to this world anymore. She’d no longer be held down. She’d no longer be held back. She’d no longer have to spin and spin until her knees and ankles gave way to reach totality, because she was already there.

Sad? *Remedy’s sweet, tangy, minty clove wasn’t with her anymore. Melodi wasn't quite sure what to do. Grin and bear it? Maybe think of Remedy like a second Doloroso; cradle her? So it's lucky that love or insanity, or whatever you want to call it can help you believe things like this:

Yes, Psytopians had a very positive view of death. This was probably why they called it ‘passing’ instead. It can be a good thing; liberadade! You just have to swallow your pride, take the pain on the chin, forget about how death affects you and think about how it affects the one who’s doing the dying. So you feel happy about it. And you smile. But it was while Remedy was allowing herself one last hold of Mojo's hand and one last smile by her side that she found herself absent mindedly studying the slice across Mojo’s midsection. Because swordstrils know their cuts. It wasn’t a Ravani blade. Too broad. It wasn’t a brute blade. Too slick. It wasn’t a breezy blade. Too stern. In fact, judging by the depth, the slide, the breadth and the frill, there was only one blade it could have been... Psytopia Adagio 1

581


“Azrael.” Remedy cracked her teeth like crunching a pack of frozen peas. She clenched her fists as if squeezing udders. She tensed her body as if tightening a series of knots. Love membrane, hate membrane, fury membrane. Before she stomps off and starts killing people, here’s the maths: Death is a necessary consequence of life, so it’d be stupid to be afraid of it, but when somebody chooses to turn life into death… Then taking away their choice to live or die seems a pretty fair course of action, for triangular thinkers, at least. One more thing left to do; one more DIY assignment brief. Remedy pieced it together as they sat watching the funeral pyre ebb in the rain, somehow keeping it all in… one-pointed control. It was a peaceful passing, that is, minus the unforeseen fight, the mortal wound and the bleeding to death. But it was peaceful because as Mojo passed, she’d had what she wanted. Remedy was pleased for her. She couldn’t think about herself. What kind of lover does that? So she stood there in the rain as the pyre ebbed away and the corners of her mouth twitched with a mixture of sorrow and rage. Remedy let the rat-a-tat beat down on her head and shoulders. Listened to it tinkling on Mojo’s swords, peeking out of the stone where she had placed them; cooling them down. On her own swords, warming them up. Guiding her to the Third Heaven- maybe guiding both of them. Remedy felt the tears trickle in the rain; the whole plate weeping for her girl. Melodi meekly waiting by her side, the future clear to both. She wasn’t interested in directing any more funerals. But there was one more which she really needed to bring about… Psytopia Adagio 1

582


Remedy would’ve noticed the tranquil silence of the Green Plateau… If she wasn’t angry. If she wasn’t broken. If her guts and soul and sanity hadn’t been tied up in the clinging vines of tragedy and hurled over the edge of a sheer precipice like an aimless hang glider onto which somebody had foolishly forgotten to attach wings. Remedy would’ve set up camp here among the colourful flowers below and lights above… If she wasn’t on a mission. If she wasn’t lost. If her heart hadn’t been hacked at with a blunt flint, torn out of her ribcage, impaled on a spike and paraded through Psytopia like a picketing miner’s placard carried tiredly through the streets to be presented to a premier who’d decided his position was safe enough to ignore public opinion and close the pit anyway. Remedy would’ve noticed the skid and scuff marks ploughed through the fruit beds… If she wasn’t incensed. If she wasn’t devastated. If her life hadn’t been flipped upside down, turned inside out, ripped to shreds, kicked into the dirt, stamped to sludge, buried, spat on, dug up and thrown into a car crusher for good measure. Yes, Remedy wasn’t in the best frame of mind. The angry squints. The distressed tears. One eye squints, the other tears; unsure which was more fitting.

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No, Remedy wasn’t turning green and wearing nothing but inexplicably undamaged denim shorts yet, but she was getting there; still keeping the rage boiling under, but not far under. All of which meant that Melodi had to step up and play the calming influence. I know that’s a bad idea but I don’t have much left to work with. So the blue girl carried on after her… at a distance.

Stamp, squelch, stamp, squelch. Remedy stomping through the muddy fields with loss and murder in mind. Because killing Azrael would bring Mojo back? Because killing Azrael would make her feel better. “Remy!” As far as Melodi was concerned, she could kill Azrael all she wanted, if only she’d go about it a little slower. “What?” She carried on stomping; the force and rhythm kind of helped. Her clothes illuminated green under a string of lights. Her blue friend playing catch-up. Remedy was leading now alright; maybe not to a good place. “Wait for me!” Obadiah would have noticed the peaceful quiet of the Green Plateau… If he wasn’t hungry. If he wasn’t so eager to get home. If his internal organs weren’t crying out for food and rest like the inmates of a remote island jail forgotten by the world in the wake of some messy holocaust, clanging their cages, shrieking their curses, squeezing their emaciated bodies through the bars and eventually turning to cannibalism.

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584


Yes, Obadiah wasn’t in the best frame of mind. The audible stomach rumbles. The trudging feet. One foot after another, unsure how long he could continue.

No, Obadiah wasn’t going to shrink down to Lou Ferrigno size yet, but he was getting there. All of which meant that Mana had to step up and share some survival tips. I know that’s a bad idea too but as I say, I don’t have much else to work with... So the mute boy carried on after the reptile… quick as his clogs could carry him.

And Mana would have noticed the swirly blade marks in the soil… If he wasn’t pre-occupied. If he wasn’t exhausted. If his legs didn’t feel like they ‘d been surgically removed, placed on a race horse for a week, sanded down to the bones, lazered back on and put through their paces on a nuclear powered running machine on a setting labelled ‘cataclysmic’. Stomp, pitter, squelch, patter. Obadiah stamping through the muddy fields, too disoriented to even notice there was probably perfectly good fruit hereabouts. Mana’s maths also muddled, and struggling with the pace. Maybe they’d be headed the right way if they had a leader. Psytopia Adagio 1

585


“…” As far as Mana was concerned, they were lost. But like I say, his maths felt muddled, and if Obi would just give him a moment; because it was a familiar muddle… “Hurry!” Obadiah carried on stamping. His scales illuminated blue under a string of lights. His small friend gesturing fruitlessly to stop. If only he could speak…

Unfortunately, communication requires one other element. Listening. And Remedy wasn’t doing much of that. Stamp, squelch, stomp; all the while growing more and more frustrated. Until she heard a suspicious noise and pressed herself up against a fruit shed. Waving Melodi on to join her, unsheathing her swords. Bathed in blazing white light. Oh-oh, here they go again…

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Unfortunately, mindfulness requires other elements. Like maintaining your composure. And Obadiah wasn’t doing very well at that. Stomp, squelch, stomp... Until he sensed a suspicious presence and pressed himself up against a fruit shed. Waving Mana on to join him, drawing his sword. Bathed in neon red light. Oh-oh, headed for yet another brawl?

“You hear something?” Melodi shook her head. Paranoia brought on by distress? But Remedy knew better. “Sense?” Mana couldn’t sense anything but fruit beds. Hallucinations brought on by hunger? But Obadiah knew better. Remedy prepared to pounce like a big cat shadowing a little goat, all alone and forlorn… maybe wearing a tied-on mask with Azrael’s face on it, just to make defending herself worthwhile. Obadiah readied himself for a tired lunge like an overworked paramedic with defibrillators, watching another patient flatline. “You cover.” Remedy off the starting blocks first. Any rag-tags left, take note; this lot might just kill each other. Remedy had led Melodi to the cover of the next fruit shed. Like moving from behind one shield to the next in a game of space invaders; the pair shadowed in mooted black light. Obadiah had led Mana to the cover of the next fruit shed. Like moving from between one tree and the next in a game of paintball; the pair bathed in neon orange light. And it was then that Mana and Melodi both noticed something… Psytopia Adagio 1

587


A machine chugging away in the fruit shed. A machine which had sprouted pipes, pumps and pistons. An arcane, steam-belching machine. Juddering, shuddering, stuttering and stammering away. A complex, chaotic contraption from another age. An age of gene smelting and vice extraction and all those freaky things. An age probably best forgotten. “What the hack’s that jack?” Melodi stared at it as if she had seen a ghost. Or many… “It’s a tayū machine.” “Like I says, ‘what the hack’s that?” “It's what they controlled the überbeasts with in the old times.” Remedy struggled to hear the rag-tags through the contraption's chugging sound; like making a phone call on a demolition site. “So does this thing turn back time?”

Melodi rolled her eyes; you can’t turn back time; only a click. If you could turn back time, do you think Melodi would be here right now; do you think she’d even bother being born? She’d make a hell of a lot of different choices, that’s for sure; a whole hell of hells- hells you can raise; history you can’t. And if only people left the past where it was, the whole wild world would be a hell of a lot simpler.

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A body lying in the middle of a fruit field. A body splattered with blood and bile, and beheaded. An Anarchist’s body. Diced, sliced, slashed and severed. A cruelly cut corpse who’s owner had passed to another Heaven.

You see: Flowers, mud, a corpse. Visible exits are: Back the way you came, on into the unknown. What shall we do? What shall we do?

Come on space face; even you’ve learned thinking solo gets you nowhere in the wide, wild world.

Help menu: You are little pyronette Mana. You have strength small but calculative power gauge high. All enemy base may belong to you. Press X to attack Press Y to defend Press A to investigate Press B to see plateau map Mana’s inner tapalogue served him well.

>PRESSES A< There were still some rag-tags on the Green Plateau. And yet Remedy and Obadiah were busily stalking each other. Thinking about it; doing the maths; rag-tags didn’t stalk much. So Mana did his adorable best to hold the lizard back.

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589


Remedy took a sly peer around the shed wall. “The next one’s broken.” Squashed in fact; like it had been flattened by a steam roller… or two overly excitable swordstrils. Melodi smelling numbers in the air... Obadiah sneaked a swift glance around the shed wall. “Next broken.” Battered, in fact; as if it had been wrecked by a shower of bullets… or a nifty brute übertek. Mana counting colours… Remedy launching into a balletic spin towards the last shed. Obadiah lurching into a vicious charge… Two little sidekicks yanking them back. Not enough to hold them back, but enough to tug away a step of their pace, and thus enough to avert yet another disaster. “Yipes!” “Hmmm?” Swordstril and parahack face to face, blade to blade. Just avoiding going head to head.

“Obi?” “Remedy?” Mana nudged Obadiah, counting frantically on his fingers. Melodi nudged Remedy, pointing frantically with hers.

Psytopia Adagio 1

590


Remedy went to hug the big scaly beastie, thought better of it, settled for a clash of swords instead. “Wandered you’se ways to this pliz too, huh?” But the Melodi and Mana aren’t pointing at you two… Wasn’t there a dictum about looking around you… or you’ll just get sliced to shreds?

Judgements like… drones are only wired up to do one thing?

Rag-tags liked to kill people; we’ve established that already. Now, technically rag-tags didn’t like anything; depends how you tug their blood. They didn’t have thoughts and feelings, just an automated tayū machine to simulate that stuff for them. They followed the zeroes and ones in their bloodstreams. Gardening, loitering, homicide… They’d been put together back when farmers first started growing fruit here; when soldiers needed feeding on the front. Rag-tags had originally been designed as scarecrows; to put off rebels rather than crows, but how the times had a-changed! Valhalla had used the tayū to make them anaquistas, and if they weren’t fending off swordstrils while he cavorted with his girl back at the mill…they made themselves useful in the flowerbeds. Droning into them and re-programming was a mug’s game. But the wide, wild world was full of dangerous practices. You don’t even want to know how necropoli were made… But here they were; blood-stained hoods, wheezy groans, savage sythes… gardening. It’s a pretty nifty last stand really; doesn’t involve them being reduced to scraps. “They’s… pruning flowers.” Confused fresher. “Trickery.” Gruff reptilian. “That’ll help us get by them.” Unusually rosy blue girl. “Candy… sapphire...” Cautious leader; a fresher no more? Psytopia Adagio 1

591


Suspicious eyes jabbing at Melodi. Blood-lusting rag-tags straightening twisted petals. Remedy was pretty certain leaders headed threats off at the pass, and squibs didn’t landscape in her book. “What did you do to them Melodi?” Oh-oh; what happened to the sprite who cried spook? “They’re gardening; minding their own business.” “Like hack they are.” Remedy started stomping; about to throttle her. “They are; look at them.” Squeezing that dolly harder, gloves about to burst into… Actually, it wouldn’t be friendly to tug Remedy’s bones would it? “What did you do?” Remedy with really quite unfriendly hands around her throat. lifting her six inches off her feet, Doloroso cast limp on the floor. You trust someone for one measly sliver of a click… “Remedy, stop; what did I do?” Remedy’s little finger claw digging into the blue girl’s cheek; she didn’t want to bleed now, did she? “Diablo.” Obadiah’s two cents. Mana was also calculating some mischievous maths at play. “You crooked their gekky cocos somehow, didn’t you?” “I thought you were my… friend...” Remedy’s expression looped the loop. Flipped. Switched. Bone-tugged in a certain direction? No, just a realisation of where her head was headed. Somewhere irresponsible… so she let Melodi go and took a breath, which usually alerted spooks rather than averted them. “I’m… sorry.” Blitzblade head in her hands, the wildness of the world and all the nasty surprises in it not having caught up with her yet. Breeze quick, candy cane, because that’s one nasty train wreck coming up behind you. And blue girl holding her neck, retrieving her dolly, and for once in her life not grabbing the easy option of tossing her assailant’s soul into the nearest hell in an overblown effort to protect herself. What was this fresh, new feeling; forgiveness? Psytopia Adagio 1

592


“She’s a diablo”. Obadiah would throttle her himself. “No. No she’s not.” Remedy stood in the way. To Mana, four added together is better than divided in any case. “She’s no diablo, whatever that is; and she didn’t do anything.” Eye to eye; orange trim and tick/yoke, deep haze blue. A smile, maybe; in the eyes if not the lips... maybe. Wow; Obadiah had thought these two would be dead by now but here they were, grown up. “Psytopians...” Melodi and Mana exchanging nods; mites reunited. But Remedy, leader and all, keen to lay out some ground rules. “Mel; I believe you’se, K? Whatever hacky clank’s got those squib-jacks tenderised is pangy with moy, but...” “I’ll follow the rules.” “But you’se a tricksy sprite so I’s gotta be sure; no coco trippin’.” “They don’t really have... cocos...” “No puppetting; squibs, shards, the dead...” “I can’t bring back the dead.” She stopped for a moment; bad choice- made her feel bad… “I knows you can’t.” Remedy held her wrist, “or you’se would’ve.” “Diablos are an easier...” “No.” A crumpled up blue face meant the leader had spoken, and you know what; she made sense. Remedy was an open-minded girl, but she drew the line at… dead things, or undead things, or never-having-lived things. So let’s not make the glum girl glummer by assuming the worst. No playing with people’s bones, hearts or cocos, unless absolutely necessary, so let’s just hope Melodi never gets into a deep hole, back against the wall, life and death and has to unleash Zarathustra-knows-what on this little green hell of ours.

I may have confused things a little by saying there were three heavens in Psytopia. I wasn’t lying, I was merely demonstrating the power of social conditioning; you see, Academy teachings are based on the notion of progress; achievement and reward. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Do a good job and you’ll pass to the Third Heaven, because you’ll be fulfilled- what’s more fulfilling than doing a good job? The Academy didn’t even have a word for ‘hell’. The power of positive thinking! In actual fact, there were six heavens and six hells, and here and there they overlapped. There were possibly a couple of others which we can’t adequately comprehend as well. In any case, we’re probably better off steering clear of hells altogether; after all that’s why Bunrakai and Yokairakai like Melodi held their breath. Hellbound spooks can’t see you… and neither can anyone else. I'm talking both the dead and the diablos, because they are different things, and the thing is you can’t fool the dead, because they’ve lived a little, you know. I won’t tell you how other doll arts like Sarugaku, Yokairaku or Nekraku worked because Remedy’s set a ground rule. Melodi would restrain herself; a novel concept. There are probably a few yokai loose in the wide, wild world. Left there when amateur ether tuggers died on the job. Look at the oni on the Black Plateau; infested with the things. But don’t blame yokairakai for the translucent plate's spooks... That was the appliance of science. She’d keep them to herself, but Melodi knew her hells and was starting to get to know her heavens; other people? So let’s recap, because that’s what Remedy did, like a pro; like a leader; about the crones and the Ravani and Azrael and… Mojo. Yes, even about Mojo, with her small blue friend even managing a supportive hold of the wrist. And as well as recap, she planned; that’s what leaders do. Strategy, contingency and the drum-thumping inspiration of leading them into the trenches, first one over, last one to leave, because it isn’t riches or authority which makes people follow, it’s just being yourself. Every story needs a heroine. Heroes and heroines; these roles evolve in the fullness of time. Or decay; take your pick. Because change is the only thing that always happens, whatever you do. Remedy had rolled with the punches. Dragged herself through the dirt. Taken the changes on the chin, to the head and the heart. And that was how she became the heroine. Psytopia Adagio 1

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So we’ve come to the end of the line. It's been fun, hasn’t it? Adventures, mysteries, sex and violence… But have we learnt anything? I mean apart from the obvious. That we’re brought up with high ideals and a certain structure of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong… Then the wide, wild world comes along, smashes those assumptions to pieces and shows us life isn’t really like that. And worse still, that we have to choose for ourselves how our existences pan out. We haven’t learnt anything other than that? Oh well. But isn’t there one little thing we have left to do before we go back to the black and white, good and evil, right and wrong of our own wideish, wildish little worlds and forget any of this fantasy nonsense ever happened? Something important… Oh yes. We have to witness the momentous final battle between good and evil… and all that stuff. Let’s check in with the villains first, shall we? Only because that’s not the way it should be done… Just so we’re clear: The heroes REMEDY= Still open minded and wild at heart, although a little more responsible. OBADIAH= Still big, still ambling, still hungry, still tired. MANA= Still inexperienced… but getting there. MELODI= Still a bit of a mystery… The villains AZRAEL= A totally different person to who he was. CORONA= The same crafty temptress as ever. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And all of them victims. Victims of what? Of the wide, wild world of course. Aren’t we all? Corona never considered herself a victim. She had a choice like everybody else. To be the user or the used. Guess which one she went for? She lay there not quite moving. Not even needing to. Stoking the fire of Azrael’s fantasies as she slept. All tantalising curves and tactically placed scabbards.

Swordstrils were taught not to sleep. That didn’t mean they couldn’t, it just meant their superiors didn’t want them to. Now why would that be? Look, this is chapter 14 or 15 or thereabouts; I’m not going to throw any huge conspiracies into the mix at this stage. But I will say this; we learn a lot from our sleep; from dreams. We learn to see things in a new light. As our brains offset the cogs that govern our usual thought processes and brush away the rust. Things like the ego or the id or whatever you want to call it. Training one’s body and mind to revitalise without sleep is fantastic for practical means; no fantasy to distract you. Plus it means there are literally twenty four hours in your day! (Or around eighteen if you’re calculating in rounds) Think of how much you could do with those lost hours! Only a dirty, nasty, evil Anarchist would sleep, dream and waste time by choice. The Ravani seemed like a pretty enlightened race, didn’t they? And they dreamt all the time, even when awake. Perhaps somebody wanted swordstrils to be able to think clearly at all times, or perhaps they didn’t want them to dream. Perhaps they didn’t want them to become enlightened… Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael was watching her. Of course he was watching her, as if his mind was linked up to another funky bastardised bunraku machine. She wielded him just like a blade. Knew all his stabs, his slashes, his slices and swirls. She just lay there half way between the First and Second Heavens, dreaming about all manner of twisted things. They generally involved fighting, fucking and a combination of the two. The corners of her mouth sneaking sly smiles as her fingers mimicked her musings. I didn’t say dreams were all flowery and innocent did I; I just said they’re a playground where your brain can scribble and sketch.

Gladly, they didn’t have necrophilia in Psytopia. So Corona was contemplating inventing it. Not for any old corpse mind you; only for one. It wasn’t like she was gay or anything. I mean if a sheath doesn’t have a sword it's not gonna pang very hard, is it? Plus, they didn’t have homosexuality in Psytopia. A shame Remedy and Mojo hadn’t had the chance to invent it. Perhaps she and Corona could clash heads and invent together. Your loved one is only a cremation sheet away from pleasing you again anyway. Rest assured, Remedy and Corona were about to clash heads. But there’s unlikely to be anything sexual about it. In any case, Mojo’s weren’t the cremation sheets Corona was thinking about. It was Mikado’s, of course. Why? 1. She was Azrael’s girl. 2. She was such a sweet, innocent thing. 3. She was everything Corona wasn’t. 4. And Corona liked to soil sweet, innocent things. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The pyro sheet formed at Mikado’s cremation would make a great sex toy. And no, they didn’t have sex toys in Psytopia either. Corona had pretty much invented those already. But Mikado wasn’t a swordstril, was she? They’d buried her. She could always track down the corpse, dig it up, sever a hand and use that. Or better still, get him to. That’d make her hot. Azrael had already been irreverent enough to lose that pyro ring in places less wholesome than his bethrothment finger, to which she’d had to muffle a satisfied snigger. As he twiddled his chivalry away. Not that Corona hated Mikado. Actually she never learnt her name. Corona was clearly quite a sick girl. But was she happy? She was stimulated; is that enough? Not because she loved Azrael. What does that mean? In fact she was getting tired of him already. How long can you screw a nut before the head starts to get all knackered? No, Corona just wanted to make Azrael as dirty as she could possibly imagine. Because come on, what would you prefer; water fight or mud fight? And don’t be all chivalrous now… But Azrael wasn’t quite dirty enough yet. Still had a lot to learn. Of course, Azrael didn’t quite know how dark his new girlfriend's fantasies got. I’m assuming he thought that was what she was, because he still has a lot to learn. He blamed Mikado; that sweet, fluffy, hands off, step by step, safety first way of her’s… and his… so frustrating it makes you just want to rip it up and… rip it up and… hang on; this ripping part if the most fun of all. Corona was gradually coaxing Azrael towards her highly dubious way of thinking... Azrael didn't do much thinking while he was with Corona at all. Pfft. Men; sonhos cor-de-rosa. Why did this girl tempt him so, just lying there limp? Bold, bare, rough and naked like the cutting edge of a blade? Psytopia Adagio 1

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Swords should be left in their sheaths when not in use. That way they stay clean.

The dirtier the blade, the more people it's brought to their knees. He thought about Mikado. Not in the same way as Corona was thinking about her, mind. He thought about Mikado. What had he done? To take something so precious and tear in apart like a wild dog pulling a cute bunny apart as if it was a pre-packaged ready meal. That’s wrong, isn’t it? But why is the prospect of doing something wrong so alluring? Bunnies are pre-packaged ready meals... The helpless squeak. The desperate little eyes. The vivid splatter of red blood on white fur. The tuneful crunch of organs between one’s teeth as the poor thing whimpers its last.

No, Azrael was pretty clear on why he’d killed his girlfriend. Because he couldn’t bear for things to change? Because he couldn’t allow her to have her own opinions for fear that she’d not choose him? Because he was afraid his heart was stuck magnetically to hers and couldn't be free again? Psytopia Adagio 1

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And because that ripping things up… the bloody bunny effect. I may be overdoing the metaphors, but you can only bloody a bunny once, because bunnies tend to break under that pressure. So he killed his girlfriend because she had power over him; you can’t very well bloody a bunny when it’s staring forlorn at you. But really be killed his girlfriend because if you shut your eyes and just bump off that bunny, it isn’t staring at you anymore. He felt for squeaky clean bunny eyes, but he really got excited by Corona’s dirt. Her sass? Her vigour? Her depravity? The danger. The damage. The fact that everything about her was oh-so wrong. Made every moment of wanting her feel oh-so right.

They aren’t necessarily meant to be stabbed in the gut. Everything Azrael had been taught round after round after countless round, nonchalantly screwed up and punted into the nearest dumpster without a second thought. By one gutsy girl and her… other organs. He thought these things as she wriggled to and fro. Her wry grin not unlike a curved blade. Teasing with those sheaths, stroking against her thighs just enough to kick-start his imagination. Who’s the bunny in booting range again? She could go and get the severed ex-girlfriend limbs now… Psytopia Adagio 1

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Nice girl. Nice. Sweet. Dutiful. Innocent. The kind of girl you’d take home to meet your parents… if you had any. Soft and smooth as a butter knife. You can’t cut your finger on a butter knife. So whatever way you slice it, you’re safe. Mikado was the kind of thing you could love for ever unless you get freaked by that stuff, but aw; the bunny eyes...

Nasty girl. Like a sword. An object. A tool. Not even a good sword. Not even an elegant one, but hard, sharp; effective. She was the kind of sword you pick up when you're getting your innards char-grilled by a psychotic pyronette and you just need something… anything close to hand with which you could put a hole in his oh-so piercable skin and let that star field flow out into unrecognisable goo on the battlefield floor. You can’t cut your finger on a butter knife. But you can’t very well cut anything else either. So why do people choose poison over medicine? Because people like to see in black and white. And if niceness doesn’t work, nastiness surely will! And because people are lazy. They’ll pet the bunny, but having to keep it safe all the time? That’s not so cool; not so alluring. (Of course, there’s the option of growing up and no longer seeing in black and white…) But anyway, poison is cool. He touched her bare hip and watched her wince a little. Just enough to let him know she was aware he was touching her and could go ahead. That nothing he could do would startle her because let's face it, he was hardly likely to stir her. Hate to say it Azrael, but you weren’t the one who woke Corona up; the footsteps were. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Four sets; one heavy, one average, one light, one barely existent at all, coming down the gravel path towards the paste mill, and well in a keen swordstril's ear shot. Corona shot up like a vampire from a coffin, evading a plunging stake. Went for the window first, her clothes second, and sure enough. “We’s got visitors.” He watched with a sneer as she yanked up her cargos and buckled her boots. Foot up on the wall by his head as she kitted up, just so he'd hear every snap, click and tug. Teasing him like a candy bar waved at a rotund kid who hadn't yet cottoned on to the fact that excessive consumption of calories results in the grotesque acceleration of obesity. He watched her with rousing daydreams in mind; the perverted ideas of little red devils on shoulders… “Yo’ aliados are here Azrael.” “I don’t have any…” He ignored the footsteps and slid a hand around her hip. Snaking fingers beginning to fight with her, undoing the buttons she'd just secured. “Hack off, squip.” A firm removal of the hand was enough to keep him in line. To show him when Corona wanted to play, they’d play… But when she was dressed for business… Azrael held himself together. Her assertiveness another reminder of why he was with her… or maybe why he still had a lot to learn. Corona was already stomping towards the door. “You stay here. I’s gwan blunt these plods.”

A gorgeous leafy grotto not unlike a Scottish Glenn, the Emerald Plateau offers…

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Remedy wasn’t interested in the natural treasures of the Emerald Plateau. There was only one tourist attraction she was interested in. Only one activity she was signing herself up for. And it was very far from natural. It was a tourist attraction she’d have to put together herself. With a little help from her friends. A place where swordstrils would come to pay homage for many rounds to come. She could see it now…

A place of natural beauty. Idyllic calm. Wide-eyed happiness. Yeah that was moy drum ya blocky squib, ‘till ya ground it into the dirt like a diptrunk cottage under the gangly hoof of an übersaur. This memorial is designed to commemorate where I booted your backside so many shades of blue I could bury you face first in the cyan desert and you’d immediately be lost in the swirls. Where I mashed your skull so deep into the ground it burst into ethereal flame. Where I sliced you into so many pretty lickle triangles I could make a map of the plates with chunks of your gekky flesh. That’s right Azrael; passing is too good for ya. Prepare to die. 1 Psytopian dollar to spit on Azrael’s ash sheets. Actually, you can do it for free. No blind adherence to the dictums. No insistence on orthodoxy. No killing of anybody’s girlfriends. Plenty of skewering square-laced blunt’s teeth out of their mouths.

^The above is heartily encouraged. Remy would’ve noticed the tranquil quiet of the Emerald plate… If she wasn’t angry. If she wasn’t broken. If her guts and soul and sanity hadn’t been tied up in the clinging vines of tragedy and hurled over the edge of a sheer precipice like an aimless hang glider onto which somebody had foolishly forgotten to attach wings. Psytopia Adagio 1

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She would’ve set up camp here among the colourful flowers and twinkling streams. If she wasn’t on a mission. If she wasn’t lost. If her heart hadn’t been hacked at with a blunt flint, torn out of her ribcage, impaled on a spike and paraded through Psytopia like a picketing miner’s protest sign carried tiredly through the streets to be presented to a state premier who’d already decided his position was safe enough to ignore public opinion and close the pit anyway. And she would’ve noticed the plush plants and lush vistas. If she wasn’t incensed. If she wasn’t devastated. If her life hadn’t been flipped upside down, turned inside out, ripped to shreds, kicked into the dirt, stamped to sludge, pissed on then dug up and thrown into a car crusher for good measure. Yes, Remedy wasn’t in the best frame of mind. One eye squints, the other cries; unsure which was more fitting. She had a mission, you see; and finally a meaningful one. But she also had feelings, you know.

No, Remedy wasn’t turning green and wearing nothing but inexplicably undamaged shorts yet, but she was getting there. All of which meant that Melodi had to step up and play the calming influence. I know that’s a bad idea but I don’t have much left to work with... So the blue girl carried on after her… at a distance.

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But it was as she was contemplating exactly how many ways she could hurl Azrael headlong into the Third Heaven that Remedy saw a familiar face. Familiar in that you’d turn immediately and take a different route. Familiar in that you’d grab a stick and start walking awkwardly as if you’d suddenly gone blind. Familiar in that you’d sprint straight past as quick as you could and claim that some unbridled trauma had brought on complete amnesia should they stop you and say hello. That’s right; Remedy had spotted Corona. Down the gravel path. Up past the water pool. Storming out of that old paste mill.

Nestled amid the lavish ferns and creeping vines of… Remedy had said she wasn’t in brochure-browsing mood. She wasn’t here to take photos and sample the local cuisine. Only to bust a head… or two. And she was hardly likely to bury hatchets anywhere but in Azrael’s spleen. In fact, it was nice to see Corona after all these rounds. Not because they used to be friends… Not even because she had a few scores to settle. But because Remedy could do with a warm-up fight.

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“Corona.” Remedy’s greeting the kind you’d expect from a neighbour whose cat had just been mauled by your dog. “Remedy…” Corona’s smirk more what you’d expect from the dog. “Who this?” Don’t worry, despite the tantalising smells coming out of the paste mill, parahack weren’t often tempted to bite sickly sugary Psytopians. Remedy drew her swords; “oh, just a departed friend.” Something tense about her was about to underline that tense about her... Remedy sent the procession on their way with a nod of the head. Obadiah passing Corona with a sniff. Mana with a twiddle of fingers. Melodi with a scowl.

Remedy A Fresher who should be back at the Academy, studying for re-takes. A right-handed southpaw, and a tricky one too. Corona A former swordstril. Excommed before fresher training really began. A left-handed southpaw, and maybe even trickier.

The soon-to-be-not-so idyllic gravel pathway leading around the water pools to the old paste mill on the emerald plate. Psytopia Adagio 1

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“So. Corona.” Remedy studied her like a bullfighter looking to sneak in fatal stab. “Not dead yet?” Corona smirked. ”Ooh the word ‘dead’ is so fuzzy-noir for you’se, moy minha irma.” Remedy didn’t speak Portuguese… or anarch, for that matter. “Well we’s livin’ in a fuzzy-noir kinda pliz.” Remedy and Corona. Circling like moths around a light bulb. Gravel path, watery pool. Let’s ruin another of the natural treasures of Psytopia, shall we? “The kiticlaws finally darkified their world, huh?” Corona splashed a boot in the water pool. “You’se the reason them tutors are always spyin’ us blitzers.” ”They don’t see everything.” Corona ran the tip of a blade gently across her tongue. “Didn’t spy you all cosy eyes with that that sparkly belle of yours, huh?” “Well you’se stil a hazzy lickle songstril, hey?” Corona and Remedy. Circling like bike racers around an oval track. Swords drawn, fingers twitching. Let’s see where the breeze takes us, shall we?

“Better have picked up a few tricks in this wide, wild world of yours.” Remedy shuffled forward. “I’s been out here a long time.” Corona followed suit. “And whatcha learnt, ya posey scrub brush?” “To make moy own tricks.” Corona and Remedy. Shuffling towards each other like OAPs with walking sticks. Banter exhausted, expectancy building. Let’s see which of these blitz belles walks out of here alive... Psytopia Adagio 1

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CORONA: Overhead swirl (SC)

REMEDY: 360 twirl (HJ) Swords clash!

CORONA: Backhand curl (TT)

REMEDY: Rolling whirl (BA) >CLANG!<

CORONA: Rolling loop (SC) REMEDY: Backhand scoop (HJ) >CLANG!< CORONA: 360 degree hoop (TT) REMEDY: Overhead swoop (BA) >CLANG!< “Attended some cover classes, huh?” Corona back-tracked. “With friends like you'se, I’s gotta watch my back.” “And yet it’s shocking how many lil’ dead girls don’t watch their front… or their side.” “Keep jabberin’ bod; you’se be trippin’ the Heavens in no time.” Speedy. Just how Remedy liked it. She smirked. One glistening gold tooth. Frisky. Just how Corona liked it. She smirked. All gold teeth, bar one; mirror of a mirror and all that guff. Corona taking a breath. Twiddling her blades as if using an invisible skipping rope. Remedy doing the same. Spinning hers in her hands as if swishing gymnastic ribbons.

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Obadiah had led the others into the pressing hall. He could’ve led them in with his eyes and ears covered and his hands and feet numb. Because of the potent whiff of fruity fragrances which greeted him as he marched through the mill’s inviting arch doorway. A thousand tantalising tangs hitting his nostrils and coaxing his starved senses into action. Like a lover’s caress. Like a farmer’s cattle prod. Like a pair of alarm clocks stapled to his elephantine ears. Like the twinkling tinkle of edible piano notes exciting his taste buds up and down his scales. Overkill, in fact. I’ll say something for nanos; at least they dull nature enough so it doesn’t blind you. That’s right; the scented wonders of the pressing hall were natural; old skool fermenting of herbs and flowers. Enough to cause Obadiah momentary blindness, deafness, pins and needles and dizzy spells all at once. All the colours of the rainbow, all the sights of the universe, all the tastes of paradise rolled into one. Synaesthetic enlightenment. Hard-drive overload; sensory shutdown. Now that’s an effective weapon.

In fact, to Obadiah, entering the pressing hall was almost like reaching some kind of…

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Mana tugged at his legs. Yanked at his wrists. Kicked him in the shins. That’s a lung, spaceboy; but at least it snapped him out of it. Melodi wasn’t so fazed. After all, this was her big, orchestral finale. Little blue girl versus self-righteous homicidal swordstril. Come on down Azrael, your time is up! Because this was how the villain made his grand entrance. To Obadiah: A hint of tasteless nanos in a sea of pure aromas. To Mana: An unsolved formulae in strings of peaceful equations. To Melodi: A mutinous hum resonating uncomfortably against calm background sounds. “Ah; the misfits.” Azrael standing in the middle of the hall, sniggering behind his blade.

Alright, so some might say the pressing hall was a not-so natural beauty of Psytopia. Let’s just say it was a listed building. Listed by the Soul Cage Trust to remind us of ages gone by. Of times when people grew fruit out on the edge of the Arpeggio. Where they grew it, farmed it and squeezed it into paste. Paste which was then sent off in little glass prisms down the naussiducts to troops. Back in the day, all across Psytopia, soldiers ate baby food. Before the plants evolved in light of modern warfare and retreated underground where they might actually grow. At least back then people knew how to cook. Another lost art form; now they had parahack to do it for them. And to harvest the best grub too, with their well-engineered sense of smell. I mean, would you be able to tell what's growing underfoot with a mere sniff? Of course not; you're human. You only smell one thing at a time; mon-odouric. And yes, I did imply parahack were genetically engineered. Neither they nor Psytopians know, so don’t tell any I told you. In any case, the pressing hall was a large oval room decked out with smooth wood walls and floors into which were built deep cylindrical wells, some capped with juralith hide, some not. This was where they purified the fruits; melted them into paste. The things were deep because the paste was cooked by ethereal flame; the floor of the cylinders sporting clusters of Psytopia Adagio 1

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pin-prick holes which served as vents, easing ethereal steam in and burning the nanos out of play. Because nanos got into everything. Mini, micro, space-dancing, time-warping, matter-messing genemagnets. But people don't like food that screws their molecules. No wonder the surviving Psytopians were descendents of soldiers, so no wonder fighting was still considered the highest art and authority- solders were probably all that was left. And no wonder this story’s so long if I stop to give you people history lessons every five minutes. But put it this way; pure, de-nanoed fruit had been the substance of survival. Azrael wasn’t concerned with history. Unless you count his sudden desire to cast his former pick-ups into its arms. Perhaps he’d twist their broken limbs into tye sculptures of the battle ahead. If only he’d spent a little less time on swordplay and more on other arts... “Now surrender, ya hacky squib-chewer.” Melodi rolled her shoulders like a heavyweight ready to vie for the belt, receiving no response. She whipped Doloroso out of a pocket, her Nike tick, egg yoke eyes all manic dots, lines and arrows. She could always puppeteer a response… The others were less certain; unsteady heads, unsteady legs. Mana counted on his fingers, just for luck. Obadiah drew his sword… he’d make his own luck. And if that meant he had to slice this world-wild former travelling chum into nano-fine slivers to make him wake up and smell the paste, that’s what he’d have to do. The unmistakable smell of battle filled Obadiah’s sensitive nostrils with peppery scents… but then they casseroled again. Scents paddling clumsily in an ocean of muddled perfumes. He’d just have to rely on his eyes and ears. That’s like an Academy swordstril fighting with a rusted blade. The inescapable presence of danger filled Mana’s jittery head with unwanted numbers… the risky ones made him lose track. Figures cascading chaotically in a tornado of odd calculations. He’d just have to count on his fingers and quell his nerves. That’s like a sore-throated, vertigo-suffering opera singer performing his first starring role atop a sky scraper. Psytopia Adagio 1

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The misfits That’d be Obadiah, Mana and Melodi. Azrael And unsurprisingly, that’d be Azrael.

The pressing hall in the old paste mill.

“We’re tougher than we look; you’ll see.” Melodi held Doloroso to her chest as if a nursery-age demon hunter with a soft, plush crucifix. This would be over before Azrael could say ‘diablo’. Tug-gloves afire, fingers a-ready for piano playing, so let’s rock n’ fuckin… AZRAEL: Two-point angle-switch swish HIT! DOLOROSO: Sliced in three across head / down body OUT OF PLAY

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AZRAEL: Cross-face stroke MISS! Obadiah back-tracks into a wall AZRAEL: Downward swerve MISS! Mana back-tracks into Obadiah “You hurt my baby dollo!” Melodi picking up the pieces; a clumsy shopper retrieving the contents of a dropped purse. So she’d lost her beloved Doloroso… But she had a couple more tricks up those tug-gloved sleeves. Mana stationed himself behind his big, ambling pal. Hastily counting on his fingers. Strategy, star-mite; shove the reptile forward, best you can. Food on the brain, sleep in the bones; livewires in the blood?

Well yes, because it’s a holy triangle; food, sleep, fight. Obadiah plonked right in the firing line. The scent of battle eventually overcoming the other smells. This jumbled crew finally looking mildly threatening.

“Killing people like you has got to be just far too kind…” Melodi placing chunks of patchwork doll into her belt like squeezing guns into holsters. He’d regret casting her dolly out to sea; into the river, whatever. Because in the other pocket she had a ticket to the hell of her choice… -----------------------------------------------------------------------------Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: CORONA: REMEDY: CORONA: REMEDY: CORONA: REMEDY: CORONA:

Backhand chop (HJ) Underhand clump (SC) Side-step crop (BA) Overhand thump (TT) Overarm pang (HJ) 360 leaping hack (SC) Underarm tang (HJ) 360 diving whack (TT)

>CLANG!< >CLANG!< >CLANG!< >CLANG!<

“You’se learnt brute.” Remedy backed off. “Sou a gatinha negra de familia.” Corona followed suit. “Tear licker.” “Shaltz.” Remedy doing some heavy duty ponderation. Because she was responsible like that. If they were really so well matched and Corona like to battle brute these days… A little careful consideration?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Melodi wasn’t in a very happy mood. Ningyo dolls were precious little things; almost people. They held living consciousnesses inside them from time to time, so they knew how people felt. But there are worse things in the worlds than people… Mana cowered a little more than usual. He didn’t like the mathematics of this encounter. Obadiah shrugged off the pyronette’s tugs at his shins. You don’t need numbers to mash heads. Psytopia Adagio 1

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OBADIAH: Leaping whack PARRIED! AZRAEL: Underarm block AZRAEL: Flashlight Serenade Obadiah smells his life flash before his eyes…

Serenades were the übertek of the techy sword school. Extra-snazzy swipes which swished so slickly they upset an opponent’s nanos. That means they disrupted their bodies on a molecular level; made the poor little gods jump. The blade itself didn’t actually touch. Just think of it as an almighty fright. There were three serenades for a tech master to… master. One shakes, one stirs and the last utilises that licence to kill. HIT! OBADIAH: Internal jolt Falls back against Mana, both fumbling their weapons “You think this diablo’s worth saving?” Azrael was keen to split the party up. Standing between them, Crimson Harvest to Obadiah’s throat. Resonating the deepest, eagerest red it had ever smouldered.

Azrael would either split the party up or slice it up. The way he saw it, either way he’d win. Never send a dumb duner to do a swordstril’s work. “She’s trouble, Obadiah; you said it yourself.”

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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Remedy and Corona had backed off for a breather. Remy’s feet on the gravel path, not quite balanced. Cory’s in the water pool, soaking wet. Both on familiar ground, then. Remedy kept her opponent in her sights; “You were with Valhalla, hey?” “Past tense candy kitz. Moved on to flashier, slicier things.” “You and Azrael?” Remedy almost vomited. “You’se a crank… and he’s a killer.” “And doesn’t that turn you on?” The pair crossed their swords. Universal sign of disagreement. The excom liked it when swords were crossed in front of her. Reminded her she was lucky enough to have two. CORONA: Blitz break chain Leaping swoop (SC) COVER! REMEDY: Sword tip parry Somersault loop (TT) COVER! REMEDY: Sword edge parry Roundhouse scoop (SC) COVER! REMEDY: Sword hilt parry 360 spinning hoop (TT) COVER! REMEDY: Sword handle parry Leaping hoop (TT) MISS! Retreating down the gravel path Somersault scoop (SC) MISS! Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy back-steps with a crunch Roundhouse loop (TT) MISS! And another 360 spinning swoop (SC) MISS! Back to a standstill…

Corona’s eyes flitted annoyingly off target. “You don’t play with swords do ya, wispy belle?” “One more word about moy girlfriend…” “Oh I's felt your girlfriend siz; and his too. Their blood on his blade in moy... and how lush them liquis pang. But Azrael and moy prefer girlfriends dead.” “Then let’s make it an orderly three.” REMEDY: Blitz break chain Overhead whirl (HJ) MISS! CORONA: Back-steps into the pool Backstroke twirl (BA) MISS! CORONA: Further into the water Bowling curl (HJ) MISS! CORONA: And further… Backhand swirl (BA) MISS! CORONA: And further still… Overhead swirl (BA) COVER! Corona against a moss-covered boulder Backstroke curl(HJ) COVER! Corona’s swords slipping in her grip… Bowling twirl (BA) COVER! Digging a heel into the rock behind... Backhand whirl (HJ) COVER! Halts the charge; all too samey; all too equal Psytopia Adagio 1

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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------OBADIAH: Javelin charge COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Inside-out block AZRAEL: Backhand swerve HIT! OBADIAH: Chin Knockdown! The reptile smashed a fist against the floor, the smell of misadventure ripe in his nostrils. Perhaps that blue girl really had cursed this party. Mana tightened his loopball string as if it were a leash around the neck of a lively pup. Melodi may have been trouble but… well he liked her, didn’t he? He nodded at her, glad cheeks made of space can’t blush. The magic numbers he sensed in her frightened him. But she was so new and dynamic, and to a tweeny space face... Perceiving the world mathematically is all well and good, until somebody flips the sequence. MANA: COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Outside-in block AZRAEL: Leg sweep swish HIT! MANA: Clogs Knockdown! Melodi rolled her eyes and pulled at her ears. The others’ eyes knocked off the ball. OK, off their noses and their maths, but let’s not labour the point. If you want something done, you just have to do it yourself.

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Little did Azrael know, Melodi had a pocketful of spooks with his name on it.

Take an ethereal sash from your pocket...

This is gonna get crazy now, so hold your breath… AZRAEL: Simple grab SNATCH! MELODI: Around waist AZRAEL: Blind grab SNATCH! THE OBAKE SASH: Although it looked like see-through gloop to him… Melodi punched and kicked. As Azrael tied her wrists and ankles to each other then together with that curious string. That would keep her and her demonic tricks quiet. He’d obviously learnt a couple of useful skills from his new girlfriend... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Meanwhile, Remedy and Corona were far too close for comfort. Not that you’d expect to feel comfortable with somebody who was hell-bent on separating you head from shoulders and limb from limb with twin blades, but nonetheless… So close they’d violated each other’s spheres. So close that Corona’s metri lock, or the rim of a door lock or something like that, glinted in Remedy’s blade and reminded her.

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It all happened some time ago. Azrael was a fresher; all wide-eyed and even more innocent. Corona was a pre-schooler; still practiced with safesticks… in fighting that is. No, actually it was before she’d even tasted a blade at all, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to; the first zaps of sexual intrigue just starting to pang around in her. You know, that first lingering glance at someone, and you don’t really know why you’re glancing or quite what you want to glance at, but glancing seems enough, for now. Now I’m not saying Azrael was the first one she’d glanced at, or that he was the first one she’d tried grabbed at, or even if he was the first who’d grabbed back, but he was one of them. And she took her chance one round or other, while that bronzed, chainmailed nut jogged down the top flight of the Academy’s grand stairway, on his way from some body-punishing training hall… as a bright-eyed mini minx called Corona hooked a finger in her mouth, took interest in trying out something more soothing than body punishment, and grabbed a wrist. Posey and innocent at first; the cute look. Sorry kid, didn’t do it; Azrael tried to walk by. OK, the teasy look; hand on hip, flick op button open, pump up half-grown breasts… Azrael eyeballed her… her eyes? Come on, she’s cluing here. Fine, the confident approach; yank the arm, slam the suitor against the nearest wall. The frosty little door to the storm dome, leading to the tip of the pyramid… and actually it hurt a little to slam someone; how’d people get used to that? Azrael unclasping her hand; some kind of ‘who are yous’ or ‘what are you doing’s. Frustrated frown, another button, pump… hop up to try a kiss? Azrael raising his head out of reach with a ‘you’re just a kid’ or something like that. Bored sigh, brush of his belt, push in close and whip her top off? Azrael clasping her hands together to stop her with an ‘I’ve got a Psytopia Adagio 1

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girlfriend’ or some such. But he felt her now though, didn’t he, even if he hadn’t really meant to? The blood pumping, the heart beating through that supple, untouched skin of her chest? He fighting to do up her buttons, she pulling his fingers in between, pausing a moment. Little giggle, sliver of wayward intent, securing a bit of a crush? She slammed herself against the door, just to simulate; give him ideas. And that hurt too; maybe a bit of sword practice would beef her up, or just some growing. And that’s when the key came out. Believe it or not, that last line wasn’t innuendo. The key came out of the door. To the storm dome and the Principle’s chamber. And of course, curiosity claimed the kitty. Nobody got into the Principle’s chamber… So Corona turned the key, opened it up wide and let him in. And herself… herself first, I mean she pulled him through the door, with all those ‘we shouldn’t be in here’s and ‘I didn’t mean to touch you’s and whatever. Through the door, handing him the key, looking around and… Immediately getting nabbed by a tutor. Loge was his name; the brute tutor, and a brute at more than that. Corona would even shudder thinking about him today. Because that was probably the moment really, though you could say she was pre-disposed. She was only a child though, at that moment; she didn’t really know what she was playing with. Azrael had been nice; that was the thing. Maybe if she’d been older, it would’ve been safe test things out with him. She never got her safe test, so maybe that’s why she ended up how she did, who knows? Punishment for Azrael was pretty simple; dumped into the squib pen for a battle with a captured blubbernaut. Because they suck your memories, you know- especially the fresh ones. Donner didn’t want to kill him, just rough him up a bit. And he didn’t want to kill Corona either, worst luck, though there was quite a bit of roughing. Dragged up the spiral stair, or on the spiral stair, or in some hell you can’t imagine- the surroundings were a bit of a blur. With the blood and the crying and the little hands and little feet kept down by much bigger ones. She’d have much rather received the punishment or forgetting. Everyone has a dark side, that’s for sure, even nice, safe Azrael. So she remembered, and somewhere deep down so did he. Psytopia Adagio 1

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She probably clawed part of the lock off the door trying to get out; she couldn’t recall that part, just the pain. Somewhere along the line, she taught herself to like it; to use it. I kind of feel sorry for Corona now; maybe she’d learnt things the others hadn’t. Like that not everybody plays by the rules, even those who teach them. Or especially. But that never made her hold back, especially not today. Pasts aside, Remedy and Corona were too similar for comfort. Not that you’d expect to be similar to somebody who’s a wild, irresponsible, sexually deviant, emotionally unstable Anarchist, but I suppose both had that point of view on the other. Both had realised you can’t let experiences define you, or they’d both be dead. If they thiought out of the box a bit, maybe only one would be. REMEDY: CORONA: Overarm fuzz-jack toss (x3)

Underarm nan-jack toss (x3)

>Tink!< >Tonk!<

Burn baby belle,

burn!

An electric storm A dead parrot. Useful…

A pin-hole in the fabric of space…

>POP!< >BOOM!<

MISS! Sideways roll

MISS! Forward roll

Corona’s mother never told her not to play with the fabric of the space-time continuum, however random the contents of her dream-jacking range weapons were. And anyway, she never had a mother. Well she did, but she was killed during the Karakuru massacre… Which didn’t actually happen… Oh I’m just going to bail out before this gets confusing; the swordstrils were just orphans, K? But that’s still no excuse for playing with the fabric of the spacetime continuum, and if you tear a dream of dark matter from the storm, that’s what’s gonna happen. A tiny hole, not just in the path, but in everything which existed at that point in the universe; time as well as space. And the hole was hungry; enough to start pulling Remedy towards it- only slightly, mind. Psytopia Adagio 1

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Tugging her off balance as it ate a couple of chunks of gravel. Growing stronger before…

Alright, the universe was lucky this time round. Black holes are unstable and if you're fortunate they'll just implode. Somebody should give Corona a lesson about how the old civilisations of Psytopia fell… But unfortunately, nobody seems to remember them but me. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Azrael shook his molten sparring glove. What was that sash made of anyway; some spooky shit... He smirked at the useless little blue girl, limbs tied like lobster claws, ready for the pan. You’d think that given his record at stabbing people in them, he’d have watched his back. OBADIAH: Leaping javelin lunge MISS! Azrael with a last minute duck AZRAEL: Two-point right angle sting HIT! OBADIAH: Slicing elbow/shoulder of his extended arm Knockdown! Melodi edged towards the cowering Mana on her chin while Azrael was occupied; maybe they could hatch a plan. He was a bright little spark, that one; almost a person. Pyronettes could even have been people in another life or time. Other lives and times seemed fundamentally preferable to this one at this present moment.

Aaaah. Let the sweet lickle sprites be together.

Kill them. Kill them both. AZRAEL: Simple grab SNATCH! MANA: By the feet Psytopia Adagio 1

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AZRAEL: Nonchalant toss HIT! Dropping our hooded hero down the nearest paste well OUT OF PLAY? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Meanwhile, Corona and Remedy had fought to a standstill. You wouldn’t expect standstills from blitzblades, would you? Well when standing still, take stock. Then launch your big finish!

If übertek were easy, this would have been part of the beginner’s guide to swordplay, but übertek weren’t easy. As you’ve probably realised by now, übertek required a certain pace. A certain 800 RPM. It doesn’t really matter what is travelling at 800RPM. For tech übers (serenades) it was your opponent’s heart. For ground übers (reverbs), kinetic energy exiting the sword. For counter übers (mirrors) it was the mind. For brute and breezy schools, it was the body. Although breezers would point out that brutes only moved their bodies, whereas breezers did it by moving their souls. In any case, 800RPM was the magic number. Suffice to say, all übertek involved a trip into totality, even if it lasted no more than a click, and the Shudderwave Pirouette wasn’t the best sight-seeing tour of totality. The sword span more than the swordstril. Duck down as if you’re tying a shoe, spin that sword in your grip until the speed makes it glow flamy with heat and let rip. You’re suddenly the epicentre of a miniature earthquake. Perfect for knocking people off the floor without even touching them! CORONA: Shuddercharge… REMEDY: Shuddercharge… Shudderwave Pirouette, spiral one Water pool rumbles Gravel path rustles Shudderwave Pirouette, spiral two Water bubbles Gravel trembles Three, four, five, six, seven…

800 RPM

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Ring of fire! Ring of fire! HIT! SHUDDERBLAST! HIT! REMEDY & CORONA: Knocked off their feet >SPLASH!< >SLAM!< Great students fight alike… They were beginning to feel more than a little freaked out by this. You’d think after fighting her mirror image on the Rust Plateau, Remedy would have gotten used to this kind of thing. But Corona wasn’t her mirror image, she was her nemesis. And nemesi… or whatever they are… they go out in style! REMEDY: Angel’s Pirouette CORONA: Angel’s Pirouette >CLANG!< Remedy one step into the air Corona two steps into the air >CLANG!< Remedy’s sould stepping one way… Corona’s body the other >CLANG!< And vice versa The same; splitting ids >CLANG!< Remedy spinning higher and higher Corona matching her >CLANG!< >CLANG!< >CLANG!< >CLANG!< The postcard views over the waterfall… Don’t look down though, will you… Oh-oh... >SPLASH!< Remy spinning into the pool like a mini tsunami... make that two Great students… awful divers

Of course there were benefits to fighting in the air. *You avoid gravity… jacks… shudder-quakes. *You look cool. *You get to re-enact scenes from your favourite wire-fu movie. But treading on clouds isn’t easy. they tend to give way. You’ve seen Looney Toons, right? It’s on TV, so it must be true. ----------------------------------------------------------------------Meanwhile, Azrael had washed his hands of an unfortunate misfit. Gave Melodi a shrug to show his delight at her disappointment. She pouted wretchedly; psyche, squarelace. What was that I said about watching backs? Psytopia Adagio 1

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OBADIAH: Overhead whack COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Overhand hook-hand parry AZRAEL: Rainbow Serenade Obadiah smells his life ignite before his eyes… HIT! OBADIAH: Internal nano sizzle Obadiah dropped his sword. Slammed against the thick wooden archway behind. Clutched his scales. As if they were about to burst into flames. He wasn’t far wrong in fact. The Rainbow Serenade was a particularly nasty technique. Like all serenades, it hit internally, fooling the victim that their insides had been pulled out. So much so the nanos inside really started to burn them up, every colour of the rainbow.

Melodi edged across the pressing hall floor on a shoulder and a knee, plonking her chin on the rim of the paste well and gazing into the depths. I say ‘gazing’ although of course I’m not really sure what I mean. Melodi was an odd kind of creature… but you know that already. She could sense (somehow) that he was alive down there, but...

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I hate to break it to you lovers like this but Mana’s actually in the best position of all of you. OK, so he’s stuck in a hundred foot hole with nothing for comfort but a bed of mashed fruit… But nothing nasty’s going to happen to him down there. Nothing like this: “What’s up, prack?” Azrael taunted Obadiah, watching him gasp. “Flustered?” The heat was too much to bear… even if it was in his head. That’s the problem with species whose blood and bones were drenched with nanos. Made them particularly vulnerable to serenades… OBADIAH: Goes for his sword COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Pendulum parry

AZRAEL: Obadiah smells his life cease before his eyes… HIT! OBADIAH: Internal nano stop. OUT OF PLAY Now that was nasty. Big, ambly dune falls backwards to the hard wood floor like a badly balanced tailor’s dummy. Complete sensory shutdown and Azrael didn’t even have to hit him. Somewhere on the Cyan Plateau a new, scaly face draws itself in the sand.

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----------------------------------------------------------------------Corona and Remedy had clambered out of the water pool. Corona on a swaying rope bridge connecting the pool to the mill. Remedy between slippery ferns sprinkled liberally in the wake of the falls. Such a shame to bring slicey, cutty violence to such an aweinspiring vista. Corona back-tracked down the bridge; “really wanna z me, huh?” “You and ya spug jack are gwan be ash sheets in a sliver of clicks, kitty.” “Killing students, siz.” Corona licked a bloody thumb; “they’ll excom you’se for sure. You'se and moy; sisters of anarchy.” “You’se no sister of moy, scrawlskull.” The pair’s boots clunked on the rope bridge. A couple of hundred feet up, suspended between waterfall boulders and paste mill roof. Corona began rocking the bridge from side to side. Let’s make this scuffle a little more interesting… Remedy’s eyes moving from bridge to target to drop. “You’se offbase, kiticlaw.” “And you’se flat-lace, moy gatinhogarra.” “That’s anarch-speak, hackjaw.” “Didn’t ya tutor ever tell you anarchy pangs? Be sure to remind your girlfriend.” CORONA: Blitz break chain REMEDY: Blitz break chain 360 front flip whirl (SC) Leaping backhand swoop (HJ) >CLANG!< Side-winding twirl (TT) Side-winding loop (BA) >CLANG!< Stamp-pivot back flip curl (SC) 360 groundskim scoop (HJ) >CLANG!< Vinecutting swirl (TT) Vinecutting hoop (BA) >CLANG!< 360 front flip swirl (SC) Leaping backhand hoop (BA) Psytopia Adagio 1

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>CLANG!< If I had a sheet of pyro for every time I heard a clang of blades during this exchange, I’d probably be able to burn the wide, wild world down by now

Corona and Remedy had been at each other hammer and tong for a good six rounds now. Blitz rounds were so swift it's difficult to keep track. Thank Zarathustra swordstrils were born with instinct. Breezy instinct was a touch… deviant by definition, but still. They could always learn. Let's just say Remedy and Corona were pretty tired by now. Not to mention pretty giddy. I remind you again; don’t look down.

CORONA: REMEDY: Diving overhand hack (TT) HIT! REMEDY: Slices hair Knocked back

Ducking uppercut crop (BA) HIT! CORONA: Slices top Just grins

“If moy didn’t know better moy’d think you’se tryin’ ta strip me.” Cory staggered back a pace. “Not moy kind, jabbersling.” Remy followed suit. “Foda-se!” CORONA: REMEDY: Backhand whack (SC) (HJ) HIT! REMEDY: Cut shoulder Psytopia Adagio 1

Spinning crescent chop HIT! CORONA: Cut cheek 633


Corona dabbed her face. “You’se drillin’ me extra holes now; can’t have enough.” Remedy rolled her shoulder. “Dandy; I’ll bore you’se more.” Corona doing some last minute wardrobe adjustments; perhaps fighting in just hand wraps, bra and boots would put Remedy off her game. A couple of cuts to the cargos and she’d be over exposed and ready to roll.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------Azrael grabbed a pair of Obadiah’s javelins from his juralitharmoured spine. It’s not like he was going to be needing them where he’d gone. So it was just him and the blue girl left. Let’s literally see what this diablo’s made of… Mana counting over and over on his fingers, considering scenario after scenario, and none of them worked out well. Melodi was amused by his meekness, but helplessness… Less so, especially in the unusual spot of being helpless herself. Neither were going to get them out of this particular mess.

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“Melodi.” Azrael had sheathed his sword. Thank Zarathustra for that. But he’d drawn his emergency dagger. All the better to dice you with. Blue belle rolling back onto the pressing room floor. Looking around desperately for something sharp with which to cut that sash. Nothing seemed to be available but insults. “Not much use now are you? Demonic little freak.”

“So, Remedy…” Corona edged towards her like a pickpocket on the prowl. “Gonna give it up?” “Like hack.” Remy’s eyes ablaze, revenge a sword swish away. Corona stroked her bleeding face with a sweaty palm. “You know you’se pretty… pokey..” “Bitey like crystal-tinted razorwire, plod. Another taste?” Corona and Remedy. Knackered, if the truth be known. Treading lightly towards each other on that precarious rope bridge. Gravel path, watery pool. Let’s not lose our footing, shall we? “You’se a dagger rattlin’ around in a sword sheath, suz.” Remedy held her balance. “Prob with you’se? Can swish but can’t take. Need to bend over and be bladed some time.” “You’se sick.” “I’s satisfied.” Psytopia Adagio 1

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Remedy and Corona. Approaching each other like two predators happening upon plump, maimed game. Breaths panting, pulses racing, bridge swaying. Let’s see if the creaking timbers can hold long enough to reach our big finale, shall we? “O-so curioso how it all comes down to this, huh kiticlaw?” Circling each other like traffic round a roundabout. “How’s that, tanglepatch?” Remedy followed suit. “Moy and meu, sprite and sprite, sister and sister, to the death.” “You’se been drowned in anarchy too long sister blitzer.” “Liberdade, moy baby belle. Liberdade.” “I don’t think you’se even spyin’ what that means anymore.” “Oh, I’s got liberty, moy cabra; I’s doin’ whatever I want.” “That’s not enough. You’ve gotta feel it; respect it, follow it; hold somethin’ in your heart. Do somethin’ new.” Corona covered a silent snigger. “Moy drum never tagged me no symphony, siz.” Remedy and Corona. Circling around each other like boyfriends following their girls around shopping centres. Bodies drained, boots heavy. With liberdade in mind, let’s see which of these colourful kiticlaws can rustle up something new, shall we?

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of this play has had some kind of rhythm to it; you may have noticed it elsewhere too. You may have noticed it in swordstril’s step cycles, in groupings of schools and techniques and even in the amount of students attending each class and how long they studied for. I mean if you’re that anal about things. You may have noticed such patterns in your own life. It's easy to get obsessed with patterns; stuck in ruts. Look at Mana. I'm sticking with my diagnosis of OCD. Counting, counting, counting. But we can all get stuck in patterns. In maths. In cycles. In familiarity. Never doing anything new. Psytopia Adagio 1

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You should bear in mind that patterns are generally superfluous. And that if you want to make a mark on this world, you have to break a few rules, so that’s what breaking beat is all about. And that’s why swordstrils aren’t taught to do it; it’s chaos. But new things surprise people. Let’s pull our weary blitz boots up for one last charge. REMEDY: Overhead swirl (HJ) >CLANG!< REMEDY: Backhand curl (BA) >CLANG!< REMEDY: Rolling loop (HJ) >CLANG!< REMEDY: 360 hoop (BA) >CLANG!< >CLANG!< CORONA: 360 twirl (SC) >CLANG!< CORONA: Rolling whirl (TT) >CLANG!< CORONA: Backhand scoop (SC) >CLANG!< CORONA: Overhead swoop (TT) REMEDY: Underarm plunge (HJ) HIT! CORONA: Through heart OUT OF PLAY “Screw that, muddletub.” She pushed with a boot to wrench her sword from Corona’s chest; maybe shared a brief glimmer in former class mate’s eyes before she slumped backwards. Off the rocking rope bridge and into the water pool below with a spectacular splash. Pyromaniac… nymphomaniac… necromaniac… all these fires well and truly doused cold.

Remedy taking a breath. Wrapping her wounds with strips torn from her hand wraps. Taking a moment to bask in the soft, warm, fruity air. One extra step is often all it takes. One more step, and maybe she could stop killing things...

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It wasn’t about results to Remedy anymore. It was about revenge. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------Azrael was interrupted as he nailed Melodi to the wall. Hey, don’t tongue-cut me for innuendo here; Melodi’s a tinsy little thing- could well be older than all the other characters put together for all I know, but still... I mean he actually nailed her to the pressing hall wall. By plunging two of Obadiah’s javelins through the neck of her dress and into the wood.

*Nail the diablo to the wall. Keep her limbs tied too; never know what she’s got up those cheque-gloved sleeves. *Slowly cut her eyes out, her hands and feet off and her stomach open. Take time to savour the drip of blood, the squish of split intestines, the futile cries for help... *Feed the extracted organs to her one at a time. Seal her mouth shut if she threatens to puke. Bear in mind that torture is a messy business; you’ll definitely need a new glove after this… DISCLAIMER: I would like to point out that contrary to the misleads at the start of this chapter, Azrael had become every bit as warped as his recently departed squeeze. Psytopia Adagio 1

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But it’s alright; I said he was interrupted. By a certain orange haired, flamy clothed, double blade-wielding blitz belle. By the heroine of the piece. And like any good heroine, just in the nick of time. “Remedy.” “Obi?” Remedy ran straight to his aid. Alright, so that wasn’t quite in the nick of time, was it? Tears starting to well up… “Remedy.” Azrael repeated himself. Pacing up and down the pressing hall, practising underhand stab techniques. A new alternative assignment brief brewing in his head…

(Mark two) This one could involve… *Repeated sword hilt blows to Remedy's head. *Extending the width of her mouth up her cheeks with a pair of swishy slices. *Heating her own swords in the ethereal flame below ground and pushing them down her throat, because she liked ingesting fire didn’t she? Well, she could learn to. Freshers… Remedy grit her teeth, determined not to cry. Because if she cried, he’d win. Keep those feelings bunched up inside and fuel yourself. Because Azrael knew how he was going to beat her already. “Remy…” Melodi’s hesitant sniffle no more than a bleak whimper. A sombre lament. Mana trapped in the paste well, recalculating the numbers that made up his world; working out the odds. With Remedy in there, perhaps they still had a chance of getting out alive… Psytopia Adagio 1

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“You know we never finished that last argument of ours, did we?” Azrael felt as if he was outside pyrotech again, way back in chapter one. He should have waited outside, sliced her up then and there and saved himself all the bother. “I’s learnt blades talk better. “Remedy wasn’t here to reminisce, she was here to fight.

For the undisputed swordstril championship of Psytopia! (Or of this book anyway)

Representing the Breeze school Representing the Counter school

*She’s blitzy… *She’s blazey… *She’s out to kick this squip’s arse!

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*He’s calm… *He’s considered… *He’s become decidedly twisted.

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The pressing hall in the old mill on the Emerald Plateau.

REMEDY: Blitz break chain Overhead loop (HJ) MISS! Azrael back-tracks Roundhouse hoop (BA) >CLANG!< AZRAEL: Vertical cover Rolling uppercut scoop (HJ) MISS! Azrael steps aside Spinning backhand swoop (BA) COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Horizontal cover AZRAEL: Cross-face tang MISS! REMEDY: break fall roll The swordstrils sized each other up. Differing styles, differing steps. Four-step versus two, breeze versus counter. But numbers aside, there’d only be one standing at the end. Remedy grit her teeth, flood gates keeping the anger at bay. Brain planning, heart bumping; hard to keep synced; “you’se knows nieto how many sick and nasty ways you’se gonna die.” “Now, now.” Azrael paced across the hall; the arrogance of strolling... “Die is a very strong word and I’m sure you didn’t pick it up in fresher class.” Remedy tightened her grip. “Nope. Wide, wild world.” REMEDY: Blitz break chain Spiral whirl (BA) >CLANG!< AZRAEL: Vertical cover Leaping overarm swirl (HJ) MISS! Azrael side-steps Spinning crescent curl (BA) >CLANG!< AZRAEL: Horizontal cover Back-bend overhead twirl (HJ) COUNTERED! Psytopia Adagio 1

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AZRAEL: Wrist parry AZRAEL: Cross-face slice >FIZZ!< REMEDY: Diagonal cover (HJ) Remedy and Azrael stood puzzled for a moment. Melodi just shut her eyes; oh-oh. Mana counted harder. Clashing swords aren’t meant to fizz.

Some swords are better than others. The metri better distilled, less nano-infested. Because for every hundred silver needles in every hundred haystacks, there’s a golden one. And because pyronettes moulded swords for purpose. Some said pyronettes could tell the future. That they could mathmatise how past and future knitted together; that was why they just sat there and took what was coming to them. Some said pyronettes manufactured the future. That they were plotting away, building a silent takeover. In any case, however they'd moulded the Holy Judgement and Crimson Harvest, the metri was so perfectly distilled that they fizzed when they touched- smooth surfaces; heavenly so. Such quintessential metris that they flipped the core fabris of reality… but I won't bore you with advanced gravmagtics. All you need to know is there were sparks. Great excuse for expensive pyrotechnics. For even the prime numbers at the heart of reality can burn. That's the gravimagmaticy of the situation. Melodi cringed as if she was sheltering from an übersaur's breath, because we know she can probably tell the future too. Which kind of begs the question; why aren’t these mites doing anything about it... The fizz of those two blades was loud enough to wake the dead. So with that in mind, she began trying to prise herself free of the javelins, because future tellers aren’t much liked by the dead.

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Azrael cracked his neck. “This is all triangular isn’t it; all equal? I killed my girlfriend…” ”And moy girlfriend.” More to the point… “So I killed yours. How’s that?” “Looks like we’re all out of girlfriends.” Azrael shrugged. “We should start a new triangle.” “Yeah.” Remedy stamped a foot, “but let’s flip the gender.”

REMEDY: Flickswitch Pirouette Invisible spin MISS! Invisible spin MISS! Invisible spin MISS! Invisible spin COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Double grip cross-body parry

AZRAEL: PSY MIRROR! An übertek for an übertek. Psy mirror allows the counter fighter to absorb their opponent’s intention and release their next shot before they do, turning both their energy and their own skill-set against them. Those of a nervous disposition, look away for a moment. Azrael’s going to be throwing a breeze tactic! REMEDY: Angel’s Pirouette COUNTERED? AZRAEL: (Psy mirror) Limp-wristed swish? HIT! AZRAEL: Slash across face HIT! AZRAEL: Slash across arm HIT! AZRAEL: Slash across leg HIT! AZRAEL: Slash across chest Knockdown! Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael appeared bemused. Bemused and moreover, bleeding. Some übertek... Remedy had spun right through it as if it wasn’t there. But I wouldn’t sit there and mull over it too long… REMEDY: Overarm fuzz-jack toss x4

>Tink!< >Tonk!<

COUNTERED! Azrael thwacks one for six COUNTERED! And another one… But here’s the problem with fighting two-step against four: HIT! HIT! Blows a stranded Azrael to barbecue-roasted bits! OUT OF PLAY

>Pop!< >Bang!<

AZRAEL: Shadow Mirror! Turns back time and reverses the technique

>Tink!< >Tonk!<

MISS! MISS! REMEDY: Evasive backflip and roll

>Pop!< >Bang!<

Remedy smirked to herself. Alright, so this rusty toe tagger had an imagination after all. But hers was just as lively. And where blood’s been spilled… the ground's just crying out for a whole hell more!

Now, I’ll admit I got completely lost back there. I haven’t dedicated every waking moment of my life to swordplay, I just write this nonsense. I don’t think as fast as these swordstrils; perhaps that’s because I think in circles like most of us. You’ll have to take my word for it; that exchange was shit-hot. The Ravani seemed to be able to pull such things off like shortrange putts on a golf course, but any normal person trying to pitch strings of übertek is in danger of brain scrambleation. To elaborate... Remedy tried the Flickswitch Pirouette and Azrael was brave enough to counter (despite the girl being only visible at the time). Psytopia Adagio 1

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Azrael then threw Psy Mirror, which flips an opponent’s next technique back at them, but it reads intention rather than application, so Remedy had already covered herself by trying the Angel’s Pirouette. And that creates its gravitational lift by sending the breezer’s mind one way and their body the other. See why Azrael ended up performing nothing but a limp swish? So Remedy seized the opportunity to finish him off with fuzzjacks; good move, because she would have got him… If Azrael hadn’t thrown Shadow Mirror, turned back time and sent the jacks back, so she only ended up killing his shadow. They were both as clever as they were slippery. Oh, I’ll leave them to it; I’m off to find an Aspirin.

They waited for the giddiness of sensory overkill to pass. Finding their swords leaning to one side as their grips faltered. Pointing at Melodi. Now that made blue girls even more uncomfortable than usual. Übertek fire swords up; make them mad. Not to give anything away, but they seemed magnetically attracted to her. And strangely, little rainbow shadow-Melodis were beginning to slither around under her skin... I could well be paranoid or stoned, but it seems these swords were after her blood. REMEDY: Overhead curl MISS! Azrael dives for cover MISS! Azrael ducks behind a cylindrical paste crate COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Spinchain whirl No time for a breath, siz. Remedy had begun her next attack before her first salvo had even finished. Throwing herself over the paste crate like a depressed adolescent hurling herself off a bridge. Let’s see how many lives a swordstress has. Psytopia Adagio 1

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REMEDY: Blitz break chain Barrel-roll loop (BA) MISS! Azrael manoeuvres around the crate Reverse overhead hoop (HJ) HIT! The crate… The pair drenched in tuctan paste Underhand scoop (BA) MISS! Azrael side-steps Backstroke swoop (HJ) PARRIED! AZRAEL: Horizontal cover >FIZZ!< Don’t get distracted by the sparks, Remedy… AZRAEL: Cross-body pang HIT! REMEDY: Wrist. Drops her sword.

Remedy had been fighting too hard. Like a workaholic spending so long on the job she’d become a stranger to her kids. Overdoing herself until somebody took the time to wake her up with a slap on the wrist. Or a slice on the wrist… Azrael took a moment to look down at his sword; a weeping splash of blood making its surface glow a keener crimson. At Remedy’s Holy Judgement, fumbled on the floor. Freshers; learn or burn. If he picked his shots, he could paint his blade redder still…

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REMEDY: Blitz break chain Wild, whirling punch MISS! Nowhere near Reverse roundhouse swirl (BA) MISS! Azrael back-steps Wild, curling punch MISS! She’d be more likely to hit Mana with that… Turn-around coil (BA) COUNTERED! AZRAEL: Cross-body pang HIT! REMEDY: Wrist. Disarmed! AZRAEL: Angled uppercut arrow tang HIT! REMEDY: Sliced across her side… ...just like Mojo Knockdown! Remedy fell to her knees with a gasp. A wheeze, a splutter; that’d done it. Melodi’s expression fell, Mana’s counting stopped; all bets off. Here’s the deal in the wide, wild world; the good guys lose.

Yeah, right;. reality doesn’t work that way. You don’t always get what you deserve. But if you try harder than everyone else… Well, there's still no guarantee you'll come out on top. In reality, good guys finish last. Unless you want to try and flip that on its head too and really do something new. “Nasty prang.” Azrael sat by her, casually polishing his blade. He liked the way the smears scattered across it. Like raindrops on a tarpaulin roof. Like cherry blossoms on a stream. “Y… ow.” Remedy didn’t appreciate the sight all that much. The damp seeping through her cargos before the pain hit her. She never knew she had so much blood in her. Like a marathon runner digging deep to find she had more kick than she thought; a mother holding her child for the first time, Psytopia Adagio 1

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never realising she could love so much, or more fitting, just a fresher out of her depth, taking a chance, coming up short and realising she had more ambition than she had skill.

Never had she cried at a catch clique quote before. Never had she wanted to cry in front of Azrael at all. But she couldn’t help herself; the blood puddle reaching further across the floor as her world fell down around her. “Mojo…” She felt her close now. Her presence. her passion. her pain.

Or perhaps you just have to accept defeat. Defeat’s OK, you know. It happens. It’s going to happen to everyone in the end. And yeah, death happens too. Fact of life. Azrael watched her for a moment, doubled over as if a priest facing East, staining the wood a glossy red. Defeat’s OK you know, but let’s put the exclamation point on it. Azrael wasn’t so easy to read; held his chords close to his chest. Read her’s like a simple throw-away flyer. Great skill, passion, talent… but the talented die young. So Azrael grabbed her by the scruff of the neck to finish her off. AZRAEL: Sword hilt whack HIT! REMEDY: Side of the head. Bruised AZRAEL: Overhand thump HIT! REMEDY: Nose. Broken Psytopia Adagio 1

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Melodi shut her eyes tight. If only she could break free. She pulled and tugged and tensed and jerked, her shadows lurching in different directions, but none enough to release her. She’s an alleged diablo, not Wonder Woman! “You ready to concede our little argument, Remedy?” Azrael dragged her up by the collar. Remedy’s eyes rolling like marbles on slopes. Her sprightly ginger hair clotted an ugly, sticky brown. AZRAEL: Overhand hook HIT! REMEDY: Jaw AZRAEL: Downward boot HIT! REMEDY: Cheek RED out… Mana hid his hands under his hoodie. If only he could climb free. He jumped and scrambled and stretched and leapt, his little legs to weak to propel him up the shaft to freedom. He’s a bright spark, not Spiderman! “You did teach me something. I was thinking too conservatively.” Azrael pulled her up again, by the hair. Remedy’s feet slipping on her own blood. Her pale complexion fading further to a pasty, ghostly white. AZRAEL: Smashes Remedy’s face through a paste crate HIT! REMEDY: It’s become unclear where the blood ends and the octan paste begins AZRAEL: Kneeling throat squeeze REMEDY: The last of her breath being brutally choked out Blue out… Death happens. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes it’s over in a flash, sometimes it sneaks away slowly. Like a thief in the night. Remedy had almost given up. Mojo and the Heavens in touching distance. And it was nice, you know; reaching out to her hand again. But meanwhile, Melodi took a deep breath… Psytopia Adagio 1

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And for one brief moment, she let her inner shadows out.

Now, I would tell you what sound Melodi made. But unfortunately I can’t. All I know is that she tensed up, opened her mouth as wide as she could and screamed. She didn’t scream words. It would be more accurate to say she screamed colours. But I’d only confuse you (and myself) if I said that, so I won’t. One thing was for sure though. Whatever she did, it was certainly something freaky. Her teeth jammed together as if crunching chunks of iron. Her bones cracking apart as if pulling open rusty gates. Her eyes flooding with intermittent hues; green then white then black hole black; egg yoke boiling, Nike tick cross. Her seven shadows flashing like a rainbow light show, flash after ghoulish flash, before retreating back into her head. Her feet lifting an inch into the air as if gifted with invisible wings. Magnetism pulling the crippled doll parts together. The mathematics which governed the wide, wild world clattering into a clumsy fuzz around her like plastic shapes from a nursery toy suddenly morphing into ill-fitting forms as they were squeezed through random holes. Gravity suspended for everyone as spirits shifted in their bones. Rhythm in action; ring the alarm bells. Ding! Ding! DiING! Now, Mana couldn't see what was going on upstairs. Believe me, he's lucky; he may have been well over six feet under, but at least he'd been saved from a trip into the abyss. The little mite wasn't ready for all that yet, and frankly neither am I, so let's just observe from his point of reference. All he knew was that everything seemed to be spinning. He was encountering numbers he’d never known of before. Numbers which suddenly made every equation make sense. All those tricky theorems clanking into place; answered with one universal calculation. Or lack of. To Mana, the creaking and clunking and whatever-it-was upstairs felt like love at first sight. Love at first sound. Love at first colour. Love at first computation. I’m not doing very well at explaining what Melodi was doing, but it shook the world. And I don’t just mean the ground. I mean it shook the corporeal world, the temporal world and the worlds in between, and there are a good six or seven, you know. Psytopia Adagio 1

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It jangled the senses people never knew they had. A stitch in time. An ESP field. A tease in the breeze. Moy blue Heaven, and a lickle, tinsy pinch of hell. A ferocious shock-wave belting across the plates; a ring of billowing blue flames; ‘eat napalm death scum sucker’ indeed. But of course it wasn’t napalm and it wasn’t death. Quite the opposite; numbers, colours, sounds… for the first time in the swordstrils' lives, all the sounds of the scale hit at once. Enough to wake the dead? And then some. This was enough to wake the living.

Azrael clutched his ears; threatening to explode. Stumbling across the sleek wood floor, feeling it ripple as he went. Feeling it warp in wavy dips like a flight of stairs under the feet of a druggie on a high; solids appearing transient. Feeling it sweep through his body and away like an electric current savaging his skin. Feeling it boil his blood and tug his bones as if he’d been asleep all his life, then suddenly…

Melodi's body went limp, still suspended by javelins. Her fingers burning, eyes cooling, bones clicking back into place. And the ground beneath them feeling decidedly shaky. A lingering tingle dancing around in their heartbeats like a snag in the track; a charge around a neutrino, an echo of a bell. A foreboding rumbling deep below. Deep, deep below. Expanding from its epicentre. Rising like a pastry in an almighty oven; waking the world?

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Aw, she’s so cute when she screams…

Fucking hells, this diablo's dangerous. Kill her. Kill her now. I guess some people don’t want the world woken, or themselves. So Melodi was in big trouble now. Blue girls should never scream; it’s… a lot worse than rude… Everyone in Psytopia would have heard her by now; no escaping any of them.

Mana cowered in his hole. He’d totally forgotten about numbers; like they’d burned away. Like sitting in the darkness all his life before finding the switch of a huge, big spotlight; an almighty flash and you’re blinded, or a suddent miracle and you can see, walk, rise from the dead. That’s because Melodi had just fried every nano on the plate! Remedy wasn’t blinded. Uh-uh, Remedy was wide, wild awake. Dizzily dripping blood out of broken nose, busted eye, lost teeth. Wearily relying on her last dab of instinct to pick up her blades.

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Absent mindedly wiping the gaping wound in her side… Funny; it didn’t seem to be bleeding anymore. As if the nanos reminding her body to seep goo had… I dunno; packed up and gone home? The Holy Judgement buzzing eerily in her hand as if in midpirouette. The Blessed Angel light in her grip as if suddenly weightless. The rumbling below making her brain feel as if it was crumpling like tinfoil, the floor feeling hollow somehow as she stood on it. And the scene around her dribbling slowly into focus…

Azrael shoved aside the remaining paste crates. The vivid colours of the squished fruit turning into a sludgy broth. Stomping across the pressing hall, sword still reverberating from the sound of the scream. Murder in mind. Remedy still had Mojo in mind. But she wasn’t beckoning her on like a lonely ghost anymore. She wasn’t coaxing her towards higher Heavens. She was relaying one simple message; carve that breeze breakin’ hackjaw to bits! -COMMON SENSE DICTATES‘Love is the most debilitating form of madness.’

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To the drowsy little blue belle, the stage was closed. She’d played to the gallery, taken her bow. She’d had a decent life; as decent as life would allow. But death happens, so she closed her freaky eyes one last time.

Azrael raised his sword to Melodi’s temple. The swirling reds under the surface of the Crimson Harvest whipping up a storm. Fizzing from tip to hilt, baying for blood. But Azrael, haven’t you noticed something coming your way? 0 RPM. A million rotating knives rolled into one. 25 RPM. A mobile abattoir making mincemeat of the very air. 50 RPM. A lacerating Danse Macabre maiming all in its path like the scythe of the reaper. 100 RPM. A bewildering bedlam of blazing blades; the dice of death rolling a double six. 200 RPM. A wavering wash of watery lines, dots and arrows scrawling across the ether. 400 RPM. Ghostly tides lapping like translucent banners over the calm canvas of nature. 800 RPM. Trailing behind Remedy’s spinning form like sheet music...as she disappeared. Remedy wasn’t Remedy anymore. She was more than that… or less. She didn’t know which, and there was no her to know anyway. There was only one thing she was aware of as she span.

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Azrael wasn’t sure if he heard the fateful swirlwind coming. Actually, his senses were still so scrambled he wasn’t sure if he heard, sensed, smelt or touched at all right now. But one thing was for sure as he turned to face it. He was surprised enough to drop his sword.

How it should be done. No thoughts. No fears. No regrets. No inhibitions. When the Devil’s Pirouette is done properly, it doesn’t only slice and dice everything it it’s path, it slices and dices the very fabric of time and space itself; little gods viciously usurped. When in hell, do what the tortured souls do- shut up and bleed. There wasn't a thought in Remedy's head. Her blades knitted in and out of reality and in and out of Azrael’s bones like a Zen butcher cutting up a cow… So slickly it never even realised it was dead. REMEDY: Devil’s Pirouette HIT! AZRAEL: Just about everywhere, but the only slash I can see is across the throat, and that can only mean one thing… OUT OF PLAY

Feet together like a vaulter scoring a perfect ten off the horse. Beaming like a teenager having just secured her first smooch. Hands translucent, held in front of her face, covered in fading ethereal lines, dots and arrows as bones and blood faded back. “Yeeps.” Even her own voice was fresh to her now. “Is that what the totality looks like?” Psytopia Adagio 1

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We don’t have time for that; remember all the nano frying, all the floor sinking, all the sense splitting? Melodi’s danced the forgotten dance; the plate’s about to collapse! Remedy pulled herself together and yanked the javelins out of Melodi’s dress. Lifted her off the wall like a liberated moose head from a hunter’s collection. “You alright lickle sprite?” “We have to get out of here, now.” Remedy felt the same disorienting echo in her surroundings as she felt in Melodi’s voice. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know why, but she wasn’t waiting to find out. “What about Mana?” “Down there.”

The paste mill was trembling as if a trifle on a tumble dryer; shaking like a small car with a supercharged sound system. And little Mana was lost down there in the dark like a floating figure in space; holding the sides of the well as if stuck in a shrinking trash compactor. Remy dangling a sword; Mana trying to hook it with his loopball. Melodi not looking convinced.

MANA: Loopball punt

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He couldn’t really manage much else; Melodi’s screech zapped every nano in the ball. COUNTERED! REMEDY & MELODI: Two-handed grab Yanks him up in a bundle HIT! Mana crashes straight into Melodi… Oh-oh

Little blue girl and petrified mute boy together at last! A moment of furrowed brows, folded hoods and timid apologies. None spoken, of course, just felt; not a nano between them. Lost together without a clue until Remy hauled them to their feet. “Come on kitz, we’s jivin’ home.” Well, that sounds like a good brief to all of us at this stage. Personally I feel sorry for the Soul Cage Trust. How are they going to clean this mess up for the good of Psytopian heritage?

The problem with the present is it becomes the past in no time. Just be careful not to get carried along for the ride. Remedy led the pick-ups by the wrists through the pressing hall. Pausing for a moment to plunge Obadiah’s sword into the floor at the point where he fell. She’d miss the big, ambling prack. What was it the duners said?

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“Remy!” Melodi tugging her wrist. We’re already forgotten we’re living in that precarious present? The paste mill collapsing timber by timber at the seams; translucent tentacles of ethereal flame beginning to peek through the floor like creepers, accompanied by timeswirls. Creepers swerving into place, solidifying, looking like craggy gothic towers and spires. Weird? Scary in fact, so let's just run- the mill being torn to pieces like a small town on a fault line as our heroes exited in what do you know; the nick of time, as all good heroes do.

Through the arch of the pressing hall. Past the tasting room. Out of the paste mill. All of the above tumbling to bits: along with the entire plateau? Over the rope bridge. Past the water pools. Around the mossy boulders. All of the above crumbling under their feet. Down the gravel path. Past the ferns and brackens. Through the lush panoramas of the Emerald Plateau. The landscape behind them ripped up and turned over like spades tossing clumps of mud, tipping into darkness. Through the twinkling streams, leafy grottos, rolling vines. Past the increasingly less beautiful beauties of Psytopia as they were smothered in gloom. Towards the fuzz-field with a momentous leap… And not a moment too soon. Psytopia Adagio 1

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We regret that despite her efforts, Remedy has still been unable to complete her assignment. However, in light of the fact that the circumstances surrounding her failure were not under her control, the Assembly of Tutors feel that a straight 'ungraded' mark could be considered unduly harsh.

*Remedy has learnt to be more responsible. *She had learnt to keep her composure, even with the odds stacked against her. *She has learnt to think before she acts. *She has even learnt to utilise other styles aside from that accursed blitz nonsense.

*If she sits down and thinks about some of her experiences, Remedy will find a balanced mind-set on which to build a suitable, grown-up attitude and philosophy. *If she continues to practice sensible styles, she will evolve into a solid, disciplined swordstril. *If she stays off the pyro and curbs other deviant behaviour, she will be an example to others. *If she keeps her emotions in check, she will prove to be a great asset to the Academy. *If notâ&#x20AC;Ś

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“Well, that went dandy.” Remedy picked herself up. Dusted herself off. Looked back at the fuzz-field. The Emerald plate seen through the negative filter, calm and bright and not even there. At least she was alive. And her little pick-ups too. ‘Alive’ was such an uncomfortable word. As if by definition it clarified the existence of the opposite. “You’se two sprites alright?” Melodi and Mana picked themselves up too. Dusted themselves off. Looked back at the fuzz-field. At least Azrael was dead. And his little nymph too. ‘Dead’ was such an unnerving word. Made them feel good to be alive.

“Now I’s not gonna pretend I know what happened to that plate, but I reckon we’s gonna be better off not mentioning it.” Melodi and Mana stood among the blooming neeproot, exchanging wry glances. Maybe the kids knew better than the adults? Maybe that’s because kids have unbound minds. And what have we learnt about unbound minds? That they're more than the sum total of what they were taught. That they’re capable of coming up with something new. That they break the mould. “We’s better head back.” Remedy sheathed her swords. Mana and Melodi helping each other through the flowers, exchanging shrugs. Maybe some people don’t need answers for everything. Maybe those people are happy enough without them. Psytopia Adagio 1

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And what have we learnt about life? That it's as tricky as a pair of fast-flashing double-sided blades. That you probably won’t get the best out of it if you blindly go and do whatever you want. And that you certainly won’t if you do what you’re told.

*Remedy must return to the Golden Plateau ASAP. *She will be assessed by the tutors to ensure that her opinions have not been tainted by her brushes with Anarchism. *She will attend a crash course on dictums. *She must be absolutely clear what is expected of her. *She will be paired with new tutors to teach alternative styles. *She will be sent on a new assignment which will test her understanding of Academy rules. Her passing grade will be withheld pending completion of this assignment. *She must ensure that she brings that curious little blue girl back with her… for study of course. Or there will be trouble. *And as a special privilege reserved only for the most promising swordstrils, the Assembly of Tutors requests that upon her return she reports directly to the Principal. That’s right; Zarathustra himself.

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'Psytopia' Adagio for Swords #2: 'Memento Mori ' Take a break from the bore of epic trawls through the plates to put your feet up, relax and daydream about how awful everything is in the Tapestry; the city time forgot. And when spooks knock on your door, just thank Zarathustra you’ll be dead soon anyway. 'Psytopia' Adagio for Swords #3: 'Holy Judgement' Take a trip across the plates, and complete your collection. Keep the beasties at bay, and by that I mean your nearest and dearest, because chaos is the most dangerous squib in the pen, and trouble’s going to come knocking on your door if you don’t suit up and cut it down. Download at: www.lulu.com/gabrieldasilva Read online at: www.issuu.com/gabrieldsilva

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Psytopia: Crimson Harvest, volume 2  

Written in a stanzas and soundbites style, Psytopia is a fast-paced, light-hearted and leftfield take on the fantasy genre. Is the wide, wil...

Psytopia: Crimson Harvest, volume 2  

Written in a stanzas and soundbites style, Psytopia is a fast-paced, light-hearted and leftfield take on the fantasy genre. Is the wide, wil...

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