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Freia was neither the heroine nor the villainess of the piece. She was actually a bit part. But since it was she who had laid it all out; the loops and the trips, the beats and the breaks, it’d be sensible to start with her. At the beginning. Psytopia was a world of opposites. Good and evil. Order and chaos. Academy and Anarchists. Freia was a bit of both. Which was probably how she got things moving. Finger in every pie, you see? Teaching others to do the same. Teaching others to think for themselves. Yes, Freia knew the wide, wild world like the back of her hand and taught by the book. But not only by the book. Which was probably what got her in hot water. What had earned her the proverbial cold shoulder.

Freia was one of the original six. Super-soldiers who had founded the Academy. And as she watched her beloved pupils disappear on their field trips through the windowwalls of the Academy pyramid, she looked back at how plans had been set in motion. At how meek and naïve they’d all been to have never doubted her. And how things were going to change.

An unusual sort. A broken beat. A misfit in the golden halls of law and order. Some might even say she was an Anarchist. A middle-aged Überstril who was a little more than she seemed. A little more edgy. A little more reactionary. A little less orthodox, if you really want to heap on the praise. Freia wasn’t in the least bit interested in heaping on praise. She hadn’t really done anything yet. Or at least, what she’d done was yet to happen.

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-Her lookAthletically built, if a touch lopsided. She’d lost an arm and leg thanks to her time as a metri smelter back on the Charcoal Plateau, and though she hadn’t aged much since then, she hadn’t grown a new set either. She had blurry orange eyes, long black hair and chunky transparent teeth which looked like a boxer’s gum shield. Other than that she appeared pretty normal by Psytopian standards. Which defied the fact that she was different. -Her getupPatchy black vinyl cargos with scratchy flame motifs, patchy vinyl waistcoat with lace-up front, patchy vinyl glove with heavy magnetic cuffs. And a flamey chrome plimsoll with a thick black strap. Other than that she looked... pretty much conventional? Not quite. -Her swords-

A basic blade used for simple sword strokes. Bad hand, you see? Better than the other one, which wasn’t really a hand at all.

A thin, swishy blade which extended out of what could have been an intricately decorated Swiss Army knife, and which also served as a limb. Because Zarathustra knows Freia didn’t have enough of those. Oh, Zarathustra knew alright. It had all been his idea. The blade had been attached via psychosurgery after the accident. The accident... there had been many. It was a sacrifice she’d made to the cause. Back when she’d believed in it. The wide, wild hunt for a brave new order. Aside from the swords, she had a sharpened peg leg and a cruel blade stitched into the end of her ponytail. I mean in her hair; she didn’t have a real pony tail. She may have been a gunge mutant and all, but let’s not get carried away. So she had four sets of claws if you cared to count them. Substantially better than one. She’d be needing the full range pretty soon as it goes, and then some. Because is it me, or can you feel a storm coming? It was a psycho storm, of course. Bad weather in Psytopia was generally attributable to such things. Bad weather in Psytopia was generally in your head. Or if you’re really unlucky, somebody else’s. But this storm was different. This storm was new. This storm wasn’t only happening now, but somewhere in the past. Oh, and in the future.

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Freia knew this much because it was her past and her future. The present probably wouldn’t be so kind. Ah well, you can’t have it all. We all fade into memories in the end, so we might as well accept it. The parts of her which had left long ago. A part of her screaming. A part of her dying. A part of her entering a transcendental state for a moment and seeing the greater possibilities which present themselves if you stop looking and start living. Memories coming home to roost. “The echo of an etherstorm.” So she smiled as she felt its subtle pull. On her blood and her bones. And her heart. Like a magnet, it was. Reeling her in. No; like the opposite of a magnet. Letting her go. Etherstorms didn’t happen much in the wide, wild world. Which is lucky because they opened up even wider and wilder haunts. Etherstorms didn’t happen much in the annuls of Psytopian history. Vibes on fire; that was what it was. Etherstorms weren’t meant to happen at all anymore. Out there somewhere on the mottled edges of the map. Etherstorms were extinct, or so they said. So she had expected him to come running.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Ah, such a predictable sound. Heavy footsteps descending from the tip of the Academy pyramid. The unmistakable rumble of metal and thunder. He knew now; that was the thing. That was the inevitable. Magnetics; can’t keep a secret with it, can’t live without it. He felt the plates crumple just as she did. And if a vagrant piece of her was burning far, far away. Well, he must have been positively steaming. “Freia.” “Zarathustra.” A smug grin. A casual sharpening of the fingernails with a bladed hand. A pleasing awareness of a distant shift in the wind. So what’s persuaded you to clamber down from your pedestal, Sir?

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“What is this shuddering in the breeze?” He had a disorientating voice, did Zarathustra, and it took some getting used to. Stern and course and tinny and harsh. Behold more of the undesirable side-effects of metri smelting. FREIA: (Shrugging nonchalantly, more interested in her fingernail) “It was the Tapestry, I’d wager.” ZARATHUSTRA: (Standing behind her, all shadowy and menacing; like a CGI monster forming in the gloom) “And why, pray, would the Tapestry fall?” FREIA: “Fall, you say? Now, what would make you think that?” ZARATHUSTRA: “It is not a thought, but a knowing. You feel it too.” FREIA: “To feel thoughts. How odd. And to imagine; we live in such a sensible world...” ZARATHUSTRA: (Spinning her around with a big iron fist) “Cease this game, Miss Freia; your very essence betrays you.” FREIA: “My very magnetics, I think you will agree. I know you will agree, do I not? Just as I am aware that this self same magnetic wave has alerted you to what I have hidden. What then, is the purpose of this discussion?” ZARATHUSTRA: “The hells shift beneath our feet.” FREIA: “Imagine that...” ZARATHUSTRA: “I have no time for mere imagining.” FREIA: “Perhaps it is through such lack of vision that you have become so blind.” ZARATHUSTRA: “The Tapestry has fallen.” FREIA: (Turning back to gaze through the windows) “Alas, home sweet home. Well if you must stack dream upon vagrant dream, what did you imagine would happen?” ZARATHUSTRA: “There is no force in the wide, wild world; no force in Jörd or Midgard which could bastardise the dreamcloud.” FREIA: (Sighs) “By bastardise, I presume you mean ‘unravel’, and you know full well of such a force.” ZARATHUSTRA: “I do not believe in mythology.” FREIA: “Then how wastefully you have spent a life pursuing it.” ZARATHUSTARA: (At her back, like an albatross around the neck, a wrought portcullis lowered over her, a ten ton juggernaut revving up) “Nothing that lives could fell the dreamcloud.” FREIA: “How true. Or something which does not belong in our world at all.”

Zarathustra’s heavy gauntlets on her shoulder. His icy breath on her nape. The taut magnetic pull of his gimpy metri togs spinning her around like a pig on a spit. That was almost as rude as carrying on this story without introducing the villain of the piece.

Der Masterschwertfechter. Der Eisenfaust. Der Höheremacht. Der Mann-Gott. A man of metal and thunder. That’s about it, really. OK, so Zarathustra was the man of metal and thunder. The founding father. The lord and master. The prime mover. The god among men, women, quirky hybrids and miscellaneous beasties.

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Zarathustra founded the Academy, you know? Zarathustra was its peerless Principal. And Zarathustra just happened to be a no nonsense, kick arse kind of chap. So let’s just quake theatrically and be done with it.

-His lookI’d tell you what Zarathustra looked like, if I could look into the eyes of god. But I can’t, so I won’t. It’s not my fault, alright; the thing is he wore a lot of armour. Every inch. Managing the Academy? Wear armour. Out for lunch? Wear armour. Tucked up in bed? He didn’t do tucked up in bed, but if he did, he’d wear armour. It was difficult to know whether his flesh was made of armour too...

-His getupUm... armour? Lots of the above. Gravimagmathic armour, no less. It was cold, gimpy stuff. Complete with seemingly endless buckles and straps, spikes and rivets. Cold metal jutting out of PVC mesh at arcane angles like bundles of splintered swords strung together. In fact, Zarathustra’s body was so stern, course, chromey and all those things that it was highly likely the metal had grown in. Moulded to his bones. He wore promethean boots of fractured blades, a little like a cross between those of wicket keepers and astronauts. He wore thick mesh-metal gauntlets of tartan hues, a little like a cross between those of a medieval jester and a robotic arm. He wore an uneven spiked mask a little like a cross between that of a samurai and a BMX racer, garnished with sturdy tubes and curving daggers. Oh no, tell a lie; that’s not a mask, it’s his face. Bits of blades fused into the flesh, jarring here and there into blackened, congealed skin. Only the eyes revealed some kind of life. Pale and red; strange multi-pupils; one double, one triple. Like the foetuses of twins and triplets squashed gruesomely together in the womb. And this was the Principal on a good day. So you made sure you did your homework, right? ZARATHUSTRA: “Your apparent confidence is misplaced, my muse...” FREIA: “Your muse. And only now have you been made aware that I have grown beyond such a station.” ZARATHUSTA: (Impatient now) “You are aware that only the materials of the hells are capable of raising them.” FREIA: (Looking over her missing arm and leg) “Like ultimetri. Ah yes, one of the three pillars of reality in it’s most quintessential form. What sacrifices we made in chasing that wayward dream...” ZARATHUSTRA: “And you are aware that such substances cannot exist.” FREIA: “And yet you chased that myth until it consumed us all.” ZARATHUSTRA: “We spent many rounds smelting metri.” FREIA: “And we created some wonderful concoctions, did we not?” ZARATHUSTRA: “Yet in discovering ultimetri, we failed.” FREIA: “Now, now master; fail is a very strong word.”

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Zarathustra backed up a step or three. Probably three; he liked those. Accompanied by another five sets of coarse metal boots ascending the grand golden stairway. Seven überstrils now, but that’s OK; Zarathustra also liked sevens.

There were seven überstrils in the Academy. And since there was only one Academy, that meant there were seven überstrils in the wide, wild world. Of them, Zarathustra was the master. I said the master. The crème de la crème. The king of kings. The man. And all that other self serving tosh.

Zarathustra was the master, and under him sat the six Academy Tutors, each with their own style, attitude and approach. Sadly, none with their own ideas. Because if any of them dared to develop their own ideas and upset the carefully ordered apple cart... Well, we’re going to see in a moment, aren’t we? Because as it turns out, Zarathustra had given Freia far too wide a berth.

FROH

Scrawl tutor

Gormless gimp who was good at his art

His sword: Artisaria Kritzeleispiegel

THE ASSEMBLY OF TUTORS

ERDA

Ground tutor

Gormless gimp who was good at her art

Her sword: Splintered Recall Gleichewichtspiegel

LOGE

Brute tutor

Gormless gimp who was good at his art His sword: Cold Comfort Rauspiegel

FRICHA

DONNER

Gormless gimp who was good at her art

Gormless gimp who was good at his art

Counter tutor

Her sword: Mist Maker Reagierenspiegel

FREIA

Tech tutor

Breeze tutor

His sword: Heretic Tip Genauspiegel

Her swords: Silent Shreik Schnellspiegel and La Sensoria

Gormless... hey!

See, you give them an inch and they take a mile. You give them a sword and they take two. You give them your trust.. and you take a few limbs to be on the safe side. What, and now you’re surprised to find she’s bitter? ZARATHUSTRA: “Mistress Freia.” FREIA: “Master Zarathustra.” ZARATHUSTRA: “We have been studying your work for some time.” FREIA: “And I have been studying your studying for some time.” ZARATHUSTRA: (Tensing up, the magnetic fields swirling around his armour almost pulling Freia’s sword from its sheath) “Now that I have awoken to this devience in the breeze...” FREIA: (Shrugs, fingers inching towards her blade) “I shall take that description as a complement.” ZARATHUSTRA: “The magnetics of this distant überstorm gravitate in your direction. The knowledge you have hidden from us reveals your lack of faith.” FREIA: “Come now; the side-effects of metri smelting. A loss of arms, a loss of legs, a loss of faith.”

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ZARATHUSTRA: “You have been a trusted tutor for many rounds.” FREIA: “And you a naïve Principal for just as long.” ZARATHISTRA: “I see your mind now. Your ties with anarchism.” FREIA: “You don’t know the half of it.” ZARATHUSTRA: (Cracking his knuckles; the echoes heard across the plates) “Oh, I know the whole of it.” FREIA: “Then you will also know how blind you have been.” ZARATHUSTRA: “This is the first time I have had to excommunicate a tutor.” FREIA: “No, it’s just the latest time you’ve found a blade shoved into your face.”

FREIA: Quick draw turn-around loop (LS) HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Across face

FIZZ! Zarathustra nods his head to one side

Three tutors begin to draw their blades. Zarathustra ushers them back. It’s easy when you’re a master gravimagmatician; just switch the EM fields on and waft the things back into their sheaths. ZARATHUSTRA: “I was not expecting to have to fight you.” FREIA: “There seem to have been many things you did not expect.” ZARATHUSTRA: “A pity.”

Let’s meet in the middle then

Freia smirked to herself. Alright, so she was going to die. All the more reason to go out in style.

Freia had adapted somewhat. She was more of a strategist than an exponent. That didn’t mean she wasn’t one of the best breezers to ever walk the grand golden stairway, mind. Yes, Freia was a strategist. Learn how to walk again; strategise. Work out how to smelt brand new metris; strategise. Hide the legendary Octet from the boss of it all? Stratregise, stratergise, stratergise. Yes, Freia was a strategist. She didn’t do things by the book. What kind of strategy is that? She didn’t even teach by the book. This year’s class were well equipped. Doubly equipped. Even more than that. So you see, Zarathustra was too late. It must be nice to be a man of metal and thunder.

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For a magnetic storm to sweep through your head and to suddenly know everything. Everything she knew, at least. Back home, they called it the tagsphere. Back when home housed the kind of people who you’d trust to reach into your soul. The tagsphere was the psyience through which every Tapestarian was linked. All those thoughts hurled into the ether; no secrets, no lies, no hidden agendas. Yes, it must have been nice for Zarathustra to suddenly know everything she knew. Like, for example, what he’d missed. FREIA: “I’m sorry master, but you may as well kill me.” ZARATHUSTRA: “Kill is such a gloomy word.” FREIA: “Gloomy, yes. Inaccurate; no.”

FREIA: Blitz break chain Turn-around twirl (LS) >Hair-blade whip< 360 leaping scoop (SG) >Hair-blade whip< Torpedo whirl (LS) >Hair-blade whip< Overhead swoop (SG) >Hair-blade whip< CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA s armour ZARATHUSTRA: “You even fight like an Anarchist.” FREIA: “Another complement; thank you.” ZARATHUSTRA: “Anarchism would be the death of this world.”

Four tutors gripping the handles of the weapons. Freia flashing them a wry smirk with the whip of a blade. Zarathustra’s calming words in their heads through the remnants of the tagsphere. Echoes of the shared past through which their thoughts and dreams knitted together. FREIA: “We have fought side by side against anarchism for so long.” ZARATHUSTRA: “And now you have become it.” FREIA: “Here’s a handy dictum you overlooked; things change.”

FREIA: Blitz break chain Backstroke curl (SG) >Hair-blade whip< Leaping overhead droop (LS) >Hair-blade whip< 360 headspin swirl (SG) >Hair-blade whip< Backhand cross-body stoop (LS) >Hair-blade whip< CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA s armour

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ZARATHUSTRA: “You cannot win.” FREIA: “Who said anything about winning?” ZARATHUSTRA: “Correct. It was dying of which you spoke.”

All five tutors chattering; uneasy. Cool it and use the tagsphere, you clumsy breathers. It’s all you’ve got left of home. FREIA: “The track is laced, Zarathustra.” ZARATHUSTRA: “Perhaps, but your mutiny will not go far.” FREIA: “I was thinking more of a revolution.”

FREIA: Blitz break montage 50 spin! Stoop/ hair/ twirl/ hair 100 spin! Swirl/ hair/ scoop/ hair 200 spin! Droop/ hair/ whirl/ hair 400 spin! Curl/ hair/ stab! HIT! SCENE-SHUDDERING FIZZ! ZARATHUSTRA: La Sensoria embedded in his breastplate The tutors standing aghast. Freia awarding herself a loose-lipped chuckle. He hadn’t expected that.

Zarathustra’s black blood dripping on the marble floor. Oily nanos eating through the stonework. Zarathustra’s tagged-in mind reading the magnetics; more of her secrets. That blade; hidden in Freia’s hands all this time and under his very nose. Suddenly seeing the magnetic signature of its siblings across the plates. Zarathustra’s multi-pupils bursting into a freaky, bulbous rage. Ah, perhaps after stabbing him in the back, stabbing him in front hadn’t been a good move. ZARATHUSTRA: Organ grab SNATCH! Glove around Freia s liver

The Breeze tutor with a saddened look down. How did Zarathustra’s arm get in there with her flesh still intact? As if plucking a coin out of a water fountain...

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Anarchist techniques, if the truth be told. Now, Zarathustra was hardly an Anarchist... But he was often known to be a little bi-polar. And if it worked, well then it worked, didn’t it? Anarchists did fancy things with high tech gloves of various kinds. It was almost a fetish. And it worked in mysterious ways. Zarathustra had developed the Anarchist art of fabri portioning while working in the smelt plants of the Tapestry, and he knew Psytopian anatomy well. Right down to the nanos. So he knew how to manipulate it. Fabri portioning can allow you to split rocks, change the weather, even do surgery without a scalpel. They still taught it in the Academy; the medicative aspect. But everything has a flip-side, doesn’t it? So part those nanos, grab your prize... And squeeze. ZARATHUSTRA: Vicious clench HIT! FREIA: Organ pop Eyes roll Oops, that s done it The tutors sheathing their swords, relieved. Pointing and giggling. A trickle of blood dripping from the Principal’s gauntlet was the only other sound. ZARATHUSTRA: Organ grab SNATCH! Glove around Freia s lung Her head lolling. Her body paralysed. A woozy feeling taking over. ZARATHUSTRA: Vicious squeeze HIT! FREIA: Organ pop Muffled cough Please sir; can I go now? The tutors watching, relaxed. You learn something new every day. A trickle of blood so dark it could have been smelt house gloop dribbling from Freia’s lips.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Organ grab SNATCH! Glove around Freia s heart Her consciousness drifting. Her teeth gritting. Any last words? “Liberdade.” ZARATHUSTRA: Vicious scrunch HIT! FREIA: Organ pop Freia drops her sword

CRUNCH!

One knee. The tutors begin to walk away.

CLANG!

A spear-leg, in lieu of the other. The floor redder than she remembered it.

SCRIPP!

Zarathustra messily withdrawing his arm. Is that a waterfall I hear before me?

A perfect 10. But then, he’s doing the marking so he would say that, wouldn’t he? He didn’t even flash a blade. It wasn’t quite a fight really, was it?

But there was one thing he hadn’t been so perfect on. One detail which had slipped his eye. One trick he’d missed. The chink in his armour. The snag in the soles of his boots. The glitch in the track. It had been here all along, in Freia’s hands. What he had spent aeons searching for; or one of them, at least. A supersword.

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Superswords were precious things. Or über if you want to be all Psytopian about it. You could even say they made the wide, wild world go round. The building blocks on which the sword styles, the plates and perhaps even life as we know it rests. Us being Psytopians, of course. The Octet, they were called, and there were six of them. One for every vibe. OK so there were eight of them, of course. But let’s not let the pupils know that. Let’s not give them too many choices; they might end up taking the wrong ones later in life. Only the ancient ether dancers knew where the Octet had come from. Only they could manufacture the materials from which they were made. Which of course meant that nobody knew where they’d come from or how to produce more. And try as he did to recreate them, round upon endless round, Zarathustra knew better than any that both ultiswords and ether dancers were myths. Myths exist for one reason and one reason only. To guard against fear. That was the kind of thing Zarathustra was interested in. So he whipped La Sensoria off the floor and listened to the blade. Because it’s other-worldly vibration made him consider whether he knew it all afterall. Even myths can be made manifest through fear... Looks like the Principal is due his own field trip.

Retrieve the Octet Follow your nose. Or your dreams. Or your inner magnetics. It’s all psycience to me; I‘m not sure. And when you have the set, keep them to yourself. Dull the dance and bring the world to order. A world without fear; that was all Zarathustra wanted. You see, he’s the true hero of the piece. A world without those vagrant vibes which conjured up what he feared most. Echoes in the wind. Imagination. Reality? No; Disobedience. If you erase the track, you stifle its echoes. Wahey, a brave new world. A stable one, at least. A world which behaved itself. Perhaps Zarathustra should have really played the pantomime villain back there. Strung Freia up and asked her a load of questions. Why she’d hidden the Octet from him since the dire old days at the smelt plant and more importantly, where they were.

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He could have used his time-honed grasp of the strange art of gravimagmathics to raise a zombie Freia and do just that, but thankfully, such arcane tricks weren’t necessary either. That’s the thing about psyience. You don’t have to ask, you can just know. And if you happen to be a man of metal and thunder, the prime mover, a man-god... Then the plates speak to you through the magnetics of the metals which mankind built around them. All you have to do is listen. Zarathustra had done everything to find the original Octet. The chariots of the gods. The arks of the heavens. The really, really fancy, spangly stuff. He’d fought a war. He’d built a dream city. He’d ransacked every Anarchist settlement which fell into his cruel, metal hands, but he’d never quite got lucky. Haunted by the notion that there was a force out there greater than he. Haunted by a cack-handed, cock-eyed fantasy. “She kept it from me. The twilight of the gods.” The Tutors didn’t have to return to the lecture hall to hear him. Their minds were strung together like crabs in a pot. Ironic that a gravimagmatician had been duped. Duped by one of his inner circle, no less. His inner triangle; let’s not invite the geometry of anarchism, now. The magnetic storm still fizzed in his muddled head. The burning wave. The blue noise. Waking a horde of internal spooks from their slumber. Dreamblur, that was what it was. Zarathustra was struck by it from time to time. All the desperate vibes he’d left vagrant. Memories without heads. Who knew which were his and which were not. Perhaps they were all of his making. Familiar again as he slipped for a moment into the dreamworld. You know if any of the rest of you want a revolution, this is probably the best time to step in and claim his scalp.

There was a cathedral in Zarathustra’s dream. A grand, lush, pristine cathedral with all the trimmings. It may as well have been Zarathustra’s dream, though it could have been anyone’s. It could have been little scraps of the dreams of everyone in the Tapestry. It may as well have been a dream, but it might have been a memory. Dreams are somebody’s memories either way.

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Stitched together and repackaged, no longer making a whole lot of sense. Let’s suppose these were some particular person’s memories, and let’s suppose they were Freia’s. Zarathustra’s, Freia’s, the Loch Ness monster’s... What’s the difference and who really knows in the dark? Identities are as clear as pea soup in a dreamcloud, but I’ve said they were Freia’s memories, so let’s stick with that. In any case, in his dream, Zarathustra realised what Freia had done. She’d always been a touch edgy. A tad unconventional. A tinsy bit extreme. She’d known the Octet were there all along. And he felt them now in his hands as she had in her’s. In glorious, 3-D technicolour. She’d found the first one while pot-holing for pyro. The black stuff, with which they stripped objects down to their atomic blueprints in order to cast off spooks and start afresh. Sifting through unrealities to lay the foundations of a brave new world. But she found a sword down in the silt. The Burning Rage, it was. And in gripping it tight, she taunted its memories. Of family. She’d found it right down there in the kaleidoscopic ether below the beautiful cathedrals, glorious archways and elegant spires of the Tapestry. Just so you know, this was the Tapestry before Zarathustra and co fucked it all up. Yes, Freia held the Burning Rage in her hands and it changed her. As überswords are known to do. It woke her up. You see, überswords liked to rest in Necropoli. Preferably in peace. Some said überswords were the centrepieces of necropolis, around which said spires, archways and cathedrals grew like pilgrims around a sacred mount. It didn’t matter what they said; the Tapestry was full of mythical mumbo-jumbo. What mattered was that upon holding the Burning Rage in her hands, Freia woke up. To a bigger world, in fact. A braver one.. a freer one? Zarathustra shook his head clear. ‘Free’ is just another word for ‘fucked up’. So Freia had woken up and subverted their project. To knead the swords of his dreams into reality. Myths don’t always remain myths where dreams gain form, you know? She had let the others get on with their flesh-searing trade while she made new friends and sent them their own missions. To find the original Octet below the necropolis dotted around Psytopia. And it was Anarchists who she forged those bonds with. That unscrupulous band called the Soul Cage Trust. Defenders of nature, they said they were. Defenders of chaos. And the rest, like Freia, was history.

Zarathustra awoke from his dream. Betrayal heating his veins. Clenched fists, teeth and eyelids, boiling his blood. A few of Freia’s sayings came to mind:

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“She deceived me.” Did I mention people with dreamblur tended to have clouded judgement? I only have one mind in here so I don’t know whether Zathathustra’s feeling it for six. But betrayal cuts like a supersword. “Master. Is this really an übersword?” Froh, the Scrawl Tutor. Always asking questions. But that’s OK, he was engineered that way. “One of two she had cradled. The key to the first Heaven.” Zarathustra studied it in the light like a glass blower checking for blemishes. Rest assured there weren’t any. Though there did seem to be swirls creeping across its lime-tinted skin. One could open gates to greater realities with such objects, or better still, close them. Superswords were the conduits through which the living passed into the lands of the dead. And vice versa; Zarathstra remembered this well. Superswords were enlightened things, and that made them dangerous. So let’s keep them locked up in metal and thunder because the enlightened aren’t easy to fool. “Where would she have hidden such übejects? Somewhere safe, I’d wager .” Erda, the Ground Tutor. Sure of herself. She was engineered that way. “Somewhere safe is the first place we would look.” Zarathustra swishing the blade a little. The echo of the metri so fresh he felt his brain crinkle. The Heavens breathed with its every move. “The Anarchists won’t cover them from our gaze for long.” Loge, the Brute Tutor. Furious, as always. As his engineering dictated. “There are one hundred blades in the Academy; one for each student...” Zarathustra did the maths. He knew what Freia knew, remember? Her memories and those of the superwords she’d touched. She was a reflection of him, afterall.

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“But there are some who have more than one.” Fricha, the Counter Tutor. Countering her master’s point. That’d be the engineering, then. “The young Breeze class; one of Freia’s. Double swordstrils, they are. Valkyries.” Zarathustra’s newfangled memories unraveling piece by piece through Freia’s fading link to the tagsphere; like a length of tangled tweed. The hooks, the snares, the tricks, the feints. He knew his would-be usurper’s mind well. “She kept one sword for herself. Is there wisdom in sharing the others with her students?” Donner, the Tech Tutor. Well, would that be a sensible tactic? You and your engineering can work it out. “There are blurs in these memories.” That’d be the things Freia didn’t know. Because the best revolutionaries keep parts of the plot hidden, even from themselves. Zarathustra knew more about the Octet than most. He’d even made fractured mirrors of them. But swordstrils in the same class whose blades would fizz like superswords did every time they sparred together? No; dreamblur or not, Freia was too intelligent to allow herself to be tripped by the obvious. The Octet were fanciful archetypes concocted by schizophrenic soldiers in a forgotten war. Only idealists or nut cases would attempt to find such objects in the real world. But that old, forgotten war... Zarathustra for one remembered it well, and that it made unrealities possible. Perhaps only idealists and nut cases would seek to find archetypes in the real world... And only a strict disciplinarian like Zarathustra would have the foresight to destroy them. “Those pitiful gnomes build our swords especially for the wielder.” And Pyronettes were known to be loyal types. Yet one hundred students and one hundred and eight swords... “I trusted mistress Freia to oversee their work...” Swords intended for a purpose. Swords built for people. That had been Freia’s scheme. Swords built for people, or the other way round?

There was no way of telling how deep the political intrigue went. How many were on the payroll of anarchism. They get everywhere, don’t they? Like cockroaches, like sand, like doubt.

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But Zarathustra had clipped the wings of this devious plot before the phoenix had fully grown. Her memories pinpointing the swords in magnetic tugs and waves, kicking up an internal maelstrom. There was a storm brewing in Psytopia, as ancient as the necropolis and as mischievous as the little mites which raged right now in his bloodstream. But being the prime mover, the founding father and a god among men, Zarathustra was going to make sure the wind turned back in his favour before the round was out. So what was Zarathustra? Dreamer? Nut case? Schizophrenic? Superswords out there in the wide, wild world; more than just myths... Six magnetic pulls from different corners of the plates, echoing in his sword-sewn skull. Because the hand that wields the strongest sword rules the world. And mad dictator or not, that sounded like a pretty good deal.

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They were kicking pebbles in the Academy courtyard. Some had been kicking pebbles for quite some time. They were kicking pebbles, pacing to and fro, watching the silhouettes fade in from the haze of the fuzz field with uncertain squints followed by wide-eyed smiles or dismal frowns. As the graduates learned whether their friends were dead or not. Three of the blitzblades were home already; united in silence. Not quite the same happy-go-lucky girls they used to be. Elegy and Esuna thinking of the things they’d lost; like maybe their innocence. Halo jabbing the tip of a blade into her own thigh; a treasure she’d found out there, amid the systematic dismantling of innocence and likely at the expense of more valuable stuff.

They were usually a talkative bunch, the blitzblades. An energetic little clique. But shock, loss, bruises and failure mark even the merriest minds. Now that they knew more of the wide, wild world. So they gazed weary-eyed like the rest of them. As lonely silhouette after lonely silhouette wandered dizzily toward the central courtyard. Quietly thankful that the expected graduation fanfare was not forthcoming. Muddledy blunt, this is depressing; these people need a remedy.

Supposedly, pre-grad and post-grads returning from the field received a hero’s welcome. Those who had passed moved on to the next step of their training. Those who had failed would be counselled before applying for retakes. Those who had died, their friends watching fruitlessly for their return... Well, we don’t say ‘die’ in the Academy, do we? An army’s no good if it’s hanging its head when the Anarchist hacksticks come swinging.

ESUNA

ELEGY

HALO

A bit like a holey hockey stick

A piston-powered, strap-on sword

A new, straight, night-pure blade

A retractable blade with extra reach

A big flicknife-come-scythe

A short, curved sword with bite

Sat cross-legged on the dusty Sat back on a glittering gold Standing in the meandering gold floor, looking downcast rock bench, looking exhausted gold pathway, looking weary Not her usual, chirpy self Not her usual, inventive self Her usual, silent self Scratchy grufang bites up her Random mud stains covering Patchy blue bruises hanging on skirt and legs like scissor snips her boots like leopard spots her flesh like messy ink blots Their swords Heaven’s Destiny: Twisted Epiphany: The Prodigal’s Edge: The Inquisitor:

Head up in anticipation Who’s the next one back?

Psytopia: Adagio 3

La Renaissance:

Firmy sheathed Head hung in trepidation Who’s the next one missing?

23

La Faux Fatale:

Head lolling this way and that Having half forgotten herself


Groups of students gazing forlornly across the flickering pyro moat surrounding the Academy’s lofty pyramid, placed on that precarious apple core cliff. Seeking shapes pacing through the fuzz field and up the glittery path. Even the endless golds of home seeming less vibrant now. Dreaming of a time when they weren’t so... experienced. “Hey sizuz, what’s you’se doin’ out here? Thought I’d spy you’se at Pyrotech.” Three of those heads looking up. The golds suddenly a touch brighter. So that’s four of them who’d made it at least. “Remy!” Esuna first to jump up and tug her wrist, eager as a hungry chick in a bird’s nest. “Remedy.” Elegy next, as balanced as Remedy remembered her. “Rem.” Halo last; just a nod from across the way, slyly sipping pyro with a shudder and a grimace; dulling some recently acquired aches and pains. REMEDY: “How come you’se kitz be here, heads all hung in despair?” ESUNA: “We’s waiting.” REMEDY: “For who’se?”

HALO: “For you se.” REMEDY: “Well here I iz, so we’s can jive the rounds away.” ELEGY: “What about Mojo?” REMEDY: (Cheery expression suddenly reversed) “Mojo...” ESUNA: (Taking her hand, pout turned up enough to balance a flower pot) “What about Mojo?” REMEDY: (Tears welling up, ruining her fiery orange eye liner before the plot has even really begun) “She’s...”

HALO: “She’s passed.” REMEDY: (Looking at HALO suspiciously) “She’s... dead.” ELEGY: (Holding REMEDY‘s other wrist with both hands) “No Remedy, we must say passed. To the Third Heaven; a higher place.” REMEDY: (Stammering now, hands by her sides, watching her tears hit the golden pebbles below. Well she’d kept that side-plot hidden for all of a sliver of a shade...) “Moy Mojo...” ESUNA: “Mojo’s really...” HALO: (Ushering ESUNA aside) “Dead. Let them talk.” REMEDY: “I’s been tryin’ to think of stuff, you know? Portion out moy coco so I’s full enough to not have to...” ELEGY: “You loved her Remy, it’s OK.” REMEDY: (Wiping her eyes with a sleeve, splashing tears mixing with makeup) “I did? You know? You did. I did. I mean,,, but I don’t know. And I shouldn‘t have, you know?” ELEGY: “Of course you should have, and you’re often the last to know these things. Or at least the last to let yourself believe them.” REMEDY: “And... she knew?” ELEGY: “Of course she knew.” REMEDY: “She ‘fessed it to you’se?” ELEGY: “She didn’t have to. You two were always...” REMEDY: “Moy Mojo...”

Clutching Elegy tight, letting those teary tributaries drift down her friend’s shoulder and onto the path like twinkling gold dust out of a sifting pan. She hadn’t cried about this since... Since she’d had to knuckle down and play the heroine. And she’d really, really needed to.

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REMEDY: “They all died, Elegy. So much blood. So much blood...” ELEGY: “They passed, Remedy.” REMEDY: “They died. Passed into nothing but sinking sands.” ELEGY: “Who died Remy? Who else?” REMEDY: “All of them. Azrael, Miki, Obi, Mojo... Even Corona; they all just died.” ELEGY: “You saw Corona?” REMEDY: “I killed Corona.” ELEGY: “And Azrael?” REMEDY: “I’s sorry kitifire, I... I killed Azrael too.” ELEGY: (Retreating a step) “Oh... And, Mikado and Mojo?” REMEDY: (Grabbing her wrist back) “Kiti, I didn’t kill Miki and Mojo, I swear...” ELEGY: (Tugging her tight again, stroking her hair) “It’s OK siz, I know you didn’t.” REMEDY: (Starting to doubt herself) “It was Azrael. He was loopy loco, see? How come I held it dandy all the way and I’s crumblin’ now?” ELEGY: “So it was just you, alone out there in the wide, wild world?” REMEDY: (Starting to think more positive) “Nah, there were them lickle sparks, see?” ELEGY: “Sparks?” REMEDY: “Mel and Mana. Pick-ups we’d hooked along the way.” ELEGY: “And they... passed too?” REMEDY: (Letting go a little, making eye contact) “No, I dropped ‘em off. You’se knows; places safe.” ELEGY: “Then that’s why you were holding it together Remy; you kept on top of things for other people.” REMEDY: “I did?” ELEGY: (Stroking her hair back behind her ears) “You did. That takes a lot of strength. And responsibility.” REMEDY: (Smiling a bit; something else she’d held in since... well since Mojo and the world ending and all) “Didn’t wanna get all ‘sponsy in moy old age.” ELEGY: “We’re all older than when we left. The longest few rounds I’ve ever known.” REMEDY: “But you’se and Nakatomi got through it alright, right?” ELEGY: “Nakatomi passed into the Third Heaven, Remy. Me and Timbre were lucky to get back alive.” REMEDY: (Ready to return a hug, feeling them overrated) “Oh, siz. See, the world’s wider and wilder than we thought.” ELEGY: “We were ambushed by Anarchists. They wanted his sword.” REMEDY: “And the squarelace blunt didn’t drop it, huh?” ELEGY: “That’s one lesson I haven’t unlearned.” REMEDY: “So we’s both mopey failures, you’se and moy?” ELEGY: “I’m in good company failing with you.” REMEDY: “Retakes, huh?” ELEGY: “Back to class.” REMEDY: “I’s kinda lookin’ forward ta’ zippin’ trippy with the mistress again.” ELEGY: (Pause) “Ah. Remedy.” REMEDY: “Ah Remedy what?” ELEGY: “There’s someone else who’s... passed.” REMEDY: “Who’se?” ELEGY: “A few rounds back they said; while we were surfing the plates.” REMEDY: “Freia?” ELEGY: “I’m sorry siz. We’ve all been pretty confused about it all.” REMEDY: (Angry; pacing with her hands on her blades) “Freia wasn’t out in the wide, wild world.” ELEGY: “Looks like wild and worldly things happen at home too.” REMEDY: (Pacing harder) “I’s feelin’ a tangin’ in moy drum, kitz.” ELEGY: “I know. We all do. It’s good to let it out.”

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REMEDY: (Tightening her grip on her sword handles) “Nah, nah siz, I mean a tangin’.” ELEGY: (Concerned, maybe for Remedy, maybe for herself; she knew her own team leader hadn’t fallen to friendly fire, but when Remedy got mad...) “What kind of tanging?” REMEDY: (The Holy Judgement reverberating in her grasp) “A cold, coarse, bulbous, starey tangin’, y’know?” ELEGY: “Eeer... what do you...” REMEDY: “I mean I’s feelin’ a buzzin’ in moy ears, kittyclaw. A buzzin’ and a bruisin’.” ELEGY: “In your ears?” REMEDY: “I’s felt it before. I’s felt it since the Emerald Plateau; a pulsin’ sound. D’you’se hear it? A hauntingly thingie.” ELEGY: “Remy, you’re starting to...” REMEDY: “Well it’s a pulsin’ sound and it means no good. I’s heard it since the lickle blue mite blew the world away.” ELEGY: (Catching HALO‘s only good eye, urging her to keep watch with a shrug) “Remy, what are you talking about?” REMEDY: (Gritting her teeth, clenching her knuckles, ltaking a breath) “I’ll tell you’se later kitz. Don’t quite know moyself. But I’s reckonin’ we’s should be gettin’ inside right now belle blazes, cos somethin’ buzzy and pulsy in moy head’s tellin’ moy we’s bein’ watched.”

————————————————————————————————-

A community of dutiful dupes, minding their own business A gang of nasty, dirty, trouble-making Anarchists

The old smelt town on the Bronze Plateau. A cluster of pyramids atop underground mines. stretching who knows how deep. A self-contained village surrounded by fuzz fields.

Oops; they’ve started already.

“Anarchs! Them anarchs are ‘ere!” Chaos. Panic. Air raids.

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Vibro-raids, in fact. Silent, played by two workhouse lugs at a time, a little like a zither. You won’t hear it, but it’ll buzz your blood. And call you up for defensive action. PSYTOPIAN 1: Random swing (workhouse blade)

PSYTOPIAN 2: Random stab (workhouse prong) COUNTER! PARAHACK MALE: Crookblade swipe HIT! PSYTOPIAN 2 Cross-body, cut in two OUT OF PLAY

HIT! PSYTOPIAN 1 Cleaves skull OUT OF PLAY

PSYTOPIAN 3: Random whack (workhouse rod)

HIT! PSYTOPIAN 3 Ducks... blade embedded in trousers Knockdown!

Psytopian 3 scuttling across the slippery bronze floor. Back towards the entrance of the workhouse pyramid. Fingers and palms making little headway across the glossy slabs. Crescent moon blade still lodged in his dirty rags like a thread through a needle.

PARAHACK MALE: Crookblade wrench HURL! PSYTOPIAN 3 Tossed by his ankle rags from one end of the forecourt to the other PSYTOPIAN 3: Unintentional crash HIT! DARK PLATE FIEND Clatter

Shadowy shape and gargantuan parahack with a nod and a grin. Aren’t mutant reptiles supposed to be afraid of the dark? Turning back to continue the rampage. Even fear makes no sense when you’re dealing with anarchy! DARK PLATE FIEND: Shadow claw swipe HIT! PSYTOPIAN 3: Gutted OUT OF PLAY

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———————————— Across the forecourt. Vibro-raid sirens still ringing in the workhouse rabble’s blood. A balcony of the pyramid filling up with lugs. The entire population thrown onto the defensive. PARAHACK FEMALE: Overhead jabspike hook HIT! PSYTOPIAN 4: Face mash! Knockdown! PARAHACK FEMALE: Sidestepping jabspike swipe HIT! PSYTOPIAN 5: Clatter of teeth over the balcony edge PARTAHACK FEMALE: Toe pivot jabspike uppercut HIT! PSYTOPIAN 5: Chin Crashing through the rail and down onto the wiry grass below Knockdown! The Anarchist wiping her reptilian mouth with a glove. Waving another pair of wretched Psytopians forward. Rolls her reptilian shoulders, bounces on the balls of her reptilian feet. “Liberdade, carcerios.”

Arcane weaponry and no mistake. Adapted from the more artistic design of jabguns to enable closer-quarter brawling, and of course, modified to fit a parahack. Hand spikes, foot spikes, head spikes. Jabspikes could come in whatever form you wished. Because if you were Anarchist enough to use them, you were Anarchist enough to adapt them for all manner of mischief. DIY; there’s no production line serving such left field tastes. A little like tattoo machines, jabguns of all descriptions contained packs of pyro and ejected it through needles at the tip of the device. This added a certain element of nano burn to every punch, kick or butt. You didn’t have to be an artist to use a jabgun, though the more discerning proponents of the method would say it helped.

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Rough houses could also pick up a piece and get busy. Crafted from whatever leftover metris one could find- stapled and stitched like a homeless person cobbling together clothes; the only qualification a jabgun needed to be considered a jabgun was passion. Oh, and that it worked. Because base metals aren’t particularly good at processing pyro. They’ll burn up before you even get to punt a punch at your victim’s head. But at least when you’re battering skulls with jabguns, you’re helping them die enlightened. You may as well be enlightened, even if you’re going to be dead. And this was one lizard lady who could pack a pretty devastating whack. PSYTOPIANS 6, 7 & 8 Random swipes (workhouse tools) PYRO-HACK HYBRID 1 PYRO-HACK HYBRID 2 Duck Weave COUNTERED! PYRO-HACK HYBRIDS: Loopball punts FLAME CHARGE! FLAME CHARGE HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIAN 6: Head 60 flicks Knockdown!

PSYTOPIAN 7: Back 60 flicks Knockdown!

The brawling reptile on the balcony giving a gruff thumbs-up to her mongrel kids. Two of her opponents taken out from down below. Anarchism clearly runs in the family. Speaking of which... PARAHACK FEMALE: Bowling overhead jabspike haymaker HIT! PSYTOPIAN 8 Well that s fucked up an already dismal face Knockdown!

_________________________ “They’re everywhere, guv’!” “Not everywhere, glum; simply a great many places at once.” “That one’s pointin’ a ‘fing at us.” “Do calm yourself. He is down there and we are up here. Now help me symmetrise the siren.” “But guv’, I’m tellin’ ya he’s... yerk!”

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HIT! PSYTOPIAN 9: Purple-tailed jig to the throat OUT OF PLAY “My word, was that some kind of... arrow?” The warden shouting down from the tower; “I require another glum, this instant!” “Guv’!” From below. “The miners are almost up from the smelt ‘ouse.” “Then tell them to hastily make their move. These anarchs have yet to feel our fury.” “‘Sir!” “And get me another glum!” ________________________

PSYTOPIAN 10: Random swipe (workhouse rod) MISS! PSYTOPIAN ANARCHIST: Fortunate sidestep PSYTOPIAN ANARCHIST: Plasmawand etch MISS! PSYTOPIAN 11: Random stab (workhouse stick) COUNTERED! PSY-HACK GIRL: Leaping jabspike sidekick HIT! PSYTOPIAN 11: Midsection Knockdown! PSY-HACK GIRL: Toespin jabspike punt HIT! PSYTOPIAN 10: Face Thrown across the waste room floor PSYTOPIAN ANARCHIST: “Now Severity, dear; it would not do to become over confident.” PSY-HACK GIRL: “Aw, come on mum, that were snazzy.” SEVERITY’S MUM: “Snazzy perhaps, but I do not believe even your nimble feet are swift enough to fend off an army, and it appears they may have one.” SEVERITY: (Cringe, back-peddling against a wall) “You’se might be right.”

The main workhouse pyramid was built entirely out of bronze, and housed layer upon layer of blocky catacombs; part of a modern mining complex. Beneath the complex, tunnels led into even more ancient halls, which wound underneath to the Lime Plateau, but that’s not part of the story so let’s leave it at that. Perhaps if you find metri mining so captivating, I’ll write an epilogue. Or you can just apply for the job of Principal’s assistant; I hear there’s a vacancy.

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In any case, the purpose of the workhouse was to build swords. For Academy students, no less. The entire process from start to finish. Mining raw materials to smelting metris to forging blades. Most Academy swords were constructed by the Bronze Plate’s workhouse crew. Most... Say around a hundred. But there were larger plans afoot. Academies all over Psytopia. What do you think Zarathustra was training the swordstrils up for; a circus show? So swords were always needed, preferably before students were picked. Because swords make students and all that, not the other way around. The workhouse itself wasn’t all that bad to look at. If you like spartan prison camps. And the waste room, on the ground level, was where the Psytopian workers assembled the leftover goo. You know; vagrant nanos and the like, frozen in gloopy black refuse blocks. It was from here that they dragged the things out across the rusted walkways and into the pyro moats which surrounded the various buildings and store rooms of the complex. Because Zarathustra had learned the hard way not to leave vagrant vibes hanging around. So the waste room itself wasn’t an awful place to be. Regimented bronze dinner tables with chunky stoop stools like ice cubes standing at arms. Piston-powered conveyor belts rolling downstairs like little ski slopes. Startled, rag-clad workers bolting to and fro like worker bees defending their honey. And the clash and clunk of misshapen tools everywhere they turned. No, aside from being hopelessly outnumbered, the waste room wasn’t an awful place to be. Just not all that safe. Ugly black blocks of eerie vibes, left, right and centre. Tumbling into one of those could very well take your individuality away. You are not alone. And individuality... well, that’s important to an Anarchist. So who’s doing the defending now?

These people were bred for their stupidity. Probably gruco drunk, the lot of them. It was the only way to keep them awake. Voices in their heads, you see? Tires the mind down having to keep up with who you are. Makes you hungry enough for two. Enough to munch brains? Yeah, a few of them got that far but thankfully, those tended to get fired. They had a variety of workhouse tools available should an unlikely incursion occur. Well, this was an unlikely day. They’d be getting on with their business if this motley band of misfits hadn’t turned up. Because they were engineered to, of course. To melt down the metals passed up by the big boys downstairs, distilling them down to their atomic particles and extracting all the impure gunk. These were no crafty gravimagmaticians. No magic-making psyientists. No skilled smeltsmiths plying a bygone trade.

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Nope; these lugs did what they were told, by the book and without question. Dupes, they were. Mirrored men. So forgive me for confusing one with the next. The closest thing modern Psytopians got to real family. Because they shouldn’t be procreating, they should be working. That was the plan, anyway. If only reality wasn’t so... You know; anarchic. _________________________ “Apprehend him, glums!” Shackle; up on the watch tower. The vibro-raid fallen still. The workhouse confused. “Which one guv’?” “‘Im! ‘Im!” The big, burly parahack brute, of course. In the patchy hippy attire and with the many anarchic piercings and wielding that ferocious crookblade... “No, you pitiful peons; him!” That was Strap, on the adjacent watch tower. “Nonsense, Strap; they must apprehend the parahack first.” Much slapstick posturing ensued; these well-spoken jailers not big on strategy. The jailed masses charging one way across the forecourt, then the other in disarray. “Shackle, my good man; I must protest...” “Surely you observe the merciless weapon which this reptilian swings so viciously at our establishment.” “And surely you perceive the highly dangerous whirligig device with which this anarch threatens our humble workforce.” “The workforce, Shackle? Please do not attempt to persuade me that the workforce is your primary concern.” And so on, and so on and so on; the most cultured shouting you ever did hear. “Oi! Up there! Shut up an’ buzz the siren!” A disgruntled grunt breaking rank. “Who the devil do you think you are...” HIT! Strap: Blue-tailed jig through the fabric of the tower and into his head like a hatchet into a coffin lid OUT OF PLAY

Anarchists aren’t all Psytopian. Everything likes to embrace their wild side from time to time. Even the enlightened.

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Anarchists could be parahack, pyronettes, Ravani or a mix of any number of the above. Viva mixed race relationships! They’d never happen in an ordered world, you know. Where every species has their place and purpose. In fact, cocktailed genes are generally the best way to cast off the chains Psytopian society cast around people’s necks. The chains which it lovingly labelled nanos. That and the odd pyro binge, of course. Made the little gods mad, it did. Made the little gods fry. Loopy loco la-la. No, not all Anarchists were Psytopian. And neither were all workhouse bods either. PSYTOPIAN 12: Random swipe MISS! Duck

Lunging hook HIT!

PSYTOPIAN 13: PSYTOPIAN 14: Random swing Random stab (workhouse tools) MISS! MISS! PARAHACK FEMALE: Dodge Weave PARAHACK FEMALE: Jumping hammer fist HIT!

Charging uppercut HIT!

PSYTOPIAN 12: Broken cheek PSYTOPIAN 13: Broken Skull PSYTOPIAN 14: broken jaw

Knockdown!

Knockdown!

Knockdown!

PYRO-HACK KID 1: PYRO-HACK KID 2: Loopball thump Loopball thwack STING CHARGE RAZZLE CHARGE HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIAN 15: Midsection PSYTOPIAN 16: Chest 100 licks 100 licks Knockdown! Knockdown! Mother and children making waves above and below. Balcony and forecourt. Cocktails of chaos, they were. Fiery and unpredictable.

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Fucked up genes make people fiery. People or pyronettes, parahack or pyro-hacks. Pyro-hacks shouldn’t have existed; that’s what society said. Well, society would say that, wouldn’t it? Because society had a place for everyone. It’s place. Segregation, apartheid, dictatorship; same taste, just different bowls. Unpredictability is a dangerous thing. Fun though, isn’t it? So you can call it fucked up genes if you want. Or you can just go ahead and call it ‘liberdade!’ The pyro-hacks were unique. We’re all unique, you know. When we let ourselves be. An angry family, split down the middle. This tends to happen to Anarchist broods. Because families were another thing society didn’t like. Bonds a little too strong for social comfort. Then again, perhaps the brawling mother was just pissed off because she was a predictable parahack. Who’d got together with a pyronette? And if you really want to visualise how a big, scaly, heavy-handed parahack girl and a tiny, timid, fragile pyronette boy had sex... Then you’re more of a fuck up than any of us. Psytopians 12,13 and 14 gathering their senses. Staring the Anarchist down with their workhouse prongs, sticks and rods. Doesn’t matter how many you floor, dragon girl; if you’ve learned anything of pyronette culture, you’d have learnt how to count right. Three into one doesn’t go. PYRO-HACK 1 PYRO-HACK 2 Loopball volley Loopball volley Spike charge Zoom charge HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIAN 12: Head PSYTOPIAN 14: Face Tumbling off the balcony Knockdowns!

Oh, the kids knew their maths alright. Mum versus one. Psytopian 13. Unlucky for him.

PARAHACK FEMALE: Reptilian smirk followed by reptilian fist HIT! PSYTOPIAN 13: Broken nose Knockout! And over the balcony for good measure

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Time for another smug thumbs up. The kids fending off the hastening storm down in the forecourt. Psytopian lug after Psytopian lug. Not the toughest tools in the armoury. STOMP!

SMASH! A shape crashing onto the balcony in a shower of rusty splinters and a furious din. A-ha, something her own size.

The workhouse was an equal opportunity employer. Equal opportunities to have your senses gunged into oily muck. The parahack were refugees of the nanoplague. Though I’ll let you in on the secret; that whole disaster was engineered. Many things in Psytopia were. For the benefit of society. The parahack worked the mines below the workhouse. Digging up black pyro from the fiery wells under there. All kitted out in space age magnosuits and groggy on gruco. Only way to keep them sane. For ‘sane’, read ‘obedient’. These lumbering beasts were far from sane. Well let’s just see how hot they are in a fight. The parahack female cracking her sizeable knuckles. The male doing the same. Rolls of shoulders and cracks of necks. I know we’re talking gargantuan lizard beasts here, but it could still get uglier. _________________________

PSYTOPIAN 17 PSYTOPIAN 18 PSYTOPIAN 19 PSYTOPIAN 20 PSYTOPIAN 21 PSYTOPIAN 22 ANARCHIST PARAHACK Crookblade Smack, whack, crack HIT! HIT! HIT! Out of play x3

Psytopia: Adagio 3

ANARCHIST RAVANI Jigabyte Swish, slash, stab HIT! HIT! HIT! Out of play x3

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Not all parahack were lugs, you know. Whether they wade in or not. And not all Ravani are withdrawn. Some enjoy a spot of chaos. “You, glum! And you, and you. Tackle the Anarchists; with haste!” Orders bellowed down from the watch tower. The numbers clearly in the workhouses’ favour. But maths doesn’t always make sense in an anarchic world.

PSYTOPIANS 23-30 Crookblade OUT OF PLAY x6

PSYTOPIAN 31-39 Jigabyte OUT OF PLAY x6

“Stop them! Stop them!” One wading, one weaving, through wave after wave. These two may have been agents of chaos and all, but one thing was for sure. They were good. PSYTOPIANS 40, 41, 42... Oh, you get the picture. Psytopian workmen surging like flies out of the workhouse pyramid. And falling just as swiftly. Desperately flapping wings unable to avoid a clipping. “Stop them! Stop...” HIT! SHACKLE: Purple jig to the eye Like a comet to the cornea Writhing around in pain

The anarchs being pushed back towards the pyramid. Numbers finally beginning to prove a great equaliser. Workhouse tools flashing at them from every angle. If you wanted anarchy; you’ve got it! _________________________

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Psytopian and psy-hack, mother and daughter. Trapped inside the workhouse pyramid, surrounded by a rabble of glums. Big, tough adolescent with a jittery twitch; little, fragile parent with a wry smirk. Because if you think, you don’t have to fight.

Fear was at the centre of everything in Psytopia. Everything bad, at least. But good and bad are such absolute terms. Just like life and death. There’s a blur, you know? There’s an intersection. Where reflection meets mirror. And fear bridges that gap. I’m talking about spooks. The mischief in your bloodstream. Hallucinations, of a fashion. Your murky mind made manifest. It’s fear that makes you stumble into nightmares. Fear flips your nanos out. It stops you seeing straight. So when in fear... have a gameplan. PSYTOPIANS 43-49 Almighty workhouse charge! (various random tools) SERENITY: Etherjack scatter (That s Ravani dream sparks laced with gruco to you and me; lickle rainbow sugar skulls) TINK-TONK

PUFF!

Raises a mini dreamcloud Mirroring the nanos; tripping them out PSYTOPIANS 43-49 Feeling confused... Feeling hallucinogenic... Feeling sleepy... Zzzzzz... You all fall down!

“That were mint, mum!” An all-too-firm knuckle to the shoulder from her burly daughter, making mother wince. Severity skipping around a ring of dozing gimps like a street crazy after a caffeine fix. As long as she stayed off the sugar skulls she’d probably be just about manageable through the rest of her teens.

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But hey, wait a minute. A gap in the sugary mists. A flap of a trapdoor in the ceiling. And a gaggle of rag-cloaked mini-men tumbled onto the scene.

The brains of the outfit. Or the craft, at least. The pyronettes moulded the newly smelted fabri into swords up in the tip of the pyramid. One sword for every swordstril. Shaped by ethereal flame; made to fit the wielder and the arc their lives would take. It’s all predictable using the ragged hoodies’ mathematical perception of time. Mapping the methods behind the madness of fate. So the pyronettes forged swords up in the penthouse suite. Until the vibro-raid muddled their inner equasions and called them into action. SERENITY: Etherjack toss TINK-TONK

PUFF!

Not much of a dreamcloud And not much of an effect Of course there was no effect, conjurer. Pyronettes don’t have nanos to flip and reflect. 2 plus 2 equals 4 whether you’re awake or asleep, so pyronettes don’t bother. How exactly are Ravani dream sparks gonna ‘fuse and lose them? ________________________ PSYTOPIAN 50: Random hack (workhouse axe) COUNTERED! DARK FIEND: Shadowclaw swipe HIT! PSYTOPIAN 50: Face first into the silty, black wall of ziz silo 1 Dazed PSYTOPIAN 51: Random smack (workhouse hatchet) COUNTERED! DARK FIEND: Shadowclaw slash HIT! PSYTOPIAN 51: Head first into the silty, black door frame of ziz silo 2 Dizzy

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PSYTOPIAN 52: Random whack (workhouse javelin) COUNTERED! DARK FIEND: Shadowclaw toss HIT! PSYTOPIAN 52: Through the fuzz door of ziz silo 1

BOOM! That’s the rock-blasting dynano-mite reserves going up in crazy shatters OUT OF PLAY

PSYTOPIANS 50 & 51: Random charges (workhouse tools) HIT! HIT! DARK FIEND: Shoulder and ribs Luminous golf ball eyes flushed with anger DARK FIEND: Cross-body shadowclaw swing HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIANS 50 & 51: Chest and face FUZZ! Into the pyro moat And OUT OF PLAY

Dark Plateau fiends were funny things. Confined to the shadows. Well not all of them, so it appeared. This one seemed to have escaped, through some random act of witchcraft or other. Dark Plateau fiends were curious things. Miniature storms of vagrant nanos. But ordered ones who did what they were told. When the gravimagmaticians said ‘sit’... They were experiments, in fact. Gone wrong, of course. Super soldier’s bodies aren’t supposed to liquify like that. Prototypes, they were. Prototypes stuck between this world and the next, unable to pass over. Prototypes who had no place in any world, only in the shadows. Left to fade away... Or to say hack that, and get anarchic!

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Shadow sprites were nothing more than peons. They werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t supposed to think for themselves. Experiments are just means to an end. And since unlike the other peons, nobody had yet found a use for them... Well, they could just do themselves a favour and die out... There were six breeds of peons in Psytopia, made of different materials. Fabris distilled back in the heyday of the Tapestry, and pretty snazzy stuff as it goes. Stuff so snazzy it could conjure rudimentary life. It was here that a twisted band of gravimagmaticians learnt the sword crafting techniques used in the workhouse today, then headed off to bang the world to rights. Incidentally, it was also how they gathered their workforce, building on these basic breeds:

Ragtags

Gormless scruffs who could be mind-guided to perform any kind of labour.

Pebbleheads

Hard working grunts who could be left to get on with meaty building work.

Shadow sprites

Literally the shadows of dead smelters, trapped in this world and pretty angry at it all.

Bloodlugs

Decent all-rounders with an often debilitating addiction to brain-munching.

Circuitbods

Dutiful drones whose old skool chips and wiring sometimes went wrong.

Tagmites

Glassy-skinned things with pockets of breathing air inside, like trapped ghosts. There were two other breeds of peon in Psytopia; one the culmination of the Tapestarian smelting process, the other the result of an evolutionary kickback triggered by over-reliance on industrialised kit. But letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s leave those two on the back burner now. You can guess the species if you want. They were all the culmination of crazed experiments of the war machine which began an age ago, and most had crumbled into extinction where they belonged. So how come this lost shadow had found something to live for? _________________________

WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Overhand thump HIT! PARAHACK FEMALE: Mouth Knocked against the balcony railing, bloody lip PARAHACK FEMALE: Searching hook HIT! WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Head Driven against the backing wall, bloody eye

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WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Lunging smack HIT! PARAHACK FEMALE: Face Shoved against the railing, bloody nose PARAHACK FEMALE: Reaching whack HIT! WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Chin Pushed against the wall, bloody jaw

They could go at it like this all day. In fact, they probably would. Fighting was one of a parahack’s first loves. But when they had kids they’d be better off getting serious; that’s a new love there. WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: SMACK! PARAHACK FEMALE: Jaw, against balcony PARAHACK FEMALE: SMACK! WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Nose, against wall WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: SMACK! PARAHACK FEMALE: Eye, against wall PARAHACK FEMALE : Shuffle, spin and... SMACK! WORKHOUSE PARAHACK: Lip... Over the balcony! The Anarchist grinned. As dirty, rotten, nasty Anarchists do. Two more workhouse parahack appearing on the balcony before her. The roll of bloody eyes and raising of weary fists.

Mum’s in trouble, kids. A couple of flame-propelled loopballs would be good about now. I said mum’s in trouble, kids. Kids?

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The twins not having much luck of their own. Growing cohorts of tool-wielding Psytopians surging onto the courtyard, jabbing their pointy weapons at the pyro-hacks’ space-blank faces. Pressing them back towards the wall of the pyramid. And out of punting reach of their mother. PSYTOPIAN 53 Stab! Pyro-hack 1 Dodge

PSYTOPIAN 54 PSYTOPIAN 55 PSYTOPIAN 56 Stab! Stab! Stab! Pyro-hack 2 Pyro-hack 1 Pyro-hack 2 Duck Bob Weave Guess who taught them to do that?

PSYTOPIAN 57 Stab! Pyro-hack 1 Backstep

PSYTOPIAN 58 Stab! Pyro-hack 2 Backstep

PSYTOPIAN 59 PSYTOPIAN 60 Stab! Stab! Pyro-hack 1 Pyro-hack 2 HIT! HIT! Face Face Dead pyronettes, then Faces go gloopy but... Paranettes are a little thicker-skinned!

The boys flicking their loopballs into their gimp-gloved hands. Springing nasty, craggy metri spikes like spines on a porcupine fish at their bequest. Paranette toys are full of crazy tricks. Hybrids, just like their users.

Modified designs. For when you want to let out your inner Anarchist. Pyro-hack loopballs were attached to heavy chains rather than strings, and contained sharp, pop-out surprises which carried an electrical charge. Buzzing with nanos. Spiced up with fuzzy, angry spooks. All set to claim ya. And the life you hold so dear. Pyro-hacks could use their chrome gloves to serve loopballs like tennis players as well as boot them like footballs. Either way, they hurt. Here’s a demonstration. PYRO-HACK 1 PYRO-HACK 2 Overhead spookball smash Underhand spookball bat ZIP CHARGE! ZAP CHARGE! HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIAN 53: Forehead PSYTOPIAN 54: Neck BUZZ! BUZZ! Nanos going haywire Nanos shutting down OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY

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Snazzy, huh? Freaksome and fancy free. Deadly, too. Same can be said for the children.

Or Paranettes, or whatever you want to call them. Just don’t call them anything rude. They’d be upset. Plus, they’d kill you. They were short, stocky and wore patchwork, petrol-coloured hoodies, clunky metal clogs and thick, pointy-fingered vinyl gloves. Each finger held an elemental charge. Because their skin really was an inch too thick. They couldn’t siphon the stuff from their pyro-powered hearts like purestrain pyronettes. So the gloves pin-pricked their fingertips and did the job for them. Five fingers, five different charges. And deeper than the fingers, scaly see-through skin and what appeared to be green space. Patterned with flickery eyes made of storms of furious nanos. But despite appearances, this was a fun-loving family. It’s just that they happened to like... Well... chaos. ________________________ “Mum!” Severity leading her into the courtyard with a half-reptilian hand. Fleeing the pyramid with a flurry of ice-charged loopballs in their wake. The numbers game finally throwing the anarchic band onto the defensive. “Where are we going?” “Away.” “But there are so many of...” “Mum.” BUMP!

Almost thudding into two of their accomplices in the tool-clattered forecourt. Nehemiah and Varuna: parahack and Ravani. Ah, fortunate; husband and friend. “Gramo-te ‘a brava.” Serenity tip-toed to kiss the big, lumbering dragon-man on the ear. A gentle intertwining of ill-fitting fingers and a nod towards his daughter. “You two stay against the wall.” Talkative, for a parahack. Severity kicking the abandoned tools in frustration. “No; we shall need to keep the pyronettes at bay.” Varuna pitching his two cents. You want a masterful strategy? Trust the Ravani. Severity bounced on her feet, eager to get lug-punting.

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Four Anarchists pressed against the pyramid by the oncoming horde. “Varuna, these workhouses carry far more Psytopians than...” “Ah, but Nehemiah, my friend...” Varuna drew a scorch straw from a pocket of his ornate jacket, “Only the pyronettes are immune to this.”

Dainty batons which collapsed tuneful sounds into a space/time tearing din. By converting sweet, rhythmic pyro into raucous, mischievous nanos. And vice versa. Only the ancients knew how. And the Ravani had learnt directly from them. So just whisper a colourful song into the pipe and cover your ears.

Nehemiah and Severity ramming the workhouse door. Keeping the pyronettes in. All four of them plugging their ears. Keeping the chaos out. Workhouse tools looming over them from every direction like mists over cemeteries. Deadlines over businessmen. Whips over slaves. Let’s bring some little gods to their knees! VARUNA: Scorch straw chain Dancing in a wash of ether Underarm thread Overhead surge Sidestep whip Roundhouse whirl Tidal swirl KICKS UP A STORM! THE RESULTING FLAME-WAVES: Cyclone swirl HIT! 10 PSYTOPIANS HIT! 5 PARAHACK Various frazzled nanos and fried body parts Injured or otherwise OUT OF PLAY

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But you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hot-step forever, pretty boy. SMASH! CRASH! SIZZLE! Those were loopballs bursting through the workhouse doors. The hoodies here to spoil the party. ___________________________ DARK FIEND: Cross-face slash DARK FIEND: Cross-body swish When you can morph your body into gangly shapes, its easy to strike twice at once HIT! HIT! PSYTOPIAN 61: Through cheek PSYTOPIAN 62: Through chest OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY Swinging wildly at ragged workhouse bods left, right and centre. Retreating past the silt-packed silos and down the slick, bronzed path. Over scorched-skulled flame wave victims, clinging to ravaged ears. Re-joining the band like a shadow reunited with the form which cast it. PYRO-HACK KID 1 Spookball smack FLAME CHARGE HIT! 4 Psytopians baring down on them Heads OUT OF PLAY

PYRO-HACK KID 2 Spookball serve FLAME CHARGE HIT! One of the parahack up on the balcony Face Shrugs it off

PARAHACK FEMALE: Opportune swing HIT! DISORIENTED PARAHACK MALE: Mouth Saying a fond farewell to a couple of teeth PARAHACK MALE 2: Wild whack HIT! PARAHACK FEMALE: Eye Splat of blood against the balcony rail

PARAHACK MALE 1: Wild smack HIT! PARAHACK FEMALE: Mouth Say goodbye to a few teeth yourself

PARAHACK FEMALE: Desperate swipe HIT! PARAHACK MALE 2: Cheek PARAHACK MALE 1: PARAHACK MALE 2: Wild whack Wild smack HIT! HIT! PARAHACK FEMALE: Face PARAHACK FEMALE: And the other side Against the rail Against the wall As if she was in a game of pinball

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Two angry pyro-hacks in the forecourt below, pointing and snarling. Pushing their spookballs into spiky vinyl belts. One giving the other a leg-up. Helping their mother down as more workhouse hordes assembled. ____________________________

“Gimps! Get them, you pitiful gimps!” Shackle still mumbling on the floor of the watch tower. Waving a feeble hand towards the Anarchists, pressed against the workhouse wall. Finally finding the courage to haul himself up and brave the line of fire. Because a good general only enters the fray when he’s out of range. A general general, at least. Look, listen, learn and teach. And save yourself.

The workhouse lugs had the upper hand. Well, it had taken them long enough. Not many Anarchists left in the wide, wild world. So you can see why they hadn’t been ready. “Got them.” A wipe of the brow, a wince, a sigh and a long drawing of breath. Shackle safely up on the tower, overlooking the action. And then he felt the hair on the back of his neck... singe?

_______________________________

SERENITY: Plasmawand fade

Nehemiah: Crookblade swing

HIT! PSYTOPIAN 73: Scalp

SEVERITY: Toejack punt

HIT!

HIT!

PSYTOPIANS 74, 75 & 76: Various PSYTOPIAN 77: Undercarriage

Knockdown!

OUT OF PLAY

Knockdown!

SERENITY: “There are too many.” SEVERITY: “Nah, there ain’t enough!” NEHEMIAH: “Hold your ground. She said she’d be here...”

VARUNA: Jigabyte whirl HIT! PSYTOPIANS 78-82: Various Knockdowns!

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FIORE: Shadowclaw swish HIT! PSYTOPIANS 83 & 84: Faces OUT OF PLAY

47


A graceful Ravani and a messy shadow fiend backing into each other against the workhouse wall. Joining their merry band. Anarchists all. A flock of lambs to the slaughter. Workhouse parahack pushing through the ranks. Wave after wave. Swarm after swarm. Because this is what becomes of anarchism. SEVERITY: “Alright; too many.” SERENITY: “And too tough.” NEHEMIAH: “She’ll be here.”

A punch-drunk parahack dragged by the arms. Her dizzy bulk pulled across the forecourt. Hosea bailed out by her children. Reunted with their partners in crime. VARUNA Jigabyte SERENITY HIT! Plasmawand PSYTOPIAN 84 HIT! OUT OF PLAY PARAHACK 8 Staggers

NEHEMIAH Crookblade HIT! PARAHACK 10 Knockdown!

SEVERITY Toejack HIT! PARAHACK 9 Staggers

FIORE Shadowclaw HIT! PSYTOPIAN 85 OUT OF PLAY

SERENITY: “We’re outnumbered.” SEVERITY: “We’re dead.” NEHEMIAH: “We’ll wait for her.”

The pyro-hacks propping their disoriented parent against the workhouse wall. The band up for one final encore. Workhouse lugs of three species baring down like a swarm of mosquitos on their victims. Anarchy on its last legs. ZECH MAINYU HOSEA Spookball VARUNA Dazed swipe HIT! Jigabyte SERENITY MISS! SEVERITY PYRO 5 HIT! Plasmawand NEHEMIAH Toejack OUT OF PLAY PSY 86 HIT! Crookblade HIT! Knockdown! PARA 8 HIT! PARA 9 Shrugs PARAHACK 11 Shrugs Knockdown! SEVERITY: “We’re trapped.” SERENITY: “We’re done for.” NEHEMIAH: (Smirk) “There she is...”

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JERE FIORE Shadowclaw HIT! PSY 87 OUT Knockdown!

MAINYU Spookball HIT! PYRO 6 OF PLAY


Shackle on top of the watch tower. His hair singed. His head ringing. Watching the shape coming through the fuzz field moat. A dainty red figure shrouded in mist. Studies his own hand. Something funny coming over him. Squeezing it around the molten jig still hanging from his eye. Get... who? SHACKLE: Upward shove HIT! Jams the jig deeper through his eye and into his brain OUT OF PLAY The fuzz field starts to ripple. Eardrums across the workhouse start to quiver. Wild war cries reduced to muffled whispers and mumbles. The balance of the entire plateau suddenly not quite right. A certain snag in the rhythm of the track. FEEDBACK QUESTIONNAIRE, WORKFORCE: What kind of creature ruffles your nanos? What manner of beastie jumbles your ears? What sort of person can cause a workhouse warden to kill himself in such a gratuitous way, simply by thinking about it? What, you don’t know? Perhaps you should venture beyond the fuzz moat into the wider, wilder world sometime. In another life, perhaps. Little red-skinned shadow on the edge of their spheres. Little blue-clothed mite passing through the fuzz field. Little blank-eyed minx, wandering nonchalantly towards the forecourt. Her very presence playing with their brains. So up went the petrified call as soon as they saw her. Ripping through the workhouse like a virus through a classroom. Angry and fearful and shocked into action as if they’d been prodded in the gut with electric batons, booted onto the stage and ordered to dance. The call of ‘diablo!‘

Nano-based zombie-beasts torn out of other hells using a complicated gravimagmathic process called Höllezupfenmacht, which magnetised their blood and animated them like gargantuan puppets on humongous strings. A cheap tirck; cheaper than the ancient wisdom it was based on. Mirrored the distant past and brought them back to life, or at least, back to kill. You can’t reconstruct minds out of genetic blueprints, however good a conjurer you are.

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Minds pass on to better places, leaving only the tuneless echo of memories. So if you’re looking to ride a diablo, you’d better lend it your own brain. Diablos took many forms, and all were horrifically hellish. Dark and grotesque and vicious and... Hey, what are you saying; I’s no diablo. You’re looking through a fuzz field, you fool. Everything’s in negative. FUZZ! Ah, through the fuzz wall; no longer so off-color. I’s no diablo, she says; just your friendly neighbourhood blue belle. But that doesn’t mean I’s not gwan raise your worst nightmare and cut y’all down! MELODI: Raises Doloroso again Take out your patchwork dolly Hold it close to your heart with those tug-gloves Watch your arms go up in flames!

And you know what comes after that? The Pyrates relaxing somewhat against the workhouse wall. As the lugs turned around, armed to the teeth and ready to rock and roll. That’d be their vibes rocked and their heads rolling. Because the Pyrates had waited it out for the cavalry.

A raggle-taggle band of Anarchists who robbed from the greedy, gave to the hungry and generally caused trouble wherever they went. But trouble that was much needed. Because in case you’re still in the dark, the Anarchists were the good guys. Nehemiah and his merry men, women, lizards, fiends, warriors and hybrids were right to cause the odd bit of chaos. Because society needed a shake-up. And because... well, because it’s fun.

The Soul Cage trust was a multi-faceted activist group. They protected Psytopian heritage sites. They encouraged cultural diversity. And here and there, they ransacked Academy-owned slave labour camps. OK, so their methods were a little rough and tumble, their politics a little vague and their collateral damage a little severe, but at least they got things done, and at least their hearts were in the right places. (Which, if you’re a parahack is wherever it happens to be sitting and if you’re a pyronette is effectively nowhere at all)

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So yes, there were slightly brash elements within the Soul Cage Trust. That’s likely to happen when a movement has been pushed so far out onto the sidelines that their only means of communication is through sprigs of tag grass and there isn’t any kind of hierarchy to speak of because you know; that sounds like order to me. So cut them a little slack for being somewhat disorganised. They were Anarchists, after all.

The rebellious parahack who’d founded the band. Because he was hungry for something different.

Pyrate power

The crookblade A mega sword, forged out of junk and shaped a little like a huge scythe crossed with a razor-trimmed gymnastic ring; with two handles, metal staples clunking them together. His idealistic Psytopian partner and practitioner of dark arts. All the nasty, evil, witchy things the Academy tutors would warn you against.

Pyrate power

The plasmawand A dainty baton, a bit like the head of a violin crossed with a spray can, with a set of crystal test tubes stitched into the device with metal strings. The nano-heavy blood of various beasties which they contained were released through the orbital drawing of a curved magnobow, scrawling mood plumes across the landscape with balletic grace. Their feisty, hot-headed teenage daughter. Who took her looks from her mother’s side and her attitude from her dad’s.

Pyrate power

Toejacks That’s jabguns, but on her feet. A pissed off parahack woman who’d left the dunes to care for her hybrid kids. Because parahack are a traditionalist bunch and sex with pyronettes just ain’t traditional.

Pyrate power

Fistjacks That’s jabguns of her own extra-specially brutal design. The hybrid kids; half parahack, half pyronette. And snarly demeanour aside, moma’s little boys.

Pyrate power Spookballs With extra bite!

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A green-skinned misfit who’d cast away the regal life to experience the real world. Because if the rest of the Ravani thought they were really happy, they were dreaming.

Pyrate power

Whirligigs, gigabytes and every other instrument a warrior might need. A shadow creature who’d snuck through the Black plate’s fuzz wall, gone a little crazy then cleaned up his act. Because even shadows learn that you shouldn’t go smashing the stuff up unless you’ve got a damned good reason.

Pyrate power

Shadowclaws He was just a great big shadow anyway; he doesn’t need any other tricks. A curious little blue girl who’d been placed into Nehemiah’s care by a friend somewhere along the way. Because... I dunno, because friendship was hard to come by, she’d found it and she wasn’t about to argue it away.

Pyrate power

Wouldn’t you like to know... Yes, the Pyrates were a raggle-taggle bunch. And they had but one word to say about the state of the wide, wild world... MELODI: De-magnetise their vibes and throw them onto your dance floor MELODI: “Liber-fucking-dade.”

The entire workhouse baring down on her. The entire workhouse, with their prongs and sticks and rods and hatchets. The entire workhouse, ready to charge. Psytopians, parahack and pyronettes. Angry and wild and furious and numerous. The entire workhouse, bounding across the forecourt with swishes, swipes and swings. The entire workhouse, swarming at her with whoops and roars, cries and shrieks. The entire workhouse against one little blue girl. MELODI: The 100 demon night parade It all goes black. Night time on demand. The lugs suddenly no more than shadows. Obedient on demand; slaves to the orchestra. It’s so much easier to puppeteer goons when you’ve quantum-shifted their brains.

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Let’s be fair; the night parade only reveals what you really are when you stop jiving to your usual, boring baseline, because shamisen style plays the choir straight. And you, me hearties, are dead. But let’s not leave them like that, hey? Let’s do them a favour and march all the king’s peons out of here. MELODI: Turns Doloroso around, drops the doll s arms and walks her feet Slow as you like PSYCHE! THE WORKHOUSE: Following suit En mass, turning around. En mass, dropping their weapons. En mass, walking away. Out of the frying pan and back to their day jobs? March, you fools: past the workhouse, through the fuzz field beyond. Back to real life. Back to whatever kind of existences they’d had... If they weren’t engineered to be workhouse rats from the start... which was a fair objection. Free at last, free at last, thank fuck almighty they were free at last! ________________________________________________________ Zarathustra waited a while as the dust settled. As the smoke cleared. As the scattered sounds eased into silence. And when the dust settled and the smoke cleared and the sounds eased into silence, he reached a gargantuan gauntlet into the soot and seized his prize. The Memento Mori. The second sword of the legendary Octet. And the only thing to survive the Tapestry’s own, belated fall. The end of that fateful waltz of angry nanos. Zarathustra studied the misshapen blade for a moment. Magnetic forces pulsing through his bloodstream as it vibrated unhappily in his grasp. As it shuddered. As it remembered him. The Memento Mori channelled memories. Hence the name. Memories were the grounding; of both its substance and its style. Because if you remember every strike, stance, parry and counter... well, then you’re a better swordsman than I, but possibly not quite as accomplished as Zarathustra. So he took the time to examine it before strapping it to the magnetic rack on his back. Studying it with those freakish multi-pupils of his. Oh, the stories it could tell and the stories it recalled. Many of them his own.

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Spook soup; that was what the Tapestry was. The canvas of Zarathustra’s dreams. The evolution of the memories torn out of his head and splashed across the cityscape as the smelting process took its toll. Memories given form. It hadn’t always been a hall of funny mirrors. It hadn’t always been a place where realities blurred. But let’s blame Zarathustra for all that. It was he who had messed with its molecules afterall. And he saw things through the Memento Mori. No; felt them. No; heard. Reconstituting reality; raising mental topography in his head. A desperate climb up a ladder. A desperate climb up some steps. A desperate sprint from a storm cloud. A desperate gasp as an Academy student faded away. A muddled exchanging of weaponry. A muddled trek through mists. A muddled battle with Anarchists. And before that... Before that...

CLANG! FIZZ!

..

Zarathustra woke with a start and left the blade alone in the rack. Tethered to his spine, where its gravity gave him balance. Nano-heavy armour, you see; has to be kept firmly in line. Much like the Tapestry itself.

Zarathustra was born in the Tapestry. A bright, elegant, colourful place where the gifted came to play. Sculptors, scientists, sportsmen, architects, poets, artists. And a good few more professions besides. It was the renaissance. An era of high culture and little trouble. Of great discoveries and amazing inventions. Of peace and harmony and love and light.

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Zarathustra was born to an uptown family. A family of scientists; that was what they were. But daddy made a big mistake. It was called nanos. Alright, so that’s not quite right. Nanos were the greatest invention in the history of the wide, wild world. Even before it was quite so wide and wild. The mistake daddy made was that he failed to control them. It was a mistake which Zarathustra had dedicated his life to putting right. Not to mention the lives of others. The Tapestry was a sacred place. No, honestly; I tell you no lies. That was why it survived the Fall. When the world became chaos. Zarathustra had disowned his family in his early days. Daddy’s mistake too much to bear. Daddy deserved the firing squad. He disowned his family and joined the army. To help erase that mistake. A blue-blood on the battlefield. The jibes didn’t end until those dying days. Their dying days. Yes, Zarathustra was a Tapestarian and an outcast. Well, he wasn’t the first. But if he managed to bring a brave, new, ordered world into being, he’d be the last. The Tapestry itself had become nothing more than Zarathustra’s dream. A cocktail of his memories. Daddy may well have left the world in wreck and ruin. But the son was left to take care of home. Home became a laboratory. Where the wild things were. Were the wild things were finally buried. And left to fester. Because Zarathustra was a man of metal and thunder; all gimpy armour and bulbous eyes. Because Zarathustra remembered the Tapestry and why he’d dreamed it up in the first place. And because it was time to make his dream a reality. To gather the breath of the world and bottle it. Without guilt. Without secrets. Without troublesome things hidden away. Without wondrous things out of control.

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And it was with that thought that his freakish triple pupil caught glimpse of something else lying in the rubble. A hand, it was. A dirty, grasping, nano-bitten hand. A hand he remembered from long ago. The hand of a doll.

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On the rare occasion that people came here, they had to fight hard to spot the sights. Because you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. You couldn’t see the caves, the sky or the people for the trees either. Which was probably why they called it the Auburn Plateau; nothing but tree trunks. Zarathustra couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Well thank Zarathustra that Psytopians had more senses than that. Yes, thank Zarathustra. This was his world after all, however tightly dirty, nasty Anarchists clung on. He studied the frilly bark. The trunks so close-knit not a pinch of light sneaked through. The lofty canopies of foliage so thick the world below was cast into darkness. The entire plate so packed with grasping branches that it was difficult to avoid feeling strangled. By nature. Zarathustra unzipped the first layer of his gimpy latex armour. Eased the pull on his throat. He hated nature. The way it wound and wisped. The way it sneaked and grew. The way it changed. The way it breathed. Zarathustra hated nature. It reminded him of her. He’d never hated her, of course. Just that he hadn’t hated her. He studied the frilly bark. The trunks so close-knit not a pinch of light sneaked through. The lofty canopies of foliage so thick the world below was cast into darkness. The entire plate so packed with grasping branches that it was difficult to avoid feeling strangled. By nature. Zarathustra unzipped the first layer of his gimpy latex armour. It wasn’t getting any easier to breathe. And he hated that.

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57


On the rare occasion that people came here, they had to fight hard to spot the sights. Because you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. You couldn’t see the caves, the sky or the people for the trees either. Which was probably why...

On the rare occasion that people came here, they had to fight hard to spot the sights. Because you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. You couldn’t... hey, wait a minute; I’ve been here before. Well that’s because I keep stepping into timeswirls.

A little like fateswirls, but probably even more irritating. If you’re trying to get somewhere, at least. If you’re trying to relive the past, they’re probably kind of handy. As long as it’s a past you lived out on the Auburn plate, otherwise you’d be reliving not being here, and absenteeism isn’t much fun. Swirls like these were side effects of muddlesome gravmagtic processes gone wrong. Invisible magnetic fields left over after the discharging of ancient weapons, still prone to flipping the nanos in your bloodstream if you absent mindedly stepped into one. Could change your life, you know? Or just reprise it ad infinitum. No, a plateau full of timeswirls wasn’t the best place to trek. Because if you slip two steps back on the icy mountainside with every stomp you take, you can forget about planting your flag at the summit. So Zarathustra zipped his top layer up with nothing more than a thought. The advantage of magnetic armour.

Zarathustra had built his armour out of the finest metris he could muster. Metris he’d distilled through year upon year of soul-sapping toil. Actually, a lot of it wasn’t armour; a lot of it had replaced his silt-glooped flesh. But who knows man from armour when the man’s mind has also morphed into the most majestic of gothic spires, cathedrals and citadels? It’s all in your head after all. Or his. In any case, the armour was made from the finest metris he could muster. Close to the primordial elements of reality, it was. Echoes of the divine. Freia had clearly stumbled upon more rarefied stuff. But no matter; Freia was gone and the truth was known. The mythical Octet was within his grasp. The keys to the heavens, and by default or design, shaped into swords; his favourite. But his armour was tough enough to repel timeswirls all on their own. His own little mobile smelt plant.

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58 59...


Armies of slickly smelted, obedient nanos lining up to counter the strange, mischievous forces of Psytopia and keep him safe. Keep him ordered. As the entirety of creation is meant to be.

Zarathustra studied the frilly bark. It’s OK, he was repeating himself on purpose now. You’re not catching him in a time warp. So let’s follow his swordy-sense and bag ourselves some anarchs. You don’t often see hermits so far away from home. Men who live in ivory towers have already killed every elephant in the room. But fate, gravity, magnetics and maths had brought him here. A memory in that sword. The Memento Mori. Strapped to the rack on his back aside La Sensoria. Glowing with furious unease. It had been here before... So what was Zarathustra doing trailing Anarchists? Well, it’s simple really, isn’t it? He was treasure hunting; expanding his collection. Because if the Memento Mori remembered one thing, it was when it had clashed with the fizzy magnetic fields of other superswords.

Bored with the linear life? Yearning for change? And another... and another... Fed up with plans and predictability, timetables and career paths, repetition and monotony? Had enough of knowing where you’re going and crave the opportunity to live life on the fly? Then why not visit the time forest on the Auburn Plateau? Where every day is yesterday... and tomorrow... and today. You’ll never want to leave, because you’ll always think you only just got here! Nestle amid the embracing arms of nature as you settle at the feet of cuddling trees more familiar than familia. Stay a lifetime and always get back for tea, even if you left afterwards. The perfect timeless break for those who’ve exhausted their holiday allocation. Don’t plan to meet people here, it’s a waste of... um, time. Don’t ask what time it is, it depends on where you step. Don’t tumble into the flame caves which fuel the swirls; it’s hot down there. Please don’t ask the Soul Cage Trust for a refund if you get charged before you’ve entered the Time Forest; you’ve already had your holiday, trust us.

Psytopia: Adagio 3

59? 59


But as I said, timeswirls didn’t bother Zarathustra. There weren’t many things that bothered Zarathustra. The bloke was a god among men, for Zarathustra’s sake; what do you expect?

Things that bothered Zarathustra In reverse order His beloved Academy His beloved Odine His beloved Octet

Admittedly, these things bothered Zarathustra. Unsurprisingly, there were a neat, orderly three. Since he’s busy pushing through close-cuddling trees, let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Believe me, there’s plenty in there. The playful imaginations of a whole weather system of mixed up nanos. But a calm weather system, I’ll have you know. What other reason would a rugged, handsome chap like Zarathustra have for wearing magnetic armour but to order those internal maelstroms? Rugged and handsome... that’s what he remembered. Last time he’d been close enough to chaos to raise a mirror and have a look. It’s fair to say that the nanos had made their mischief since the grand old days. The odd twisted makeover or two. It’s fair to say that the oily black gloop which dribbled out of gaps in his metri gimp mask from time to time was probably what was left of his flesh. Oh, the sickly substance of shadows... And it’s fair to say that no man can turn back the clock, even a god. Well that had never stopped Zarathustra from trying. Around these parts, he had a better chance than ever.

Zarathustra was an authorative type. A majestic mind. And a bit of an egotist? Bare in mind he’d split his ego some time ago. Come on now; when you’re the last man on Earth, how else are you going to repopulate the planet? Through cloning, of course; the distillation of particular personality traits. God made man from pieces of himself. And so did Zarathustra. Such is the consequence of egotism.

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60 60!


FROH

Portioning off the mind of a god FRICHA LOGE We’ve met these categories already GROUND BRUTE COUNTER ERDA

DONNER

FREIA

BREEZE TECH And we know the corresponding styles too La Sensoria Memento Mori ? ? ? ? We’ll fill in the matching überswords as we get our big, spooky hands on them SCRAWL

Zarathustra had built his beloved Academy out of these six foundation stones. The platonic passages of the gods. Just play along; it’s all mumbo-jumbo to me.

Zarathustra was a little obsessive. What good’s a god who isn’t? What good’s a god who lets the world slip into chaos? Zarathustra had done his maths and built his system. The rules which underpinned the very fabric of his bold new Psytopia. And under the guidance of these rules, his legions of do-gooding swordstrils moved gradually across the anarchic reaches of the plates like a subtle storm, civilising them. Zarathustra had laid down the rules and made them make sense. Zarathustra had laced the track and locked the flow. Zarathustra had set out his stall and brought about order. But some wretched barbarians still preferred to exist in anarchy. Zarathustra would put an end to that. Zarathustra would tame chaos. Zarathustra would make the wide, wild world... a little less wild.

Six legendary swords... Or at least, six quintessential ambrosias which took the form of swords to fit in with the social conventions of the day, or maybe to please him. Maybe to hide. But better; to be found. United, they served as one of the three building blocks of nature. (And the only one that mattered) I’m talking hard science. The appliance of it; dreaming reality up like all good gods can. The world of matter. Which just so happens to be the world in which we live. And it happened to be Zarathustra’s world, so you’ll either like it or munch mega metri. Zarathustra hadn’t built the world. He hadn’t weaved this wide, wild place into being. He hadn’t even dreamed it up. He’d only inherited it.

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61


Psytopians don’t believe in almighty gods, just material ones. Only nasty, dirty, filthy, crazy anarchs believed in metaphysics. That greater forces sewed the plates together. That bigger brains sung the world into sharpe. That higher conscioussnesses set it all in spin. Mythology. Myths and nonsense. Zarathustra was a practical type. And a biploar one. So he spent his life chasing myths. If he buried the myths... Then he really was a god among men. But could he ever hide from himself?

CRASH! Zarathustra crunched through cracking twigs and peeling bark. Twigs which reformed as soon as he split them. Bark which rolled back up the tree trunks as soon as he’d past. And he’d dribble oily black goo here and there, too. Where the constricting branches sneaked into rivets in the rubber. Releasing pieces of shadows into the timeless wastes where they belonged. Into death; the only place where time is comfortable dancing with chaos. He tightened his gargantuan metri spooklets with a tug. Stitched with metal thread all the way from fingers to elbow. Keeping his insides in and time out. Zarathustra wasn’t a man as such; not anymore. Zarathustra was a combination of many things. And Zarathustra wasn’t about to let the ghosts out of the machine just yet.

Swords weren’t the only things smelted together from vagrant vibes; the living and dead. As it happens, the vagrant vibes of the living and dead were pretty versatile things. Got into everything, they did. A little like dust, but a lot more spooky. Swords, dolls, buildings, power stations, ornaments; you name it, it’s haunted. We’re all just fractured nano-stuff anyway. All just the remnants of the living and the dead. Yes, every fabri under the suns and moons were made of echoes of the living and dead. Knitted out of dreams and stapled together with swarms of mischievous nanos. Only very special things were more than that. More than mirrors. Zarathustra’s spooklets were whole halls of mirrors. The vagrant vibes of the dead, laced up in there and made to do his bidding. Because the dead are far easier to keep under control.

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The past is simpler than the present. Because it’s already ordered. Set out just so. You can’t be messed around by the past. You know what’s going to happen if it already has. So Zarathustra liked the past. He wished it was the present. And when gods wish things, you know what happens, don’t you? Exactly what they want.

So that was what Zarathustra’s spooklets were made of. Shadows of the past. Even gods hold on to history. Even gods have to live in hope that the past will come back. Even gods find it difficult to let go of lost love. Zarathustra didn’t want to forget the sensation of holding her. Even though he no longer had hands. The spooklets would do. Deaupnir, he called them. Yes, swordstrils even named their armour. Because such things meant so much to them or because they contained pieces of people? A bit of both. Custom made, liqui-pumping, gravimagmathic, strappy tartan metri gloves which contained her quintessential vibes. Her bones ground into liquid. Her nanos. Her vagrant vibes. Those spooklets whispered at him sometimes, as she had done. Sinto saudades.. Macabre, maybe, but remember Zarathustra was obsessive. Most gods tend to be. Home isn’t rebuilt in a day now, is it? So you’re going to have to be obsessive. You should have seen his relationship with Odine when she was alive. When they were alive; I don’t think even Zarathustra was sure if he was alive or not now. Hands all over her, he was. The fire to his ice, the passion to his pensiveness, the ether to his metal. Hands all over each other, in fact. But you don’t want to hear about lost love, do you? It’s all ancient history. You just need to hear about the fact that poor, long-suffering Odine’s clustered vibes were forever chained to him like fluffy white bunny rabbits crammed into a tight laboratory cage. Squeezed and bruised and strangled and held firm in there by the inescapable memory of him and his iron-fisted grip. The hands which would never let go.

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He missed his Odine like the tundra misses sunburn. Love is about holding on through thick and thin. Through ice and snow, through fire and brimstone. Love is about holding on even when the one you’re holding on to begs you to let go. Love is forever. And if you don’t grip it and chain it and trap it forever, it might well pass you by. Is that what love is, or was Zarathustra, the child soldier, the military man, the god amongst peons, slightly warped by the anger of his inner storms? Slightly warped by the fact that love is love when it waits patiently for happiness to return? Love is love when it just is, no matter how hard you try to run, to grasp, to change, to hide. That love is truly love only when it grants freedom. So Zarathustra’s brand was a little bit... Well; psycho. In any case, let’s keep Zarathustra’s twisted psychology in his head, shall we? He’s a god; I’m not going to argue with him. And if I was an Anarchist, I’d make sure I stayed out of his way and argued from afar. There was a pull at his back. A drag on his heart. A ‘come hither’ in his psyche. That’s right, Zarathustra had a heart. It had been ice until now. Ice for as long as he could remember. But when he held La Sensoria in his eerie spooklets, it sparked something inside. A spinning of cogs, a rushing of blood and a unity of gravity, magnetics and maths. A certain thunder. Reverberations buzzing in his brain. EM fields buckling in his psyche. Guiding him. And what was the force that guided him, exactly? Through the winds and the rains and the swirls and the storms and the close-knit, petrified trees? Well, what do you think guided him?

Wisdom? Instinct? Magnetism? Knowing Zarathustra, I’d go out on a limb and pile my chips up on number three. It’s the only one that matters in a matter-of-fact world. Where Anarchists did not belong.

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CRACK!

This was why he’d followed the pulse of the blades to the Auburn Plateau

CRACK!

This was why he’d ventured into the time forest, where ordinary, temporal mortals fear to tread.

CRACK!

This was why he was pushing himself through the close-hugging trees which reformed behind his crushing armour as if his monstrous form had never passed them.

CRACK!

Which was why he did what the tourist brochures warned not to and clambered down into the flame caves below as soon as their winding depths came into eye shot. Because he had places to go. Superswords to claim. Anarchists to kill.

The Soul Cage Trust has preserved this beauty spot particularly well. Because this beauty spot had done particularly well in preserving the Soul Cage Trust. Psytopians and nature; a symbiotic circle- just don’t tell the Zarathustra. Part of the very skeleton of the plates, they were; an archaeologist’s dream. So come to the flame caves and bask in the warm, warm, warm glow of the pyro-heated rocks which line this quaint little grotto, where stalagmites and stalactites creep across the ground and floor,where washing lines of metri keys (an old Anaquistador symbol of freedom) tinkle quietly overhead and where the glorious history of the grass roots resistance echoes like ghosts across the rocky catacombs. And who knows, you might spot an Anarchist or two. Hiding away where time can’t catch up with them. Doesn’t stop them catching you... Don’t vandalise the ‘mites and ‘tites; formed by world-warping WMDs, they’ve been here at least an aeon. Don’t go too deep; there’s ether underfoot and it’ll frazzle your nanos. Don’t disrespect the ancient culture of the Anaquistadors, however weird it is. Because disrespect is rude, OK?

Zarathustra stood stock still in the centre of the sloping cave. Sloping down to darkness, clusters of ‘mites and ‘tites lining the rough downward slide. Dripping, they were. Melting into dreams. No; scarier than that; into totality. Zarathustra took a step back. So he was out of the time warps but the heat was making him sweat oily goo. The intermittent pop and boom of underground geysers, too. Ethereal flame leaping forth and frying nanos. Too close to Hell, or to Heaven?

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He stood stock still and listened. The tinkle of a thousand keys gathered from derelict cities across Psytopia, clinking subtly against each other on their dipping washing lines. Echoing through the winding caverns like breath through woodwind instruments. Whistling in his ears.

Key collectors. Anarchists. People who delighted in knowing that the world of the past had... passed. The end of the world... Of civilisation. The cities Zarathustra remembered, with their towers and streetways and Zeppelins and people. People’s doors, that was what those keys had opened. People’s homes; people’s lives. People’s spheres. Zarathustra remembered the hustle and the bustle and how it all fell into silence. How it all fell into the fiery mists of history. There were no doors for those keys to open anymore. Perhaps that was the Anarchists’ point.

He crunched his spooklets and listened harder. For faint fluctuations in the breeze. Whistling through the caverns, clinking the keys, playing the contours of his armour like a brass band tuning up. Sounds swirling over his swords and into the forest above. Not just any sound; voices. Echoes of the dead. Absorbed by the bark of the time forest like blood to blotting paper. Pasts and presents forever entwined. But futures... well if Zarathustra was a ghost, he wouldn’t be needing one of those. Because as he soared at Zarathustra from behind a craggy rock formation, Tensho’s racing heart realised something awesome. That time doesn’t stop forever for men or gods. That it was time for the breezy winds of Psytopia to change course.

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Now, Enso and Tensho were oddities. Not exactly reserved. Not exactly responsible. They were Anarchists, afterall. Dirty, filthy... you know the propaganda by now. They probably weren’t orphons. Well that’s nice; no hulking men/women/beasties of metal and thunder to snatch them while they slept. Or whatever stepfathers did. No, they were just plain, odd Anarchists, but they knew a trick or two. Most Anarchists did. Because not necessarily being orphons and all, they had some kind of history. Some kind of collective culture. And bastadised as it was, some of it probably pre-dated the Fall, and maybe even the fall before that, but who’s counting?

Well, anarchism never did the world any good, did it? Except make it wild. Anarchists liked wild, thanks very much. Or whatever they wanted. Well, thank Zarathaustra there were more ordered people than Anarchists.

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A god among men of metal and thunder; the bright spark in an icy army; a frosty world..

Two odd anarchs who’d be dancing the heavens soon enough. The wild hunt about to get... chaotic? The hunted about to step into the maletsrom.

The flame caves, in the time forest. Now. Then. Soon. Whanever.

RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! ZARATHUSTRA steps backward Alright, so the nano-frying geysers are in on the act too. Three on one. That sounded like a pretty auspicious number to Zarathustra. Freaks of nature versus master of the plates. Two swords quivering at him like lightly plucked harp strings as they back-stepped and side-stepped, the dripping of the ‘tites and ‘mites mirrored on their brows. Wide-eyed, fancy free and about to be run down by the rumbling headlights. RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! ENSO& TENSHO hold their ground “La Bruto de Guerra.” Enso under her breath. The two all anxious glances and scattered heartbeats. “Not the best place for metal and thunder, mon bruto.” Tensho readied his sword. Yes, they knew him. They knew of him, at least. In the fairytales, the nightmares, the legends.

Two familia; probably not even orphons. Yuck; probably not even having to grow and learn on their own; probably gathered round tables, munching from a pot of hot stew and singing, or whatever families did. Dependent; that’s disgusting.

Psytopia: Adagio 3

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Psytopia: Adagio 3

69


Two wild clouds escaping the storm. For a time, at least- shining on their own. But the storm catches up with everyone in the end. RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! ALL THREE; staredown Yes, they knew of Zarathustra. The shadow of order in a wild world, come back to shackle it. But was he really the end of the wide, wild world? La Bruto de Guerra. Yes, he was really, wasn’t he? And just how brutal had he been?

There was a time when Anarchists made camps in open places. There was a time when Anarchists gathered together to plot and scheme. To share stories over roaring fires, roast neeproot, play symetrisers, catch up with friends. Who are they kidding; these were dirty, nasty anarchs; those niceties must’ve been a front to hide the plotting and scheming. There was a time when Anarchists would congregate. When they were a group rather than scattered individuals with a unifying cause. The cause was still there; the ideology. But the Incident was when the momentum shifted. It was one fine night when the legendary men of thunder and metal emerged. From the fog. From the dark. From the shadows. Seven of them, there were; but only one who came to fight. They only needed one, as it goes. The one who became known as La Bruto de Guerra. The brute of the world. Enso and Tensho remembered it well; it was one of their first memories. Etched on their histories like a tear in a film reel. Like a dent in the fender or a nail through the heart. La Bruto de Guerra, that was what they called him; those who survived. Enso and Tensho were two of the lucky ones. No more than children, they were... well, other children weren’t so lucky. As La Bruto de Guerra cut them up, cut them apart, cut them down, dragged them away. Tensho had covered his little auntie’s mouth as their parents were brought to their knees. Enso had held Tensho back as their brothers and sisters were thrown to the ground. Both had dissuaded each other from yelling out, from crying and from vomiting as their family were deprived of life and limb. Because you can’t yell and cry and vomit when the reaper is around. He might spot you, and then... Well then, the thunder of his stare and the metal of his blade turn to you. Both had run from the scene. Their hearts aflame, their heads a mess and their lives torn asunder. Across the plates and into hiding like the others who somehow side-stepped his wrath. And from then on, anarchism became a hidden thing. Like distant voices swept away by the storm. It was then when those who roamed free became hunted.

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So what did it mean to see him again; La Bruto de Guerra? Well, it meant a great many things. That their time was up? That their cause was dead? That their battle was over? No, no; freedom fighters would never survive if they thought like that. Enso and Tensho had been waiting to re-introduce themselves. Greetings Mr. de Guerra; how may we help you this fine day? Good morning Mr. Metal-and-Thunder; how we missed you so? Hello. Our names are Enso and Tensho,, you killed our fathers; prepare to die?

A resourceful girl with a spring in her step And Tensho’s little auntie

An edgy guy with a thirst for revenge And Enso’s big nephew

Let’s avoid the fact that they were also a couple and the family ties will be less confusing

She may have seemed lively, but she also He may have seemed bright, but he also danced with death diced with witchcraft Typical Anarchists; pyromaniacs playing with matches She wore crinkly plastic cargos and a He wore rugged, ripped denims and a torn waistcoat top decorated with star-shaped up vest adorned with meandering stitches of holes, all the colours of the rainbow various hues They’re hippies; of course they’re colourful She had short blonde hair which jutted out He had short blue hair which jutted out at at obscure angles and carried what seemed obscure angles and carried what seemed to to be an arcane skipping rope be an arcane hunting knife And just as the magnetics projected, they both held überswords Enso had taken hers from a weary Tensho had taken his from a weary swordstril who’d lost her mind in the time swordstril who’d lost his way in the flame forest during an assignment test caves during an assignment test Well both of them were about to have their ill-gotten gains taken back They kissed each other as they crossed paths and took up aggressive stances Ready to die for each other? Swords reverberating just like his; ready to meet their master?

Families; confusing things. Zarathustra didn’t like families. So he’d almost wiped them out. Almost. Well what are you standing there for; boots iced to the spot? Time to finish the job! ZARATHUSTRA: Draws La Sensoria HIT! The flame caves: shudder The ether geysers: quake The Anarchists: tremble And all he did was unsheathe a sword

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The sorrowful pout of star-crossed lovers on their last date. The pained expressions of outnumbered gun slingers at the last chance saloon. The frightened shiver of cute little ducklings waddling in front of headlights.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! ZARATHUSTRA steps forward

Three superswords twinkling at each other like hormonal adolescents on the dance floor. Like neutrinos spinning around the nucleus. Like bored housewives reacting to the spark in the neighbour’s eye. Fancy a threesome? TENSHO: ENSO: Hopping lunge (Burning Rage) One-footed plunge (Shadow Splitter) CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA S armour soaks it up A wavering of the winds. A snag in the track. A fuzz in the primordial heartbeat of nature. Hitting people’s supposed to hurt the people you’re hitting, isn’t it?

ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-body swing (La Sensoria) HIT! TENSHO & ENSO S swords

FIZZ!

BUZZ!

CRACKLE!

Startled anarchs thrown across the flame cave like runners whipped back on elastic strings

HIT! HIT! TENSHO: Crashes into a stalagmite ENSO: Crashes into a stalactite Double knockdown!

Hands stinging. Heads buzzing. Hearts pounding... Tensho and Enso drop their swords.

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Say what you like about superswords. Say what you will about those who wielded them. What you say’s probably right as it goes. But one thing can be said for superswords. They certainly pack one hell of a punch. And they might just flip you.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! Erupting right in the middle of the inadvertent triangle TENSHO

ENSO ZARATHUSTRA

La Bruto de Guerra, standing tall. La Bruto de Guerra, a patchwork grin hidden behind a metal -muddled gimp mask. La Bruto de Guerra, those multi-pupils flashing a gleeful glare.

Two scrambling anarchs scrabbling for their swords. Picking them up; each other’s. Bad practice. Chaotic, in fact. ENSO: TENSHO: Jumping bang (Burning Rage) Front-step tang (Shadow Splitter) CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA s armour soaks it up ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-face swipe HIT! ENSO & TENSHO: Matching slits over eyes and temples Treat those as family bonding tattoos Knockdowns!

“Mucho espada rapido loco.” That’s right; fast swords. Fast enough to make the anarchs drop their’s. Not their swords, per se. Oh no; those swords were Zarathustra’s.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Psytopia: Adagio 3

75


RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! Erupting right in the middle of the inadvertent triangle ENSO

TENSHO ZARATHUSTRA

La Bruto de Guerra making mincemeat of the opposition. La Bruto de Guerra eyeing those reverberating blades. La Bruto de Guerra about to seize his prize...

Enso and Tensho scrabbling around on the dusty cave floor. Zarathustra sheathing La Sensoria. The triangle closing in on them. ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug The Burning Rage and the Shadow Splitter lifted an inch off the dusty cave floor Rocks scampering away as they rose to his whim EM fields whipped like tablecloths from under crockery Gravimagmathics in full effect!

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! RANDOM FLAME PLUME! MISS! ZARATHUSTRA: But close enough to singe the odd nano and...

Tensho rolls across the dust and grabs the Burning Rage. Enso rolls across the dust and grabs the Shadow Splitter. Quick kiss as the edges of the triangle cross. Now, let’s be pitchin’ some chaos! TENSHO: Charging blast ENSO: Turning sting CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA draws Memento Mori and covers in one motion HIT! TENSHO & ENSO S swords

FIZZ!

BUZZ! CRACKLE!

Two startled anarchs thrown across the cavern HIT! HIT! TENSHO: Crashes into a stalactite ENSO: Crashes into a stalagmite Double knockdown!

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Hands tingling. Heads fuzzing. Hearts bounding... Tensho and Enso had already lost their swords.

Watch what you say about überswords. Watch what you say in case you meet somebody who wields one. You’d probably be right to stay out of their way as it goes. But one thing you can say about überswords: You’re better off when they’re out of reach. Especially the reach of an überman.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Background noise. Background static. Background interference.

That’s all the random pops of pyro were. That’s all the scattered strategies of anarchs were. That’s all the inconvenience of distance was to the will of gravimagmathics. ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug … I said nanotug I said... Frustrated, ice man? Precious blades out of reach? Down in the shadows where even psyience can’t snag them? Down in the depths of the rhythms of the earth where flame pops and hearts pound and all collapses in chaos? Frustrated, ice man? Just try having your family butchered. Being too young and fragile to do anything about it. Never even knowing the killer’s face. How frustrating is that, ice man? So how about you cool down. Because family butcherin’s the kind of thing that makes the kids... I dunno; makes them wanna kill you. ENSO draws her tripping rope

TENSO draws his pyrostrimmer

Held taught, four attached dollies subtly swinging

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Held low, flicks the blade with a subtle twang


Smirks all round. Swift spudding of fists. You see, not everybody is so obsessed with swords. Hello. Our names are Enso and Tensho; you killed our fathers. Prepare to die!

You wanna see something really freaky?

There are reasons the dark arts of dizruptivizm are called ‘the dark arts of dizruptivism’, you know, and here’s one of them. ‘Squib whispering’, ‘Critter Calling’ or ‘Beastie Baiting’ evolved out of other arcane arts. Like the puppetry of the überbeasts which tore up the earth in times of yore. Squib whispering was a far less harmful discipline... Unless you’re worried about harming yourself. Because squib whispering involved a fair amount of concentration, a certain degree of perspiration and a disturbing fondness of self-flagellation. Which was probably why only the particularly anarchic practised such things anymore. Draw your pyrostrimmer

A little like fluffy hedge strimmers, these were rough instruments made by spearing a patchwork doll with a gnarly blade, and as you probably already know from meeting Doloroso and Orinoko, dolls weren’t the most innocent things in Psytopia by a long shot. Tensho’s doll was a freaky little thing named Bios.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that doll look like a plush Zarathustra? I’m not wrong; Bios was a miniature man of metal and cloth. A caricature, presuming the egg came before the chicken. With elongated head and meaty legs and stumpy boots and soft-spiked gauntlets. Plus a sticking-out tongue and quadruple pupils. The man himself was quite taken aback. By a fluffy toy with a cutty knife through it? Have we finally isolated his weak spot? A doll made of the freakiest fabris and a cutty knife dipped in primordial ether. The stuff of other hells and heavens. Bios was a hyperdoll; an instrument of a broken-up band. One piece of an orchestra which no longer played together, having lost its tune. It was a hyperdoll, and hyperdolls mirrored the departed. Actually, they mirrored whoever dared look at them, but I digress. It’s best you don’t try to get into the heads of hyperdolls; they’re scary thingies indeed. You can puppeteer whole armies of peons with hyperdolls. But Bios was limited to comprehending only the heads of mere beasties.

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So unless you’re a beastie, you’re probably safe. Oh, and the catch, you say? Of course there’s a catch; there’s always a catch. What can you give the heads of the dead to make them less empty? Life, of course; for a moment. How about blood? Cut yourself It’s alright emos; all the big boys are doing it. How and where and the force with which you cut determines the breed of beastie who’s brain you borrow. So stay safe, won’t you kids? Make a splatter patch. The art of splatter patching is... Well it’s a little freaky and since I’m not about to take a trip back into teenage decadence to tell you how it works, you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. Or just look the other way, tell yourself it’s all random cat scratches and bramble bush scars and get on with your bright and cheerful life.

Spectral creatures are attracted to splatter patches. In the same way that predators are attracted to wounded prey. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why, does it? Doll arts were actually developed in ancient times. Some said gods used such things to remote control every object in time and space. That the life running through things was the breath of god. Even as it ran through valleys and gullies, through the dark of railway tunnels and the gaps under doors, gradually forgetting it was divine. But let’s not get carried away because the people who believed that kind of thing also worshipped reflections, filched brains and were generally pretty crazy. Another genuine application of doll arts was farming. Scarecrows, for example, were dolls which housed the furious wills of beasties. Because come on; no crow in its right mind would go near one of those. Perhaps back in the day they even used Bunraku to bring grazing herds back from afar when the big, bad wolf hit town. Back when puppetry was automated and easy for all. Back before such irresponsible convenience led to the downfall of the world. In any case, splatter patching was an accidental application of the art. Because dead dogs don’t gnaw the flesh off bones, you know. Dead dogs only want the passion to bark again. Chosen your squib? Selected your splatter? Then watch the blood-lusting ghoul move!

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Squibs were beings which were a mixture of nature and nurture. They evolved the usual way but were warped by gravimagmathics. Engineered (whether deliberately or otherwise) into ignorance. As opposed to creatures of nature, like flutterbys or flamejigs or Ravani. And as opposed to creatures of pure nurture, like drones, clones, peons and the undead. Look at it this way; you have reflections, you have original objects, and in the middle you have a hall of funny mirrors. You never know which side is real. Squibs were funny mirrors, poor things. They still had souls, but they were tortured ones. Frazzled beyond any chance of repair. Psytopians generally felt sorry for squibs, since they were deprived the freedom they once had to make their own decisions as we and Earth animals do. Deprived by having the most mischievous nanos in the blood. As a consequence, ‘z-ing a squib’ was seen as doing a service to said squib, since it would no longer be trapped by the purgatory and confusion of living a manufactured existence. Of course, you wouldn’t want to eat squibs. You don’t want to become infested with nanos, do you? We are what we eat, afterall. But you see the hypocrisy in action, right? I mean you do, don’t you? Look around. Because Psytopians were just like squibs. Perhaps if people went around feeding squibs a gallon of pyrojuice, they’d fry their nanos and be free. Spoony, but free. The same can be said for people. Although of course, Psytopians didn’t know they were stuck between nature and nurture. Stupidity. Excuse? Parahack; sorry plods, but reality is, you’re completely manufactured. Pyronettes; congratulations sprites, you really are natural. Unless you can find an ancient ether dancer to put you in your place. Psytopians... well, let’s not think about it. So just Z squibs now and keep their souls clean; it’s all less confusing that way. Until some weird-arse hippy anarch grabs a knife, screams something about animal rights, cuts himself up and borrows their brains. At that point... Well, at that point the world’s become pretty messed up already so you may as well go along for the ride.

Spectral entities, neither nano or pyro. Shadows of beasties, they were. Echoes of the dead. So they cease being again the moment the world stops bleeding for them. Because dead hearts don’t beat on their own. Because dead people don’t breathe. So bleed, bleed and bleed away, little squib whisperer. The more damage you do, the more you deal!

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Tensho wasn’t an expert, you know. If he was an expert at slicing himself to slithereens... Well then he’d probably be dead by now.

Splatter style

Let the beasties borrow your blood... And you can borrow their brain! Conjure cuts

Papercutz

Flesh woundz

Scar tissue

Friction singe

2nd degree Blitzburnz

Slit wrist

Spontaneous combustion

Cast of creatures Jug-tug Bonesnap Blubbernaut Petrawolf Juralith Buzzmaw Banshee Flamejig Floor flick STAND STAND STAND STAND STAND STAND STAND STAND (Ground) GROUND GROUND GROUND GROUND GROUND GROUND GROUND GROUND Chest soak (Yourself) DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND DEFEND In your face (Opponent) ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! NB, Tensho couldn’t pull off cuts seven and eight. You have to die to perfect the squib arts; take a trip to the Second Heaven or Hell. That’s probably why there aren’t any experts left.

TENSHO: Paper cut! HIT! TENSHO: Arm Yep, dizruptivists really are a danger to themselves... and others!

Zarathustra’s grip tightened around his chosen blade. The Memento Mori. It remembered a scene like this...

Tensho with a crooked grin. Enso with a disapproving frown. The blood on the dolly blade dripping into spectral formations.

Haunting the blood, it was. Haunting the little dolly. Life and vessel; that’s all a wayward spook needs. To find it’s way back to the world of the living for a moment. Is that a spectral jug-tug I see before me? TENSHO: In-your-face blood splatter HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Errr... yuk? SPECTRAL JUG-TUG: Throat grab HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Gobbling his nanos It is! It is a spectral jug-tug I see before...

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Thumbs up from little auntie. Pained smirk in return. That’s a pained smirk because... TENSHO: Frying of fury membrane HIT! TENSHO: His fury membrane, I suppose It s hurtful work channelling the anger of a long dead beastie... Burns your brain. That s why the hardcore dizruptivists ordered new ones for munching But while the little dead bird sucks itself a swig of life...

You wanna see something utterly insane? If you’re too cool for school but still want to trip the fight fantastic, you might want to muddle things up and play your way. You might want to try out a tripping rope.

Enso’s home made tripping rope was a little like a shaolin flail or a huge rubber band which would spiral manically as she performed gymnastic flips and twirls. It almost span as if it had a mind of its own, sometimes in more than one direction at once. Well it did have a mind of it’s own; that’s why. Four of them, in fact. Four little dollies stitched to the elastic fabric of the rope. Four little dollies which, like Tensho’s, had been salvaged from the wreckage of home. From under the chrome-plated nose of La Bruto de Guerra. Four little dollies which she lovingly labelled the plushmen of the ampocalypse. They were called Rash, Dora, Ipsec and Lan, and like Bios, they were made of well-knit metri, with their own cuddly little weapon arms and triangular heads with patchy eyes and stitched-up maws, looking like the skeletal soft toys of the children of Beelzebub. Enso would quite literally lose herself as she coiled the whipping rope around her neck, behind her back and over her head; tactically placed gauze knee pads which sat under her cargos soaking up the impact of her most reckless leaps and dives. Of course she’d lose herself; the dolls would take over. Switching her consciousness for a pinprick of time into their world. The purgatories. The funeral jigs. The tan-trip verses. You’ve got to wonder about these dizruptivists sometimes. Do they know who’s the doll and who’s the doll master?

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Spin cycle nightmare

übermare

Doll ignition DORA IPSEC X X ♪ X ♪ X X X ♪ X ♪ X

RASH ♪

X X X ♪

X X

X

X hypermare

ultimare

X X

X

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

X

♪ ♪ ♪

X

♪ ♪ ♪

X

♪ ♪

LAN X X X ♪

X ♪

X ♪ ♪

X X ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

Technique Slip skip Snip skip Flip skip Zip skip

Clump jump Bump jump

Thump jump Chump jump Stump jump

Whump jump Chop hop Pop hop Crop hop Strop hop Ground zero

Writer’s note: This is all pretty fucked up right here... ENSO: Slip skip (nightmare pace) RASH spins at 800RPM Bursts into flames! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: (Remote nano blow) Slips Knockdown!

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Thumbs up to little auntie. Gushing shrug in return. Hello. Our names are...

ZARATHUSTRA: Powersnap reverb! HIT! SPECTRAL JUG-TUG: Breaks its breath Becomes a blood splat! OUT OF PLAY HIT! ENSO

HIT! TENSHO Knocks the wind out of them Throws them back down the slope Knockdowns!

Alright freak shows, that’s enough of that. Enso and Tensho slipping down the deep, dark slope. Snagging swords as they fell into a warm, cuddly heap. Picking themselves up with a kiss and a smirk. That’s two weapons each now, moy bruto.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Liberdade!

Storming up the slippery slope. Past stalagmites and stalactites, flame plumes and tinkling keys. Now, which weapon shall we cut you down with?

How about both?

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ENSO: Chaotic combo Lets rip! Skidding hack (Burning Rage) FIZZ! Cover (Memento Mori) One-footed zip skip CLANG! Armour soaks it up Spinning whack (BR) FIZZ! Cover Somersault flip skip COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet grab HIT! ENSO: Collar TENSO: Anarchic assault Leaps in to make the save! Diving pang (Shadow Splitter) FIZZ! Counter (Memento Mori) Flesh wound, ground splatter! HIT! TENSHO: Yeah, but he meant to Spectral bonesnap dribbles into being Overhead tang (SS) FIZZ! Another cover Face splatter HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Eeew! SPECTRAL BONESNAP: Bone shudder charge COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Heavy metal kick HIT! SPECTRAL BONESNAP: Through the chest OUT OF PLAY Tensho collapsing to his knees, feeling the beastie’s pain. Enso falling to her feet, an icy hand print lingering on her neck. Zarathustra flicking the blood off a gunked-up boot, remembering why he so despised anarchy.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Tensho gathered his doll, his blade and his senses. His senses... Those were the last things he gathered. He wasn’t so sure if he gathered them well.

STOMP!

Zarathustra’s big, glum boots crunching broken ‘mites and ‘tites underfoot. Zarathustra’s big, glum spooklets tightening around his blade. Zarathustra’s big, glum master plan step by stompy step closer to fruition.

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Tensho gathered his... “Sobrinho. Nao! Chega! Basta!” Enso holding him back. The spooks not yet fully departed from his head. “Tia. Eu ja volto.” Tensho staggering to his feet regardless.

STOMP!

Zarathustra’s big, glum boots kicking up dust like a whirlwind over a desert. Zarathustra’s big, glum spooklets poising that multi-toothed blade to bite. Zarathustra’s big, glum multi-pupils watching him, her, both of them, their surroundings... Could he stare five ways at once?

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! “Amante.” Enso grabbing tighter this time. Pulling him back to a crouching position beside her. “Ambos. Junto.” Anarchist or not, she was well aware that two were better than one. “E uma boa, amante. Junto.” A kiss and a fist spud and a moment to get their heads together. That’s the thing about karmic reflection; whatever method, equipment or ideology you use. Be it tag grass, obakeraku, clone-crafting mirrors, medicative ambiances, monstrous great smelt plants, little cutty knives, storm systems or symmetrising catch. The thing about raising memories is... well, it’s that memories tend to linger. Tinkle-tinkle little keys. Twinkle-twinkle little stars. The dead of night closing in to smother you.

STOMP!

Zarathustra’s big, glum boots coming to a stern halt. Zarathustra’s big, glum spooklets cradling the Memento Mori like a bawling baby refusing to shut up and sleep. Zarathustra’s big, glum form in the way, wafting dry ice and oozing magnetism.

Tick, tick, tick tick... “Agora!”

TENSHO: Cross-face crop (SS) ENSO: Cross-body clump (BR) (Across each other s spheres) CLANG!

CLANG! Eaten up by the armour

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME!

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“Troca.” “Claro.” Auntie and nephew tossing swords to each other as if juggling skittles. ‘’Fuse ‘em and lose ‘em’, the blitzblades would say. ENSO: Cross-body chop (SS) TENSHO: Cross-face thump (BR) (Don t Anarchists appreciate each other s spheres?) CLANG! CLANG! Well he s little but armour, so what can you do?

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Hello. We are Enso and Tensho... All anarchs were the same as far as Zarathustra was concerned. Little more than sword fodder. ZARATHUSTRA: Chain grail Scrabblewave montage! HIT! HIT! ENSO & TENSHO: Randomly plugs the blood flow all over their bodies Like throwing points switches on a rail track, flicking the flow up and down the line Knockdowns! Swords clatter to the dusty floor. Even the ‘tites and ‘mites reverberate in sudden body shocks. Pins and needles here, there and everywhere. The caves filled with the tinkling cutter of a thousand keys.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Was even the earth showing its appreciation?

Nobody can chain grails; it’s just impossible. No human at least. To chain grails, you’d have to be pure nano or pure pyro. And nobody can live without the other. Unless you really are enlightened... Or immensely, intensely, seriously fucked up.

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“Tia...” “Sobrinho?” Two dirty, filthy, nasty anarchs flapping around on the dusty cavern floor. Limbs seeming to rush and slow, fast-forward and pause, get light and heavy all at the same time.

Reaching for their superswords as Zarathustra clamped his to that magnetic back slab. Crawling in the dust as their nanos began to speed and slow to their normal pace. As the passion in their blood began to open up the dams in their veins again. Stare a little, Mr. Principal. Pick your poison, open your fists... Now magnetise! Metri magic, that was what it was. Ansewez Magjik, or if you want to be all technical about it; psyience. What it meant was the end of the line for anarchism. Superswords raise off the ground. Dust and rock and ‘mites and ‘tites all a-clutter. Come to daddy, sweetie pies... TENSHO: Chaotic combo Scar tissue HIT! TENSHO: Fingers Friction singe HIT! TENSHO: Forearm 2nd degree HIT! TENSHO: Calf Enso cringes. Tenha cuidado... He really was making a merry mess of himself TENSHO: Splat! Splat! Splat! HIT! Floor Squib menagerie! Blubbernaut, buzzmaw, petrawolf TENSHO: Face splat! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Yurgh! SPECTRAL BLUBBERNAUT: Blind swipe COVER! Left spooklet

SPECTRAL WOLF: Savage gnash

SPECTRAL MAW: Hypnofin wave

HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head Hypnotised!

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Psytopia: Adagio 3

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COVER! Right spooklet


TENSHO: Chest splat HIT! TENSHO: Chest... well he s not likely to miss, is he? Spectres back off “Agora e a tua vez.” Tensho with a weary wheeze. “Pode deixar comigo.” Enso with a grit of the teeth. Ola. Nosso noms sao Tensho e Enso... Well, whatever they were saying, it looks like they’d started winning. ENSO: Anarchic assault Run-up leap Crazy random pirouettes... Chanting all the way; Gir yereli koh loga notu A tune her mother taught her. Strop hop (hypermare pace) DORA, IPSEC and LAN spin at 800RM Burst into flames! Überblare! Ampocalypse NOW!

Snip skip SMASH! Stalagmites

Zip skip Flip skip SMASH! Stalactites HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Flips his nanos, flips him over! Knockdown!

“Finalmente.” Enso wiping her mouth with a sleeve. “Bom trabalho.” Tensho offering a nudge of the shoulder. The Anarchists grabbing the überswords from the dusty cavern floor. Maybe gods ain’t all that.

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Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! Zarathustra up on one knee in a daze. OK familia... Daddy’s mad now.

“Ataque?” Tensho’s blade to his arm on one side. “Com prazer.” Enso whipping her tripping rope on the other. Two eager anarchs giving the thumbs-up to each other. How about a spot of liberdade? ZARATHUSTRA draws a little dolly TENSHO: Face splat ENSO: Snip skip COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Nanostop! (TENSHO: Paused) (ENSO: Paused) SPECTRAL NAUT SPECTRAL MAW SPECTRAL WOLF Takes their breath away Thermal shock! OUT OF PLAY!

OUT OF PLAY!

OUT OF PLAY!

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME!

Two startled anarchs slipping back into the space-time continuum. The nanos in their bloodstreams finding the play button. So gods play with dolls too? Particularly twisted ones.

You’ve already been introduced to nice, sweet, fluffy little Orinoko. Although that Orinoko wasn’t quite as sweet and fluffy as this. Neither of them were nice; I’ll promise you that. You see, Zarathustra was a tough old solider and all that, but there was one thing his peers used to knuckle him for. His precious lickle dolly. Mother had given it to him, you know. A pale. plush little thing with a blue dress and a white apron and big, bulbous eyes which seemed to watch wherever he went. Mother said this doll was special, and Zarathustra had to admit, he was somewhat hypnotised. It was made out of one of the most curious fabris he had ever seen. A sea of them in fact, stitched together just so. So he’d kept his dolly close to his heart. A memory of mother.

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Even as it grew old and worn and battered. He’d replaced an eye and spilt octan paste on her front and even braided her hair as he remembered how mother used to do so for him. And he’d sleep his weary head on soft little Orinoko every night as he drifted to dreamland. Or nightmare land, as it soon became. Yes, who knows what twisted imaginations that dolly absorbed in the dead of night. She could almost have made a mind for herself out of all those hangups. She could almost have made a world for herself. Of course. Zarathustra had to leave Orinoko at home when he returned to the field. But when he returned, she’d always be there. Even when he returned to see his beloved Odine. She had said Orinoko was special too. Taught Zarathustra some interesting tricks. Some anarchic ones. But in the end, he’d learned it all and left Orinoko. Orinoko, Odine, his home and his memories. Never look back as you run from your life. But when he came across his little dolly sifting through the rubble of the Tapestry... Well, we all want to relive parts of our childhoods, don’t we? TENSHO: Blitz burnz

Oh no; I said daddy’s had enough of this adolescent behaviour! Do what dolly tells you, little freak. Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep! ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotek trinity NANOTUG NANOFREEZE HIT! NANOCAST HIT! TENSHO HIT! TENSHO Pulls the sword from his hands Ices his nanos head to toe Shoots the blade right through him Ice shatters OUT OF PLAY!

Tick, tick, tick, tick...

“Deus me livre!” Enso was louder than the flame plume this time. Skidding across the dust to her lover’s rescue. Rolling to a stop by her nephew’s side. Cradling his head in her hands. Hello. Your name was... what?

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! PLUME! PLUME! A synchronised trio, and a tinkle of keys; welcoming a new resident to deadland.

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Enso wiping her mouth with a sleeve. Her nose. Her face. Her brow. Enso closing Tensho’s eyes with a trembling wrist. Picking up the iced-off pieces, scattered across the cavern floor like cast dice. Caked in dust and unrecognisable like shuffled cards facing down in the deck. Random bits of nano-frozen body parts smoking like dry ice, tumbling down the shadowy slope as if balls on a roulette table. Plonk, plonk, plonk into no man’s land. Plonk, plonk, plonk into nothing. “Filho da puta.” Through grit teeth and evil eyes. Let’s take a gamble in memory of la familia, shall we?

ENSO: Drops the Burning Rage CLANG! Wipes the floor with her back foot like a bull seeing red Hello. My name is Enso. You just killed my nephew/lover/familia Prepare to DIE! ENSO: Wild charge Mother’s ancient chant: Riel guyo nek lato riho! RASH DORA IPSEC LAN Snip skip Slip skip Flip skip Zip skip 800RPM 800RPM 800RPM 800RPM (Übermare pace)

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SMASH! SMASH! CLANG! CLANG! Stalagmite Stalagtite Right spooklet Left spooklet Dak rehl ebemeh! RASH DORA IPSEC LAN Thump jump Chump jump Stump jump Whump jump 800RPMx2 800RPMx2 800RPMx2 800RPMx2 (Hypermare pace) CRASH! CRASH! CLANG! CLANG! Floor Floor Left spooklet Right spooklet Ber kam kedehle! RASH DORA IPSEC LAN

DIE ULTIRAPTURE! Simultaneous 800RPM! (Ultimare pace) Hear seven sirens of doom See seven signs of death Swallow seven shades of hell! Plush reapers tripping the fight fantastic Mad flail striking everything in its path

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SKIP! ZIP! CHOP! SMASH! SMASH ! CLANG! Mite Tite Spooklet

BUMP! SLIP! FLIP! POP! CLANG! HIT! HIT! COUNTER! Spooklet! Arm! Shoulder! ZARATHUSTRA: NANOTUG! HIT! ENSO: Flies forward ZARATHUSTRA: Boot raise HIT! ENSO: Face Knockdown!

SMASH! ENSO thrown through tites and mites CRASH! HIT! ENSO: Floor Viva la dust cloud! Viva la tinkly keys! Viva la mort!

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! “La Bruto de Guerra...” Enso coughing blood, up on her feet. Spits some teeth across broken ‘mites and ‘tites and pieces of her lost familia. Let’s give it another shot. ENSO: Mad dash Moma s song: Rem bla deleke! DIE ULTIRAPTURE! Dolls dripping dream dust wherever they flew Crazy whip hitting everything in eye shot SLIP! ZIP! CROP! THUMP! SKIP! FLIP! POP! SMASH! SMASH! ! CLANG! CLANG! HIT! HIT! COUNTER! Floor! Floor! Spooklet! Spooklet! Shoulder! Chest! ZARATHUSTRA: NANOTEAR! HIT! ENSO: Slit wrist Drops the burning trip rope Fizzles to the dust ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast HIT! ENSO: Chest Knockdown!

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SMASH! ENSO thrown into the far cavern wall CRASH! HIT! ENSO: Floor Viva la bone shudder! Viva la headache! Viva la diablo!

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! “La boceta de guerra...” Enso dripping blood from a brand new head wound, up on her feet. Pukes some bile across the shattered ‘mites and ‘tites and pieces of her lost lover. One last time, por familia? ENSO: Picks up the Shadow Splitter Grins Raises the blade above her head like a serpent about to claim its prey. Hello. My name is Enso. You killed everybody who meant anything to me. If we both die... well, I’ll be happy with that.

Tick, tick, tick, tick... PLUME! ENSO: Crazed sprint Anarchy in action; doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. So let’s underline that point. And by the way, it’s going. ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug

ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast HIT! ENSO Nano mists whipping them to and fro Slamming into each other The end of the family bloodline, pulled both ways at once

Like falling into a car crusher. Like standing in the middle of the road during a motorway pile-up. Like having her backbone beamed out.

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“Puta merda.” Bleeding all over the place; would Tensho be pleased or pained at that? Perhaps she’d ask him. “Foi tudo em vao...” Organs crunched. Bones smashed. Blood burst. Confused nanos do that, you see. When they don’t know whether they’re coming or going. Her body was just crumbling ballast after that. OUT OF PLAY? Let s just call it... liberdade.

And Zarathustra felt nothing about that. So let’s go all hippy for a moment and think about how Zarathustra feels. Because even gods need therapy. He felt nothing running the Academy from on high. He felt nothing smelting metri in the Tapestry. He felt nothing beating poor Odine black and blue back when she was alive and could feel it and could whimper and cry, mope, moan and crumple. He felt nothing, but he always enjoyed the cold comfort of control. He hadn’t felt anything when he’d had to execute his own manufactured child when she’d betrayed him. He hadn’t felt anything when he mirrored the tutors into being in the first place. He hadn’t even felt anything when he finally hit his Odine a little too hard, watched her broken little head thunk tunelessly against the floor and couldn’t hear her whimper anymore. He felt nothing, as his heart iced over and the storms inside settled down. He’d felt a sense of sorrow, at least. That the Academy’s classes could no longer be divided out and taught in orderly threes. That he hadn’t been able to smelt metris as pure as the sacred Octet. That Odine’s broken little head appeared so pretty lying there, haemorrhaging crimson gloop with her broken little arms and broken little legs splayed out in curious contortions beneath her, behind her, whichever was which. Does that sorrow count as feeling? Zarathustra couldn’t quite recall. Well of course it doesn’t count, you sick, demented psychopath. But I won’t be saying that to his face, of course. You see, this is the problem with always being a solider. Child soldier. Teen soldier. Adult soldier.

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What was he taught throughout those lost, blood-caked years? To give and take orders. To soak up shots and hit back hard. To become so completely numb to the horrors around him that he wasn’t even aware if he was committing them or not. Existence becomes a dream to a lifelong soldier taught nothing but warfare. You can’t blame the men on the front line for that. And you can do anything you want in a dream. All you have to do is know it’s a dream and its fabric is yours to craft. So what does a lifelong soldier do when he finds himself standing on the pedestal? When the others perish and he becomes the highest ranking officer on the field? When he ascends to the throne and has his own brave new world to govern? What kind of principles does he base this world on? Wild guess: What he knows. Black and white thinking. Making all those beautiful grey areas red with blood or blue with bruises. Thank the heavens there were wayward echoes like Freia to subvert the rules behind his back. Yes, thank the heavens. Because there are always bigger things than gods among men. It was the very heavens which Zarathustra found in his cross-hairs. So let’s celebrate the death of anarchy. With a tick, tick, tick, tick...

PLUME! With a crumpling of broken bodies. With a misty raising of dust. And with a tinkle of a supersword as it tumbled down the rabbit hole.

Zarathustra whipped the Burning Rage into his big, glum spookleted hands. Felt his inner magnetics unwind for a moment. Like a cuddle from a shadow in the depths of the dark. Zarathustra examined the instrument with the most evil of eyes. The magnetics of the world making a little more sense. A little less wild, let’s say.

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Zarathustra felt the cogs of his heart clunk an orderly clunk, just the way he liked it. One more breath of heaven drawn into the grasping fist of order. One more supersword for the rack. And another rolling down the tunnel to oblivion?

The Academy of Tutors isn’t going to mark Zarathustra. What, you think we want our nanos flipped?

Don’t let superswords tumble down rabbit holes? With that in mind, let’s see how far this one goes.

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in case cremation isn’t already blazey enough

Breeze tutor extraordinaire Moonlighting Anarchist And an all round candy coco kitz gemini- Freia (Whatever that means)

Remedy, Elegy, Halo and Esuna The Catch Clique Kids Whatever that means

The triangular gardens of the Academy Where the rain seldom fell and the sun never set Where she’d be safe and free and bright and happy Where the totality would take her and the blitz would blaze forever And if you know what any of that means, you’re more of a juicehead than me

Born round -8,080 On the Charcoal Plateau Registered round 1 At the Academy Graduated round 2020 Passed round 6060

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ESUNA: (Wiping her tears on a scrunched up bandanna) “Moy reckons she was candy coco, siz.” REMEDY: “Check. She were mint, Esu. Mint n’ dandy.” HALO: “And now she’s gone.” ELEGY: “Not gone. As long as we remember.”

They couldn’t really forget Freia now, could they? Their surrogate mother. Their teacher. Their friend. Lovingly placed upon a funeral pyre in her favourite place. Out on the neat, triangular stone gardens of the Academy where she’d sit and think... And where she’d probably compose tag which she’d pitch at other fiendish Anarchists. But let’s not spoil the moment by telling the blitzers that. Out here with her hair-blade plunged into the gravel where she lay. Out here with her false limbs mere objects again as she’d always felt them to be. Out here with her animated face finally frozen in serenity. As her fringe caught fire and her fingernails blackened and her smile carried itself off into the breeze. Pirouetting into infinity. HALO: (With a sneaky sip of pyrojuice) “So she‘s become a shadow.” ELEGY: “She was more than a shadow.” ESUNA: “And only...” (Counting on fingers) “just over 14,000 rounds old.” REMEDY: “That ain’t so vexible kitty, what’s standard; 18?” ELEGY: “18,181.8... Give or take.” REMEDY: “You’se yeeps moy coco sometimes Ele.” ESUNA: (Counting again) “And she started teachin’ at lickle over 10k.” HALO: “Our age.”

You can almost hear the nervous giggle. The shudder of bones. The thickening of blood. The skipping of heart beats. So Freia was way ahead for her age. A whole grade early. A grade early to graduate, a grade early to die. Ahead of the curve, but just unfortunate it turned out to be the curve of a blade.

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“They even took her sword.” Remedy wasn’t impressed. “Whoever they were.” Elegy had plenty of ideas, none of them entirely concrete. “We have to take revenge.” Halo not quite orthodox when it came to the official purposes of swordplay. “But... couldn’t our glitzy kitz gemini have just passed peacefully?” Esuna too naïve for her own good. “You know, I’s tellin’ you’se kitz; we’s bein’ spied.” Remedy’s experiences in the wide, wild world had made her a little suspicious. Fingers forever itching at those blades. If these were the first signs of Azrael syndrome kicking in, the others better get ready to pounce before she kills somebody’s girlfriend. ESUNA: “How’d you’se tag that, Remy?” REMEDY: “I dunnos, I jus’ knows, K?” ELEGY: “I think you’re being a touch...” REMEDY: “A touch what; paranoid?” HALO: (To herself, wandering away from the group) “She’s reading the gaps in the tracks...” ELEGY: “I didn’t say paranoid, Remy...” REMEDY: “But you’se thinkin’ it.” HALO: (Walking around the pyre, transfixed on the flames) “Seeing echoes

too...”

ESUNA: “Remy, Ele; come on now kitz.” REMEDY: “We’s gonna have to keep our eyesies peeled, that’s all I’s sayin’.” HALO: “... Even hearing the future...” REMEDY: “Hey! What you’se say?” HALO: “I said you’re hearing the future.” ELEGY: “What are you talking about Halo?” ESUNA: “Hey Hay; you’se soundin’ a tinsy tad crooked nowadays too; you’se dandy?”

Let’s ignore that comment.

HALO: “Hearing the future. Psybelle here can hear the future..” REMEDY: (Delighted) “I can?” ELEGY: “Of course she’s not hearing the future Halo, whatever that means; the pyro flickers are making you think funny.” REMEDY: (Dejected) “I’s not?” ESUNA: “And talk funny too; a lickle like Ele.” ELEGY: “I try to talk... Academy Psytopian...” ESUNA: “I’s japein’ ya; s’ dandy.” REMEDY: “But you’se know, you’se two, I’s reckonin’ Halo’s right.”

Remedy took a deep breath and let out a lengthy sigh. Tapped her fingers. Rolled her shoulders. Twiddled her toes. She didn’t want to hear the future and all. She didn’t really know how to decipher it. All zeroes and ones, it was; all lines, dots and arrows. And you know how Remedy can’t stand them zeroes and ones...

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ELEGY: “Remedy. You can’t hear the future.” HALO: (Still largely disinterested) “She’s hearing reflections. I’ve seen it before.” ESUNA: “You’se seen the future before or you’se seen peeps who’s seen the future before?” REMEDY: “I’s felt a lil’ spoony since... well moy coco’s been ringin’. Like two tones chimin’ at once. Like overlay.” ELEGY: “Since when, Remy?” REMEDY: (Head down, staring at the ground, thinking hard) “Since... since that lickle blue mite woke moy up.” ESUNA: “Woke you’se up from what?” HALO: “What do you reckon? A dream.” REMEDY: (Crinkling up her brow, still thinking) “I’s pretty sure I was bleedin’, but I dunno if I was dreamin’.”

HALO: “If you weren’t awake, you were in the Second Heaven, and if you were in the Second Heaven...” REMEDY: (Frown) “I needed pullin’ back before I slipped into the Third.” ELEGY: “Come on now. You’re not saying Remedy passed into the Second Heaven out in the field and somebody pulled her back. Only special somebodys can do stuff like that.” REMEDY: (Watching the shadows move across the pebbles) “Merry Mel’s a super special somebody.” ESUNA: “Who’s merry Mel?” REMEDY: “The blue mite, siz. The fate tugger.” ELEGY: “Fate tugger? I’ve never heard of one of those.” REMEDY: “Moy neither. Dunno. Just slipped out; moy coco’s been fruity, you’se sees?” HALO: “She’s hearing dreams. Because she became one...” ELEGY: “Remedy didn’t pass, Halo.” HALO: “There’s a lot of passing going around.” REMEDY: (Watching student’s shadows leaving the ebbing pyre) “Maybe she’s right, cos moy ears be tanglin’ somethin’ spooky.” ELEGY: “There’s got to be a logical explanation. Maybe you just picked up some illness; it happens out there.”

HALO: (Glugs another in a long line of swigs of flame juice) “Maybe life’s

an illness. Maybe life’s hell.” ESUNA: “Kitty, what happened to you’se in the field; you’se extra kooky.” ELEGY: “Well, whatever happened to Remy or Halo, we’re all here now and we should be thankful of that.” ESUNA: “But if Remy passed and Halo’s... (her stare was hurting) Halo’s...” ELEGY: “Remy didn’t pass, kittyclaw; she’s right here.” REMEDY: (Still watching the floor, pointing a finger) “So... If I didn’t pass... how come I’s got no shadow?”

She had a point, you know. She had a point, but on close inspection, she certainly didn’t have a shadow. Curious, that. Where had she left it? That’s the thing with field trips. Whoever you are, they can change you. The wide, wild world has a habit of doing that. Even if you brush it off, suck it up and get on with it, the fracture in the track catches up.

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ACADEMY PARTY

Nakatomi

Elegy

Pre-grad A butch braggart of a pupil who liked girls, fighting and little else.

Timbré

Fresher

Elective

A highly intelligent, highly inventive, highly respectful breeze belle.

A geeky, quick-witted nano-technician who wasn’t much cop in a fight.

Their swords The Burning Rage

The Twisted Epiphany La Renaissance

She doesn’t have one, hence ‘not much cop in a fight’

*Travel to the Auburn Plate Check *Find the disruptive cultists *Travel to the Auburn Plate Check *Find the... *Travel to the Auburn Plate I said check, kitz! Oh wait; time’s goin’ queasy on me... NAKATOMI: (Agitated) “Do ya feel somefin’ stale in the air?” ELEGY: “A tinkle in the breeze. And that odd fluctuation in time.” NAKATOMI: “Time wot?” ELEGY: “Time running around after itself. Chasing it’s tail. Like deja’vu.” NAKATOMI: “I feel a smell.” ELEGY: “You mean you smell a smell. And don’t you feel you’re repeating yourself?” ELEGY: “And don’t you feel you’re repeating yourself; there!” NAKATOMI: “Where?” ELEGY: “I swear we’re on perpetual re-run here.” NAKATOMI: “I ‘fink you’ve had too much f’wuckin’ pyro.” ELEGY: “Hey; no fair. I’ve been taking it easy.” NAKATOMI: “I ‘fink you’ve had too much... hey!” TIMBRÉ: (Holding them still) “Stop moving you two; you’re coaxing timeswirls.” NAKATOMI: “We’re coaxin’ what?” TIMBRÉ: “Timeswirls. They’re nano-based booby traps. Echoes of old chrono jacks. They cocktail your temporal lobes.” ELEGY: “Of course; angry nanos. Left in vagrant clusters by Fall weaponry. Causing hallucinations, even warping the fabric of reality when stirred...” TIMBRÉ: “By pyro, perhaps.” ELEGY: “Pretty snazzy pyro. The forest is thick with these swirls.” NAKATOMI: “‘Fick wiv’ trees, that’s for sure.” TIMBRÉ: “They seem pretty random. But if we hold our breaths...” ELEGY: “And our steps. Something’s sneaking through the swirls.”

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TENSHO: Some kind of cutty knife MISS! ELEGY pulls TIMBRE aside

ENSO: Some kind of flashy whip COUNTERED! NAKATOMI: Quick-draw hack HIT! ENSO: Throat OUT OF PLAY

“Tia!” Enso’s dismembered corpse falling into a timeswirl. A fuzz of nanos and the re-stitching of flesh. What am I saying; this never happened. ENSO: Some kind of flashy whip HIT! ELEGY: Across the arm Wasn t expecting that!

TENSHO: Some kind of cutty knife MISS! NAKATOMI pulls TIMBRE aside

Elegy and Nakatomi exchanging words amid the close-knit trees. Elegy adjusting the straps which held her limb-long sword to her arm and shoulder. Nakatomi tightening his grip on the Burning Rage. No space to fight, no space to think, no space to die? NAKATOMI: Head of Steam Epitaph ELEGY: Shudderwave Pirouette 800BPM 800BPM NAKATOMI & ELEGY DIP INTO THE TRIP HIT! HIT! TENSHO: Chest ENSO: Face OUT OF PLAY! OUT OF PLAY! NAKATOMI & ELEGY NIP OUT OF THE TRIP Little auntie and big nephew’s frazzled corpses tumble into timeswirls. And we’re back again. The moral of this story? Never face off against Anarchists in their own back yard; it tends to get chaotic! To cut a long and repetitive story short, the tides of time turned generously for the Anarchists. They lived amongst the things, after all. To Enso and Tensho, the tides of time were almost familia. Familiar at least. And as for the swordstrils... Elegy and Timbré were the only ones to make it out alive. Though of course, if they looked back, it was possible to argue that they’d never actually even been to the Auburn Plateau, so they deserved another shot. It was possible she’d go back there and find they’d felled those wild and crazy Anarchistadors before they’d even sown a scratch.

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It would even have been possible for her to have gone back, seen herself dead and realised everything that had happened since was no more than a dreary daydream... But then she’d have to concede the discussion about death they’d been having earlier. Later... earlier...not at all, since she’d have been dead already. Oh, these timeswirls are starting to mess with my head now... ELEGY: “I suppose not having a shadow’s not the weirdest thing in the wide, wild world.” REMEDY: “Pretty speccy though, innit?” ESUNA: “So does that mean you’se passed or not?” REMEDY: (Grins) “All I’s knowin’ is... no squib’s gonna see moy comin’ no more!” ESUNA: “So you’se not... you’se knows; dead?” ELEGY: “Esu! Don’t use that word.” HALO: (Gruff) “I like that word.” ELEGY: “Well I’ve seen dea... passing, and I’m telling you it’s not nice.”

HALO: (Shrugs) “You and me both, kittyclaw.” REMEDY: “Hey, ease it breezers. I’s alive, I’s sure... pretty sure. Cos moy ears be spangly an’ moy brain’s be twittery an’ I’s hearin’ lickle echoes everywhere, whether they’re echoin’stuff done or stuff that’d needin’ doin’. Careful tho kitz, ‘cos I’s hearin’ muddledy hack comin’ our way.” ESUNA: (Bright eyed, hand on a hilt) “Muddledy hack? What kind of muddledy hack? And from where?” REMEDY: (Frown) “Ah. Now that’s the portion of py I’s not quite tagged yet.” HALO: “Death coming, I imagine.” ELEGY: “Halo...” REMEDY: “Yeah... death, I’d say.”

“Remedy...” Elegy disappointed. They’d all seen their fair share of death. Though Remedy’s share was probably the most substantial; Halo... who knows. So it was time the rational one took her friend aside.

Remedy and Elegy straying from the pyro pyre. Leaving death well and truly behind them. “Remy...” With a sigh; “Sees, I’s just missin’ moy Mojo, kitz.” And that was the truth of it. Shadows are a dime a dozen. But the people who cast them? They’re the ones who leave the most gloom. This is where the audacity of death kicks in. It’s propensity to go for the jugular. To stomp on you when the chips are down. To leap out at you when you least expect it.

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Halo and Esuna, still sitting by the dying ebbs of the pyro pyre. Halo rocking back and forth, somewhat transfixed on the flames, Esuna forever thinking. “Do you’se think Freia’s proud of us, siz?” “I reckon she’s not in a place to think about it.”

FROH: Overhead swipe (Artisaria) MISS! HALO: Ducks Just a tuft of blue hair wisping to the stony, shadowy floor ESUNA: Backspin hoop (Heaven s Destiny)

HALO: Turn-around whirl (La Faux Fatale)

HIT! CLANG!

HIT! CLANG! Rubbery gimp armour; handy stuff

The gardens fell silent. Alright, so they were silent already; this was a funeral, you know. The gardens fell silenter. The last of the wandering mourners not quite sure if they should stay or go. Who knows; maybe they’ll get two or three funerals for the price of one. FROH: Scribble Montage A flurry of scrawly sword swishes COVER! HALO and ESUNA bunch their swords up and huddle together Hands tingling with each deflected strike HALO: Cross-face curl ESUNA: Overhand loop CLANG! They recognised that gimpy armour you know...

The gardens quickly becoming a makeshift sparring ring. The swordstrils not sure they should stay and watch... But hey, it’s a fight; what can you do? A small crowd starting to gather.

FROH: Scrabble Montage A flurry of scrawly swipes accompanied by fancy footwork COVER! ESUNA and HALO cross their swords in front of their faces Pull their limbs in tight Hands reverberating with each deflected slash ESUNA: Rising scoop HALO: Overhead twirl CLANG! This was a familiar gimp, that s for sure

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Well, he should be; all the nervy spectators in the garden knew him. Froh, the scrawl tutor. A gormless gimp perhaps, but the swordstrils were more used to calling him ‘sir’. So... why was he randomly attacking swordstrils? FROH: Scriptal Montage A flurry of scrawly swings accompanied by fancy footwork and balletic leaps COVER! HALO and ESUNA wrap their blades around each other and hug up close Now these shots were making their hands positively pang HALO: Backspin swirl

ESUNA: Scriptal Montage Right back at ya, boss! Tap! Dab! Cut! Swipe! Bawl! Swing! Slash! Swoop! Seven CLANGS! and a HIT! FROH: Roof of the skull OUT OF PLAY

The garden emptying faster than a hospital ward in an ebola scare. Than a gazelle in a pen of cheetahs. Than a subway carriage full of commuters reading right wing rags full of spook stories as a bearded middle Eastern puts down a big rucksack and walks away. Fast, alright? “Esu!” “Halo!” Remedy and Elegy pushing the other way through the parting crowd. A crowd keen to disassociate itself from students who’d just killed a tutor.

And somewhere out across the plates, a man of metal and thunder winces. Oops. “Esu!” The next thing she was aware of, Remedy was shaking her. No; a gargantuan, metri-clad gimp, crushing her little shoulders with glum, spiky spooklets... No, no; right first time, it was Remedy.

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ESUNA: (Dazed) “Remy?” REMEDY: “Siz. What happened?” ESUNA: “I dunno, we’s were just sittin’ there and...” HALO: (Nonchalantly sheathing her blade and kicking the corpse) “He attacked us.” ELEGY: “He’s the scrawl tutor, Halo.”

HALO: “So what? You’re saying we started it?” ELEGY: “Why would a tutor...” REMEDY: “Hey. They’s all shook up; the gekky block whipper clearly spooked ‘em.” ELEGY: “Yeah but why would...”

HALO: (Another kick of the corpse) “Why not? Those clunks are all the same.” ELEGY: “They’re not all the same, Halo; the tutors are on our side.” HALO: “I’m on my side...” REMEDY: “Look, it doesn’t matter who’s on who’s side, OK?”

She stepped tactically between Esuna and the peering crowd. Peering as they shuffled away towards the complex. Because if she’d learnt one thing out in the wide, wild world, it was that you never really know who’s on your side... Who’s going to take your name, clock your face and tell.

The Academy The meek and mild, in distress Themselves

REMEDY: (Holding ESUNA‘s wrists) “Esu. We’s on you’se side. Whatever happens, K?” ESUNA: (Eyebrows crossed, confused) “I z’ed a tutor Remy...” REMEDY: “You’se were defending you’self, ‘member that.” ESUNA: (Unconvinced) “OK...” ELEGY: “Maybe he mistook you for someone else, or maybe he was ill, or maybe he was...” REMEDY: “Loopy in the coco.” ELEGY: “I was going to say maybe he was...”

HALO: (Prodding the corpse with a blade now) “This freak was out to get us.” ELEGY: (Grabbing her wrist) “Will you stop doing that?” HALO: (Glugs a shot of pyrojuice) “I’m just sayin’ it how I’m seein‘ it, siz.” REMEDY: “Well maybes don’t matter, do they? What matters is you’se alive and he’s...” ELEGY: (Reluctant) “Dead.” HALO: “You scrawl, you bawl.”

CLUNK! Esuna plunged Froh’s sword into the ground at the spot where he fell. The crowd whittled away to nothing now. As swiftly as life tends to pass people by. His gimpy armour. His gimpy mask. His gimpy demeanour. And his icy cold, blunt metri sword.

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A curious metri, it was. Fuzzy to the touch. Esuna felt uncomfortable clutching it. As if it was grasping back at her. As if the fabric of the metal was soft, somehow. Not quite there. As if her hand was falling right into it. Like a sheet of static. Like an icy water pool. Like a mirror made of mist.

She pulled her hand away and indulged in a shudder. She’d killed someone. She’d taken a life. She’d made a ghost of a man. And she didn’t like it. The icy chill in her heart. The course metallic grip around her soul. Was this really happening?

A standard issue blade for tutors. A bit like a huge Swiss army knife. A cross between that and a cast iron ruler. It had measurements across the surface. Dots, lines and arrows. And smaller blades of varying shapes and sizes tucked into its edges on hidden springs. A blade for every occasion, every dilemma. Every purpose. Orthodox; because if you give them something special, they may think they are too. A standard issue military blade as well, I’ll have you know. The kind the soldiers used to use on the front. The kind nobody used anymore, because all those who’d fought on the front were dead. A standard blade, but infused somehow with sparkles. Twinkles. Dream dust. A metri muddled with reflections. Esuna saw faces, places, fantasies in that blade... But all in negative. Herself too, in reflection. Pale, ghostly skin, cold blank eyes, lifeless grey hair and stitched-up lips? She stepped away from the blade and took a deep breath. Curiouser and curiouser...

So, you thought you knew everything about swordstrils? The game is afoot! Psytopia: Adagio 3

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__________________________________________________

Zarathustra awoke from his dream with a start. Not that the dream had been particularly disturbing. In fact, it had played out just as he had expected.

No, what had been disturbing was that he’d been walking. Something people don’t generally do when they’re asleep. If you find yourself sleeping while you’re walking... Well you’ve got to wonder if something’s missing. He’d been dreaming of swords, violence and death. Not disturbing at all, then. Even if that death was partly his own.

Thank heavens Zarathustra could control his dreams. Dreams were like little worlds, really. When you know how the cogs turn, you spin them just the way you want to. But he’d woken himself, so let’s keep walking. Back to the task in hand. On down the hazy steam tunnels of the naussaduct and on to wide, wild worlds far away.

It’s no surprise Zarathustra was slipping between dreams and reality down here. Between waking and sleep. It’s difficult to know which is which. So many shadows in the mist, you see? So much history.

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He drew the Memento Mori and pressed on. Ah; that ordered the clouds somewhat. EM fields pushing the disembodied reflections back into the past, present and future.

It wasn’t as he remembered it. Back when it had been slick and clean and when Psytopia wasn’t so fragmented. It was a troop deployment system by and large, but was also used to transport food, munitions and other useful equipment to the front. The fronts, in fact. Because the enemy were crafty types. Dizruptivists, they were. The worst kind of Anarchist. The baddest of a bad bunch. And I’m not talking about the flimsy, flowery, amateurish kind of dizruptivism which existed in Psytopia today. I mean über dizruptivism. I mean the puppetry of the hells. I mean real, genuine, world-smashing WMDs. I mean the conjuring of überbeasts. Now, don’t go thinking that the little übersaur running around on the Jade Plateau a while back was a genuine überbeast. By today’s standards, perhaps. But compared to the über standards of the old days, the übersaur was decidedly feeble. In the grand, über scheme of things, the übersaur was small fry. The nit that somehow escaped the death of the woolly mammoth in whose furry coat it resided, and which through a cataclysmic casserole of hungry nanos, managed to evolve into a gnat. No, real überbeasts were über beastly. And, as it happens, über über. Real überbeasts didn’t just dwarf people, they dwarfed the plates. And that was why the naussaduct was built. Der Magnetischesunterirdischesnetz. A complicated name for a complicated system. Of underground steam tunnels fuelled by black karmic bile which criss-crossed Psytopia. Interlinking faraway places which would otherwise have been cut off. Linking necropoli; built into caverns which had been hidden there an age. Either by freak weather conditions, giant beasties or other, even more destructive majicks. The naussaduct system ferried troops under the belly of the beasts. A regiment stabbing at its heart, another at its eyes, another at its ankles. Yes, überbeasts really were that über; ome of them would have spanned many plates. And überbeasts moved slowly, so it was fortunate that the naussaduct system was swift. Scary shit though; trundling through the subterranean caverns in a naussapod, the gargantuan beastie’s shadow so thick it permeated the topsoil.

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Spare a thought for the dizruptivists, busily slicing, dicing and maiming themselves in their thousands somewhere in order to balance the beast’s blood and keep the creature from slipping back into the hell from whence it came. Sacrificing themselves to keep it on a leash.

Of course, there were wiser ways to pull the strings of überbeasts. If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed... But let’s not overload you with any of that now.

Zarathustra was struggling to wrestle his psyche from tumbling down memory lane. Because the naussaduct had seen many horrific things throughout the years. So it’s no surprise they were haunted. The shackling of überbeasts. The crashing of naussapods full of troops. The dizruptivists’ knack of committing mass ritual suicide to play puppet masters to their weapons of war... Yes, Zarathustra knew how the ghouls had formed, thank you very much. The breeze whipping through the caverns was full of them. Because Zarathustra had been here when the naussaduct was still intact.

The naussaduct stirred many an anarchic memory. Of fear, of threat, of loss, of horror. Because as you’re probably aware by now, back in the day, Zarathustra had been one of those countless aforementioned troops.

’ There were 36 in Zarathustra’s psytoon. And yes, that’s a multiple of 3. They’d been buzzing around in their karma-powered subterranean pea-pod for quite some time; the fuzzy chrome walls of the naussaduct whizzing by at a ferocious pace like seagulls skipping past the windows of a fighter jet. Becoming ether before anyone even noticed they were there. “He shaltz.” “Heh, heh; shaltz.” “He Träumer.” “He Verlierer.” “Lassen sie mich in ruhe!” Zarathustra, (if that really was his name) head resting sleepily against the window. Trying to catch sight of those speeding blurs. Trying to... “Hey, the shaltz is awake.” “Might not last that long though.” “Not against the überbeast.” “Sleepy head, sleepy dead.”

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A cloistered cacophony of rustic giggles. That’s what Zarathustra chose to call it, anyway. Because he tended to be more artistic than the rest. “The shaltz is dreaming of home.” “Oh, the towers! Oh, the flowers! Oh, the pretty paintings and bewitching song!” “Yick. He won’t last a tick or two.” “Not on the battlefield.” Well, Zarathustra would show them. He would, you know. He’d show them... but they wouldn’t be around to see it. Because though it wasn’t clear to the burly lugs who cajoled him en route to their almighty showdown with another gargantuan god of a beast... Because it didn’t occur to them as this boy from the cultural capital of Psytopia sat nervously amongst their iron-wrought ranks... Because it wouldn’t have been obvious to anybody watching the bullying that tended to take place... Zarathustra (though that was unlikely to have been his name back then) had something they didn’t. Something they could have done with, in hindsight. Zarathustra had fate on his side.

He shook his head clear again; not quite sure if he was asleep or awake. Living in the past or the present? Still sane or...

STOMP!

Through the naussaduct. Head down, Memento Mori held aloft. Let’s cast aside the memories. Avoid the mists. Ignore the grasping hands of ghostly troops, baying bullies and other nymphs. On their knees. On their backs. Torn apart. Just how he liked to remember them.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Through the parting mists, a man on a mission. No time to reminisce. Now, where was that sword; couldn’t have tumbled too far down here...

STOMP! STOMP!

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Zarathustra paused for a moment. Surely that footstep wasn’t one of his. I mean, there were echoes down here, but... Echoes of the past. Echoes of the dead. Even echoes of himself.

No wonder nobody had ventured into der Magnetischesunterirdischesnetz for years. It was the most confusing of places. Even as he stood there, the faceless ghouls were beginning to congregate, their translucent suits of armour reaching out of the walls to drag him in.

STOMP!

Certainly not one of his. Zarathustra pulled his sword closer to his chest.

A mammoth shadow, larger than the grotty old tunnels in which it wandered. Slouching its way through broken vine-tangled walls as if they were treacle. Stomping around in the underground mists.

Zarathustra felt the Memento Mori shudder in his grasp. A memory even a supersword was scared of. A beast big enough to block out any sunlight which may venture down here and hurl him into the shadows of history.

Hey, I ‘taught I saw an überbeast! I did! I did! I did see an überbeast! A six-armed, prong-faced, bulbous-eyed doomsaur from the depths of the hells! Pacing down the narrow, mossy corridoors like an elephant in a tin can. Clanking through the musty old ducts like a tank through a trench. Stomping through the petrified mists like an arrow through the darkness. Elephants don’t fit in tin cans, stormbringer. So the grip of Zarathustra’s spooklets eased. Hallucinations.

Hallucinations were everywhere down here. That was why the naussaduct had been abandoned. It tended to bring out the worst in people. Because the system had syphoned bad karma to fuel itself and when it broke down, the thickening mists had nowhere to go and just grew thicker. Yes, hallucinations were everywhere down here. Or nowhere, given that hallucinations don’t really exist. It all depends on your history. If you’ve lived nice and fair and free and pure, you’re not going to have much to worry about living in the naussaduct. If you’ve killed people... Well, swordstrils cremated their dead for a reason, you know. Because if you’ve killed people, you’d better be burning those memories as best you can. Otherwise, you’ll be forever haunted.

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Zarathustra lowered the Memento Mori. Stretched with a metallic creak. Wake up, iron man; you don’t want to live in the past forever now, do you? Zarathustra didn’t like the past. He liked the past about as much as a cat likes a bath, a mouse likes a trap or a child likes bedtime. And the sooner he got out of it, the better. But the movement of the mists was curious down here. As he followed them, magnetically attracted to both him and that fumbled blade. Tinkling down the rabbit hole into wonderland. The mists were gravitating. Rushing away from something. A force greater than he. In fact, they were rushing right past him. Like screaming civilians away from a disaster zone as a medic pushes to get in. Grasping ghouls and stomping beasts and other shadows of history. They weren’t interested in him in the slightest. They were only interested in getting away. Blink hard, Der Eisenfaust, and gaze through the mire of your mind. You might just spot something speccy.

________________________________________________

Gavotte Pre-grad A well-grounded, mature breeze student more balanced than most.

ACADEMY PARTY Esuna

Rigoletto

A wide-eyed, good natured, possibly naïve breeze belle.

A butch healer, if that isn’t a contradiction, who fancied himself.

Fresher

Elective

Their swords Les Illumination

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He’s a medician He had a liquiscreen...


Aid the pacifist pad farming settlement on the Sangria Plateau Help them tackle the troublesome pyro addicts in their midsts *Travel to the Sangria Plateau Check *Meet the pad farmers Check... and check, and check, and check *Locate the troublesome pyro addicts Eeer, I think we have another ‘check’

Academy Grouping Gavotte (pre-grad), Esuna (Fresher) and Rigoletto (Elective) The troublesome pyro addicts Ragged-clothed, spoony-headed and obsessive; I think this’d be they

“They’re coming at us. Stand your ground.” “Draw our swords?” “Stand your ground.” Because breezer or no breezer, Gavotte really did have his head together.

“But they’s zippin’ so speedy.” “Chick’s right Gav; there’s a whole band of ‘em.” “Hold your ground.” Because the flame-crazed pyro addicts were there to hold their wrists and make them cocoa?

Thundering at them like a horde of wilderbeast before the ferocious roar of the lion. Rushing at them like a tidal wave at a sorry-looking line of beach huts. Galloping at them full throttle on their flaying mantis steeds like a grid of revving race cars set loose at the lights. Cocoa, anyone? “But...” Esuna’s wide eyes looking glum. “Gav...” Rigoletto’s manly heart doing somersaults. “Hold.” Gavotte’s stone jaw holding firm. As the cavalcade of hell drew close.

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The fiery flicker of the fierce red sky. The ice-thin creak of the balsa floor below. The spine-rattling rumble of the shuddering pyro sea beneath. The Academy party stuck in the no man’s land of this bare savannah as the freaks bore down on them from every direction.

A time to shiver. A time to sweat. A time to draw their swords? Surely no time to be a pacifist.

“Let them come to us.” Two swordstrils and one medician. Two hundred raging pyro addicts. No way out. You see, Gavotte had learned to seize the breeze whenever he pleased. And when he didn’t please? He liked to try negotiation. Because pyro addicts are after a trip, not a beaker of blood. Philosophy like that is all well and good; in theory. But out in the field where strange things happen... Sometimes things don’t go your way, but sometimes you’re clever enough to get lucky. And sometimes even when bad stuff doesn’t seem to be galloping at you over the horizon, it goes and happens regardless. “Now I’s gone and killed someone, kitz.” Esuna back in the present, having to be comforted. The crew huddled up in a corner of Pyrotech. Trying to pretend the crowds weren’t looking at them. Trying to pretend they weren’t exchanging nervous wrist holds. Trying to pretend they weren’t avoiding them. Trying to pretend they weren’t spreading the news. Trying to pretend they didn’t point with fingers which may as well have been sword tips as they passed by. Perhaps the other tutors wouldn’t look in Pyrotech. Perhaps the ambient vibes of the Cajun techno would cool their heads as it could Esuna’s. Perhaps they knew Froh had clearly gone mad already and would just usher this little brawl under the carpet and pretend it had never happened. Perhaps the blitzblades were clutching at straws.

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Esuna shivering like a newborn calf. Wiping her hands like Lady Macbeth. Guilty as a violent husband with a dead wife in the kitchen, doors locked from the inside, a big fat payout in the will and a smoking gun in his grip. At least none of the other swordstrils had taken the law into their own hands... yet. “Hey siz, look. “ Remedy clasped her wrist harder to snap her out of it. “That was one boxy squip that deserved to get deaded before he deaded you’se, and I’d say that’s cool coco.” “It’s kill or be killed.” Halo was more succinct. “Look, I’ve had it with this death thing.” Elegy hadn’t let go of what she knew yet. There’s still plenty of time for that. The stunned silences. The open-mouthed glares. The sideways shuffles and the accusing points weren’t making it easy though. Even Elegy’s world was developing shades of grey.

Not really.

Not quite.

Not at all.

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Spare a thought for wide-eyed, innocent little Esuna. Perhaps not so wide-eyed now. Perhaps not so innocent anymore. Perhaps not even so little. Spare a thought as she rubs the invisible blood stains from her hands with invisible water, wishing she had an invisible wound to dress, because that way she’d look more the victim. Spare a thought as a pyronette out in the corridor by the grand wall of etchings zaps the cold, hard facts of her deed into stone. Spare a thought and give her a minute, will you? Because is it better to be dead or to be a killer? The grand gold stairways of the Academy silent as shell-shocked students went about their business. The grand old heights and depths of the pyramid complex full of swordstrils whispering as they watched their backs, wondering what would happen next. The grand, gold blast doors of the complex wide open like the mouth of a whale, beckoning her out into the wide, wild world. ‘Excom, excom, excom, excom...’ “I’s killed someone, siz. A tutor, too. Nobody’s ever killed a tutor before.” Head in hands, hands in lap, all in a spin. The little skull-patterned bandanna in messy scrunches. The little striped skirt damp with tears.

Elegy sat down next to her and held a wrist. Lay on this invisible couch and tell us why you’re washing invisible blood with invisible soap and invisible water. Elegy playing the psychologist. She was good at that. “Nobody’s been attacked by a tutor either Esu. Something must’ve gone wrong. Perhaps he was controlled, you know; cord capture or one of those Anarchist arts. Hey; perhaps he was an Anarchist himself, or perhaps he was just a dupe and the real tutor’s not dead at all.” “She chose to say ‘dead’ too.” “Shh! Brick it, Halo.” Remedy with a swift nudge. “Perhaps...” And yet the spilled blood felt and looked and smelt and tasted so real.

“I’s killed someone. I’s g’wan be excommed for sure. I’s g’wan be killed for sure.” “You’ve never seen death so close, have you siz?” A rigorous shake of the head. “Esu, siz. The Academy doesn’t speak of death. Think of the effect on the pupils.”

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It was true, Esuna had felt more confident before she’d considered death. Galloping, thundering, rushing at her in no man’s land... But never so close that it dripped off her hands. Well, perhaps this time somebody else better do the introductions.

ERDA: Cross-face droop (Fractured Recall) MISS! (ish) Grazes HALO s throat >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< >SCHLINK-SCHLINK!< The blitzers draw!

A crowd forming in Pyrotech. Gazing through the glass from the grand, gold corridor beyond. Levellers quickly leaving the club in the cold. Well there are other vibes to jive to than vibro! Blitzkitz chain (in tandem) ESUNA: Roundhouse loop HALO: Overhead hoop REMEDY: Leaping swoop ELEGY: Backfoot scoop CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ERDA Soaks them up with a solid stance and a well-placed blade The gathering crowd with dropped jaws, hands on mouths, nervous holds of wrists. Come on now, is chivalry dead or something; surely you lot can see who’s attacking who. Do you people want to see blood? Or do you just want to learn something?

ERDA: Powersnap reverb 800BPM! HIT! ELEGY: Breaks her breath Throws her through the crowd and a symetriser s desk CRASH! The crowd getting closer. Starting to chatter. Isn’t that that the Ground tutor? And is she supposed to be kicking swordstrils around like that?

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Blitzkitz chain: (in tandem) ESUNA: Hopping twirl HALO: Winding whirl REMEDY: Sidestep swirl CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ERDA deflects the blows with a solid stance and a well-placed blade

The gathering crowd with heated chatter, fidgeting feet, nervous glares. Come on now, is common decency redundant or what; surely you could pitch in and help. Do you people want to see breakages? Or do you just want to witness a whitewash? ERDA: Powerwave reverb 800BPM! HIT! REMEDY: Breaks her blood Throws her through the crowd and a big glass window, into the corridor SMASH!

The crowd getting really tight in on the action now. Starting to chant and argue. Yep, that’s certainly the Ground tutor. Who do they back; the winner?

Blitz kitz chain: (Simultaneous) ESUNA: Swivelling curl Halo did the maths HALO: Shattershock reverb HIT! ERDA: Spine Broken And there, and there, and there, and there CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

All the way down the backbone Now you re grounded! OUT OF PLAY

The gathering crowd with uneasy shrugs, backward steps and guilty whispers. Come on now, is siding with your common woman a lost art; you can‘t just walk away! Did you people want to see death? Well you got one anyway. “Halo!” Esuna grabbing her wrist. A fizz. A buzz. A rocking of flustered heartbeats. A moment of still, calm and comfort there in the storm. As meek-mannered sorrow met angrily applied brutality. As flip sides found they were sitting on the same coin, balanced just so.

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“Kitz!” Elegy bursting through the crowd to drag them out into the corridor. Both guilt and blatant disregard eased somewhat in the eye of the squall. Yanking Remedy to her feet as they went, down the grand marble stairway and into the depths of the complex. Let’s leave the other swordstrils to take sides, shall we?

And let s hope against hope as we run, that it s their’s THE PLOT THICKENS!

————————————————————————————————— A tempestuous gust pulled Zarathustra’s eyes open like fish hooks tugged through gills. Like the pulling of the strings of a puppet. Like magnets, if the truth be told. He was awake. More so than he had been for however long he’d drifted back there. Like a storm sucking up the inertia of its smaller components, becoming stronger again. Plans falling apart and coming together in his sleep. Pointing and chattering; warped rhythm and broken glass. It didn’t matter what it all meant, it only mattered that he was headed somewhere.

There were ghosts in these corridors. Ghosts in his head. Grasping at him in the thickening mist. They really were running from something, weren’t they? With their gaunt faces, their translucent armour and their bulbous eyes. From which dead men are repelled, gods are attracted. So Zarathustra stomped on in his wild, wild hunt. Through the shattered foundations of his merry Midgard. The world up there which he’d built for himself. Through mother earth, the dusty cogs of war, the lethal flicks of ether and the random scuttle of flamejigs through the creased and twisted floor on which his big, glum boots slammed and banged, stomped and rested. Rest. As he stood there, looking at them, looking at him.

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Their bulbous eyes were staring, you know. Staring through his armour and his body. Into his blood. Because that’s what vagrant wafts of nanos do, isn’t it? They do what we all do. They search for others like us.

Zarathustra had searched for another like him. But there wasn’t another like him, was there? Was there? Passing through the pack as the ghost march filed by. Pushing the other blank faces aside like a spoon through vegetables in soup. Reaching out for the meat in the meal. There she was...

“I don’t want you to go.” “I must.” “Why must you?” “I am needed.” “You are? For what?” “For the cause.” “For your death.” “Don’t... don’t use that word.” “You are needed here.” “And there.” “But here, you are wanted.” This was how it started. Or how it ended. Zarathustra wasn’t sure which was which. As he stood there in the doorway, head down, hands open, heart thumping. 100, 200, 400... 800BPM? This was how it ended; that was it. This was when he left. And even despite it all, she tried to stop him. This was when. When he decided he couldn’t live this life anymore. When he realised that as good, warm, free and wonderful it was, he just wasn’t ready to learn the things he hadn’t been taught.

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He’d had his life laid out for him, all step by step and manageable. Where all the pieces of the world had their own boxes, their own places, and fitted just right. Yet here he was, living in dreamland. So this was where it started, wasn’t it? This was where it all began. Where he started to close up. When he started to run. When the ice began to creep over. When he started slowly killing himself? If only he’d been ready. For life, light, thrill and trust, hope, flair and laughter. If only he’d been ready to stop seeing the world in black and white. If only he’d been ready for her. Perhaps he’d have done things differently. Odine was her name, and she had saved him. *From the gaping maw of the überbeast? Check *From the soul-destroying waste that was military life? For a time *From his own shadows? Only Zarathustra could have saved himself from them. “You don’t have to go back there, you know.” A subtle back of the hand on his cheek. “I’m better now.” “Then stay that way.” A soothing whisper in his ear. “This isn’t my place.” “This is our place... tu és o meu amor.” A loving hold of the hand. “No.”

Zarathustra pushed her away. Because her touch was so close it breezed right through his skin. To deeper places where he couldn’t defend himself. He hated that she loved him. However much he hurt her. However much he hurt himself. He hated that she loved him. But more than that. More than that, he hated that...

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“If only you could have faith. Trust yourself.” “I trust what I have been told.” “Even now you know you have been told nonsense?” Faith. That was all she asked of him. But faith is such an... unsolid thing. “You are an Anarchist.” “And you are a soldier, yet I love you all the same.” Oh-oh; the ‘L’ word... The word that cut through the sternest metri on the field. The word which danced through entire psytoons, tangling legs like ivy and bursting hearts like blooming flowers. Oh, how Zarathustra hated that word and all its wonderful, numbing, confusing surfaces. The most vibrant and most violent of blades. “I can’t be with you.” But he could, you see? Because that was what they all say. “Can’t, or don’t want to?” “What I want is not important.” “Is that what you’ve been told?” “Odine. You have taught me so much, but I have to go.” “You don’t.” She grabbed his arm as he went to leave. Head down, fists clenched, eyes shut. “It isn’t right. What we have.” “Then we do have something.” “Something wrong.” “Says who?”

Odine was a stubborn type. Of course she was; she was an Anarchist. A founding member of the Soul Cage Cult. And to be fair, Zarathustra was equally set in his ways. Or their ways; those who had taught him. Even when his ways froze up and stopped working. But the reality was that they’d been happy together. For such a short, wonderful time. Since she had brought him in when she’d found him wounded. Back to La Necropolis Rogue.

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He had been one of the few survivors of a particularly brutal bout of diablo possession. A good few Anarchists had died up there too. Though to be honest, most of them had pretty much killed themselves. Such is the danger of dizruptivism. Whole tribes would perish while struggling to puppeteer überbeast. Getting into the heads of devils. It wasn’t an exact psyience by any means. Copied from the doll arts of the ancient ether dancers. And often not copied well. The ether dancers; whom, so insisted the Soul Cage Cult, danced the world into being. Zarathustra didn’t believe in such twisted things. He had been taught all he needed to know. And of which you don’t know...

Odine had slyly taught him what he didn’t know as she nursed him back to health. Because what they don’t want you to know can probably really hurt them. Spook summoning, hell raising, bone tugging and all those archaic things. If this was a film, I’d put in a training montage. Zarathustra had been taught to learn fast, and he’d taken some pretty strange things in. But love... Love was a bridge too far. “Astada.” “I can’t stay. Odine, we are on different sides.” “I don’t care about sides.” “We both have jobs to do.” “Our job is now to stop doing them.” A holding of wrists and a silence. A moment to look back and ask what could have been. What should have been? The short years they’d spent, the laughter, the tears, the safety, the fear and the leaving. All stitched together in this lingering end. But he made no eye contact. That alone told her everything she needed to know. That he was gone before he‘d even left. “Odine...” But she wasn’t really there. Her face parting; back into ether as his spooklets struck her. Back into the mist of memory. Autocrats, for the record, don’t fall in love. Best to forget it all. Strange, then, that he hadn’t.

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He’d woken up again. Pulled into the present. Wrenched by magnetism.

One of the overriding forces of the wide, wild world. Gravity, magnetics and maths. There was nothing more in the universe than the unity of gravity, magnetics and maths. Or for want of a far shorter and inevitably misspelled word, psyience. Zarathustra was a psyientist. And there’s no greater force in the universe than that. I said there’s no greater force in the universe than... Alight robostrop; if you say so. Zarathustra knew gravimagmathics better than most. Better than all; he’s a god, remember? Zarathustra knew gravimagmathics better than anyone. After all, he was his own laboratory rat, so don’t go pitching him ethical objections. Zarathustra knew gravimagmathics better than anyone in history. So much so that he’d even been able to craft dupes out of his various waves of nanos and give them life, jobs and I dunno; mildly effective assasination techniques? Nanos, as any good gravimagmatician will tell you, produce magnetic fields. Tiny of course, but weave them together... Over the years, Zarathustra had ordered his nanos. And with them he could manipulate the gravity, magnetics and maths of the world pretty much any way he chose. I don’t use the term ‘god’ lightly, you know. He could kill from a distance and give life like a spark. Dupes, crones, parahack, peons... These were merely experiments gone wrong. Armies of He. Steps in an artificial evolution. Because that’s all you can do when you’re the last soldier on the field. Craft colleagues.

The tutors weren’t people as such. They were better than that. The tutors were cadanzas. Fragments distilled from the divine. Mirrored memories. He’d gone wrong here and there, of course. Because there’s a difference between free thinkers and dupes. Between orderly thinkers and dupes. Gifting life; that’s the hard part. But he’d found it, back at home. The keys. The sequence. And he’d portioned himself off like swirls in a storm. While keeping the eye of the thing... you know; bold and bulbous.

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So Zarathustra knew magnetics very well. How to make life happen. How to make reality reflect. But here’s another difference for you, tin pot general. The difference between shadows and the soul. CLUNK! A-ha! A big, glum boot striking the Shadow Splitter. Cradled there in the fog.

CLUNK!

Another supersword for the rack. But you know what; the spooks were still fleeing.

STOMP!

He moved forward a step. Just an inch; just a fraction. And the funny thing was, he hadn’t told himself to. Like attraction, it was; waving him on. No... sterner than that; like magnetism. It didn’t take a gravmatician to feel the pull. It didn’t take a gravimagtic to do the maths. It didn’t take a magmatician to see the the gravity of the situation. That the spooks were charging past him as if he was a surfer riding a huge great wave. Why the spooks were fleeing as if escaped prisoners scrambling over barbed wire fences, perused by the jailers’ rottweilers. What the spooks were running from. He didn’t need dead soldiers, lost lovers, fractured memories or haunted gloves to work it out. The very swords on his back were pointing him in the right direction. It didn’t take a god to realise that the naussaduct carried on and on to a fallen edge of the wide, wide world. Where fuzzy fluctuations in the EM fields sang to him. Because swords knew things people didn’t. Well, OK so they didn’t; they were just swords, but some people really, really like swords, so let’s go with it. Some people might stab us with one if we don’t. Which is probably why some people, and some ex-people and even some never-quite people are scared of them. You wouldn’t tip open the lid of a casket because you thought you’d heard a noise inside; maybe it was a mouse. You wouldn’t pour out the contents of a funeral urn because you thought you’d seen a crack; maybe it was a trick of the light. And you sure as day follows night, spooks follow life and questioning Principals leads to detention in squib pens wouldn’t challenge Zarathustra’s ever-so-slight obsession with superswords. It’s scary, K?

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Zarathustra was a scary little god, and hell-bent gods are scarier still. He was a super villian seeking the ancient collection of magic whatever-they-weres to ex machina whatever odds stood in his way and turbo boost his way to the finale. And whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s going to argue with him on that? Where he was going, he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need logic.

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If you want to see a sight that’ll spark all your senses, you’d be well advised to visit the pristine glass halls in the bowels of the Academy... though of course, you’d have to enrol to get in, and you really should bring a sword or two. Gladly, there was at least one swordstril who was also a member of the Soul Cage Trust, or the halls would have lost their artistry many rounds ago. Stand at the bottom, six floors underground, and you’ll see pyramids all the way up, filled with eager swordstrils plying their craft; each training hall connected by grand, gold stairs. Stick around in the bowels of the Academy and you may just learn how to defend yourself. That or reveal your Soul Cage Trust season ticket and become just another squib in a pen. Don’t say words like ‘dead’ or ‘killed’ around these parts, or it might happen to you No pyro sipping, doll puppetry or chants of ‘liberdade!’ Just don’t tell anybody you’re an Anarchist, K?

REMEDY: “Alright, does any of you’se spy what’s g’wan here, ‘cos I’s got neito.” ESUNA: “Zip but zip.” HALO: “Nothing.” ELEGY: “I think we need to stratergise.”

So, your tutors want to kill you:

Remedy’s way

Don’t worry about it

Esuna’s way

Ask a lot of wide-eyed questions ‘till it hits you

Halo s way

Who cares? ELEGY’S WAY Stratergise.

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It may be that the blitzblades really have started growing up, because they’re going for option four. So let’s stratergise. The big questions first. “What have they got against us?” Remedy’s answer: Um... Esuna’s answer: Eeeer... Halo’s answer: Who cares?

Elegy’s question: “Alright. We’re assuming they’re after us, right?” Remedy’s answer: Mmmm... Esuna’s answer: Urrr... Elegy’s interjection: “Let’s assume.”

Elegy electing herself the class tutor. Well, it’s not like they had a real one anymore, was it? They could always trust Elegy to do the thinking for them. That isn’t something to be proud of, you know. Holed up in a quiet triangle of the squib pen. The waterworks. Where students honed their skills against the pressure of the waves. And underwater too, if they really wanted a challenge. In any case, the rushing waters were loud enough to drown out their conversation, but the wooden floors clunky enough to alert them to footsteps on the prowl. Remedy cross-legged atop a pine wood slope, carving splinters with her kittyclaw and flicking them into the stream. Esuna lying flat in a triangular cupboard-under-the-pool, head held up by hands, kicking her feet up behind her. Halo leaning against the exit arch, hands on sword handles, eager eye staring through her visor of vibrant blue hair.

They didn’t seem particularly interested in the big secrets. Remedy: interested in defending herself. Esuna: interested in justifying herself. Halo: interested in slicing another tutor to kingdom come as soon as they walked in.

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ELEGY: “So. What’s special about us?” REMEDY: “I dunno. We’s swordstrils.” ELEGY: “Everyone here’s a swordstril.” ESUNA: “We’s young and cool and fancy free.” ELEGY: “Well, maybe, but...” HALO: “We’re double blade wielding sword school.” ESUNA: “That’s a point. We are that.” REMEDY: “Mint.”

mistresses.. Only class in

HALO: “And they did start with Freia.” ELEGY: “Hey. We can’t assume they killed Freia.” HALO: “We’re assuming everything else.”

They were assuming the world was out to get them. After all, they were hiding away in the noise and the cold, talking over conspiracy theories. Tends to lead to assumptions. But that’s what happens when you’re being hunted. It’s all very well to sit back, step back, hold back and not pass any judgements until it’s your neck on the chopping board. Or, you can prepare yourself. Get thinking. Crack the conspiracy before it bites you, and secretly hope you’re just making it up.

So here they were; stalked like rabbits by riflemen. Diceable bunnies caught in headlights and all that. How far the rabbit hole went was anyone’s guess. So let’s put a lid on this conspiracy while there’s still something left to catch. They might just be dreaming.

There had only been two excommunications in Academy history. Does Remedy get preferential treatment in an Academy court for killing them both? Probably not; Academy justice was a little more subtle than that. There had been two excoms in Academy history, but are we looking at an even four? The Academy didn’t like even fours. More fool Halo and Esuna. Yes, there had only been two excommunications in Academy history, and neither sex scandals or domestic murders looked quite as bad as killing tutors. Sending them to the Third Heaven, I should say. The tutors were the paragons of truth and justice and yadda, yadda, yadda. The tutors were mysterious masters plucked from a bygone age. The tutors were strange, hermit-like gimps who sat sternly through training sessions then made their exit, keeping their secrets to themselves. All except Freia. Ah! I feel a conspiracy coming on!

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ELEGY: “I suppose if we’re being targeted because we’re double swordstrils, it could have something to do with Freia...” HALO: “Told you them blockers killed her.” ELEGY: “Halo...” ESUNA: “I dunno. Who’d wanna z Freia; she was the candiest cliquer ever.” REMEDY: “Sweet candy saph...” HALO: “She was an Anarchist.” ELEGY: “What do you mean she was an Anarchist? Halo, you can’t say those things.”

HALO: (Shake of the head, roll of the eyes, sip of pyro...) “Are you lot idiots or what; of course she was an Anarchist.” ESUNA: “Our tutor was a dirty, nasty, filthy anarch?” REMEDY: “I dunno siz. But I do know anarchy ain’t so muddledy noir as it seems.” ELEGY: “We’re sworn to counter anarchy at every turn.” ESUNA: “That is what we’s been taught... I mean, it is, isn’t it?” HALO: (Shaking her head, an evil eye still fixed on that pyramid arch) “By people who are trying to kill us.” ESUNA: (Expression scrunching up; Halo did talk... inconvenient sense?) REMEDY: (Hopping up, hands crossed into opposite pockets with a shrug) “She’s got a pretty dandy point there siz. If I was as anti-anarch as I used to be... well, maybe I’d be quein’ to be killin’ us too.”

Well, Remedy could ‘hear the future’, so let’s trust her. Alright, so she couldn’t quite tell the future, but she felt her instincts were better now. More refined. By a little bolt out of the blue.

Yes, they’d all been influenced by the pressures of the wide, wild world. They’d all been changed somewhat. They’d all grown up? They’d all grown slightly cynical, at least.

Remedy She’d become more responsible. Elegy She’d become more of a leader. Esuna She’d killed someone! Oh yeah, she really kinda had. And Halo? Let’s see... Psytopia: Adagio 3

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ACADEMY PARTY

Etude

Halo

Pre-grad An accomplished swordstril confident enough in her ability to take her eye off the odd ball. Pandora’s Vox

Mythril

Fresher

Elective

A somewhat broody breeze belle who kept herself to herself.

A typical clog-wearing, boiler-suit-clad pyronette picked as the party’s tap translator.

Their swords Dark Solitude La Faux Fatale

He’s an adult pyronette; he doesn’t even have a loopball

Shut down the rogue power plant on the Vermilion Plateau

*Travel to the Vermilion Plateau Done *Investigate the loss of contact with the pyronette work force Well, that’s kind of done... *If deemed unsafe, turn the power off Easy for you to say... CRACK! That was Halo’s broken wrist bending the wrong way as she was thrown back against a stern vermilion wall.

CRUNCH!

That was Halo’s bruised head buried a couple of inches into said wall like a finger into thick mousse. CRACK!

CRUNCH!

Those were Etude’s shoulder and ribcage doing much the same thing. And as for Mythril and the pick-ups; they’ll be lucky if they‘re dead already.

“Halo! Go edge!” CLANG! Good spot, good duck. This time only the merry-go-round sabre of a marionette embedded itself in the wall. HALO: Leaping cross-face swirl HIT! MARIONETTE 287: Beheaded OUT OF PLAY Yes, 287; this was a long, gruelling fight

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MARIONETTE 288: 360 degree body spin Like a blade-decked prayer wheel COUNTER! HALO: Push-off head kick HIT! MARIONETTE 288: Stomach Thrown back into the throng MARIONETTE 289: 360 degree body spin HIT! MARIONETTE 288: Torso (inadvertent) OUT OF PLAY MARIONETTE 272: 360 degree body spin COUNTER! ETUDE: Two-point swerve HIT! MARIONETTE 272: Cross-face OUT OF PLAY HIT! MARIONETTE 271: Cross-chest OUT OF PLAY MARIONETTES 273 & 289: 360 degree body spins HIT! HIT! ETUDE: Slice across cheek HALO: Slit across cuff ETUDE: Front step plunge HALO: Sidestep curl HIT! HIT! MARIONETTE 273: Through chest MARIONETTE 289: Through scalp ELECTRIC FIZZLE! OUT OF PLAY “Halo; swish pitching, but we’ve really gotta go.” Etude would see positives in a world full of blood, even if it was her own. Which was handy because today, a fair amount of it was. It you can separate it from the sticky black oil drenching the dupe plant concourse. “These fuzzbods keep comin’...” Halo turned a pair into scrap metal before copping another brain-bouncing sabre hilt to the skull. That meant they were skilful, not just numerous. And the fact that she felt it meant she was still alive.

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“Halo!” The fizzle of freshly spilt blood into the magno-eyes of the pivoting automaton. You could hardly see the daylight for the dupes. Androids, androids everywhere and not a plug to pull... Halo feeling a little woozy. Yes, that last one had hurt, hadn’t it? Enough to make her sneer a little. “Finish us off then, zapjack.” MARIONETTE 292: Backstep Feet together Three heel clicks >Malfunction countdown!< Must ve been the pyro in that blood “Halo! Get out of there!” Etude backing away towards the drawbridge. One eye on her sphere, the other on the fresher’s. The factory was spawning these peons faster than they could fell them. MARIONETTE 292: >6, 5, 4...< MARIONETTE 293: 360 degree body spin

MARIONETTE 294: 360 degree body spin

COUNTER! HALO: Deep hooking hilt swipe HIT! MARIONETTE 290: Side of head Staggers a little

HIT! HALO: Gash across shoulder She d really walked into that one Let s mirror a mirror and stagger

“Halo, watch out for the...” But our intrepid blitzer was a curious sort. Quiet and apathetic until fighting kicked in and then... But good as she was, she hadn’t yet learned that the wide, wild world had stings in its many tails. MARIONETTE 292: >3. 2,1...< ELECTRO SHOCK! BOOM! HIT! MARIONETTE 292: Explodes HIT! HIT! HIT! MARIONETTE 293: Frazzled

OUT OF PLAY!

MARIONETTE 294: Frazzled

OUT OF PLAY!

HALO: Frazzled

OUT OF PLAY?

“Halo!” Etude beginning to fight back towards the concourse. Sticky oily goo swamping her boots and spinning marionette sabres whistling past her ears. Like standing in a typhoon on a dingy. Back into the fuzzy fires of hell for you.

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Halo awarding herself a lopsided smirk, peppered with pieces of cold, jagged shrapnel. Vibrant blue hair across her face, splashed with red. Slinky caterpillar chrome shoulder mail dashed with crimson. Broken body drizzled with gunk.

MARIONETTES 295-298: 360 degree body spins HALO: Back to her feet on nothing but adrenaline COUNTER!

From then on it only got worse. But I’m not going to sit here and relay Halo and Etude’s entire encounter with the homicidal robots of the Vermilion Plateau. I’m not going to go into detail about how one pre-grad, one elective and two pick-ups met their end in the silt-splattered bloodbath at the edge of the plates. I’m not even going to tell you how plucky little Halo managed to scrape through alone with not only her life but a big, snazzy pass mark and a sizeable story to tell. Because if she’s not going to tell it, neither am I. About what happened to the pyronette work force. About who they’d really been working for. That the plant had been reactivated on purpose by powers higher than they, that they may have witnessed things they shouldn’t and that those spokes really, really should’ve killed Halo too, and though she’d scraped through... had all of her really made it? No, I’m not going to get into conspiracies here; you can work it out for yourself. Or, like Halo, you can get caught in the crossfire. It doesn’t really matter if you lose you life, your mind, your shadow; she’d lost bits of each. Everything gets lost in the mist, but you’ll slip through as long as when spinning sabres of grim marionettes come your way, you spit blood in their pintop faces and watch them fizz.

Either you’re nano or you’re pyro. Or you have the guts to make up your own mind about what side you’re on. Marionettes were nano, and luckily for Halo, she was a pyro-plugging fresher. Bit of both. So perhaps that was why the blitzers were on the Academy hit list. Because they’d been taught to mess with the mould. ELEGY: “You’re saying Freia, the blitz tutor, our tutor, one of the top representatives of the Academy, was an Anarchist?” ESUNA: “She was a lickle... speccy.” REMEDY: “I dunno ‘bout you’se, but I’s seen some stranger things.” ELEGY: “Halo? You said it.”

HALO: (Moving away from the pyramid arch) “The Academy isn’t as clean-cut as all that. Shades or red...” REMEDY: “Check.” ESUNA: “Could be...” ELEGY: “Kitz?!?”

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Remedy stood atop the waterworks, trying to look as professional as she was able. Which probably wasn’t very professional. Sorry teach, but certain realities had to be revealed. “Ele, siz. We’s all learnt that the wide, wild world’s the dandiest tutor of them all, see? And what we’s learnt is that yeah the Academy might teach stuff slick, but only the rhythm of the plates can play it pretty.” Sounds like Anarchist talk to me. And you know what they do with anarchism around these parts? That’s right; they keep us safe from it. By going crazy on them with a big old blade!

FRICHA: Charging... HALO: Sidestep hoop COUNTER! FRICHA: Rising parry FRICHA: Overhand hook (hilt) HIT! HALO: Mouth/chin Staggers That helps recall the taste of being diced by marionettes; thanks

REMEDY: Leaping curl (off the waterworks) COUNTER! FRICHA: Roundhouse parry FRICHA: Cross-face sting COUNTER! REMEDY: Cross-block Two can play that game! REMEDY: Backward pang COUNTER! FRICHA: Floor-sweep parry FRICHA: Cross-body tang COUNTER! REMEDY: Side-swipe block REMEDY: Dive-bomb swoop COUNTER! FRICHA: Overhead parry FRICHA: Front step plunge COUNTER! This could go on forever

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For the record, yes this was another tutor they were fighting. Another bad apple in the ripest harvest on record? Or something more sinister than that? Even Elegy was beginning to believe in conspiracies. HALO: 360 degree loop n hoop (both blades) CLANG! FRICHA: Gimpy armour Her armour appeared pretty rudimentary as it goes Perhaps her very flesh was made of the stuff...

COUNTER! FRICHA: Two-point sting PARRIED! HALO: La Faux Fatale

PARRIED! REMEDY: Blessed Angel

HALO: Quick counter HIT! Holy Judgement

REMEDY: Quick counter HIT! Prodigal s Edge CLANG!

FIZZ! Oops; watch it! Remedy and Halo’s blades sticking to each other for a moment. Like magnets? No, stronger than that... Like molten metri. Buzzing in their brains. Halo with the eager eye; the only one ever to rise above that sweeping fringe. Tensing up to wrench them apart. A puzzled Remedy doing the same; that wasn’t the blade Halo used to spar with... “C’est supersword?” Eeerr... watch it, kitz! FRICHA: Two-point... COUNTER! COUNTER! ESUNA: Charging scoop ELEGY: Coiling loop CLANG! CLANG! COUNTER! FRICHA: Two-point chop That s countered your counters! HIT! HIT! ESUNA: Thigh ELEGY: Arm Down on knees Two-point ow?

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Yes, this was the counter tutor and no mistake. Fricha was her name. Another freakish gimp for the cavalcade. And another two heads knelt down on the chopping board... FRICHA: Two-point... COUNTER! COUNTER! REMEDY: Spinning hoop (HJ) HALO: Spinning scoop (PE) Finally pulling their blades away CLANG! CLANG! COUNTER! FRICHA: Two-point parry HIT! HIT! REMEDY: Fizz of the hands HALO: Fizz of the grip Remedy and Halo drop a sword each Two-point oops? OK, so weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve established that Fricha was the counter tutor. And pretty good at it she was too. What do you pitch to counter a counter? How about something... really, really fast? ESUNA: Angel s Pirouette ELEGY: Angel s Pirouette COUNTER! Surely you knew that was coming? FRICHA: Two-point flick Reverses their momentum like kicking a spinning top HIT! HIT! ESUNA: Spiralling blades ELEGY: Spinning swords Thrown across the hall and into the water feature SPLASH! OK, so the counter tutor was pretty slick. So find a way to outsmart her. Remedy and Halo picked up their swords. Clanged them together in unity.

Fizzing of the hands. Buzzing of their brains. Suddenly feeling somewhat... supercharged? Oh look, here comes a two-point...

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FRICHA: Two point... COUNTER! COUNTER! HALO: Instinctive cover (FF) REMEDY: Instinctive cover (BA) HALO: Cross-body slur (PE) REMEDY: Cross-face coda (HJ) They d never even seen those techniques before, let alone used them Almost like they d leapt right out of the ether COUNTER! COUNTER! FRICHA: Speed Mirror! FRICHA: Psy Mirror! FRICHA: Cross-body slur FRICHA: Cross-body swirl Whatever a slur was, it was snazzy! Hey; Remy was just about to do that! HIT! HIT! HALO: Midsection REMEDY: Midsection Thrown spinning through the wooden cogs of the waterworks

CRASH! Granted, this counter tutor was very, very good. The blitzers watching her as they lay in watery and woody heaps, still holding their swords. Pacing up and down on the creaky wooden slabs, performing deft strafes and parries. Practicing... which reminded Remedy of that gekky branch-hanger Azrael. And thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s when instinct kicked in. REMEDY: Hops onto her feet into... Flick-switch Pirouette Enter the invisible land! Just for a moment HIT! FRICHA: Beheaded OUT OF PLAY

COUNTER! FRICHA: Shadow mirror! Turns back time Why do the beheaded always manage that? FRICHA: Underhand plunge COUNTER! REMEDY: Hook-hand cover Oh no, you re not cheating death that easy! REMEDY: Flick-switch Pirouette 800RPM HIT! FRICHA: Beheaded OUT OF PLAY

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COUNTER! FRICHA: Shadow Mirror! Turns back time! You cheap, cheap cheat... FRICHA: Overhand plunge COUNTER! REMEDY: Overhead block REMEDY: Flick-switch Pirouette Now you see me, now you re dead! HIT! FRICHA: Beheaded OUT OF PLAY

COUNTER! FRICHA: Shadow Mirror! Turns back time! So the dead can dance... FRICHA: Front step plunge COUNTER! REMEDY: Back step block REMEDY: Flick-switch Pirouette Let s just see how clever you really are HIT! FRICHA: Beheaded OUT OF PLAY REMEDY: Psy Mirror!

HIT!

(of sorts) Remedy staggers. Feels confused. Drops backwards into a cross-legged position with a thump, swords stabbing into the wood. She felt for a moment as if she was digging herself out of a grave. Woah; head fuck...

Oh, and teacher; stay dead.

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“Remy?” That was Elegy at her side. No, that was Esuna. No, that was Halo. It was Mojo; that was who it was! Sadly no; she wasn‘t quite sure which one of them it was. ESUNA: “Is she dandy?”

HALO: “Not likely.” ELEGY: “She seems frazzled.” HALO: “Seems spaced out to ESUNA: “Seems spoony.”

me.”

Remedy had just cocktailed her own nanos. She’d just read the book of the dead, standing on her head. She’d return-served the psychology of a person who’d passed. She’d seriously confused herself. Prized that last reach for life out of the fingers of a skeleton. Sucked the ghost out of the machine. At least she’d prevented another re-spawn, but at the price of her own sanity? She really needed that end-of-term break...

It isn’t easy to chain grails. The hardest techniques in the rulebook. If you can chain grails with no ill effects, you really are a master. Because grails fuse the coco; get you drunk on ambrosia. They fry the very nanos which regulate your style and keep it all together. The kind of nanos that balance you. That’s why the Academy was wary about beginners lacing grails. It’s suicide. Liberdade, perhaps. And worse than killing you, it can bring others back. Into your head where they don’t belong. If only for a moment. Remedy had mirrored Fricha’s intention to re-spawn. And two minds in one head equals burn-out. Total mental fragmentation. Yep, grail chaining is a psyche-sapping thing. So you’d better make sure you’re a master.

Remedy wasn’t quite a master yet, but she was getting there. At what cost; she’s already lost her shadow. Whether they really are out to get them or not... Is there going to be anything left to assassinate?

Curiouser and curiouser..

______________________________________________________

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Zarathustra’s vision was getting foggy. That’s assuming he actually saw through those grim, bulbous eyes. They could quite easily have been used to hear or smell or sense or think. It was much more likely they simply registered the magnetic pulses of objects around him and reconstructed them into mental mind-maps. Probably in nice, neat triangles. Yeah let’s go with that; it seems to fit.

He’d been dreaming again. His own, or the dreams of others? Down here in the naussaduct, it was difficult to say. One thing was for certain; there was a lot of ether down here. And by that I mean a lot of nothing. So Zarathustra’s grim, bulbous eyes probably saw, heard, smelt, sensed and thought little more than emptiness.

The fundamental substance of all phenomena. Space. What’s left when you take all the muggy, grotty, shadowy stuff away. Objects are better understood through the gaps between their components. They’re all mostly space, afterall. Except the best distilled metris. That was why Zarathustra had smelted the Sextet in the first place. You know; the megaswords. The carbon copies. The mirrors of his memories. The blades he gave to the tutors. They reflected their personalities so well... Of course they did; he’d distilled the cadenzas from the self-same stuff. Components of his own messed up psyche.

Mainly made out of nanos. Mainly made our of mirrors. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences in the wide, wild world. Because experiences can flip your world, you know? Alter its resonance. They can teach you things. And given that nanos latch onto tinsy little bozons and switch your genes... Well, then you can replicate experiences pretty well if you’re a psycientist. You can even replicate people. Just don’t expect the reflections to be quite the same as the people you’re replicating. So Zarathustra, being a god among men and all that other rhetoric, compartmentalised his experiences by portioning himself off into manageable characters and using psyience to craft dupes through whom he taught an entire Academy of mini-mes to follow his lead. Jesus, what a loon.

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Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences of childhood. The scratchy, scrawly, wide-eyed, wondering lessons of life. A long, thin blade with many pop-out edges. Tapered at the end to a flat point. Distilled from the finest vibes. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences wandering the plates. The rustic, resourceful, grounding and galvanising lessons of life. A long, thin blade with many pop-out edges. Tapered at the end in a forget-me-knot. Distilled from vibes equally fine. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences of the smelt plants. The draining, dangerous, brutish and bullish lessons of life. A long, thin blade with many pop-out edges. Tapered at the end in a hammer-head tip. Distilled from the vibes of a god, you know. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences in the field. The sad, shocking, cruel and counter-balancing lessons of life. A long, thin blade with many pop-out edges. Tapered at the end in a smouldering match head. Distilled from near perfect vibes. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences of hunting Anarchists. The tiring and taxing, sullen and strategic lessons of life. A long, thin blade with many pop-out edges. Tapered at the end to an arrow head. And we know Zarathustra distilled some pretty awesome metri, thanks very much. Mainly made out of Zarathustra’s experiences of freedom. And by that of course, I mean love. Whirly, swirly, blossomy, breezy love in all its various guises. Avoided, ignored and rejected in so many ways. You know; because it’s just too difficult. Strange that such a worldly warrior was so scared of getting hurt. A long, thin blade with just the standard edges. Tapered at the end in the normal way. Come on now, it’s distilled from the finest metri; you don’t want it getting too expressive. Might flip on you and break the entire system down. So he’d psyschosurgically attached it to Freia’s shoulder stump after the accident. Just to remind her of what she was meant for. Keeping parts of himself so far away they were in someone else.

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Yes, Zarathustra’s was a complex character. He’d led a complex life. Not to mention a long one. But Die Seistet were mere shadows. Of the sacred Octet. Of the very first noises of nature. Shadows in space. There was no space for space in his brave new world. People tended to use space for making mischief. He shook his head again and pressed on. Far too much ether wisping around in his bloodstream.

What will you fill me with to make me less empty? I dunno; spite?

At least the spooks had passed as he marched through the dreamcloud. Hallucinations fading into the mists. Leaving just Zarathustra and whatever they were running from. Sinto Saudades Just Zarathustra, whatever they were running from... And what he had run away from all his life. Ye es o meau amor Thumping his head with those big, grim spooklets. Go away, go away, go away... Eu adoro-te His brain may as well have been burning. His nanos, at least. Eu you sempre me lembrar de voce He’d missed so many things, hadn’t he? So many little tricks he’d let slip. Because there was an element of anarchy, even in his own head. Tu es o meu amor Staggering through the farthest reaches of the naussaduct. The permafrost sheet which painted his coarse, gimpy armour beginning to melt away. Along with his sanity?

Astada. That was what she had said. Wandering on through the warm, bright nothing, head in his hands. That was all she had wanted.

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“I put it to you Private, that you are a dizruptivist.” “I am not a dizruptivist... Sir.” That pretty much covered the case for both the prosecution and the defence. Psytopians weren’t big on court cases. Especially now that the courts had been replaced by a simple system of crime and prevention. It worked better than crime and punishment because you could remove people who were predisposed to be disobedient before they ever managed to hurt anyone. Swift. Reliable. Cost effective. Fair? But back then, there had been court cases. When society was run by a bumbling muddle of stadt and kommune, vertreters and sekretars. This little tale will probably tell you why Zarathustra got rid of those. “You are a dizruptivist, son; plain and simple.” “I am not... Sir.” I’ll rest this case quickly because Zarathustra knew where it was going. This was his head after all, and he called the shots. Rather like his world... But in any case, like Zarathustra, I have the benefit of hindsight here and I’m not going to get anywhere living in the past. Private Zarathustra’s (if that was his name at any point in history) court case went like this: The case where the powers that be decided whether he was guilty. Of sleeping with the enemy, of course. And whether a court-martial was on the cards. She’d informed on him, you see. Though to be fair, he’d walked out. And to be fairer, she’d only informed under the persuasion of a plethora of arcane tortures. In any case, she’d informed on him. Which raises the question: Was Zarathustra so hell-bent on eradicating anarchism for the sake of society, or was he hell-bent on eradicating anarchism to get back at her? It doesn’t matter. But was Zarathustra hell-bent on eradicating anarchism because he really, really wasn’t one of them, or was he hell-bent on eradicating anarchism because if she hadn’t been an Anarchist, maybe they’d have always been together and she’d still be alive today? Would she have been her though? That doesn’t matter either. Nothing mattered; she would probably die while he was locked away. And it would be society, not anarchy that would kill her.

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But it’s fitting that I bring this up now, as it happens. Because Odine didn’t stay dead to him forever. Love never does. She’d taught him some neat tricks back during his recuperation. Oh come on; I think we’ve had enough rough sex and fetish play for one trilogy; I’m talking about the teaching of culture. And though people and plateaus, science and society fell, Zarathustra remembered them. He built on them too. So if she did die to the world but not to him, he could always bring her back. Wait a minute, raising the dead sounds suspiciously like... dizruptivism? “You are a dizruptivist, Private.” Hold on your honour; you don’t have the benefit of hindsight. Oh, I’m just confusing myself now... He lost the case; that’s the point. Because let’s face it, he had been sleeping with the enemy. And the dirty, nasty, filthy anarch deserved everything he got.

_________________________________________

Feeling under the weather? Then this is the perfect place to come! The Medipen is located just next to the main Academy pyramid. One of the five mini-mids complimenting the main structure. Because even Academy students need somewhere to eat, read, heal and so on. But if your training’s left you in stitches, this is the place to come. Sit back, relax and let a skilled team of medicians knit you back together. That means you Remedy; I recommend a session in the iso-tank. It’s just like lying under a softly tinkling waterfall without getting your feet wet. Relax, now. I said relax! What do you mean, even the medicians are probably after you? Well, these are iso tanks, if paranoia’s one of your ailments. Just ease your cares away. One shade under the moon bed costs 3 Psytopian dollars One session in the liquitub, 6 A dip in the lithopool? You guessed it; 9 Keep your swords sheathed at all times; this is a peaceful place!

“Alright siz, we’ve gotta work this out once and for all before one of us gets killed.” Elegy paced up and down the reception hall, swords just about sheathed. So much for secret conspiracies. It isn’t a secret conspiracy if it’s out in the open and in your face. “I reckon they want our swords.” Elegy. “I reckon they want information.” Esuna. “I reckon they want blood.” Halo. Could they all be right?

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ElEGY: “Halo; that sword of yours; it’s new, right- your pre-grads?”

HALO: “I lost the old one... swords are just swords; whatever.” ESUNA: “You’se reckon we were onto something with the anarchy thing?” ELEGY: “I still find it hard to believe Freia was an Anarchist.”

HALO: “I find it hard to believe you made it through the wide, wild world.” ESUNA: “Hey! We’s never vexed each other before siz, let’s not kick it loopsome now.” ELEGY: “I still need convincing. Freia was a tutor. The Principal would never have let...”

HALO: (Eager eye lighting up) “The Principal...” ESUNA: “Kitz, you’se can’t see the Principal without an appointment, you’se knows?” ELEGY: “Remedy told me she was sent an appointment.” ESUNA: “She was?” HALO: “And now she’s in the pytank, so maybe one of us should take her place.” ELEGY: “I’m not sure the Principal would look kindly on that. He’s a very busy man.” HALO: “Busy making sure we all get killed?” ESUNA: “Hey now kitty claw, even I’s not vexin’ the Principal.”

HALO: “Then maybe we keep loppin’ his bods ‘till he invites us to.” ELEGY: “Halo. These are our tutors.”

HALO: “Not my tutor...” ESUNA: “What about that blue girl? Remy said she had some snazzy tricks.” ELEGY: “If there’s one thing we need, it’s snazzy tricks...” HALO: “I think I’ve got enough tricks in my blades for another couple of tutors.” ELEGY: “Halo, you are not killing the other tutors.”

Voice down. Look around. Precious little white-coats scurrying around. Scurrying away... HALO: “Well I wanna go and see Zarathustra.” ELEGY: “Halo! Don’t say his name without... without...” ESUNA: “Ele, serious kitz; ‘reverence’ starts with a big, stale ‘O’.” HALO: (A rare giggle and an all-too common swig of pyro; the ‘o’ word) ELEGY: “I’m just saying. Nobody’s seen the Principal since...”

HALO: “Since he brought us in, right? Since the Karakuru massacre.” ESUNA: “That was much and many roundage back.” HALO: (Drawing a blade, much to the annoyance of the white-coats) “Funny

how massacres happen when he’s around...” ELEGY: “Halo! I’ve half a mind to...”

HALO: “Report me? Yeah OK, I’ll add the charge of heresy to bad language, drawing swords in peaceful places, killing tutors...” ELEGY: “You can’t say the Principal is behind this.” ESUNA: “Well he did tutor the tutors, didn’t he?” ELEGY: “And the tutors did tutor us.”

Fair point. So the tutors were there to bring them in, bring them up and bring them down. That doesn’t help the sense of perpetual mindfuck. May as well join Zarathustra in the ducts.

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ESUNA: (A sudden chill of terror) “Hey kitz, I’s just had this really brick sour thought.” ELEGY: “What is it, siz?” ESUNA: “Well, I mean, what I’s sayin’ is, the question I’s pitchin’ be...” ELEGY: “Esu. What are you worried about?” ESUNA: “We’s are... I mean, are we’s... I mean... Are we Anarchists?” ELEGY: “Siz!” HALO: (Rolls her tongue, shrugs her shoulders) “That’s obvious.”

Is it now? I’m not sure any of you are so certain about that. Perhaps this will make it clear for you. A dagger flies by Halo’s head.

From an Anarchist’s perspective, Esuna; you are officially Anarchists. You’ve been taught to flash a blade or two by a paid up member of the Soul Cage Trust. In fact, you’re the most dangerous kind of Anarchist. One who doesn’t know it yet. How anarchic is that? Because Freia had sneaked certain ideas into the syllabus. Little things that had past Zarathustra by. Because he trusted her? Because he made her? Because he made her out of the parts of him that had loved? Love is blind, tin man. But contrary to popular belief, anarchism is not. So she snuck things in. Extra swords. Extra dictums. Extra curricular activities. Tucked into the rhythms of the breeze. Dead clear to dreamers. Oh, that’s right; here’s an even more dangerous form of anarchism. One that has a plan. A blitzy, blazey class of carefully tutored swordstrils who’d know who they were when the time was right. And when that time came... viva la revolution! Halo She wasn’t afraid of the darker shades of life.

Elegy She wasn’t afraid to invent newfangled things. Just like an Anarchist

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Esuna

She wasn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions.


So I’ll let you take a side yourself. I’ll let you decide who is and who isn’t an Anarchist. And while you’re doing that, I’ll remind you of where we are. We’re just about to see our plucky young heroines assassinated!

THUNK! That was the sound of a spinning blade whizzing past Halo’s head, embedding itself in the icy wall of the reception hall. Accompanied by the random shriek of medicians leaving their posts. Accompanied by the sudden fizzle of somebody coming through the fuzz-static door. That’s right, anarchs; draw your swords. Gather your stances. Hold your breaths. Because it’ll all be over in a sliver of a shade. DONNER: Sidestep swerve CLANG! ELEGY covers DONNER: Sidestep stroke CLANG! ESUNA covers DONNER: Hopping slice CLANG! HALO: Double cross-block Halo and Donner staring each other down for a moment. Through the shivering archway of clashing blades. Donner’s ice white, pupiless eyes bordered with gimpy eye shadow and PVC mask. Halo’s wide, wild blue iris glaring through that drooping fringe.

ELEGY Overhand loop

ESUNA HALO Overarm hoop 360 whirl TRIPLE CLANG!

The breezers backed off for a moment. Exchanging nods as they twiddled their swords. Donner’s angular stance typical of a techster. The blitzblades amending their usual slouches; time to get serious!

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DONNER: Flashlight serenade HIT! ELEGY: Scares her nanos Knockdown! DONNER: Rainbow Serenade HIT! ESUNA: Scorches her nanos Knockdown! DONNER: Death s Head Seren... COUNTER! HALO: Wild bundle HIT! DONNER: Grabs his legs and takes him down

Alright, now this blitzer’s pissed off. Elegy and Esuna shaking their bloodstreams back into wakefulness. Halo and Donner exchanging cruel hilt swipes as they rolled around the floor. Not very swordstril-like at all! DONNER: Cross-face hook HIT! HALO: Hilt to mouth That s gonna loosen a few teeth HALO: Aimless jab HIT! DONNER: Hilt to chin That s gonna unravel a few gimpy stitches DONNER: Cross-body thump HIT! HALO: Fist to midsection That s gonna batter a few ribs They don’t teach kids to fist-fight at the Academy. So that if they try it, they can kick their arse? Or just because... You know; it’s rude.

DONNER: (Dragging HALO to unsteady feet) Overarm hook HIT! HALO: Hilt to cheek Blood spat on the clinically clean medipen floor

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DONNER: Roundhouse whack HIT! HALO: Fist to ribs Crumpled up like a leaky gazebo on a scrap pile

DONNER: Roundhouse hook HIT! HALO: Hilt to temple Pulling that curtain of hair out of her eyes

And what an evil eye it was. Doubling over, staring at him for a moment. Yeah, that eye was pretty freaky as it goes. Almost enough to make him drop his sword...

DONNER: Death s Head Serenade COUNTERED! Blitz Kitz chain! ESUNA ELEGY Overhand hoop Overhead swoop Backhand loop Backstroke scoop Backstroke scoop Backhand loop Overhead swoop Overhand hoop A cacophony of CLANGS!

Esuna and Elegy exchanging points and nods. Pyrojacks popped out of pockets. Halo staggering to weary feet. Alright, letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s teach these kids to listen to their lessons.

DONNER: Flashlight Serenade HIT! HALO: Frightens her nanos Knockdown! DONNER: Rainbow Serenade HIT! ELEGY: Frazzles her nanos Knockdown! Jacks scatter...

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DONNER: Death s Head Seren... Tick, tick, tick, tick...

BOOM! Alright, so the jacks had Esunaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s back. Halo and Elegy shaking their bloodstreams back into wakefulness. Esuna and Donner regaining their balance as the jacks popped around across the floor. The blitzer still rubbing her pyro-dazzled eyes as the professor takes a pot shot. DONNER: Death s Head Seren... COUNTERED! ELEGY HALO Roundhouse curl Spinning swirl Pivoting twirl Sweeping whirl Sweeping whirl Pivoting twirl Spinning swirl Roundhouse curl Let s hear those CLANGS!

The blitzers bunched up in a triangle. Frustrated at being outplayed. This gekky, techy key-tinger was right on-song. How about playing a little break-beat? DONNER: Flashlight Serenade HIT! ESUNA: Shocks her nanos Knockdown! DONNER: Rainbow Serenade HIT! HALO: Scalds her nanos Knockdown! ELEGY: Death s Head Serenade HIT! DONNER: Halts his nanos The tech tutor walks backwards a pace or two Reaches forward Drops back Tumbles like a statue off the back of a station wagon OUT OF PLAY

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“Kitz?” That was Remedy, in case you couldn’t quite place the lingo. Shifting through the iso-tank fuzzfield without the greatest of breeze. Her crew not much better off than she. PLONK! That was Remedy, in case you’ve heard enough knockdowns recently to not know the difference. Sitting herself down with the others, pressed up against the icy medipen wall. A cohort of kitties nursing blunted claws, and growing quite numb to the feeling. “Hey...” Remedy’s nano-flipped head still not quite with it. “You’se spangly sizuz didn’t just z the techy tutor, did you’se?” Yeah, and you’se just missed the party. “It was me Remy.” Elegy plonked herself down beside her. “I’ve gone and killed one now.” “Killed, huh?” Halo. “Strong word.” Esuna. “We’s all be excommed for sure.” Four blitzy belles. One exhausted huddle. A million frazzled nanos. No chance in hell? REMEDY: (Lazy-eyed) “Now kitz, I knows this ain’t the proper time to whisper it an’ all, but I reckon I’s had an epiphany.” ESUNA: (Lazy-headed) “An epiphany? Like, how?” ELEGY: (Lazy-wristed, brushing it away) “Remy, it’s natural to dream in a medicative state... An ambiance, that’s what they call it.” REMEDY: “A mindstorm?” HALO: (Lazy grip on her swords tightening somewhat) “If there’s one thing

you can’t trust, it’s your mind.”

REMEDY: “Listen siz, I’s had an epiphany, K? In the iso-tank there. I’s connected.” ESUNA: “Connected? To what?” REMEDY: “To the lickle blue girl, ‘course.” ELEGY: “The blue girl again?”

HALO: “The diablo.” REMEDY: (Vaguely pointing a finger) “Hey! She is not un diablo.” ESUNA: (Vaguely tucking REMEDY’s arm away) “You’se feelin’ pretty spoony, Rem.” ELEGY: (Vaguely piecing what had just happened together) “We’re all feeling spoony; we’ve just had our nanos flipped.” HALO: (Vaguely imagining getting up, the message not quite getting to her legs) “We should get moving.”

To where? I dunno, but you can’t stay here, can you? Huddled up, helpless, waiting to be excommed. Or worse. REMEDY: “Now I know how that lickle sprite feels, dredgin’ up the dead...” ELEGY: “You can’t dredge up the dead.” (If you could... nah; no excuses.) HALO: “Not sure about that; I feel pretty dredged...” ESUNA: “But we’s not dead, are we; we’s just... muddled.” REMEDY: “Hey, I’s feelin’ dandy.” ELEGY: “You’re feeling lost.”

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REMEDY: “Dandy.” ELEGY: “Lost.” ESUNA: “We’s blitzers, kitz; when’s we not dandy?” HALO: “When are we not lost?”

The blitzblades all pins and needles. Pins, needles and unsteady legs. They knew because their bodies were listening to their brains at last. Remedy the first to rise tentatively to her feet. REMEDY: “Well I’s had an epiphany, and if you’se don’t wanna hear it...” HALO: “Epiphanies... great...” ELEGY: “Alright Remy, what’s the epiphany?” ESUNA: “There ain’t more z’ing of tutors in it, is there?” REMEDY: “I’s not hearin’ the future Esu, I’s just epiphanisin’.”

HALO: “You’re dreaming, more like.” ELEGY: “People discover things in medicative ambiances Halo; when their thoughts settle and they see the world through different eyes.” ESUNA: “Who’s eyes you’se spyin’ through?” REMEDY: “The blue girl’s ‘course. Though I’s not quite sure I was seein’...” HALO: “Imagining?” ELEGY: “But what did you see?” ESUNA: “It wasn’t somethin’ muddly noir, was it siz?” REMEDY: “It wasn’t muddly noir, it was... I dunno; liberdade?” HALO: “Sounds like anarch speak.” ELEGY: “How do you know anarch speak?” ESUNA: “Oh-oh, dirty, nasty, hackstickin’ anarchs.” REMEDY: “Hey! Anarchs ain’t all that blocky, kitz.”

HALO: “Everyone’s a little bit anarchic...” ELEGY: “Well I’m no anarch, that’s for sure.” ESUNA: “We did all just z another tutor.” REMEDY: “If we get excommed, we’s anarchs, ain’t we?”

HALO: “Better excom than dead.” ELEGY: “We are not getting excommed; we were attacked.” ESUNA: “So settle a shade; is we anarchs or not; I’s still not tagged it?” REMEDY: “We’s killed tutors.” HALO: “Then we’re Anarchists.” ELEGY: “We are not Anarchists, kitty claw.” REMEDY: “You’se really should ‘fess up to ya dirty, nasty...” ESUNA: “Hey, stop it, all of you’se.”

Esuna; the voice of reason. Well, somebody had to be. “We’s vexin’. First rule of blitz, kitz; neito de toungecut.” She had a point... if anyone could understand it. Four frazzled breeze belles on uneasy feet. Their lives crumbling beneath them. The carpet pulled from under their snazzy, dancin’ feet. They supposed they’d better find their own way in the world.

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REMEDY: “OK look kitz, I’s had a dream, an epiphany or whatever, and I reckon I’s gotta find the blue girl. That sparkly sprite’s got answers, or secrets at least, an’ whatever’s going on here, there’s secretin’ afoot.” HALO: “The Academy tutors are clearly after us. I say we go to the top.” ELEGY: “You’re saying we should confront Zarathustra?” ESUNA: “And you’se sayin’ we should wander the wide, wild world?”

Alright, so either option appeared somewhat sketchy. Somewhat dangerous too. So go with what you want; instinct or logic. But whatever way you go, don’t expect to come back in one piece.

LOGIC

INSTINCT Hopes Vibes Epiphanies?

Reality Reason Common sense?

Common sense dictates: If you have an epiphany, you’re likely to go with it Thanks common sense... Remedy chose instinct Halo chose logic

ELEGY: “Come on Halo, the Academy can’t be after us; we’re swordstrils.” ESUNA: “But Remy, just because you’se had a dream doesn’t make it... real.” REMEDY: “That blue sprite’s more than real, Esu; trust moy.” HALO: “And the fact that the Academy is

behind this is more than likely.”

Alright, so for the first time in the history of ever, the blitzers aren’t going to agree. Perhaps they were growing up. Perhaps they were becoming themselves. Perhaps this was just part of the process of accepting that you’re... I dunno; different? You’d have thought Elegy would have opted for logic. You’d have assumed Esuna might rely on instinct. But you know what; things change. And people’s paths take unexpected forks from time to time, so you may as well go with it. REMEDY: “Well one thing’s for sure; we’s no good stayin’ here.”

HALO: “Agreed.” ELEGY: “So it’s the Principal’s office or the wide, wild world?” ESUNA: “Blue sprites or Zarathustra?” REMEDY: “I know who I’d rather jive with.” HALO: “I know what I’d rather face.” ELEGY: “Then we split up, but we take it in twos, OK?” ESUNA: “That’s dandier than takin’ it in ones, anyway.” REMEDY: “Alright. So we’s takin’ it in twos.”

HALO: “Who‘s the twos?” ELEGY: “I’m sorry but I can’t believe this is all down to the Principal.” ESUNA: “An’ I’s not really fancyin’ another trip into the wide, wild world.” REMEDY: “It’s settled then. We’s got new assignment briefs, kitty claws.” HALO: “And fingers crossed some of us will come back alive...”

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THE ACADEMY PARTY THE ACADEMY PARTY Remedy Elegy Halo Esuna A spangly swordstril A cautious kitty claw An angry swordstril A nice-natured blitz with an epiphany in who’d stop her friend with bitter-sweet belle who’d calm her mind! spinning out of control revenge in mind! friend down. INSTINCT! LOGIC! Let’s see which kind of curiosity kills the cats! THE ASSIGNMENT BRIEF THE ASSIGNMENT BRIEF Find the blue girl Confront the Principal *Cut past the Black to the Cyan Plateau *Sneak into the Principal’s office It’s the penthouse; easy to find That’s where you left her, remember? *Hook up with Obi’s brother and his band *Ask him some pressing questions You’ll have to explain a few things to Ele You might have to convince Esu that when about Anarchists... they want to kill you, trespassing’s OK... *Find out them earth warpin’ secrets *Prove them ‘stril-slicin’ conspiracy theories behind it all! once and for all! Easier said than done... Bon voyage, breeze belles! So that’s how the blitzers went their separate ways. It’s why we all go our separate ways in the fullness of time. To look for answers. But here’s a tip on how to keep your future as tuneful as you possibly can: Don’t break up beautiful bands.

——————————————————————————————————

He’s weary, isn’t he? Look at him whither. Come to me, metal man. Hither, hither, hither. He dreams, you see? Of blades which slice and spooks which slither. So we await him with glee. The rhythm of the world all a-quiver. Zarathustra had dozed off again. A king asleep on his throne. Who knows what manner of vagrants had tried to usurp him during his slumber? NOTE TO SELF: The whole world could be an autocrat’s dream No wonder it’s such a shit world

No more lands to conquer. But one to protect. To keep safe from that ever-present spectre. Chaos. Anarchy. Change.

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Zarathustra didn’t like change. Fractured chambers of his psyche still lived in the past. The past... before the world had changed him. The scars of war had never changed. The passing of his beloved Odine. The need for order. He didn’t know how long he’d walked in his sleep. On and on through the dizzying ether. He didn’t know whose dreams he’d shared. The mists threading wild worlds of displaced images through his head. Of tetherless imaginations. Tied haphazardly like loose stitches sewing wounds together. Just the kind of anarchy he sought to end. He didn’t know how long he’d felt this deep, guttural twinge in his blood. But one thing was for sure; he didn’t like it. Made him feel light and lost, breezy and uneasy. So he fought it, as every good soldier does. Scrambling around; fists and feet, dust and dirt in the trenches. There was a heavy magnetic field down here which pulsed through his bones and raised him off the ground, waking him in a blurry section of naussaduct piping, hanging alone in the clouds as if by magic. And it was then that his heartbeat fell back into order and he realised he was close.

First thing Zarathustra remembered, he was sat on the top tier, recounting his woes. Alright, so that isn’t quite true; Zarathustra remembered an awful lot that had come before, but this was when he began forcing himself to forget. I’m talking about all the stuff I’ve been telling you up until now. The stuff of dreams. The stuff that got in the way. The past. Why did Zarathustra seek to forget everything that happened before that fateful day? Well, because until then, he had been somebody else. Because beyond that day, there was nobody like Zarathustra. Nobody who knew how the world worked. Nobody who understood order. From that day forth, Zarathustra was alone.

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So there our hero sat. Broken arm, broken legs, broken spine, broken face. It was an ugly sight, as it goes. A good thing there was nobody else left to witness it. Limbs stuck out at unhealthy angles, entrails splodged aside like cans of spilt spaghetti, crimson goo caking the necropolis floor like crates of squished root paste. He’d been made ugly by the scars of war. The kind of ugly that makes you want to spend your life hidden away. The kind of ugly that makes you want to smelt some kind of gimpy metal soldier suit to keep it all together. The kind of ugly that makes you want to make the rest of the world look just the same. So you fit in again. Zarathustra could’ve taken being ugly for the rest of his life. That short, painful, messy time he had left. He could’ve forgotten all I’ve told you, even the most precious things. He could’ve dealt with all this as his slowing heartbeat wept away and the blurry stories of his life faded into the mists of memory. But loneliness; that was the one thing he didn’t want to face. At least he’d kept hold of his sword.

The Crimson Harvest, that was its name. And it was made especially for him. That’s what father had said, at least. Because it fitted him to a tee. His own, personal mirror. Of the soul. Zarathustra had forgotten the Crimson Harvest. Just as he had forgotten everything else which had made him him. But in the dream of memory, it had all come back. Down here in the depths, where the vagrant nanos of the dead whispered and whined, whipped and whirled, kicked up fury storms and burned away. In the haunted shadows of the naussaduct, where pasts and presents entwined. Where everything that had happened seemed to happen at once. Where even little gods saw their lives flash before their pale, bulbous eyes. Yes, Zarathustra had forgotten about the Crimson Harvest. Even as it buzzed around him, fizzing and cracking and smashing the world into order. Even as it was hidden from him in the hands of another; a protegé of sorts, made from the same carbon-copied nanos as he. Even as the jeering hand of anarchy sent it falling through the swirling ethers of the plates. He’d forgotten about the loves of his life. His home, his Odine, his sword. His past. He’d forgotten about all these fumbled things as he’d recreated himself. As he’d crafted god from man. As he’d become better. As he’d seized control.

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He’d forgotten even the force that had tightened his grip. The place where reality ended and the mirrors began. So here he was, in that place. Where he sat, or lay, or lolled or simply remained crumbled. On the top-tier of the apple-core spire of the necropolis, as the beast zeroed in. They were all dead of course. The others. What others? What others do you think? His brothers. The army. The entire human race. They’d killed themselves; the human race. Typical, huh? All except him. Plus perhaps a couple of traitors and deserters out there who couldn’t stomach the fight. Who’d probably live to see another day. Who’d probably subvert it. So Zarathustra was the last. And the world may as well have died with him. It’d been taken over by hell beasts, so it was pretty close. Best to put it out of its misery. It was a world ended by its weapons rather than their wielders. The end of the great war. Not of soldiers versus Anarchists. Oh no, that had been merely the precursor. The gruesome puppeteers of anarchy and their ghastly creations against the righteous, courageous paragons of truth and justice and all that other guff. The Anarchists had lost the war. Scattered and forgotten. But their beasts remained. Unshackled and undeterred, with no desire for power or politics, change or conquest. They were simply angry things. Wrenched out of the hells from which they’d come. And nobody knew how to cast them back into the depths. Nobody left, at least. Nobody but the ancient ether dancers, who’s transcendence had left the world forsaken. And that was why there was nobody left. Nobody but Zarathustra and the beast.

So he gripped that blade in his gunk-drenched hands. Hands which struggled to hold it steady. He gripped through the shattered bones and slippery blood. He gripped and he grasped and he slithered in the goo. But he accepted the end. Because death was too concrete a term, and this was merely a memory. A shadow of a shadow of a shadow in the dark. Zarathustra liked his deaths to be swift, to be sure and to be final. Otherwise there really isn’t much point in using that word.

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The gargantuan beastie rearing its ugly, ugly head. Last of two kinds. Man and monster. Staring at each other through the crimson haze. Through mirrors? Six gangly, blade-bolted arms. Six gloopy, razor-tinted legs. Six fearsome, multi-pupiled eyes. And a flip-topped, tower-block-gulping, liqui-dribbling maw full of every size, shape and oscillating design of chainsaw-gnashing trap-teeth imaginable. As big as the plate itself; blocking out the eternal sun. So this was the death of a lowly private. The demise of a puny race. The end of a lost cause. A lowly private, brought back to the field in an hour of need. An outcast. The last man they’d call, but the last man alive. Just barely. And as those jaws bore down on him, his world turned to ice. Because Zarathustra died that day. Or was he born? He’d built his brave new world after that. A world of funky mirrors. He’d built it drop by drop, edge by tip, cell by cell. And what a lovely world it is, isn’t it? A world where order reigns and where anarchy fears to tread. Just like Zarathustra’s cold, thundery heart. A heart that would forever beat regimentally as it had... Back before he’d met her.

Sinto Saudades Ye es o meu amor Eu adoro-te Eu you sempre me lembrar de voce Tu es o meu amor Astada! He’s sleeping again, isn’t he? Mists in which his soul does keep. Lie with me, metal man. Sleep, sleep, sleep. He reaches now, you see? Open your eyes; look and leap. Form your world, safe or free? Take me now, build and reap.

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Zarathustra woke with a start. King Arthur surrounded by the fog of the lake. The perfect instrument within his grasp. It was called the Crimson Harvest, and it was dragging him. No, it was dragging the other superswords strapped to his back. Hither! It had been the Crimson Harvest that he’d sought to recreate back in the Tapestry’s smelt plants. The ultimetri capable of downing an überbeast. An essence too quintessential to distil from hungry ghosts. Nope, if you want to mould quintessential vibes... you’re going to have to go back to the very beginning. To time before time. To before the shape of swords was even conceived, but their rhythm... Of course, he’d been betrayed. Separated from his prize. By a woman who had once been a part of him. By a woman who’d been made from him like the other tutors. But you know why Freia and her style and her outlook and by consequence her students were a little... I don’t know; more anarchic than the rest? Because try as he might to forget history, Zarathustra was part Anarchist himself.

“You are a ghost; you cannot do these things to me!” That was what she said. She said it over and over. Through stinging tears and pushing palms and bruised flesh. Zarathustra didn’t much care for her whimpering. For her chaos. For her noise. Zarathustra didn’t quite remember her, you see. Not thoughts and feelings. Just reflections. Zarathustra was a god now, not a man. He had come here through the dreamcloud. And he came with the authority to do whatever he pleased. So let’s set the scene.

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A god who may have once been a man. He didn’t quite remember. A woman who had once been his life. And who would lie with the rest of the forgotten.

A white marbled landing of a fancy balcony crib in the higher echelons of town. The cultural capital; the Tapestry. An ecoban city, and the last living corner of Psytopia. This wasn’t a fight, you know. Unless you really do see only in black and white. ODINE: (Sobbing, trying to convince herself) “You’re not him; you can’t be. He’s dead, he’s...” ZARATHUSTRA: (Pushes her off) ODINE: (Head down, bedraggled) “He wouldn’t do this. Nobody would. Nobody could...” ZARATHISTRA: (Grabs her wrists; pulling her close) ODINE: (Eyes closed, muscles tensed, trying to wrench her head away) “No... Please... please stop...” I think we should make the set clearer, shouldn’t we? Because this was far from a love scene.

Odine’s house. A plush balcony crib in the higher echelons of the Tapestry. The last city. The only place in Psytopia which had survived the Fall. An ecoban town built on an ancient necropolis, powered by karma-recycling machines which ensured that nothing bad ever happened. A place where artists and scholars, poets and priests used to flock. Back when there was a world out there to travel from. Back before the überbeasts took over and stomped that world into mist. Back before the dreamcloud began to form and the past became a mere memory.

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A middle-aged woman and a survivor of the Fall. She had left the Soul Cage Trust many rounds ago to search for her beloved. Caught between anarchy and Order, she was. Love throwing the battle between the two into irrelevance. He’d been imprisoned; that was what they’d told her. Imprisoned and executed. So she’d wandered the plates, dreaming of him. She had wanted to show him so many things. So many things she’d seen and so many she’d carried with her. So she’d imagined he was there beside her. As she basked in the glory of whirling waterfalls, of shimmering suns, of whispering winds. As she laughed and cried and walked and wondered and as she brought up their child. As she missed him. And though time passed and memories faded and circumstances and the world itself changed, that hole always haunted her. The passion she had known. The trust and the spark, the energy and the equality. The close, touching reality of it all. Even though it had lasted such a short time, it had echoed for life. Her life. How cruel that it should end here, in the brutal hands of one who had once loved her. One who had died. One who had changed. Odine’s house. Let’s suppose it was just her’s now. After all, the others are dead. Dead or dying. A husband and an infant son, scattered across the marble in pieces. The red staining the white as wine stains cotton. Everywhere she looked, their faces in that muck. So she closed her eyes instead. Closed her eyes and wished the bruises would deepen. Deepen and take her to wherever they’d gone. Just that whimpering in her ears keeping her alive. Hoping the brute’s monstrous metal visage was deaf to its pitch. The little girl crying under the bed in the next room. She wished his grip would snap her now. Burn the memories of today; of loss and of helplessness and of anger. No, anger wasn’t it. If there had been anger, she would’ve understood it. But anger wasn’t what he had brought with him into her house. This banshee, this ghost, this twisted memory, this warped mirror. Anger wasn’t what he had brought into her home with his bulbous stare and his muddled form, his tearing pull and his crushing grip. Anger wasn’t what it was; it was anger’s absence. It was mechanical; that was what it was. It was a machine gone bad. It was a plot gone skewered. It was a dream turned to nightmare. Well whatever it was, it was a grisly end.

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So in short, there was an argument. He grabbed her, she struggled away. He pushed her, she held on. She said things, he didn’t listen. About ghosts and ghouls and other random metaphysical things. About dream and reality and superstitious nonsense like that. About life and death and which side of the great divine they stood. That he couldn’t be here. That he was dead. That he was a different person. That there was nothing beyond the dream cloud. That the world had passed. That she had a new life now... A new life now. So she said those things, and then she rested peacefully on the floor. Still, she was. Still and dreaming. But she’d hold onto his arms forever. Zarathustra had forgotten much of this. Even his first memories as a god among men were uncertain. He and Odine, the Tapestry and the tutors, swords and smelting, Tujin and the old house. Yes, that place with its stains and its tears and its haze and its memories. He’d lived there, hadn’t he? In that house. As the storms became thicker and the air became dimmer and the red stains faded into brown and finally black. He’d lived there where she’d lived because... I don’t know; because it was a family place. And because gods are intrigued by things they don’t understand. Intrigued and somewhat threatened. Because if you don’t understand everything... Well perhaps you aren’t god after all. He’d lived there as he worked in the smelting plant. Distilling metris, building dreams. What had he done to her? Testing his fists. Testing his feet. Testing his passions. The fists and feet worked best, he found. Passion; he couldn’t remember that. She used to cry, didn’t she; the girl. She used to cry and he didn’t used to care. He hadn’t known her anyway. Odine used to cry too. The new Odine; the one who was like him. The one he’d brought back. But she wasn’t the same, was she? She was just a reflection. So they’d lived together.

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But they’d never smiled. And he’d never cared. And gods who care... well, they’re little more than men. He’d lived there, hadn’t he? He’d lived. And the dead can’t do that, can they?

Sinto Saudades Ye és o meau amor Eu adoro-te Eu you sempre me lembrar de você Tu és o meu amor Astada! He dreams of the past, doesn’t he? All the horrible things he’s done. Come to me, come to me, come to me. They’re gone, gone, gone. He remembers, do you see? Think harder my son; look further. You resurrected your family. Now remember your father. Zarathustra stood in the shadows. Wheezed. Squinted. It was hot down here. Burning his very nanos. And he was losing himself. But there was something here, wasn’t there? Something at the very end of the naussaduct. Something cradled by the shadows. Of course there’s something here, metal Mickey; you’ve been stumbling over it for hours, lost in your memories. Because memories were what home was made of after all. Now reach down and grab it. The past.

“Mater! Mater!” He cried for her. All night, sometimes. Though since night was all there was...

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He’d cry for her, but she wouldn’t come. So he’d hold Orinoko close and cry harder. That’s what children do when they’re afraid, you know? They huddle up, cuddle a soft toy and cry. The Anarchists were here. At the very gates of the Tapestry. With their arcane instruments and their unpredictable moods and their terrifying beasties. They were here, and where was mother? Zarathustra (if that really was his name at the time) pulled the covers tighter. Held his precious dolly in both hands, smothering the flustered sound of his breathing. If you don’t breathe, they can’t see you, they say. Because it’s life that they’re after. He was three years old. It was dark. It was scary. It was lonely. Back in the days before the Fall, when the Anarchists were winning the war. Civilians like him were sitting targets. Collateral damage waiting to happen. Ghosts in the making. SHATTER! That was some arcane weapon. Zarathustra pushed his face deeper into the pillow. Tugged his doll to his chest.

CRASH!

That was a Tapestarian wall caving in. Zarathustra held his breath. Orinoko squeezed to the point that her patchwork eyes started bulging.

CLANG!

That was a soldier fending the barbarians off. Zarathustra covered his ears. Orinoko hugging his thumping heart.

FIZZ!

That was somebody coming in through the fuzz field door. Zarathustra gulped, the noise amplified in the suddenly still breeze. His dolly quickly tucked behind his back. Father was home. Father. All the twinkles, all the sounds. Father. All the grins, all the smirks. Father. All the rage, all the cold.

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Father. The whipping of the wind. The absence of breath. The freeze of the heart. Father. The big man. Better than a man. More than a man. Father. The sound of silence. Father. What was it they called him in the field? What his collegues later ribbed him for? After he passed and left it all in Zarathustra’s hands? After he became a legend. What was it they called him again? The man who danced in shadows, who fought in circles, who stopped the blood? Ah yes; la diablo. This was the last time he saw his father, wasn’t it? The last and the first. In the fear and the confusion, the fog and the shadows. This was the first and the last time he returned from the field. The red of his hands as he took his boy’s wrist, turned it over and gave him a gift. And the very moment he gave it, he was gone. Almost as if he became the gift he gave.

That’s right, isn’t it; that’s what Zarathustra had forgotten. His father and the gift he gave. The Crimson Harvest.

He’d finally cracked it. He’d cracked a lot of things in his time. But this was the key. How to raise the past? How to raise the dead? How to angle the mirrors just right so that heavens and hells could step into each other? Even how to raise necropoli. That was the last trick he’d learned. Odine had always told him not to, but... well, he was in love, and obsessive and lost, and he was probably still at least one of those things.

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He’d sunk the dirty, nasty anarch hideout known as La Pagode Liberdade into the ground and raised it all fresh and new as he remembered it, out on the Vermilion plate. Darting over the stern stone drawbridge, racing up the lofty stone towers, searching through the lavish stone courtyards, breezing by those intricate stone mosaics. Feverishly gazing left and right, up and down, side, edge and tip, but never once catching a glimpse of her. Because she wasn’t there. Only in his memories. Breaking down on his knees in the central mausoleum of this spartan stone temple where time was supposed to stand still... For places perhaps, but not for people. Yes, a god among men, breaking down. Lost. Clunking to metri knees, hanging his metri head. Banging those metri spooklets into the lines, dots and arrows of the necropolis floor. The place she first found him rebuilt, but the past not repeating. Here in the naussaduct though, he’d found something better. Something closer than her. Something that had always defined him. No more tricks. No more resurrection. No more halls of funny mirrors. You can raise spooks and their haunted houses all you want, but you can’t tempt love back. Love gets bored of the fidgeting paths of lovers and moves on. If you don’t grasp it while it’s there. Zarathustra loved fucked up, convoluted metaphysical projects like raising necropoli, raising history, raising the dead. Grandiose plans and absolute truths. Living in a dream. But he was the villain of the piece, so you’ve got to expect that. Every villain needs a master plan. And every villain is after power.

Power over himself? Nah, he’d raised alters; there was nothing he had to learn about that. Power over the plates? Nah, he could raise necropoli; there was nothing he had to learn about that. Power over people? Nah, he’d raised them before too and they weren’t what they used to be.

Zarathustra didn’t want power over anything like that. Zarathustra had always been a loner, always been a misfit, always been a headcase. Zarathustra didn’t want anything that logic said he could have. Zarathustra wanted power over the future.

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Always alone, that was the thing. Nobody and nothing quite powerful enough to contend with him. Or, like her, to surpass him. To keep him guessing. To keep him keeping up. To bring him to his knees. So here he was at the edge of the ethereal scaffolding which held up Psytopia. Who knows where he was; in his dreams, under the plates or a bit of both. Here where he found something he liked. No, better than that; something he was scared of. A magnetic force stronger than anything he had conceived of before. A force which pulled him into the blood-pinching ether step by ever-hotter step. A force which pulled him into the valley of the shadow of death. Until in this eerie twilight of nothing, he grasped it. Standing beneath the Tapestry; that was where he was. Where some mischievous mite had moved it. Standing on the ethereal scaffolding at the end of the world. Him and the most super of superswords, back in his hands where father had put it. The Crimson Harvest. ——————————————————————————————— Somewhere on a calm, grassy plateau elsewhere in Psytopia, a pair of egg yoke, Nike tick eyes darted open. Curious; she hadn’t realised she had fallen asleep. Melodi and sleep didn’t really mix. When Melodi slept, dreams tended to happen for real. Or the other way round; I’m not quite sure which. So here she was, waking from a dream of dreams. Waking from a dream of shadows. Waking from a dream of halls of funny mirrors and all the horrors of the wide, wild world. Of men of metal and thunder, dead families, misty memories and icy superswords. Blue girls should never have nightmares, or the rest of the world might follow suit.

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She sat back in the twittering glade. Twittering with jojibirdâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s songs. Twittering with diptrunk leaves. Twittering with the rhythm of nature. And with a cold, dark shiver in her bones. She watched as the pyro fire in the pyrate camp flickered out. She listened as the twittering died down; the magnetics of the earth swirling the other way. Like the gargantuan cogs of a monstrous machine clanking into reverse gear somewhere deep below them. And she jumped as she realised that gravity had shifted away from her. The rhythms of the world changing their shapes.

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HIT! ESUNA & HALO: Thrown into clumsy backward rolls down the final set of steps The blitzers flipping neatly to their feet. Exchanging nods. Tightening their grips on their swords. Facing their foes. Brutes, they were; a whole damned barrage. The blitzers eagerly rolling their shoulders. Swapping puffs. Altering their grips on their swords. Backed by a full blown riot.

Ooops, its started already. And to be honest, they’re pretty much fighting each other. I don’t know, do I; it’s a riot, it’s hard to tell. Who’s lead do you follow without tutors? Halo and Esuna, at the top of the grand golden stairway which linked the Academy floors. Below them layer upon layer of modest glass steps, connecting the various training halls. Above them the storm dome and beyond that, so they said, the Principal’s office. But let’s not forget that between the boisterous and the boss stood the brutes.

Brute school classes; pre and post-grad levels. Term might be over, but the team’s still together. Because there’s no ‘I’ in team... But with the team captain still in the play, there’s certainly order. HALO & ESUNA: Upward charge... COUNTER! LOGE (Pushing through the school of brutes) Double-handed clump HIT! HALO & ESUNA: Tossed into bruising backward rolls down that same set of steps

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The gang of brutes shied away. Backed up into the padded storm dome. No, pressed against the grand golden stair rail. Nope; let’s just filter down into the quickening chaos of the crowds below and disappear. Because some people are so brutal even the monsters scuttle aside. Esuna flipping up onto her feet. Swordstrils passing her by, the odds suddenly reduced to two on one. Halo taking a moment longer to turn and face the brute tutor. “Aw hack; not you too...”

The Academy The final flight of grand golden stairs Between the storm dome and the heat of the crowd

HALO & ESUNA: Uphill charge HALO: Overhead loop ESUNA: Roundhouse curl CLANG! LOGE soaks them up LOGE: Double handed whack COVER! HALO & ESUNA: Skid down a few steps

The blitzers rearranging their stances. Exchanging nods, though not entirely self-assured. Tightening their grips on their swords. Facing their assassin.

Loge; the last of Zarathustra’s dutiful god squad, and every bit as brutal as they came. The blitzers calmly rolling their shoulders. Swapping puffs, and tough as they were, a little tired of all this. Altering their grips on their swords. Two blitzers, one tutor and a school of rioting pupils the only pieces left on the board.

Order, order, order.

Leave the gunpowder in charge of the armoury.

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I’m guessing maybe the big boss isn’t home.

You see, this is the problem with enforcing order. Of cracking the proverbial whip. As soon as the slave master’s gone, the whole thing crumbles. And as soon as tutors pass, the whole thing falls. People have to start thinking for themselves for a change. Most of them disagree with each other. Especially swordstrils from different schools. Which one’s better; let’s fight and see! So the whole thing had soon degenerated. Into what, I hear you ask? Into what-do-you-think? Into the thing that the powers that be feared the most. Into the natural state of humanity. Into primoridial flux. Into anarchy.

But there was one more tutor left. One more judge, two more defendants. Actually nobody cared which was which. The pupils simply wanted to brawl. So while they go loco, let’s take in the sights.

The Soul Cage Trust would defend the Academy pyramid if they could... But you try sneaking Anarchists in there. Some have tried, none have ever left. One of the most ancient of ancient places in the wide, wild world, this intricate marble citadel has been expertly preserved using gravimagmathic arts of the highest order. Moved around, jazzed up but preserved. And I mean ‘order’. Each of the six levels of the Academy connected by different coloured steps. The seventh flight a rainbow mix; three of each. Green then white and so on and so forth, ending in red. The EM code. Harmonics in order. This last flight led to the very pinnacle of the establishment. The penthouse suite. Tagged on to the grand design like a tip of an iceberg peeking over the water. Added like the myriad of glass landings, window-walls and pyramid halls. Translucent platforms all the way up and down. From the underground squib pen to the lofty Principal’s office. Base to tip. Built around the original architecture, as dreamed up by ancients. The architecture an echo of an ether dancer’s complicated soul. A necropolis.

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Some Anarchists drove themselves crazy protecting these places. So letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just let this one be, shall we?

This is a self-contained swordstril training camp. You could live a whole life in here and never even know there was an outside world. But weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d recommend you spread your wings a bit. Who knows, there may be better things out there. You may even find yourself.

ESUNA & HALO: Uphill charge ESUNA: Leaping swirl HALO: Leaping hoop CLANG! LOGE soaks them up LOGE: Double handed hack HIT! ESUNA & HALO: Swords Hurled into painful backward rolls down the top flight of grand rainbow steps

The blitzers gazing through the glass. Exchanging sighs. Remembering they were still holding their swords. And that down there through layer upon layer of glassy halls, another fight was raging. But they had a brutal battle of their own to take care of; Loge standing tall on the top step. The blitzers swiftly scrambling to their feet. Clanging blades. Preparing to blitz. Two breezers, one tutor and a whole hell of blazing to do. HALO Blitz break chain Roundhouse loop Backhand hoop Underhand scoop Overhead swoop LOGE pushed back

ESUNA LOGE Blitz break chain CLANG! Overhead curl CLANG! Underhand whirl CLANG! Backhand swirl CLANG! Roundhouse twirl onto his knees on the top step

LOGE kicks in his hooves

LOGE: Head of Steam Epitaph HALO ESUNA Desperate crossed sword covers CLANG! HALO & ESUNA barged into agonising backward rolls down the top set of steps

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Brutality standing tall on the third step down Disobedience laying in clumsy heaps at the bottom

The blitzers picking their weary bones off the grand golden landing. Exchanging exhausted wheezes. But you’re still alive, and you’re still holding your swords. So let’s get up and at him, shall we? Loge beating the headache out of his fury membrane with a meaty palm. The blitzers gradually rising to their feet. Exchanging weary nods. Alright, another charge of the light brigade. Let’s drop the fancy-footed nonsense and get brutal. ESUNA Roundhouse curl Backhand whirl Underhand swirl Overhead twirl

HALO LOGE Overhead loop CLANG! Underhand hoop CLANG! Backhand scoop HIT! Roundhouse swoop HIT! Spleen, arm, shoulder and chest

The blitzers on the second step of the grand rainbow stairway. The tutor at the top. All manner of chaos raging downstairs, and it was all their fault. So how about some sweet, sweet revenge? LOGE: Total Torment Epitaph

The blitzers watching the gimpy meat-head fly. Up, up and... And... was he getting bigger up there? Up, up and down. ESUNA HALO Desperate crossed sword covers

BOOM! HIT! ESUNA & HALO: The shock waves send them bouncing painfully down the steps HIT! The golden landing, horribly singed.

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The blitzers gathering their bruised bodies off the floor. Exchanging rolling eyes and tired staggers. Remembering they were still better off two on one. Because down there through layer upon layer of glassy halls, a tempest was whipping up. Loge hobbling a little down a pair of steps, his frying of the fury membrane taking its toll. The blitzers on equally unsteady feet. Clanging blades. Taking deep breaths. This was one dominant gimp. HALO ESUNA Roundhouse loop LOGE Overhead curl Backhand hoop HIT! Underhand whirl Underhand scoop HIT! Backhand swirl Overhead swoop HIT! Roundhouse twirl HIT! LOGE: Shoulder, shoulder, chest, chest, chin, chin, scalp, neck With his last breath... His Assignment brief: Guard the Principal’s office with your life

LOGE: Mien Requiem Epitaph The crème de la crème de la bible brutal And the single, baddest übertek in the wide, wild world You only go and rattle your nanos so hard that they explode the fury membrane... And everything stupid enough to stand around gawping HALO

ESUNA Dive for cover!

Nanos switched upside down and round and round like dice in an all or nothing roll Flip, flip, flip,flip...

BOOM! Rainbow steps blown to shards. Padded storm dome walls blown out. Singed-fingered blitzers blown down the stairs into crumpled heaps. And the last of the tutors soaring across the grand gold landing in gruesome, burning bits.

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The blitzers wiping tutor goo off their faces and out of their hair. Exchanging relieved wrist holds which steadied their blood. Helping each other to their feet. Because despite the rumbling of battle below, they had a job to do. Investigate the Principal’s office. Up there beyond the battered storm dome. Up the riveted metri stairway to the gods. One step closer to heaven. The blitzers on that last red step. Prodding Loge’s still-standing gimpy legs with their sword hilts. Looking puzzled as they found nothing inside but oily gunk. It was almost like the super-stitched armour kept the shots out and the spooky in.

One of two schools of psychosurgery. Nano stapling and ether stitching. One was orderly, the other anarchic; I think you can probably guess that. But both could do some freaky things. It’s all about the basic building blocks of life. Nano and pyro. Nano stapling Ether stitching Manipulates EM fields Manipulates ESP fields Magnetises nanos in place Medifies your ethers into life Keeps your moods ordered Keeps your breath clear Traps the dead in metallic casing Grabs the dying before they pass on Keeps them here in the world Nano manipulation can reanimate the dead Pyro manipulation can wake the lost Albeit as zombies Albeit a bit dreamy Mere mirrors of the departed Last gasp resuscitations The blitzers didn’t care much for the mechanics of arcane medicine. As they flashed each other enamoured grins. Respecting each other’s blitzy, blazey sword skills. Because as any catch clique kid will tell you, two kitz are better than one. The assignment brief; investigate the Principal’s office. Right up there in the penthouse suite. Halo sneaked a sip of pyro. Let’s just hope the boss isn’t in. Or they’d be a whole lot closer to the heavens.

————————————————————————————————-

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Insein and Coda were Anarchists. Alright, so they were swordstrils, but they’d evolved. He was from the brute school, she from the ground. Pre-grads just back from their first assignment trip. But haven’t you heard; school’s well and truly out, so let’s forget it! Hertza and Drapchi were Anarchists too. What is this if it isn’t anarchy? Propped up against the wall of etchings. Sat down chatting on the grand old golden landings. Jinned off their cocos and ready to brawl. Orochi and Umbra were also Anarchists. Because being obedient was nowhere near as much fun. Ransacking the Academy halls. The medipen, the tybrary, Pyrotech. Soldiers with no battles left to fight, quickly turning on each other. Then on to better things. Like having fun. Some of them bobbing their heads to catch, some of them slipping pyro sheets, some of them smashing glass windows and some of them sprawling all over the grand golden floor, coiling each other’s tongues, fumbling each other’s figures and breaking down the barriers between each other’s spheres. It’s interesting how swiftly order becomes chaos when you remove authority. Until the big whig comes home.

Crashes Smashes

Bangs Clangs That was what greeted Zarathustra. Wasn’t the Academy he knew, was it? Wasn’t the Academy he’d built. Wasn’t the Academy he’d wanted. But if you’ve learned one thing about Zarathustra by now, you’ve learned he’s driven, right? Driven to make things work. Driven to make things... make sense. And what sense is there in anarchy? In standing there in the grand golden foyer of the Academy, watching the kids play? Watching them make a mockery of themselves?

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His ordered little world descending into madness as soon as he left the building. You see, that’s how anarchy works. Creeps in through the gaps when you’re not looking, and takes hold. Pre-grads Post-grads Lazing about Sipping pyro Squeezing hands Challenging dictums

Hack that!

Hack that!

Hack that!

Yes, the students were running the Academy now, and anarchy was rife. But you know the antidote for anarchy, don’t you? A really pissed off Principal.

Now I’m sure if you’ve learned one thing about Zarathustra by now, it’s that he was the serious type. Serious to the point of obsession. And this was his Academy, thank you very much.

So what sense if there in letting the children play? In allowing them to forget everything they’d been taught just because of a few misled privates in the ranks? In watching such well-drilled swordstrils plunge headlong into the clumsy hands of chaos?

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No sense at all, of course. So as he stood there in all his thundery metal, gimpy glory in the grand golden foyer of the Academy complex which had once been the first bastion of order in a wide, wild world, only one single, simple, sensible solution came to mind. Put them out of their misery.

His own confusing past could testify to that.

So let’s draw a blade; La Sensoria. And in the time it took for the sword to be unsheathed... An entire Academy, staring at him. Anarchy versus order, that was what this was. What on earth had they all become? No; what this was was discipline.

A man of thunder and metal. The man of thunder and metal now, I’ll have you know. Or as his students might begin to say, la Bruto de Guerra. Let’s send them to the Third Heaven before they slip that far, shall we? And start building this brand new world from scratch, minus the odd left-field tutor.

Thirty three swordstrils in various states of dress, drunkness and disrepair. All the way up and down the grand stairway and the glassy walls and floors. Clambering up to face their master. Viva la revolution! Some had even dropped their swords. So they deserved to die!

The grand central foyer of the Academy pyramid. Ground floor, where the huge golden gates opened out into the real world. The real world, where order fell away into the chortling maw of chaos. But this side of the curtain... well, let’s snap it back in check.

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So the music stopped with the orderly drawing of a single supersword. The music stopped and the swordstrils revolted and the disorganised charge began. Perhaps somebody should have told Zarathustra to leave them kids alone...

“Hey, who’s...” Fama, pre-grad, scrawl school. “Dunno but he’s seriously... freaky?” Coda, post-grad, grounder gang.

Zarathustra would readily admit that he’d been a somewhat absent deity. He hadn’t been one to peer over shoulders and cast first stones. Well, perhaps he should’ve been. “They say the Principal’s a little like...” Insein, pre-grad, brute brigade. “A gimp in the watch tower?” Legato, post-grad, counter class; perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. Zarathustra would be the first to recognise that perhaps he’d been a bit of a hermit. He’d had a hall of rusty mirrors to run the show, and reflections tend to follow your lead. Plus, he’d had a lot of work to do. “The Principal wouldn’t draw a sword on us.” Hertza, post-grad, tech team. “Little gods move in mysterious ways...” Umbra, post-grad, breeze boys.

Yes, Zarathustra moved in mysterious ways. And more often than not, deadly ones. So let’s make up for lost time and dish out some discipline!

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Alright that’s three stomps into your spheres, young guns. Authority rapping its burly knuckles on your door knocker. Who’s going to throw the first Molotov? Liber-dead-e? FAMA: Overhead swipe SCHERZO: Overhead swing CLANG! CLANG! COVER! Thank Zarathustra for spooky armour ZARATHUSTRA: Backhand slash (La Sensoria) HIT! HIT! FAMA: Rib SCHERZO: Shoulder Batted into a glassy wall

Spun into the grand pyramid archway

Knockdowns!

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STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! OK, so the iron first of authority is a touch more solid than you imagined. Plodding on undaunted through the grand golden foyer. Who’s going to provide the cavalry? Stand up for your comrades in arms!

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

AVESTAEE: Back step clash CODA: Back step cross CLANG! CLANG! BLOCKED! Thank Zarathustra for quick reflexes ZARATHUSTRA: Roundhouse swing HIT! HIT! AVESTAEE: Arm CODA: Leg Tossed into a glassy stair Flipped into the wall of etchings Knockdowns!

Sure, opposing authority isn’t all that easy. You may have the bodies, but they have the guns. Who’s next to storm the Bastille? With a cry of ‘liberté and égalité’; fraternising with anarchy? INSEIN: Leaping whack DRAPCHI: Leaping hack CLANG! CLANG! SOAKED UP! Thank Zarathustra for thick, thick skin ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-face chop HIT! HIT! INSEIN: Cheek DRAPCHI: Temple Hurled into a glassy partition

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Thrown into the grand golden bannister

Knockdowns!

Well, if you’re going to delve into the Anarchist’s cookbook, you’ll have to break some eggs. Salvation doesn’t grow on trees. Who’s ready to step up to the plate? Aim that kalashnikoff and get firing!

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JINN: Front-step crop LEGATO: Front-step cut CLANG! CLANG! SOAKED UP! Thank Zarathustra for small mercies, and big ones, while you re at it ZARATHUSTRA: Spinning dab HIT! HIT! JINN: Wrist LEGATO: Palm Thrown over the grand marble bannister

Hurled through a glassy partition

Knockdowns!

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Granted, they don’t call the powers that be the powers that be for nothing. It’s because they’re generally pretty powerful as it goes. Who wants to test that theory? Pat on the back solider; go, go, go!

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

LIBERETTO: Roundhouse stroke HERTZA: Roundhouse swerve CLANG! CLANG! BLOCKED! Thank Zarathustra for silky skills ZARATHUSTRA: Overhead swipe HIT! HIT! LIBERETTO: Neck HERTZA: Collar Flipped over the wall of etchings Tossed through a glassy stair Knockdowns!

Sure, this revolution lark wasn’t all that easy. Why do you think the status quo tends to stay how it is? Who’s going to take a stand for the little man? Don’t all rush at once! UMBRA: Spinning swirl VORRES: Spinning twirl CLANG! CLANG! COVERED! Thank Zarathustra for Zarathustra! Well, pretty soon there won t be many other people to thank ZARATHUSTRA: Lunging swing HIT! HIT! UMBRA: Head VORRES: Chest Spun out of the grand pyramid archway

Batted through a glassy wall

Knockdowns!

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Fine; so people power isn’t all its cracked up to be. Not a very glorious rebellion. Who’s going to prove me wrong? The first wave of trouble-makers already consigned to the dog house. Zarathustra leaving chaos in his wake. OK, let’s not say chaos, let’s just say moaning swordstrils with aching body parts. As he stomped on towards the grand central stairway. Because the magnetic pull of his blades told him to.

Authority figures don’t take orders, but the good ones do take advice. Zarathustra had five überswords now; what did he need students for? Time to teach the kids how it’s done.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the first flight of the grand stairway, brandishing La Sensoria. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its feet. Run from no evil... The little delinquents would have been better served following that advice. MONO: Back step pang OROCHI: Front step jab GAVIAL: Rolling curl CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if swatting flies ZARATHUSTRA: SCRIBBLE MONTAGE A crafty combo of scrawl attacks HIT! HIT! HIT! MONO: Face OROCHI: Chest GAVIAL: Midsection Thrown down the steps Tossed over the balcony Hurled across the landing CRASH! Down a flight of stairs

HIT! Bumps and bruises

SMASH! Through a glassy roof

HIT! Cuts and slices Knockdowns!

BANG! Into a marble bannister

HIT! Dizzied and dazed

Masters have nothing to learn, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. Zarathustra’s world was growing clearer and clearer; why house hazy mirrors? Time to force a string of evictions.

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STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the second flight of the grand stairway, drawing the Memento Mori. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its fingers. Sense no evil... These pesky kids wouldn’t be sensing much of anything pretty soon. PARTITA: Rolling slice GAVOTTE: Front step coil SURA: Back step plunge CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if discarding a parking ticket ZARATHUSTRA: POWERSNAP REVERB Rush of nanos breaks your breath HIT! HIT! HIT! PARTITA: Chest GAVOTTE: Midsection SURA: Face Tossed over the balcony Hurled across the landing Thrown down the steps SMASH! Through a glassy roof

BANG! Into a marble bannister

HIT! Cuts and slices

CRASH! Down a flight of stairs

HIT! Dizzied and dazed Knockdowns!

HIT! Bumps and bruises

The powers that be have to ensure they don’t become the powers that were. Zarathustra had trained these students well. But not well enough to beat the teacher.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the third flight of the grand stairway, taking hold of the Burning Rage. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its heart. Feel no evil... Funnily enough, as Zarathustra cut down his charges he felt nothing much at all. RUBATO: Front step swoop

TESSITURA: Back step parry-jab

HADOU: Rolling hook

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if dismissing criticism ZARATHUSTRA: HEAD OF STEAM EPITAPH Charge them into oblivion! HIT! HIT! HIT! RUBATO: Midsection TESSITURA: Face HADOU: Chest Hurled across the landing Thrown down the stairs Tossed over the balcony BANG! Into a marble bannister

HIT! Dizzied and dazed

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CRASH! Down a flight of steps

HIT! Bumps and bruises Knockdowns!

191

SMASH! Through a glassy roof

HIT! Cuts and slices


Lords of the jungle don’t have to worry about the ants, you know. Zarathustra had faced whole armies of mischeivous thingies in his time. So let’s put the peons in their place.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the fourth flight of the grand stairway, taking hold of the Shadow Splitter. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its head. Think no evil... Just think about how your cremation sheets are going to flutter in the storm. JINN: Rolling crop MANDORIA: Back step scoop ASURA: Front step tab CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if deleting an unwanted friend from Facebook ZARATHUSTRA: SPEED MIRROR Return their techniques before they can mount a defence HIT! HIT! HIT! JINN: Face MANDORIA: Chest ASURA: Midsection Thrown down the steps Tossed over the balcony Hurled across the landing CRASH! Down a flight of stairs

HIT! Bumps and bruises

SMASH! Through a glassy roof

HIT! Cuts and slices Knockdowns!

BANG! Into a marble bannister

HIT! Dizzied and dazed

—————————————————————————————————

Up in the penthouse suite, Halo and Esuna were rifling through papers. You’ve got to give them credit; they’ve never even seen papers before, let alone read them. Arcane forms of communication from a bygone age. The era of ancients. “Hey, Hay; d’you’se feel that in you’se feets?” Esuna wobbled somewhat by a rumbling underfoot. Like something was coming. Like something was already here? An exchange of wrist holds. A sizzly electric shock? A shy turning away from each other. Let’s just carry on with ransacking the office, shall we? “The students are fighting.” Halo’s head in her hands and a strange, anchoring force in her toes. Struggling to make sense of various gravmagtic formulae scribbled across the sheets. Like weird, mathematical tables of some sort; lines, dots and arrows. Numbers scrunched into boxes rather than just left to work themselves out.

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Up in the Principal’s office, Esuna and Halo were searching for clues. You’ve got to respect their perseverance; they didn’t even understand gravmagtics. Arcane psyiences which had become extinct back in the time of the dinosaurs. It’s quite possible there’s a correlation between the two...

——————————————————————————————————

Parents can’t teach children everything, can they? Zarathustra knew even he couldn’t be the perfect parent. So let’s illustrate some lessons learned out in the wide, wild world.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the fifth flight of the grand stairway, brandishing the Shadow Splitter. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its nose. Smell no evil... You’re right; that’s not the odour of evil, that’s the scent of cold, hard death! LIBERETTO: Front step roll COURANTE: Rolling chop UMBRA: Back step swirl CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if flicking a penny to a tramp ZARATHUSTRA: PSY MIRROR Return their techniques before they ve even thrown them And that s another orderly three knockdowns! Big cats don’t have to prowl around with extended claws. Zarathustra had nothing to prove. But if you cross a cruel kitty, you’d better bring a bag of band aids.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the sixth flight of the grand stairway, drawing the Burning Rage. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its mouth. Speak no evil... The lickle angel’s right, kids; shut the hell up! VORRES: Front step hoop

MELCHIOR: Rolling upper

SARIA: Back step tang

ZARATHUSTRA deflecting the shots as if a heavyweight boxer battling a ballet dancer

ZARATHUSTRA: TOTAL TORMENT EPITAPH Launch yourself and rock their world! That s right; more knockdowns!

Experts don’t have to share their tricks. Zarathustra had a good few more up his grim, spooky sleeves. If only the swordstrils had developed their own repertoires, maybe they’d have stood a chance.

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STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the seventh flight of the grand stairway, drawing the Memento Mori. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its eyes. See no evil... Better look away now then! ROCOCO: Front step stroke MALON: Front step sting ZARATHUSTRA deflects the shots as if wafting away a nasty smell ZARATHUSTRA: POWERSNAP REVERB It was like skittles being played with a bouncing bomb Men of thunder and metal don’t allow themselves bad days in the office. Zarathustra was a master of all and a slave to nobody. The kids were starting to wish they’d listened harder in class.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the eighth flight of the grand stairway, drawing La Sensoria. A cherubic sculpture on the landing covering its ears. Hear no evil... Well if that was your goal, perhaps you should’ve picked different teachers. LEGATO: Back step flick NAGA: Back step swerve Eat gold lief, delinquents! Gods aren’t answerable to anybody. Zarathustra was the first mover, the unstoppable force, the architect of the grand design. So if he decides your time is up... you should just be glad he noticed you. Look. Listen. Learn. On the top of the grand stairway, drawing the Crimson Harvest. Atop his glassy, icy kingdom, bruised and battered bodies all the way down the steps. Just one of their clumsy number standing with a trembly sword in hand. Kid; you should’ve joined recess. HERTZE: Rolling swish CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA didn t even bother deflecting that shot ZARATHUSTRA: Nonchalant spooklet shove

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He s just a mite; give him a break... HIT! HERTZE: Face Thrown down the grand rainbow steps CRASH! One break, or two... how about an orderly three? Knockdown! ——————————————————————————————————— Up in the Principal’s office, Halo and Esuna were shuffling through tye sculptures. You’ve got to wonder why the god of law and order kept such anarchic things. Strange shapes depicting thoughts and concepts from the distant past. The age of apocalyptic warfare. “Hey, Hay; d’you’se hear them clangy dins?” Esuna spooked somewhat by the raucous echoes. They were definitely coming this way. Coming for them? An exchange of wrist holds. A flutter of hearts. A shy turning away from each other. Let’s just concentrate on the job in hand, shall we? “The students are out of control. Halo’s arms folded tight, confused by the complex wire-work. Like freaky, magnetic maps of some kind. Like representations of how things worked rather than just what they looked like. Up in the penthouse suite, Esuna and Halo were looking for answers. You can’t blame them; there aren’t many out there in the wide, wild world. Ancient mysteries which everybody had forgotten since the time of the ether dancers. It’s quite possible there’s a correlation between the two... —————————————————————————————————

So in conclusion, rebellion isn’t good for your health. That’s probably why so few do it. What; you think people don’t rebel because they don’t want to? Either people are scared shitless or they really are as stupid as they look. Zarathustra had left anarchy in his wake. Alright, let’s not say anarchy; let’s just say scattered students with broken bones. As he stood atop the grand rainbow stairs. And still a mischievous horde of misguided swordstrils stood at the bottom and wouldn’t do as they were told.

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Because that was what they were, after all. The ones who were left. The ones who hadn’t been wise enough to drag their beaten bodies out of the Academy and off into the wide, wild wastes of the plates. The Principal clenched his spooklets and readied his sword. Zarathustra didn’t want to kill people, you know. It just tended to work out that way. They were arranged school by school; comfort in familiarity. They were arranged school by school; friends, or worse; families. They were arranged school by school, and that’s how their lives would end. FAMA:

RONDO: Charging swipe

PALMA: Charging swing

SCHERZO: Charging slash ORMO: Charging droop AMHARA: Charging tie TUTTI: Charging hook

Charging

dab

HONGRYEON: Charging tap AVESTAEE: Charging clash ROMAJI: Charging buckler KAYIN: Charging splinter

JANGHWA: Charging chop MEZZO: Charging cross CODA: Charging hoist

MUSETTE: Charging thump

INSEIN: Charging lunge

BOMI: Charging clump VIVARE: Charging whack

EDO: Charging blast

INBE: Charging hack YORDA: Charging pang And oh, what a chaotic charge it was Oh well... COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: ULTITEK 1: Gralmischungmacht

Ultitek

Alright, so you’ve mastered übertek... What do you mean ‘yes’? Only the most uniquely gifted master übertek. The ones who can invent such things for themselves. Last time I looked, some blazey belles just nipped them particular masters... But for argument’s sake, let’s say you really have mastered übertek. What next? I dunno; transcend? Not yet, kid. You’re only on step one of the proverbial three. OK, so you’ve mastered hypertek... What are hypertek? Doll arts, of course. And what do you mean ‘yes’? Only the most freakily twisted master doll arts. The ones who can switch and mix mind and matter. Last time I looked, such... people were extinct... But for argument’s sake, let’s say you really have mastered hypertek.

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What’s next? Let’s have a guess; transcend? Not quite, lickle sprite. You’re only on step two of the proverbial three. Step three? Ultitek. For those who can already do anything in the wide, wild world. And by that I mean gods. So if you’re a master of sword arts, you might try an ultitek. And if you’re a master of doll arts, you might have a go at one too. Zarathustra happened to be a master of everything. Everything except ultitek three. What do you think he needed the Octet for? The very echoes of the transcendent, frozen in form. Even gods have things to learn, you know. Otherwise they’d be so, so über nothing else would even exist.

So where were we? Oh yes, Ultitek one. For sword masters.

Well it’s one way, isn’t it? Did I mention he was just a pinch psychotic?

What’s ultitek one? Well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you. And if I showed you, you’d already be dead.

So I think I’ll just let the ultitek happen, and we can decide what it was afterwards. That’s the great thing about reading books rather than living in them. You’re a bit like a god up there, looking down at this fantasy world. It’s not gonna kill you, is it? ZARATHUSTRA: Ultitek one: Gralmischungmacht AKA Grail cocktail AKA All the stormy contents of every hell on earth spewed forth in unison AKA ! SCRIBBLE MONTAGE SCRABBLE MONTAGE SCRIPTAL MONTAGE POWERSNAP REVERB POWERWAVE REVERB SHATTERSHOCK REVERB HEAD OF STEAM EPITAPH

TOTAL TORMENT EPITAPH

MEIN REQUIEM EPITAPH

SPEED MIRROR PSY MIRROR SHADOW MIRROR FLASHLIGHT SERENADE RAINBOW SERENADE DEATH S HEAD SERENADE SHUDDERWAVE PIROUETTE ANGEL S PIROUETTE DEVIL S PIROUETTE

IE Zarathustra chains, breaks bones, launches, explodes, resurrects, disappears and muddles nanos all at once IE Basically, it s just carnage IE Chaos?

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Ultitek are only possible with superswords or hyperdolls. So Zarathustra was still teaching himself new tricks. Not really any swordstrils left to pass them on to though. A pity, but it wouldn’t be a secret if he shared it. He wouldn’t be a god if he taught people to mirror him. So how about the omnipotent remain omnipotent... And the dead stay dead.

HIT! FAMA: Sliced to pieces OUT OF PLAY

HIT! HIT! RONDO: Diced to shreds PALMA: Shredded to bits OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! HIT! HIT! SCHERZO: Broken breath HONGRYEON: Broken blood JANGHWA: Broken bones (suffocated) (haemorrhage) (all of them) OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! HIT! HIT! ORMO: Crushed AVESTAEE: Flattened MEZZO: Exploded OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! HIT! HIT! AMHARA: Tie of lungs ROMAJI: Break of heart CODA: Buckle of brain OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! HIT! HIT! TUTTI:

Nanos frightened to death

OUT OF PLAY HIT! MUSETTE: Limbs slashed OUT OF PLAY HIT! EDO: Ripped OUT OF PLAY

KAYIN: Flipped

BOMI: Frozen

OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! INSEIN: Torso slashed OUT OF PLAY THERMO SHOCK! HIT! INBE: Torn OUT OF PLAY

OUT OF PLAY HIT! VIVARE: Scalped OUT OF PLAY HIT! YORDA: Decapitated OUT OF PLAY

BOOM! Zarathustra left standing as the mushroom cloud faded and the fog of war eased. Just Zarathustra and a horde of frazzled skeletons, broken in the breeze. And that’s why he was the Principal.

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———————————————————————————————————

“Come on kitz, you’se must’ve felt... yeeps!” Halo and Esuna stumbling like cabin boys in slippery socks on the deck of a ship. Turbulent waters? Turbulent world. STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

“That was weird.” “Yeah, weird. And scary. We’s gotta go.” Esuna grabbing Halos’ wrist. “Wait; I’ve got something.” STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

She had, too. Not something she’d wanted. Not something she’d expected. Not something that boded particularly well. STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

“These are Freia’s...” “Hay, they’s sculptures; who knows who’s?” “They’re Freia’s; I can feel it.” “Halo...” STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! “Siz, blaze it; we’s gotta zip. There’s a hectic rumblin’ underfoot.” “But I’ve got something.” Halo hanging on to a gravmagtic freeze. Esuna digging in her heels and pulling harder.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

“Look kitty; there’s some kinda psycho superstorm blazin’ this way...” “And I think I know what it’s after.” Halo’s body reverberated somewhat when she touched this particular freeze... It reverberated through her bones like the sting of that brand new sword of her’s...

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STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

“Are you’se spookin’ somethin’ from that freeze?” “Just a feeling.” “What kind of feelin’?” “A gravmagtic one.”

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! “Halo; whatever it is, that boomin’ somethin’s comin’ up the spiral stair.” “And whatever this feeling is, it feels like...” “Halo, let it go.” “This freeze is a map of my sparkly spangly...” I don’t know how she knew that, do I? I don’t speak tye. Does this book look like a sculpture? So I’ll just assume she knew because the gravmagtic resonance of the wire mirrored the sensation of holding the blade she’d picked up out on the plates when she’d lost her own. The Prodigal’s Edge.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

“Sword.” That was Zarathustra’s grim, gruff, guttural tone.. You can tell it was Zarathustra by the gimpy armour, the rack of überswords, the blood spats on his spooklets and the really, really persuasive magnetic force which came to bear as soon as he entered the room. And you can’t blame him for having a grim, gruff, guttural tone; it’s not like he uses his voice all that much, is it? So he’d entered the room, then. They’d let him stomp all the way up the spiral stair. Hand out, reaching, demanding his... “Sword.” Halo could have given him it of course. Her brand new blade, picked up out on the Vermilion Plateau. She could’ve given him it. And saved herself a fight. And saved herself a beating. And saved her skin.

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She could’ve given him it, of course. And filed a kitty’s claws? And ended the rebellion? And served him the world on a plate? She could’ve given him it. But what was she; a peon? Oh, Halo was going to give it to him, alright. Just not quite how he wanted.

“Kitz...” Esuna holding her hand tight. Fingers intertwined like trees, like snakes, like lovers. Two little felines facing the big dog in his own yard. “Siz.” Halo holding back, tightening her squeeze. Pulses rushing against each other like rolling gorges, rushing rivers, tinkling streams. Two little blitzers exchanging frowns which soon became smirks. Let’s go out in style, and let’s go out how it’s meant to be; together.

That’s right, Halo had picked up a supersword back on the Vermilion Plateau. You remember; where she’d faced off against hundreds of marionettes and almost died. The battle where she made herself. Or made herself numb to life, at least. She’d picked up a supersword and it had saved her life. Hidden by the rebellious pyronettes who had run the place. Before the marionettes did the same thing to them as they’d tried to do to her. Marionettes built as smelt plant labourers, suddenly blessed again with the spark of life. Before the whole anarchic jumble was torn asunder. But let’s emphasise that they tried, shall we? Because Halo was a tough little cookie as it goes; the cold, quiet type. So let’s give Zarathustra a run for his money. Because there’s fire in this blitz belle yet!

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This doesn’t seem all that fair, does it?

An experiment. Into what happens when you teach children what they shouldn’t know. What wonderful discoveries will they make? They might even end up... I dunno; reactionaries? That was what Freia intended and that was what she got. But she couldn’t be expected to know how it would all pan out. She was a tutor, not a deity. She was a Psytopian, not a blue girl. She was an Anarchist, not a mathematician. Yeah, so there had been certain failures. That’s what you get when you teach kids too much too young. Freia was a revolutionary, not a mind-reader. But that’s the beauty of anarchy, isn’t it? You never know what you’re gonna get!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t play with fire; all that burning stings a bit.

Oh, you can’t reason with reactionaries, can you?

Principal of the Academy. Founding father of a brave new world. Commander in chief of the forces of justice, honour, yadda, yadda, yadda. Hermetical scholar. Religious zealot. Some may even go so far as to say spiritual leader. Plus, of course, a homicidal, crackpot, multi-blade wielding, megalomaniac nut with a fucked up past and a lonely future. That’s assuming he’ll succeed in killing everybody else. Let’s not assume though, shall we? Not while our beloved blitzers are still breathing. Not that that’s likely to be long... The penthouse suite of the Academy pyramid. A spacious triangular hall above the storm dome and the spiral stairs, built from frost and chrome and decorated with lines, dots and arrows from ceiling to floor. Oh, and grand, promethean windows from ground to roof through which you could gaze across the plates and wonder... Wonder what you were doing still alive, having broken into this most secret of places. Filled with books, papers and sculptures, one of which identified the Prodigal’s Edge as one of the eight super Macguffins forged from the soul of the universe, or whatever. You’d know it if you wielded it.

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Because it held the reins of a particular EM pulse which would ripple your nanos, rock your sphere and probably play games with your fate somewhat.

HALO ESUNA Leaping twirl Jumping curl MISS! MISS! That s OK; they meant to miss Past him and down onto the spiral stairs The glassy steps. The periodic metal platforms. The fuzz-static trapdoor at the bottom. Leading back to the storm dome. COUNTERED!

Yep, just a few deft leaps and there theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be. Back on the grand rainbow stairway. Then the Academy foyer, then free. But what was that I just said?

COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-face/cross-body swerve (Crimson Harvest) HIT! HIT! ESUNA HALO Tossed into a steel platform Hurled down a set of steps THUNK! CLUNK! Face and chin Shoulders and knees Ow! Oh, and both dropped a sword

Yeah, yeah; I thought this was a revolution

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! >SCHLINK!< Was that somebody zipping through the trapdoor? A kindly soul coming to stab Zarathustra in the back? No you shaltz, it was the Principal placing the Crimson Harvest back onto his spine rack. So he could do this.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Draws the Memento Mori Let’s make these miscreants history Rattle that kitty cage a little more ZARATHUSTRA: Crossface snare HIT! ESUNA: Sword So stingy the first thing she was taught was the first she did; dropped it HALO: (On a higher platform) Torpedo swirl (as if leaping off a diving board) ZARATHUSTRA (not even looking) CLANG! That was a block A block strong enough to change Halo s downward trajectory HIT! HALO: Face That was his armour And it probably isn t going to hurt him anywhere near as much as it hurt you, brood belle ZARATHUSTRA: Uppercut swing (hilt) HIT! HALO: Jaw Up a flight, through that self-same platform, crunching like a table in a wrestling match

Halo drops her sword; clunking down the stairs. Zarathustra reaching with one of those eerie tartan spooklets; Halo’s sparkly new blade about to be snatched away. Lying muddled on the spiral steps, feeling as if twittering birds should be spiralling around her head. ESUNA: Kneeling hook HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Drives a sword right through his calf That pissed the teacher off

Zarathustra returning the Memento Mor to his spine rack. Snagging that new übersword again as it bounced by. That was Halo’s sword. HALO: Blind leap SNATCH! The Prodigal s Edge (hilt) Feet pulled down the stairs as she was dragged along with it ESUNA: Swift grab SNATCH! HALO: Around waist

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ZARATHUSTRA: Shattershock Reverb HIT! HALO: Wrist

CRACK!

Halo lets go of the sword. Zarathustra gets hold of his prize. Two little blitzers crash awkwardly into the stairs beside him. All tangled. Hands around waists and feet around heads and heads against steps. It isn’t easy fighting on a winding staircase at the best of times. But against a god with six überswords... Zarathustra studies the Prodigal’s Edge. The gravimagmathity of the wide, wild world suddenly a tad less untamed. Well, grab your swords, breeze belles. Before you and they slide down into the belly of the beastie. Grab your swords, kittyclaws. Because if you don’t strike now, you might be punted off the plates. ESUNA: Draws her blade out of the Principal s leg Eew, it was covered in oily black gunk...

ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet grab SNATCH! ESUNA: Throat ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet raise DRAG! ESUNA: Up off her feet ZARATHUSTRA: Eye to eye Yeek! HIT? Now, that wasn’t technically a strike, but it may as well have been. Esuna startled by the stormy wastes panning out inside his tense multi-pupils. Like acre upon acre of graveyards in there; every stone with her name on it. Enough to make your nanos weep. ZARATHUSTRA: Drops ESUNA s fragile form into a vice-like bear hug

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Chest to chest. Flesh to metal. Fragile skin to spook soup. Hulking great spooklets wrapped around her arms and back. Icy cold armour creeping into her bones and slowing her blood. And then, with her arms flailing and her legs three feet off the steps, the squeezing began. CRUNCH! That was her diaphragm, she decided. Making her wheeze.

CRACK!

Those were ribs, she reckoned. Making her flinch.

CREAK!

They were her fingers and toes, hips and spine, she supposed. Beginning to buckle under the pressure. As she beat at his head and kicked at his legs, rolled giddy eyes and day-dreamed. Her blood frosted over, her bones giving in, her hope all but lost. Just don’t cry now Esuna; it’s not a good way to go.

POP!

That may well have been a liver or a kidney or a heart valve popping, she presumed. It’s alright sweetheart; you can cry now. CRUNCH!

CRACK!

CREAK! POP!

Esuna could have been a whole twisted orchestra. Who knew a broken body could produce such sounds? Well she didn’t; all she could hear was buzzing. As her eyes rolled; one up, one down. As her fingers and feet gripped; black and blue. As her lips seeped red ooze which she couldn’t quite seem to keep in. SCRUNCH!

SQUEAK!

SPLINTER! SNAP! She saw herself now. How small she looked. How young and unprepared.

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Her little hands, all colourful wraps and cartoony skull tattoos. Her little feet, all rolled-down socks and flamey boots. Her little body, all nimble limbs and ugly blood stains. Yes, she saw herself now. Which meant she wasn’t really down there anymore, having the life squeezed out of her. Well that’s positive, at least. Little feet, that was all that moved. Little feet like the wicked witch of the west, crushed by a tumbling farmhouse. Little feet and little eyes, rolling white. Little girl; you ain’t in conscioussland anymore.

HALO: Sword grab HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: The Crimson Harvest yanked off his spine rack Was that a gnat?

Zarathustra turning, dropping Esuna to the platform below. It was! It was! It was a lickle gnat about to go splat... Halo snatched a sword from his spine rack. The Crimson Harvest. Heavy blade. It almost sang to her. Reminding her of something...

MARIONETTE 666: Slit across the magno-eyes (and head) ELECTRIC SIZZLE! Out of play The last one; must’ve been her lucky number Don’t think too soon?

Halo in the heart of the factory; piston pumps plunging around her, the automation pulleys chugging beside her, the oily black gunk... no, red gunk... shit; that was her blood, wasn’t it? Stood here almost mesmerised by the echo of clanging sabres which still flooded her head. Finally at the primary drive lever; the ‘off’ switch, though it kind of looked like a sword... But as she reached to yank it with a stained and weary hand, a timeswirl hit her. And there she was, past the dim hall, the drawbridge, the forecourt she’d fought through. Marionette 69 slicing the party’s elective through his gaunt space face; the first time she’d seen death... again. But then the Halo of the now heard Esuna coughing on the floor. And the idea of dandy belles in peril snaps them both out of unwanted day-dreams.

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A green-haired swordstril knelt gasping on the spiral steps, feeling as if vampires were grabbing at her neck. A blue haired one standing her ground with a gulp and a sneer. She didn’t like to be reminded of history. A furious little breeze belle way out of her depth; dazed and bloodied, tired and limp. Lip bleeding down a cheek, eye bleeding into an ear, head bleeding into her hair. Pretty much dead... and I’m not kidding. Let try playing beat the teacher. HALO: Spinning coil MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps around her HALO: (Angry) Sudderwave pir... ow! GRAILBREAK! ZARATHUSTRA: Psy Pirouette Throws the technique back, but in spin HIT! HALO: Everywhere? Flying all the way up the spiral steps Sliding across the lush metal floor of the penthouse

But she hadn’t taken her hands off that sword!

She gathered herself for for a moment. Her thoughts; her feelings. She’d lost track of which way was up and which down, which hand left and which right, which thought a memory and which an experience of the now. The Crimson Harvest buzzing in her grasp. Bleeding in her grasp? If she was putting a bet on it, she’d guess the bleeding part was a memory. But as soon as she worked out where and when she was... (Not why; that’s the squib she’d never quite whacked)... Zarathustra was up there, staring her down in the penthouse suite.

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Halo face to face with the beast. So close she could hear the whir of magnetic fields inside him. The cogs of war spinning in his chest. Halo nose to nose with the master. So near he could feel her heart throbbing. Like a carburettor filled with napalm, ready to blow. Alright, so this blockhead was good. Not your everyday daisy-stomping lug. This clank could grail chain.

Halo pulling herself up to a knee and a foot on the icy metal floor. Coughing blood on chrome as she went. But guess what she’d remembered? To hold on to her sword.

Little blitzer. The quiet type. Strong, silent... and about to go out in a blaze of glory!

Der Masterschwertfechter Der Eisenfaust Der Höheremacht Der Mann-gott Yeah, yeah; whatever; let’s see some shadow-blood fly! HALO: Leaping curl MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps to the left HALO: Jumping coil MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps to the right HALO: (Angry) Angel s... eek! GRAILBREAK! ZARATHUSTRA: Rainbow Pirouette Flipping her nanos as it span her around SMASH! Halo thrown through one of those wall-tall windows. So she fell and she fell and she fell. Down the Academy pyramid, past the cliff top, through the ethereal flames, into oblivion and beyond. But at least she held onto that sword. No, wait; she wasn’t falling. Dead or not, she was a blitzer, you know? She held on with both hands. And one of them was wrapped around a window frame.

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So that’s where she was. Now she realised it. Dangling on a creaking window pane, all warped metal and icy glass. All broken fragments, tinkling shards, cuts and bruises, not quite in, not quite out.

So there she was. Perched atop the pyramid; a long, long, long way down into the ethereal flame moat. Through glass and ice, fire and brimstone and whatever else the fall would throw at her. And to be completely honest, she was pretty pleased with that. Zarathustra on the inside, looking out. Switching swords; the Prodigal’s Edge. Come in from the tree house little kitty; it’s cold out there... Halo on the outside, looking in. The Crimson Harvest fuzzing in her grip. Come and rattle the branches, grandad. Wanna see your precious little sword reduced to ash and cinder? Zarathustra on the inside, looking out. Halo on the outside, looking in. The two of them, the drop and the superswords. But who was really in the best position?

Looking out, looking in. The spectre of death; Halo recognised that much- she’d danced with this demon before. Starting to shift back across the flimsy windowsill; she’d escaped this demon before... Zarathustra taking a breath. Halo releasing her’s. She could let it go here and now, couldn’t she?

Out there on the edge of the creaking windowsill. Kept afloat by her toes. The almighty drop beckoning persuasively. She could give it up here and now. That’d be the wise choice. The rational one, the logical one; the sensible one.

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But Halo wasn’t a rational kind of girl. She was somewhat... Damaged. And when backed into a corner with no way out, there are options a damaged girl has. Hide away, crumble up, huddle and cry... Or lash out with your very last breath!

HALO: Leaps into... The Devil s Pirouette Spinning at him through the air 100RPM 200RPM 400RPM... COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Shattershock Epitaph Montage Every furious vibe in the room suddenly exploded All at once And all a-crackle CRACK! The lush, metal penthouse floor CRACK! The spiral stairway CRACK! The books, papers, tye sculptures, icy ornaments and scattered swords CRACK! The ceilings, the walls, the windows and the windowsills

SMASH!

The world as Halo knew it Like being caught in the heart of a shatterstorm And that means the revolution’s well and truly dead

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

ZARATHUSTRA: SNATCH! The Crimson Harvest An EM field; a gusp of nanos- whipping it into his spooklets as it fell

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Leaving nothing but cracks in the architecture. Blood on ice. Misplaced fingers hanging on the ‘sill...

—————————————————————————————————— I’m going to stop for a moment with things as they are. I’m going to pause for a second and take stock. Because we’re not really in a very good place. I’m going to pause here, with one breezer lying in a crunched-up heap. With another just fingernails if that’s all that’s left. And with Zarathustra on top of his game. I’m going to stop here and present you with a lovely, natural vista. You know; just to put you off the scent. To make you feel better. And to wonder how it could’ve been. I’m going to stop here, with Remedy and Elegy wandering the plates. With Melodi and the pyrates mixing up a merry malestrom. And with the whole affair frolicing in the curious casserole that is chaos. I’m going to pause here and take stock. So gaze at the lovely, natural vista. Feel better. Because everything may well turn to shit after this. I’m going to take a break here and work the maths out. Blitzers, teachers, pirates and blue girls. There’s something missing from my maths. Well, his face is made of space so you can’t blame me for not spotting him.

A squat little pyronette, still in his infancy and all alone. Scared, lonely and backed by a beautiful landscape. Of shifting plates and brave new worlds. On the edge of an amazing discovery. Well you know Mana already, don’t you? He’s that kooky lickle sprite who counted, shivered and trembled his way through the first part of this trilogy and somehow emerged unscathed. So where’s he been all this time? And what’s he doing here?

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You are standing at the edge of the Cyan Plateau. To the edge of your sphere you see: blue dunes To the side of your sphere you see: blue dunes To the tip of your sphere you see... Nothing? Look tip

Mana looked ahead. Into the icy static of the fuzz field. Icy static, in negative; so do the maths. That meant it was fiery in there.

You look tip. You see icy wastes through the fuzz field. Visible exits are: Side, edge, or if you’re a bit crazy in the coco... Examine fuzz field

You examine the fuzz field. It’s fuzzy. Fzzzzz... Like a TV, only bigger. And with nothing much on but static. Examine more

You examine more. Fzzzzz... Scary, huh? If you spot a long-haired Japanese girl and a well in there, I’d start running. Otherwise, it’s just static, kid. Examine even closer

OK, OK since you’re mathmatising rather than seeing anyway, I may as well admit it; there’s something out there. A flat, bland land mass drifting into view like a water truck on a desert road in a heat haze. Happy now? Examine flat, bland land ma...

I’m examining it, OK? It’s a plateau, drifting around in the Sacrament. Congratulations kid; you’ve just discovered no man’s land. Visible exits are: Side, edge, and if you hold your breath and jump...

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Hold your breath, huh? Isn’t that what the blue girl used to say? Hold your breath so the spooks don’t get you? Mana wasn’t so scared of spooks. Even though they messed with his maths. But he’d been looking for a diablo every since he’d run away. From that self-same diablo, as it goes. And that raggle-taggle pirate band. Who really messed with his maths.

But he’d summed up courage now, hadn’t he? Enough to find and face her. And tell her... tell her... thank Zarathustra he couldn’t speak. Perhaps he’d liked his maths meddled with after all. Made the star fields spin in his head. And other places. The curious little blue girl who’d made the wide world a little wilder. Not like those adventure-starved, passion-parched pyronettes. Was this geeky sprite growing up or what? Yes, he was growing up, alright. Worse; he was becoming like his dad. Dad had been a bit of an adventurer. Like father, like son. He’d done what Mana was doing right now. He’d stood in the harsh, desolate sands of the Cyan Plateau and waited. Waited until he disappeared. Into a world of adventure. The elders had told him about adventure. He supposed they’d meant to scare him. Into obedience, like all the rest. But blood is thicker than water. Thicker than ether. Thicker than ice? You see,most pyro kids were test tube babies these days. An all male species can’t reproduce any other way. That evolutionary error was how they knew their place in the wide, wild world. But there are cracks in every society you know; however regimented it is. There are genetic throwbacks in every family. And those cracks tend to be filled by the wondrous mathlessness of anarchy.

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You wait. Time passes. A flat, bland land mass drifts into view. A hidden plate that floats along once in a red moon... or a blue moon, if you weren’t looking at it in negative. Lost out in the ethereal sea, sneaking into seeing distance... Or striking distance... Or stepping distance... Visible exits: Side, edge, tip Mana would have held his breath if he’d had one. He would have felt a rush of blood. A rattle of bones. He may even have seen the error of his judgement.

But he didn’t have breath or blood or bones, just numbers. And you’re young, you’re brittle, you’re adventurous and you only live once. The gravity of everything seemed to point one way. So you may as well step up to the plate.

>Go tip

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Feeling down? Like way, way underground? Feeling lost? As if you haven’t been seen in years? Feeling old? Like... ancient? Then you’d feel at home in the Nekropolektika Tēōtl. Nestled in the bowels of a secret plate cut adrift from the rest of the world by round upon round of highly freaky arcane warfare, you won’t find a more private place. In fact, if even you find it, you can have your money back. Come to the Nekropolektika Tēōtl and see the world as it used to be. Before nano plagues and Academies and super soldiers and falls. Right back when the EM fields which shaped this world fell into place like notes in a track. See history as it happens; pottering around in the lavishly decorated catacombs of this aeons-old necropolis complex. And marvel at the... What, you can’t make out the lavish decorations of the catacombs? You can’t see where you’re going? You didn’t bring a flash light?

Bring a flash light, K? And don’t play in the goo; that’s karmic sludge and it isn’t good for you. Oh, and ignore the nightmare shadows of the dreamcloud; they’re only echoes. What do you mean ‘what of’? Of you. Hey, are you running from that gargantuan, slime-belching, multi-headed übersquib as it stomps through the barely sufficient corridors, its chainsaw pincers scraping the ceiling, its flashing fangs scratching the walls, about to feed on your flesh? You’re not running from an übersquib you know, you’re running from yourself. But don’t listen to me, will you? You’re the one making this stuff up.

“Prof; it’s gainin’.” And it was, too. Graining at a pace of a gargantuan stomp with every passing click. And with every gargantuan stomp, it shook the subterranean cloisters of the necropolis to the bone. And to the blood. And to the soot. And to the cinder. Well what else is it from which necropoli are made? How about the breath of the ancients?

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“Prof!” That’d be Materia they were yelling at; the Prof. The expert. On gravity, magnetics and maths. Alright, so Materia wasn’t so hot on the maths. A disappointment to his race. But he was an expert on ancient history, necropoli and superswords instead. And he was a dirty, nasty, filthy Anarchist too.

“Prof!” Alright, alright; keep your hair on. What’s left of it. Calm yourselves a bit and you might also avoid getting scalped. They were all Anarchists. All eight of them. Alright, all seven... six... OK, all three. The rest had been reduced to squishy puddles by now; murdered by their own memories. So let’s just count them as dead. Anarchists don’t have any issues with admitting dead is dead. Especially Anarchists being pursued by an überbeast. Through the muddled catacombs of the necropolis with their whistling winds. Through the ancient corridors with their intricately detailed line, dot and arrow motifs. Through the steadily clunking marble walkways, gradually ascending back towards the glorious light of day with the stomping, slobbering, sickening überbeast in hot pursuit through the thinning mists. If only they’d stop to realise this deranged diablo was being animated by their own mental puppetry, they could probably settle it down with a saucer of milk and a sprig of catnip.

A shadowy abomination from a lower hell. How many hells are there? Eight, you fools; don’t they teach theology at the Academy? A grotesque, twilight creature beyond human imagination, conjured up during some horrific war and left to roam unhindered when the conjurer fell foul of a soldier’s sword. A ghastly banshee confined to narrow corridors which could barely house its meaty frame. Confined and slumbering in this sacred platform between worlds where it remained protected from the threat of falling back to whence it had come. Where there were probably even more ferocious thingies to be afraid of. Slumbering there, inanimate and inert until minds came along capable of fearing it. Because nightmares are immaterial until a dreamer comes along and dreams a dream.

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Incidentally, this particular überbeast had a centipede’s head and a dinosaur’s body. A unicorn’s head and a serpent’s body. A swordfish’s head and a big cat’s body. It could have looked however you feared it looked really. It’s only a formless karmic dreamcloud after all. “Prof! It’s comin’ this way!” If the Prof could’ve told Sinch to stop stating the obvious and calm down, he would’ve. But Materia was a pyronette. And Psytopians tended not to understand the language of old, type-in computer games, whether Anarchists or not.

Members of the Soul Cage Trust who excavated necropoli across Psytopia. This was the seventh they’d found. Although admittedly they’d lost a couple along the way. They excavated these ancient places, retrieved the superswords which grew in their hearts and hid them from... well, let’s say from less benevolent forces. The kind of people who waged arcane wars. They were the last in a long line of freedom fighters, you see. Anaquistadors; that was what they were called. Anaquistadors, and also psyientists. Because anyone with a firm grasp of gravmagtics can locate necropolis. They stick out like sore, throbbing, bulbous thumbs. Or more like pounding basslines in your head. So the method was to locate a necropolis, remove the heart and retreat to a safe distance. They only took on the shape of swords when people touched them of course; fitting. Because people were warlike beasties; it’s in their blood. But removing hearts tends to stir the dead. And all the other furious vibes which slumbered in the catacombs. “I reckon we’re safe ‘ere.” “Yeah. Reckon.” Materia waved his arms for them to be quiet. Who said pyronettes can’t learn sign language? “A’wight boss, I get ya. We make a run for it.” “Nah, nah. Boss says we gotta fight the ‘fing.” Arguing in the light of their dribbling tapers; the stomp, stomp, stomping in their ears. Sign language is all well and good between rational Psytopians and educated pyronettes, but reformed brain filchers aren’t the brightest torches in the wide, wild world.

SINCH

A reformed brain filcher A bit of a dope and a bit of an Anarchist

MATERIA

An educated pyronette A bit of an adventurer, and a bit of an outcast

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SCATTER

A reformed brain filcher Another dope, and another Anarchist


SINCH: “Oi reckon it’s gone away.” SCATTER: “Nah, it’s r’and the corner. I can smell it.” SINCH: “‘Course ya can’t smell it; it don’t smell of nuffink.” SCATTER: “It’s drippin’ stuff, innit? Brain juice, or someink.” SINCH: “You’ve got brain juice on the f’wuckin’... brain.” SCATTER: “I ain’t. I’m reformed, in-I?” SINCH: “Well there ain’t no beastie r’and the f’wuckin’ corner.” SCATTER: “F’wuckin’ is. Take a gander.” SINCH: “I ain’t ganderin’ r’and no f’wuckin’ corner.” SCATTER: “Cos y’ know it’s f’wuckin’ there.” SINCH: “Ain’t nuffink there, a’wight?” SCATTER: “Then gander r’and the corner.” SINCH: “You wan me ta’ gander, ‘wight?” SCATTER: “‘Wight.” SINCH: “I ain’t ganderin’ for nuffink.” SCATTER: “Cos you fwuckin’ know...”

Materia would have rolled his eyes in despair if he’d had any. Eyes I mean, not despair; he had plenty of that. If the equation had been the other way round, he would have been just as scared. But equations had never been his forté.

Brain filchers and their scattered minds. Scattered so because they contained bits of other people. No wonder the mists around these parts reached out to grab them. They saw something of themselves.

SINCH: “I see it ‘nah.” SCATTER: “You don’t see nuffink.” SINCH: “Fwuckin’ do, but crafty bugger’s comin’ from the ‘ovver side.” SCATTER: “Wot, from the sunlight?” SINCH: “Yeah from the sunlight; it’s a shada’.” SCATTER: “I don’t see no shada’.” SINCH: “‘Course ya don’t, it’s in the shada’s, innit?” SCATTER: “A shada in the shadas?” SINCH: “I’m telling ya I see a shada...”

Etc.

Of course there were shadows, you fools. There was nothing but. Materia turned the Raucous Whisper over in his wire gauze gloves. Come to think of it, it was reflecting a shadow. A shadow of himself? SINCH: (Standing up) “We gotta kill the shada’.” SCATTER: (Pulling him back down) “Ya can’t kill shada’s.”

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SINCH: “‘Course ya can; ya hit the real ‘fing.” SCATTER: “Ya said ya saw a shada’, not a real ‘fing.” SINCH: “Well there can’t be no fwuckin’ shada’ wiv’out no f’wuckin’ real ‘fing, can there?” SCATTER: “I dunno, do I?” SINCH: “I’m g’wan kill the shada’...” MATERIA: (Sign language) ‘Stop!’

Because brain filchers are nervous sorts. Don’t even know who they are half the time. Don’t know who they might go and butcher next. Just don’t go killing the Professor’s son.

MANA

MATERIA

Eye to eye for the first time in... No; they didn’t have eyes Nose to nose for the first time in... No... Toe to toe for the first time in... Clog to clog for the first time in... …possibly ever And they looked so alike, too! Mana, has anyone ever told you you really have your dad’s... space? 4-1-4? 19-15-14? So they’d found each other As if by... gravity? OK, so to be fair, pyronettes didn’t recognise each other like that. They were good with names and numbers, but not with spaces. They simply read each other’s numerical make-ups as if they were astrological charts. I’m not going to explain how; I’m a writer, not a statician. But in any case, Materia took Mana’s wrist the moment he read his binary. A very... Psytopian gesture. Somebody had been out in the wide, wild world far too long. And what in the heavens were those crusty gloves for?

Rusty, clunky fiberglass things which particularly humble pyronettes would use to shift heavy materials for their Psytopian masters. Meshy sub-metals of the cheapest kind. Well, that was what they looked like. In fact, Materia had sprinkled them with dream dust. Right from the pineal glands of Ravani masters in deep hover-prayer. They allowed him to excavate archaeological sites without slitting that fragile skin and taking a space walk. And they helped him see the history rather than just process it. Because history is alive, you know. It’s more than just dead old numbers. The dream dust frazzled nanos and ensured he didn’t warp the precious stuff he touched. Because make mischief with the past and it may become history.

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Oh, and one other thing which ether gloves allowed. For a pyronette to effectively wield a supersword. Mana could have told him to beware of such things. But that would spoil the adventure.

A long, light, curvy, blade of intricate lines, dots and arrows. Carved like patterns in ivory, adding an aerodynamic effect. Made of wispy, tangerine-tinted metri and complete with a sprocketed handle which clamped over the fist. Just in case you swished it so fast you lost grip. It was an ancient blade from an ancient age, and it almost seemed to giggle at them. Perhaps that was the effect of the crazy coils and curvature. And like any supersword, if you looked closely you could see echoes engraved in its flesh. Did I say flesh? Of course, I meant ‘metri’. It’s hard to tell sometimes, with fabris so swish. Where nature ends and nurture begins...

Materia cradled his supersword. Not because it was precious and all that. Not even because it was oh-so über. But because with such brittle skin and such mathematical minds, pyronettes have to make sure they can defend themselves at all times. Otherwise, they’d freak.

Father

Father.

Father!

Eeer... whdr?

I’m talkin’ n tap, that’s wht

Og ruhjy. I rhouhy yiy ertr arracling mr Father, wht iz ths swrd? Whsy? Wht... is ths swrd? Iy’a s di[rrtdeptf/

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So we’ve got one pyronette speaking in kiddie tap and another hitting the wrong keys. The wrong parts of Mana’s head... So he was out of practice; let’s not hold it against him. He was an Anarchist; what do you expect?

Dad. I cn’t undrstnd u Your a bit 2 teh right O s,? Oh yuah, I am What r u doin out here?

I’m an archaeologist, son We’re preserving the necropoli The necroli? Yeah kid; don’t they teach you metaphysics in pyro school these days? Metaphysics? Days? Reckon not Well, that’s what I do; excavate necropolis Y? Y? I stop the primary instruments falling into the hands of the spooks, you know? We defend the souls of the ancients! Who do? Who’d ya think; the Soul Cage Trust!

Materia’s fingers were getting tired. Too much tapping for one day. I mean, he was pleased to see his son and all... But didn’t they teach anything to anyone out there anymore? SCATTER: “Who ‘dis anyway?” SINCH: “Is ‘e brainy?” SCATTER: “Dunno, but ‘e wouldn’t make above MATERIA: (Sign language) ‘You can’t eat his SINCH: “Did tha’ Prof say we should eat ‘is SCATTER: “Nah, nah, I’m reformed.” SINCH: “Oh yeah. We’re bouf’ reformed.” SCATTER: “‘An anyway, ‘e’s a space’ead; got SINCH: “No brain, like tha Prof.” SCATTER: “Prof’s cleva’ for someone wiv’ no SINCH: “You reckon this one’s cleva’ too?”

a mouf’-full.” brain, he’s my son!’ brain?” no brain.” brain.”

Materia held the Raucous Whisper close to his space-field chest. His wire gauze gloves, his gunk-caked clogs, the buttons on his majorette’s jacket. All reverberating in the breeze. In the breeze... What breeze; it was still down here. Or at least it should’ve been. Still but for the moments you draw breath. The moments where the ghouls creep in...

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Materia held the Raucous Whisper to his space-field chest. Sure he could feel it... wincing. Pulling somewhat. Trying to pull away. SCATTER: “Well I ain’t eatin’ ‘is brain, wevver ‘e’s got one or not.” SINCH: “I dunno if I’d even wanna.” SCATTER: “‘Course ya wanna; everyone likes munchin’ brains.” SINCH: “Nah, I mean wiv’ that chill in the air.” SCATTER: “What chill in the air?” SINCH: “That one. The one what takes me appetite away.” SCATTER: “You’re seein’ ‘fings, int’ya?” SINCH: “Hearin’ ‘fings, I reckon.” SCATTER: “Like a shada’.” SINCH: “You can’t ‘ear shada’s.” SCATTER: “But ya can ‘ear the stompin’, can’t ya?” SINCH: “What stompin’? Whatcha’ talkin’ ab’aht?” SCATTER: “Like a slicin’. Ya ‘ear it, ‘wight?” SINCH: “I don’t ‘ear no slicin’, geez.” SCATTER: “Like a swishin’, then.”

ZARATHUSTRA: Two-point swish HIT! HIT! SCATTER: Scalped SINCH: Scalped OUT OF PLAY

Mana and Materia sprinting as best they could on clumsy clogs. Two purple-clad sprites headed for higher ground where the maths fell more in their favour. Father and son, united in desperation. And all because the magnetic pull of the blades brought the Principal here.

Two swiftly scuttling up the steady incline of the necropolis catacombs. In the absence of tapers, with only formulae to guide them. Up through the winding cloisters towards the harsh, pale light of day. Big, stomping metal boots in icy cold pursuit.

Necropoli were sacred places. People didn’t kill each other in necropoli. It was... rude. If they’d ventured back into the depths of the muddled chambers to the main courtyard where they’d found the sword, they would have been safe from the elements.

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From the elements. From all kinds of storms? Possibly not from the psychic kind. They’d have been safe from nature, at least. But Zarathustra was a beast of nurture. Of a bit of both. Haunted from within by so many vagrant vibes that who knows where Zarathustra ended and random slivers of other people began? Identities lost in the ethereal swirls of history. Let’s put it this way; anybody attempting to munch his brain would get a eclectic cocktail. And would then probably freak out, flip out, haemorrhage and die.

Three floors up and an inch away. From getting caught. From getting sprung. From getting slaughtered.

Father and son, on the run. Clatter of clogs through the subterranean corridors. Maths, maths, maths. Carrying them through the dark. Three floors on, and they were bursting out into the glaring sunlight. A light which would have scorched and blinded, inspired and amazed. If only they’d had eyes of course. Well, at least for the moment, they had each other. Dark to light. Narrow to spacious. Danger to safe? All in the batting of a spacey eyelid.

Three steps out of necropolis and onto the warm, orange sand. Three steps and space. Three steps and safety. Three steps... and Zarathustra grabbing Mana’s trailing clog.

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Petrified whimper. Agitated finger-counting. Desperate squirm. Zarathustra’s eerie tartan spooklets tightening like a vice around plywood. SWISH! CLUNK! FIZZ! Those were the sounds of an absent father doing his damnedest to make up for lost time. Swinging the Raucous Whisper as if it were an elongated limb. And feeling his space face sizzle as the metri stuck to Zarathustra’s armour. Like bubble gum to the bottom of a student’s desk in an especially tedious class.

FIZZ! HISS! THUMP!

And that was the sound of Zarathustra effortlessly fobbing him off. The wily pyronette had clearly learnt one useful lesson though.

NEVER LET GO OF YOUR SWORD.

Three steps from the jaws of death, then. Scrambling across the marsh mellow sands of the plateau like hunted animals packed and ripe for munching as if mobile ready meals. Just spare their brains, alright? Sprints into stumbles, slips into slides, swift escapes into clean getaways?

Three steps on and Zarathustra had snatched Materia’s coat sleeve. Invisible frown. Resistant tug. Zarathustra’s eerie tartan spooklets tightening like a belt around the belly of a podge at a pie eating contest.

BOOT! WHIZZ! TWANG! Those were the sounds of a lost boy pulling out the stops for daddy. Punting his loopball as if it was a pigskin globe on a tee. And feeling his absent insides shiver as it bounced off the metal maestro’s armour like a plastic bullet off a sheet of steel. CREAK! SWAT! THUMP! And that was the sound of Zarathustra swiping the weapon aside. Our nervy pyronette had clearly learnt one lesson about the wide, wild world though. Life is a savage beastie at the best of times, and sometimes you just have to rely on good, plain, old fashioned, archaic luck. And failing that, friends.

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NEHEMIAH: Javelin toss HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Through shoulder Knockdown! And where he fell, the orange surface sand puffed up a cacophony of hidden colours Splashed with oily black goo Ah-ha! Here s the big, ambly, chaotic cavalry!

Just the one of him You really don’t want to be facing more than one, so thank the heavens that despite all the mirror-mes, he’s unique.

Protecting the plates from the scum of the hells! Nehemiah, his wife Serenity and their daughter Severity Hosea and her sons Jeremiah and Zecheriah Mainyu A shadow-creature called Fiore, a Ravani named Varuna and a curious little blue girl who we’ll just have to call Melodi Plus Materia and his long-lost son Mana

Familia!

Or at least, a raggle-taggle cocktail of weirdos... much the same thing Eleven on one. Looks like a mis-match, doesn’t it? You’re right; the Trust could have done with a few more converts. Liberdade!

The beach of shadows on the Platinum Plateau. A picturesque place with orange dunes and semi-buried caverns drenched in hieroglyphs. Sprigs of grass and smatterings of bluebells and jojibirds frolicking merrily in the breeze... Oh no, the jojibirds are making a flap for it; they must know something I don’t! (Like that the ampocalypse is about to happen?)

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Zarathustra back on his heavy, stompy feet. Casting the javelin aside. 80 yards from the fuzzfield. The Soul Cage Trust in random formation. As anarchism befits. Backed by the fuzzfield. Drawn here by gravity.

Let’s kick things off with a twang! VARUNA: Black-tailed jig HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: The other shoulder Down to one knee

Zarathustra tears the jig out, tosses it aside. Up to his big, stompy feet. Backed by the sandy steps leading down into the necropolis. Nehemiah and Varuna exchanging uneasy glares. Well, Varuna would have been if he wasn’t wearing a blindfold. A javelin and a jig and he was back on his feet? This wasn’t some workhouse peon. MELODI: “Alright ya block-hearted hack peddler...”

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HOSEA SEVERITY Brute bundle! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Armour COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet swat Spooklet slap HOSEA: Chin SEVERITY: Jaw Tumbles to the left Tumbles to the right Knockdowns! PUFF! Oooh; the pretty, sandy colours! Melodi with a pronounced scowl. More pronounced than usual. Didn’t these anarchs have any forward planning in mind? Herein lies the problem with anarchism.

Zarathustra. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 70 yards from the fuzzfield. Mana and Materia joining the brood. An irritating little mauve glove tugging on the blue girl’s wrist- tugging her away. Nehemiah and Varuna stepping to the front of the group, drawing their swords. Zarathustra responding; La Sensoria. This was going to get dicey. NEHEMIAH:

Charging crookblade hack VARUNA: Front step gigabyte stroke ZARATHUSTRA: Inside-out parry (Las Sensoria) ZARATHUSTRA: Outside-in slash (La Sensoria) HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Breastplate VARUNA: Chest plate Knockdowns! PUFF! Rainbow sand plumes; we get it- it’s cinematic SERENITY: Plasmawand waft FIORE: Shadowclaw swipe ZARATHUSTRA: Outside-in block (spooklet) ZARATHUSTRA: Inside-out punch (spooklet) HIT! HIT! SERENITY; Wand FIORE: Claw No problems swatting a woman, then... No problems punching a shadow?

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O...K... time for the little people to confer; Melodi, Mana, Materia and the Mainyus. All in a huddle as Zarathustra stomp, stomp, stomped towards them. The squat squad, talking tactics... Ah; Melodi was the only one who could speak- so much for strategy.

Now, Mana wasn’t interested in this endless brawling, and if you’re not either, you’re in luck. Because this is our space faced pacifist’s chapter thank you very much, and he wasn’t a fighter he was a... He was a... He gazed all comet-struck at Melodi for a moment which could’ve got snagged by a passing timeswirl because it seemed to last forever and... gulp. MANA: Wrist tug ‘HIT’ MELODI: Drags her away from the battlefield

Pitter-patter mini feet across the sand, making rainbow footprints. Pitter-patter out of stomp-stomp-stomping range, with dad in following their lead. Pitter-patter through the fuzz field and into a heap on the other side like kids off a carosel. And Melodi didn’t stop him, hey?

The Soul Cage Trust in disarray. Well, that should have suited Anarchists. Useless like plastic spoons to rare grilled juralith steak; uninflated life belts around non-swimmers in raging seas; poodles gnawing at tree trunks. Tree trunks win. 60 yards from the fuzz field 50 yards from the fuzz field 40 yards from the fuzz field 30 yards from the fuzz field 20 yards from the fuzz field 10 yards from the fuzz field A shadow at the fuzz field now

FIZZ! FIZZ! FIZZ! FIZZ! FIZZ! FIZZ! FIZZ!

JEREMIAH MAINYU thrown ZECHERIAH MAINYU tossed SEVERITY launched SERENITY hurled HOSEA cast FIORE heaved VARUNA flung

And FIZZ; Zarathustra through the fuzz field now. Dropping Nehemiah to the muddy floor of the Lime Plateau as he went. Big metri boots granting him a firm footing even as he stepped off a moving plate. So what are you waiting for; dust your insolent hacks; give the man-god that sword.

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through through through through through through through


So with them all writhing in the dirt where Anarchists belonged, Zarathustra reached for the ultimate übeject. The end chapter, the grim finale, the golden fleece, the million dollar ticket, the holy grail. The closing strait, the last gasp, the remaining jigsaw piece, the final solution, the fat lady... Zarathustra reaches for Materia and the Raucous Whisper. Own the stage. Stand tall. Deep breath. Sing? TONK! BANG! Buzzjacks... HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Staggers

REMEDY: “Snazzy shot, belle blaze.” ELEGY: “Snazzy, but he’s still standing.” REMEDY: “See, I knews we’s be needed here.” ELEGY: “We were looking for that blue girl of yours.” REMEDY: “Well there she bes, like I’s told you’se.” ELEGY: “What is this place anyway?” REMEDY: “Thiz pliz be old. How flashy is that?” ELEGY: “I dunno; it’s spooky?” REMEDY: “Hey sister blitzer, you did say this bod’s still standin’, right?”

ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-face slash MISS! MISS! REMEDY & ELEGY duck; just a hair s breadth from decapitation

REMEDY: “Woah, this lumpfoot’s swish.” ELEGY: “What is he anyway?” REMEDY: “‘Fuses me, siz. Some kind of robo-prack?” ELEGY: “He’s a gimp, that’s what he is.” REMEDY: “A gimp? What’s that; some new kinda diablo?” ELEGY: “There’s stuff in the tybrary about them. They used to live in a distant city... REMEDY: “Well, whatever it is, it doesn’t like us.” ELEGY: “Some say the Principal came from a distant...”

ZARATHUSTRA: Twirling swipe MISS! MISS! ELEGY and REMEDY leap; just a boot s tread from buckling

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REMEDY: “Yeeps, this thunder-dune’s fast too.” ELEGY: “I think this might be...” REMEDY: “A supersquib kitz, yeah I know; s’dandy, I’s faced a few.” ELEGY: “But Remy, I think it might be...” REMEDY: “An überspook. That’s sweet candy sapphire siz; every beastie’s z-able.” ELEGY: “No Remedy, I’m saying this could be...” REMEDY: “Well whatever it is, it’s after that sword there...” ELEGY: (Backing away) “Remy...” REMEDY: (Lowering her blades) “And it’s a pretty darn dandy swor...”

ZARATHUSTRA: Cross-body swing HIT! HIT! ELEGY & REMEDY: Chests, covered by swords Knockdowns!

Zarathustra reaches for the sword. And a pretty darn dandy swor... Come on Remedy, get with it.

“Remy, that’s Zarathustra.” “And that’s one of them superswords Freia told us about; you’se hears it buzzin’, yeah?” ”Leave it; he’s coming straight at us.” “Well if the top bod’s pitching you’se an open invite, kitz...” REMEDY: Blitz Break Chain Overhand curl Underhand coil Backstroke loop Overhead hoop

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Overhead twirl Backstroke swirl Underhand scoop Overhand swoop

Zarathustra, assuming that was who he was, hardly bothered covering up at all. Either he really was a master, of he was dimmer than a mirror of a shadow of a spook. Remedy and Elegy standing their ground. Let’s just hope he’s dim.

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ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Overhead swoop Backstroke scoop Underhand swirl Overhand twirl

REMEDY: Blitz Break Chain CLANG! CLANG! Overhand hoop CLANG! CLANG! Underhand loop CLANG! CLANG! Backstroke coil CLANG! CLANG! Overhead curl

Zarathustra, assuming that was who he was, didn’t have much in the way of offence, hey? Either he really was an amateur or he was holding back. Remedy and Elegy exchanging thumbs-up. Let’s take him out this time! REMEDY: ELEGY: Blitz Break Chain Blitz Break Chain Roundhouse swoop CLANG! CLANG! Cross-face hoop Backspin scoop CLANG! CLANG! Cross-body loop Cross-body swirl COUNTERED! Backspin coil ZARATHUSTRA: Head of steam powersnap montage HIT! HIT! REMEDY & ELEGY Everywhere? Especially their breath REMEDY: “Alright, so he can spew the speccy stuff; it’s Zarathustra.” ELEGY: “Remy, we just attacked our Principal.” REMEDY: (Roll of the eyes) “Oh, we’s gwan be excommed now for sure...”

At least they hadn’t let go of their swords. A raggle-taggle band of erstwhile gypsies staggering to a diverse collection of feet nearby. Elegy not sure if this meant the odds were being stacked even higher against them.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! “Remy?” “Now I spies moy lickle sprite, right here.” Remedy nodding in her general direction as she twirled her blades; seeing the positives. Elegy less convinced about the credentials of this group of odd-looking strangers; balancing her out with a negative- let’s not pitch our hopes too wildly into the breeze, now.

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Just to confirm, this was Zarathustra Seven swords, seven trumpet blares, seven shades of hades waiting to be unleashed Let’s just pray, shall we? To who; Zarathustra?

Nehemiah, Serenity, Severity, Varuna, Fiore, Hosea, Jeremiah and Zecheriah Mainyu (The pyrates), Melodi, Mana and Materia (their guests), Remedy and Elegy (well they may as well assume they’re expelled, so where else are they gonna go?)

13 on one. Fair? Note to Anarchists; ditch the maths and run.

A muddy ravine on the Lime Plateau. No; not where Mana had made that leap of faith onto a drifting plate. It wasn’t where Zarathustra had got on either; or the pyrates. Don’t be too confused now, will you? The Platinum plate moved in the pyro sea of the Sacrament, eidjits. No wonder it was so hard to catch.

As I was trying to tell you; a muddy ravine on the Lime Plateau. Surrounded by steep ridges and deep gullies. And filled with scattered clusters of multi-coloured tombstones. Yes, there was a time in the past where Psytopians buried their dead. They probably raised the place here during the war when pyro was in greater demand. When people were so constantly shell-shocked they needed it to burn their cares away. You can’t very well leave bodies out for... well, for dead? Remedy had found it by following her nose, and by that I mean her sword. Magnetic pull and all that; like a divining rod. Elegy didn’t know where she got all that arcane mumbo-jumbo, and if it had brought them here because of the sutble stench of death... she’d have to have words. So this was one wartime cemetery which had stood the test of time. In a roundabout, cracked marble, sliding headstones, thick-dusted kind of way. Well don’t get too used to these surroundings, will you? Some crafty gravimagmatician might just flip ‘em.

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This was going to be like fighting on a cramped mountain pass. With random headstones peeking out of the mud like misshapen teeth. Not the best battleground for a blitzer. Remedy and Elegy sized up their opponents and their allies. Couldn’t quite decide which side they were better off taking. “Remy, these are Anarchists, aren’t they?” “The handy, dandy Soul Cage Trust!” Remedy gave Nehemiah the thumbs up. Elegy managed only an uncomfortable wave and grimace.

“Are you sure we should be fraternising with Anarchists?” “Well if you’se don’t tell the Principal, neither will I.” “Remy. How do you know these... people?” “I know his bro. Knew his bro. Owe him a bit of a debt, I guess.”

Ahem. You kids should really be quiet in class you know. ‘Cos when teacher’s not happy... he raises hell! Zarathustra clanked to a halt; strategising. The Anarchist band breathing a sigh of relief. Melodi was the only one to hold her head in her hands. Don’t breathe, you idiots.

The breathers huddled in groups. Remedy and Elegy. Nehemiah, Serenity, Severity. Hosea, Jeremiah, Zecheriah. Fiore and Varuna, Mana and Materia and Melodi all on her own. Six groups. Six sword styles. Six piles of broken bodies waiting to be trashed.

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That’s how Zarathustra saw it anyway. Zarathustra was a little messed up. Well you ain’t see nuthin’ yet.

The groups huddling closer together. Group leaders; let’s discuss our options. How do you bring a god to his knees? I dunno; stop believing in him? REMEDY: “Alright kitz, how’s we gonna level this jive?” NEHEMIAH: “He strong. We many.” REMEDY: “Mint sparkin’. So we charge him then?” HOSEA: “We charge. At once.” REMEDY: “I dunno though siz. Sounds a tinsy tanse... anarchic.” VARUNA: “I would heartily recommend we approach this contest using a simple application of passages and waves. We split into five complimenting groups; the first and second employing long range weaponry from the flanks...”

This guy was even more of a nerd than Elegy, and that was saying something.

REMEDY: “Hack, bud; you sprites really are too trippy for you’se own good, hey?” MATERIA: … REMEDY: “Well that’s probably the best strategy I’s heard in a long, long time but I ain’t heard it, so we’s not pitchin’ it; soz, bod.”

MELODI: (Tugging her wrist) “Remedy...” REMEDY: “Hey mini kitty, we’s all strategised out now, K? An’ the only one I get is chargin’ the clod kicker, so that’s what we’s g’wan go for.”

The options

Do nothing That may have been Materia’s; who knows? Split into five complementing groups, the first and second... Hack that. Charge him Right up their street May I point out that this was not a wise strategy. I’ve not got the flashiest field skills in the wide, wild world, but for once I concur with the blue crew on this, so let’s just do what the blue do best and try something different. If it’s ball they want to play, let’s play ball. But let’s protect our... friends a bit by playing hard ball. ELEGY: “Remy; where’s the little one going?” REMEDY: “Aw, she drifts off sometimes siz; can’t tag her back.” ELEGY: “She’s marching right at him.” REMEDY: “Yeah, that’s a pinchy prod coco-wearin’...” ELEGY: “Is that a doll she’d holding? REMEDY: “Oooh; oooh. Yes it is; I told you’se this sprite was speccy; now you’se gwan spy it for you’self!”

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MELODI: YOKAIRAKU Take the ethereal sash from your pocket and tie it round dolly’s neck and your waist Hold your breath! Use your ethery gloves as clappers, igniting the step cycle

Bon dancing Let there be... Bon dancing attracts poor thingies stuck between hells. I dunno; because they like to watch blue girls make fools of themselves? They couldn’t see her of course; she was holding her breath, otherwise they’d kill her. They could only see the sash.

Bon dancing involved a lot of fancy steps, twirls and stances. Every move must be strictly and mindfully performed. It was all embarrassingly ritualistic for an awkward lil’ belle like Melodi, but luckily, yokairakai became invisible when tightening the sash. Then you’re good to go pot-holin’ between hells. White Hell, Black Hell, Yellow Hell… you get the drift; switching places with the ghouls. (And incidentally, this world is also known as the Green Hell) In any case, whenever this transluscent Melodi stepped, she snagged an untethered spirit. She snuck between the cracks in the hells, and they into the fabric of ours; the puppeteer’s face switching upside down, the beastie appearing flipped too; hanging like a body on a noose, all ripe for her to reach an ethereal hand into their spines and animate them! Remote control; from the hell everything but her breath had flipped to... Hells must balance, or they’d overflow, and you don’t want that, so switching’s a fair barter. Dance and don’t release that breath; if the wind changes, you’ll be lost in hell forever.

The plate goes black. Melodi disappears. Four obake seep out of the ground, forming from swirls of ethereal flame. Guided by the hovering sash with a little dollo on the end. And let’s just say the others paused just a click. It was all pretty freaky if the truth be told but ah; this is Remedy’s blue mite alright.

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Doll arts were strange, disruptive disciplines; leftovers from a sunken age. Soul stirring; tugged the breath from your very bones while swordstrilling diced the blood. Of course the Anarquistadors had bastadised the old arts and made a mess of things. But if you hold both breath and dolly tight, there’s nothing wrong with casting some chaos.

Ethertek

A crazy collection of various pyro-manipulation techniques which had been built on, lost and copied round after countless round, and formed into streams of disciplines (or lack of) which Anarchists tended to practice, and which those who’d been sheltered from the wide, wild world often assumed to be some kind of witchcraft. Anarchists didn’t really understand how they worked; now that is anarchic... Just think of it as tossing around nets of transluscent flame and it kind of makes sense.

Bunraku

The dance of puppets A lost tradition which probably still had influences here and there. It’s largely a good thing that doll arts were pretty much forgotten. As were the creepy dolls themselves; which was probably an even better thing. Apparently they were almost people... Bunrakai’s skills were grounded in First Heaven manipulation, and there were three types of player: the Ningyōzukai (puppeteer), the Tayū (chanter) and Shamisen (musician). Puppeteers used physical contact with their dolls, chanters remote and musicians astral... whatever that means. Thank Zarathustra (if you must) that there weren’t any of those around nowadays.

Genkaku

The festival of mirrors Also lost and freaky, with a cult of masks, dresses and blindfolds to boot. Rooted in Second Heaven manipulation, this school took decisions you didn’t make and projected them as spooks; because even undone actions ache to be. Shadows that never quite formed but never fully went away. Mirror-selves can be scary things; they’re you but... not the way you chose to be. And of course they’re just dreams at heart, with three moods; Kyogen (playing around), Noh (dramatic) and Kabuki (orchestral). Some said lofty beings still played this jig.

Yokairaku

The carnival of spooks Looking at alternate selves or even looking inward and knowing your full self like the masters did is one thing, but to really know the face of chaos, you need to delve into Third Heaven manipulation; switching places with the dead. Though of course not all the inhabitants of the hells are dead; they’ve just fallen through the cracks somehow and left themselves open to being puppeteered... and angry. There were three steps: Tsukumogamiraku, Yureiraku, Obakeraku; they summoned three different classes of spooks and there were various ways to cast them. Into inanimate things, into yourself, into projections; take your pick.

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Tsukumogamimono Stuck with a foot in the First Heaven; that’s our world. Hells and Heavens are the same thing really; it’s perspective-half empty or half full. The shift in the corner of your eye as you’re sure an inanimate object moves. A rudimentary form of life from a different plane, trapped here in stasis; unable to move. Until the hot-stepping of a Yokairakai begins. There are eight step cycles, like there are with everything in life (and hiding between it); Bura-bura, Kameosa, Mokumokuren, Zorigami, Kyorinrin, Bakezori, Karakasa and Biwa-bokuboku; each resulting in the wayward beasties entering particular objects. So remember when that clock falls off the table ‘on its own’... It may not be bad luck; you may have been spooked. Yureimono Trapped with a handhold in the Second Heaven; leftover karma which can’t pass. These vengeful ghosts may have been parts of people once; dreams or memories coming back from purgatory for different reasons, depending on the dance you choose. Eight types of course, and you met a zashiki-warashi in the last book; worse still, one who was essentially a lost doll herself... Though if you screw up the steps or fail to hold your breath, you’re going to be seen; then it might start to become difficult to remember who’s the spook caster and who’s the spook... So next time you feel a chill behind you... It may not be paranoia; it may be a spook. Bakemono Third Heaven entities, and the most dangerous type; drifting between Hells without form. Well, these can manifest however you want really, and produce the most memorable effects... if you live to remember, or can work out anything about their forms, nature or intentions other than that everything suddenly hurts. That’s the problem with pyro you see; fries the borders of our worlds out of you. So next time you just feel wrong... It may not be doubt, it may be a spook.

Nekraku

The avalanche of Hells A true expert technique of doll art practioners, and very, very messed up indeed. I’d tell you how it works, but I’d have to kill you; seriously; it’s kind of part of the process. Luckily, no living thing was quite odd enough to do it, which makes it a bit pointless me telling you about it, but once in an age, an über special man-god or comes along, drops a stompy boot in one Heaven and another in a Hell, and through rounds of metri-moulding madness, makes sense of it all, whether he’s living, breathing or something in between. But Melodi wasn’t wanting to rewrite the map here; just go for the good old instant kill. I’d better introduce you to her random scoop of spooks ONI OBAKE: A fanged, translucent spectre which evades satisfactory description. KIRIN OBAKE: A horned, see through creature which evades satisfactory description. KOMAINU OBAKE: A hulking, transparent thing which evades satisfactory description.

Elegy nudging Remedy with a sword hilt to the ribs. “This is... all a bit weird, isn’t it?” Remedy with crossed arms, fixed grin, watching the show. “Nah siz, watch what she does next. It’ll be sapphire, kitz; sapphire.”

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Thirteen Anarchists. Three diablos. One god... so let’s reassert the balance. “Wanizaz magik...” ZARATHUSTRA: Draws his battered little dolly Orinoko Shin Bunraku Or Untotemacht Or warped reanimation Or just plain, old-fashioned diablo raising

Melodi wished for a moment she was still just a dancing sash; invisible to the world. That’s why she’d thrown broken old dollies like that one away... Perhaps that way she’d avoid having parts of her soul mirrored. Because that’s what shin bunraku did. It held up funny mirrors to your memory and reflected the dead; exaggerated them. And Melodi had seen a lot of dead.

Zarathustra a crazy conductor with those tartan spooklets raising and wrenching. Plucking fractured mirrors from the gaias and makais. The heavens and hells. Given that you’re the only other person who has the foggiest idea what’s going on here... Melodi; any thoughts? “Hack.” ZARATHUSTRA: Dreams up the shadow ORINOKO from the black hell

ORINOKO

MELODI

A curious little girl and no mistake Possibly older than she looked Parched white skin Fruity blue skin Black-blue braids Glittery green dreads Little blue dress and blood-splatted apron Little red dress and Aztecy ornaments Rainbow toenails Platform trainers Freaky eyes Scowl Hey, is there a funny mirror in here or are you two just really pissed off to see each other?

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Melodi a little anxious all of a sudden; almost enough to release her breath... So yes, she knew this wandering yokai well; you could even say they were related if you wanted, but it was more like they were reflected; a lifeless doll she’d cast aside, animated. A stillborn sister if you want. But worse was the realisation of who she was up against. “Zarathustra.. ” MELODI: Yokai charge ONI KIRIN KOMAINU Freaky flailing of undisclosed descriptions COUNTERED! No point casting spooks at a spook ORINOKO: Nanotear HIT! HIT! HIT! Whipping gusts of angry nanos at them KOMAINU KIRIN ONI Gnashing holes in their skulls OUT OF PLAY before they could even form into... forms?

But good girl; you didn’t let go of that breath. Diablos seep back into their respective hells and the blue sprite visible again. Visibly dejected, visibly shell-shocked. Visible to the eye of the superstorm. Triple pupils catching her in the cross-hairs; the one who’d stolen her first breath.

Not feeling so spritely now. That was her brain flipped into those spook skulls, you know. And that was her soul flipped to craft a hyperdoll like Orinoko. How much of himself had Zarathustra cried into her to make her manifest? Was there anything left?

“Well that was strange, but it wasn’t too hot.” Elegy not entirely convinced by all this arcane spookery. “Yeeps, this gangler’s more loco in the coco than moy mini spanglester.” Remedy had thought she’d seen it all...

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Melodi; an irritable frown. Orinoko; a bulbous-eyed sneer. Melodi and Orinoko, sideways tilts of the head. The spook storm reaching its ghostly hands... ORINOKO: Nanotear COUNTERED! MANA: Bundles MELODI over before she gets shish-kebabed Bundle, bundle across the muddy ravine floor. Little miss merry and little mister mauve. Roll and roll and tumble to a halt and... >SLAP!< Woah; Mana should have saved Melodi’s life more often. Because that muddled his numbers up no end. That was an adventure.

“I don’t think she likes that kid.” Elegy pointing a sword as a muddy Melodi adjusted her dress, stomping back to the pack. “Aw no kitz, she does, she does; she’s just too stroppy ta’ fess it.” You go on psycho-analysing, gnats; and Zarathustra will go on raising dreamy dupes. ZARATHUSTRA: Raises ZOMBIE MOJO from the green heaven “Wha... mo... moy Mojo?” Not your Mojo, kittyclaw. But quite possibly your death.

You see, Mojo had made the mistake of dying in a necropolis. That doesn’t mean you can really bring them back; minds pass, bodies just fester. So you can bring bodies back and animate them; he’d done the same with Odine. Zarathustra had half-died in a number of necropoli, so if you think Remedy’s going to get her feelings tugged around here, spare a thought for his silty old bones.

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So let’s take a look around and feel pleased with how the maths have worked out. One Principal, two spooks; a neat trisect. Thirteen muddled miscreants; an anarchic mess. The two truly dangerous ones duped by their own memories; how fitting was that? Zarathustra; the man who made memories manifest. And the god who’d make history of the lot of them.

The Principal directing traffic. Picking the battles. Puppeteering the twisted reflections.

And ye olde Soul Cage Trust? How about the reflected cut the puppet strings... While the anarchs take out the puppeteer!

And

A muddy, tombstone-littered ravine on the Lime Plateau. Full of steep slopes, fancy mausoleums and halls of twisted mirrors from different hells. Not the kind of place the Soul Cage Trust would seek to protect. So they may as well go ahead and trash it then!

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Whirl, twirl, hack, whack. Who’ll be first to fall down?

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Zarathustra drew La Sensoria. Head of the old school house against the sons and daughters of anarchy. Back-stepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the limey gravestones.

NEHEMIAH Crookblade hack MISS! Hits a tombstone

ZARATHUSTRA Bobs and weaves

VARUNA Gigabyte swish MISS! Hits a statue

ZARATHUSTRA Outside-in swipe Inside-out swing HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Shoulder VARUNA: Shoulder SLAM! SLAM! Against a mausoleum wall Against a tombstone SEVERITY Toejack punt

HOSEA ZARATHUSTRA Fistjack jab COUNTERED! Cross-body slash Cross-face chop HIT! HIT! Foot Fist SPLAT! SPLAT! Thrown back across the muddy ground Thrown back into Severity JEREMIAH MAINYU ZECHERIAH MAINYU Spookball thwack ZARATHUSTRA Spookball thump COUNTERED! Spinning block Spiraling cover HIT! HIT! Hood Clogs SLAM! SLAM! Thrown into a railing Thrown up some stony steps SERENITY FIORE Plasmawand scrub ZARATHUSTRA Shadowclaw swipe MISS! Ducks and dives MISS! Hits thin air ZARATHUSTRA Hits a shadow? Roundhouse dab Scriptal Montage HIT! HIT! Wrist Everywhere! SLAM! SOOT SPLAT! Against the mousoleum wall Explodes! OUT OF PLAY

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Varuna quite taken aback. It takes a master of shadows to slay one. Well dream on vulc; Zarathustra is the master of everything! Oh glory; a challenge! Zarathustra tossing La Sensoria between his hands. 1-0, order versus anarchy. Waiting for the startled band around him to gather themselves. There were gravestones with every one of these anarch’s names on them! ————————————————

REMEDY

MOJO

A breezy belle knocked a step off her game Another breezy belle, through a twisted mirror Ginger hair, orange eyes, tangerine lips Black-red hair, black-red eyes, black-red lips Just as she remembered her Baggy cargos, flame-motif top, big metal boots Naked Just as she remembered... Hey; who made Mojo naked? Eeer... Sooty eye shadow, messy hair, grubby skin Uuuummm... Huge, sprawling überbeast tattoo; shoulder to hip O...K... Clanking metal fist, missing teeth, psychotic stare That wasn’t how she remembered her “M... Mojo?” Remedy had never seen Mojo naked before. I mean she’d never really imagined... Dead hot, dead curvy, dead classy. No, she hadn’t ever imagined at all... Dead dead; that’s the thing. Check, that’s Mojo’s body alright; body and brain, pacing around the unfinished crypt. But not her mind, mind... A sassy grin and a sassy strut. Made Remedy giggle, simper and lower her swords, ready to leap out and hug her. Eeer, don’t do that kittyclaw. She’s been conjured up to kill you, remember?

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This was going to be a battle of fire versus fire. Remedy raising her guard; Holy Judgement and Blessed Angel. Mojo raising hers; Le Furia and Fractured Rainbow. Show me yours and... well Mojo’s naked already; there’s not much more to show. Remedy tightening her fists, furrowing her brow. Mojo twiddling her fingers, staring her down. Let’s blow her a kiss just to spook her. Alright, that worked. This was going to be a battle of fire versus tears. MOJO: Blitz break chain Charging swoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy frowns Backspin scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy tenses Somersault hoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy grimaces Front flip loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy turns her bottom lip Overhead twirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy looks away Turn-around whirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy shivers Forward roll swirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy wells up Torpedo spin curl CLANG! COVER! Remedy full-on cries She was a mess already and Mojo hadn’t even hit her. It wasn’t like Remedy was going to be able to gather herself and fight back. Mojo turning, pacing sassily away, sniggering, twirling her blades and naked... Just take her now?

Protest, protest; perhaps she’ll come back. And perhaps you’ll drop your guard so low she’ll dice you into paste. “You’se moy clove, you’se moy drum, you’se moy...” What was it she’d always wanted to say; “I love you’se...”

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MOJO: Blitz break chain Lunging swoop SMASH! Hits a statue Leaping scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy backtracks Back flip hoop SMASH! Shatters a tombstone Side winding loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy skids into retreat Darting twirl SMASH! Cracks a pillar Front flip whirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy on a knee Spinning swirl SMASH! Explodes an urn Spinning curl HIT! REMEDY: Chest CRACK! Against the crypt wall Knockdown! Remedy gripping her blades close, sobbing. Not sure if she wanted Mojo to come close or go away. The naked nymph sauntering left and right, standing over her floored form like a game hunter over a wounded pheasant. Hate to point it out Remy, but you’re really getting... what’s the word; spooked here.

—————————————————

There are some battles that just have to happen. Even if in reality they can’t. Even if in reality, they come from different realities. Like Melodi, from the world of shifting plates, nature and nurture... And Orinoko, from the world of dreams.

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MELODI

ORINOKO

A broody blue girl who was more than she let on

A moody ghost girl who was more than she seemed

An irritable sprite and no mistake When she didn’t get her way... oh she huffed and puffed and you’d know about it And she had some a pretty freaky box of tricks to back it up... But hey, we’re mirror opposites, K? We’re flip sides of the same coin An explosion waiting to happen So... mirror image? Hey; polar opposites, OK?

One of these girls was a doll, the other a doll master. One of these girls had been here a long time, the other was just in a cranky clunk’s head. One of these girls was mute, the other spoke in circles. One of these girls was backed by storms, the other by rainbows. And only one of these girls was getting out alive.

The maths is really quite simple. Seven hells, seven heavens, or so. You’re going to get a few little angels and diablos crossing the lines. Psytopia was a world of matter. But music comes from elsewhere; gives life its spark. Psytopia was a world of wakefulness. But apparitions come from elsewhere; from the mists of dreams. It’s the collision of heavens and hells which makes the casserole go bang. It’s all about what blocks you choose to build your world with; pyro or nano. You have to breathe some kind of life into it. Otherwise all you’ve got is an inanimate doll house and if that’s your world, you may as well be dead. Melodi blamed herself a little for all this; she should never have crafted hyperdolls. But she was bored and angry when she was older and everyone casts shadows. Let’s just see which one of these fries.

ORINOKO

MELODI

From Melodi’s point of view From Orinoko’s point of view A doll, that’s all; a tangled cluster of mixed up An endangered species, that’s all; a chaotic dreams which should have remained confined to cavalcade of spite and loss and guilt and the head of the dreamer, but he had to rest that discomfort who was a danger to any modern head on a hyperdoll, didn’t he? society that’d bear having her around She didn’t trust her, that was for sure She didn’t belong here So what better excuse than to burn her up? Then what better solution than to tear her apart?

Melodi and Orinoko. Freak versus freak. Circling each other at a distance. Kicking up rainbows and storms. The match of the millennium.

Melodi and Orinoko. Misfit against misfit. Staring at each other through the fuzzy haze which their dueling presences whipped up. Orinoko with a sneer of see-through dentures. Melodi with a jeer of multi-coloured teeth.

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Melodi and Orinoko. Angel facing demon. Melodi with her hands out, conducting the strings. Orinoko with her’s out too, as if in a nightmare, gripping a pillow. Let’s rip!

MELODI: ORINOKO: Etherflare Nanoflare Burns up grass in Orinoko s sphere Freezes grass in Melodi s sphere But doesn t touch the freaks MELODI: ORINOKO: Etherbite Nanobite No effect No effect MELODI: Ethersault No effect

It’s all about manipulating the fundamental music sheets of nature. ESP and EM fields; plumes of ether or mists of nanos- thrown out like nets. Only people who are really, truly in touch with reality can cast that kind of trickery. Or really, truly aside from reality altogether. Same deal, different heaven. Ethertek can stitch people’s minds together or tear them apart. Nanotek does the same with people’s bodies. So how come neither of these twisted sprites were getting anywhere?

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Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other at a distance, looking pissed off. Round and round a pair of grand stone obelisks. Frustratedly checking their palms and squeezing their fingers. Used to getting their way. LET’S TAKE STOCK

———————————————————

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Swipe, swing, pang, tang. Who’s next to fall down?

Zarathustra drew the Memento Mori. The grand designer against a bunch of reckless vandals. Backstepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones.

SERENITY Plasmawand throwie MISS! ZARATHUSTRA Hits ether? Sidesteps ZARATHUSTRA Backhand snare HIT! SERENITY: Ribs SLAM! Into the mausoleum wall NEHEMIAH Crookblade charge

VARUNA COUNTERED! Gigabyte slice ZARATHUSTRA Underhand clash Overhand cross HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Head VARUNA: Chest SLAM! SLAM! Bowled into Serenity Bowled over a tombstone

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SEVERITY HOSEA Toejack boot ZARATHUSTRA Fistjack hook MISS! Jigs and jives MISS! Hits a railing ZARATHUSTRA Hits a mausoleum Overarm hoist Underarm buckler HIT! HIT! Leg Arm SPLAT! SPLAT! Thrown into the muddy ground Thrown into Severity JEREMIAH MAINYU ZECHERIAH MAINYU Spookball belt ZARATHUSTRA Spookball blast COUNTERED! Turn-around tie Powerwave reverb HIT! HIT! Gloves Face SLAM! PUFF! Thrown into a railing Space field splat on the stony steps OUT OF PLAY Hosea’s reptilian eyes aflame. That was her son, you heartless glum! This man of metal and thunder was gonna pay. Heads up, gimp; let’s be giving you something to mope about! Zarathustra rolling the Memento Mori in his grasp. 2-0, control versus chaos. Waiting for the battered band around him to prepare themselves. Circling him around the gravestones. ————————————————————— Remedy picking herself up, wiping her eyes with a sleeve. Mojo bouncing up and down... naked... Did she have to do that, it’s off-putting. “Moy Mojo, speak to moy...” Come on, scuttletoes; zombies don’t speak. She wasn’t used to Mojo fighting this way, looking this way, being this way. And she didn’t have any energy to fight back. Mojo turning, pacing sassily away, grinning, twirling her blades, and let’s not forget; naked. “Mojo...” I think you’re confused, Remy dear. “What’s happened to you’se?” She’s a zombie sister blitzer; she’s not coming back. So unless you realise this ain’t Mojo pretty quickly you’re going to be joining her. “But I didn’t do anything to hurt you’se...”

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MOJO: Blitz break chain Wild whirl SMASH! Obliterates a heart-shaped tombstone Spinning twirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy back tracking Sideswipe swirl SMASH! Breaks the wing off an angelic statue Roundhouse curl CLANG! COVER! Remedy back peddling Twisting hoop SMASH! Cracks a marble pillar Backspin loop CLANG! COVER! Remedy pressed up against the crypt wall Leaping swoop SMASH! Shatters a crypt window Backflip scoop HIT! REMEDY: Cheek >SCHLINK!< Flips her over the crypt wall and into the building with a trail of blood in her wake Knockdown!

Remedy still holding her swords, on her back, in a muddle and a mess. Not sure if the cuts and bruises hurt more, or the fact that Mojo was beating the shit out of her. The naked nymph leaping up onto the unfinished crypt roof, laughing. Hate to point it out with everything so ominous already Remy, but you’re lying in a bed of bones.

—————————————————————— Melodi and Orinoko. Sunlight against storm. Melodi’s footsteps leaving pretty rainbows in the sheared grass. Orinoko’s leaving oily soot. Let’s make a mess of this horrible world!

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ORINOKO: MELODI: Nanotug Ethertug No effect No effect ORINOKO: MELODI: Nanocast Ethercast No effect No effect ORINOKO: Nanozip No effect Bah; that was her favourite, too! Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other a little closer now, decidely vexed. Round and round between a pair of grand stone obelisks. Frustratedly tensing their fists and gnashing their teeth. What was wrong with them?

The scores on the doors?

—————————————————————

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Cross, clash, stroke, swish. Why not join those who’ve already fallen?

Zarathustra drew the Burning Rage. The lord and master facing a gang of peons. Back-stepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones. Let s spin the merry-go-round with a bit more fury this time SEVERITY HOSEA JEREMIAH MAINYU SERENITY Tossed through a tombstone Flipped over a railing Slammed into a mausoleum Hurled into the mud

ZARATHUSTRA Turning crop Head of steam epitaph HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH: Temple VARUNA: Steam rolled! SLAM! SLAM! Thrown into Serenity Charged through a crumpling statue OUT OF PLAY

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Jeremiah Mainyu couldn’t quite work out the maths. This hunk of thunder and metal just took out a Ravani. So yeah, OK; he had his respect. But he also had his brother’s space dust on his hands! Zarathustra whipping the Burning Rage in the air. 3-0, leader of the wild hunt versus a clutter of slyphs, vulcs and gnomes. Waiting for the disorganised band to lift themselves. Circling him around the gravestones. ————————————————————

Elegy had been doing the constructive work; the protecting rather than the destroying. The heroine’s role. The little sprites; Mana and Materia; the most brittle cups in the china shop. Ushering them away from the bull with the swiftly reddening rag, waving in the psychostorm. Through the gravestones, into a broken old mausoleum, hidden from view. As all manner of mite-mashing menace was unleashed. Not that Mana could pull the roaring comets in his space face away from the blue girl and that… odd living, dead, not-quite-one-or-the-other doll as they exchanged numbercrunching feats of strangeness. Come on kid; Elegy liked a challenge as much as the next swordstril, but she’d learned long ago to only pitch at blades she could counter.

MOJO: (Swishing her snazzy new sword) “‘Tis dash-tag sapphire, kitteh!”

The Splintered Rainbow; like a lengthy, colourful candy cane except... slicey. Her tinsy, teeny shoulder lower than the hilt if she plunged it in the floorboards. REMEDY: (Slashing her’s) “‘Tis. Tis dash-tag mint.”

The Blessed Angel; like a long, wide pizza tray but more... stabby. Her little tweener fingers got a bit lost in the hand-holes. Elegy was next to receive her sword. From Freia; a wide-eyed sprite of a swordstril who looked too young to be a tutor. Not too experienced though; losing limbs must’ve been one of those. But she hadn’t lost her smile; a bit lopsided- a bit... suspicous... Like she’d been out there in the wide, wild world. Well, they all had; where else had the tutors got hold of them? Out there alone, poor mites; barely escaping the hackstick-flailing hands of anarchy. So Elegy was next. To receive one of two swords, if the truth be told, because Freia had tricks up sleeves. Breaks in beats. And that was why Fricha; another tutor, who’d end up doing her new job... I dunno; more dutifully... gave her the evil eye. She only had one left, and unfortunately it was the evil one. Beats should stay bland, as Zarathustra probably never said in the job description. It wasn’t like the tutors applied, but it was an opportunity. Like reflections have the opportunity to mirror their maker; shadows to follow forms. Pretty predetermined opportunities. So, Elegy; next?

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There were 108 blades in the Academy; and that means everywhere, because nobody made blades anymore, and even Zarathustra had lost his. Who’d have thought it; the Principal failing to keep hold of his sword? So 108 swords; smelted by peons out of nano-riddled goo. The same nano-riddled goo which took Freia’s arm and leg, Fricha’s eye... Zarathustra’s mind? Freia knew this because like Fricha, she’d sacrificed segments of herself to build them. Only unlike Fricha, she’d built a few more; snuck them in. Blades which weren’t meant to be there, and better; she’d found some. Some the almighty whatever-he-thought-he-was had lost. And she’d waited until the right band of kids had come along. Just as all the pieces she’d placed were in tandem. Because it was an experiement in anarchy; the rattle in the rhythm- the spark in the dark. So Elegy; step up and get your pimped-up hackstick. She would... if she wasn’t watching the slick swishes, the deft strafes and so on of the smooth-toned fresher in the next hall; because obviously she liked his... sword skills. Azrael was his name; a clear-headed, bronze-skinned, well cut... colleague just lumbering up for his first field trip. Wow; out into the wide, wild world for the first time in... wide...wild... Her tender, teeny form flustered somewhat in ways she didn’t quite understand; eager stare brazenly z-locked on his...

CORONA: (Pushing up at her neck) “If you’se don’t want that, I’ll snag it.”

She wasn’t 100% sure what ‘that’ she was referring to. Courante, Ridwan, Saria, Malon; the girls in Azrael’s class. Boring... Corona guessed; she hadn’t had any of them. Azrael and Legato; the boys... she might have had them. Elegy winced a bit, her legs fidgeting a tanse of a tense in her slinky cargos. Swordstrils, especially ones her age, should concentrate on swords. That’s swords, kiddyclaws; swords- the other breeze babies understood, it seemed. Take the sword, Elegy. TheTwisted Epiphany; a lengthy, strap-on contraption which matched her slender limbs. Well, it was an inventive kind of grip, but Elegy was an inventive kind of girl. Maybe not as inventive as Corona, but inventive in cleaner things. Better than the safesticks they’d played with as pre-schoolers. And she’d customise it somewhat over the following rounds. Piston-powered, pyro-jacked; all manner of tricks up this pretty mega sleeve. The Twisted Epiphany covered her whole arm shoulder to... well to the edge of her sphere at this age, but she’d grow into it, and she’d shape it to fit her style. Because even the most studious swordstrils can break beats; in their own ways. Their own ways... that’s the really special lesson the breeze tutor would give this class.

She didn’t know why she was thinking of Fresher’s Fair. Because the last lesson was going to be less so? Because here she was, just over a tri down the line (that’s three terms, if you’re counting), and she was the one defending the little ones. From the Principal, strangely enough. Yes, the world had proved itself wide and wild. Wider and wilder than the contents of her sphere. Tricks up sleeves; that’s what Freia had taught her, in a tricky, sleeveless kind of way. To think a bit different.

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So maybe that was why she was thinking of Fresher’s Fair. Because here she was, pulled out of the familiarity of the Academy, but unlike the vast majority of its swordstrils, still on her feet. Drawn to the odd anti-magnetic pull coming from the mausoleum behind them. As it sung to her somewhat... ————————————————————

Remedy had zoned out. Mojo pacing up there on the crypt roof, sassy and nasty and... let’s just not think about it. Did she even want to fight anymore? “S’dandy Mojo. We’s be dandy.” Huddled down there in the bones, dropping her head, dropping her hope, dropping her... MOJO: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (prelude) Kamikaze dive off the crypt roof, blades crossed like scissors... MISS! REMEDY rolls out of the drop zone MOJO: Electric Guillotine Epitaph (nocturne) Hand-stand position, blades locked in stone, electric snips dancing in four directions HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Electrified skeletons, anyone?

But not Remedy’s. Remedy was way out of zizzing range, and she’d just gathered the strength to fight back. Mojo staggering dizzily onto her feet, plucking her blades out of the marble. “You’se just a muddle of memories.” That’s right Remy; tell her. “Moy’s and other people’s.”

Mojo crossing her swords, that freaky metal arm still fizzing with static. She was mirror, that was what she was. An angry mirror, but a mirror nonetheless. And unless you want a lifetime of sore luck, bad mirrors need smashing.

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MOJO: Blitz break chain Diving swoop SMASH! Clatters bones Rising scoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy stands her ground Topspin loop SMASH! Sparks against a crypt wall Rolling hoop CLANG! COVER! Remedy pushes her back Leaping curl SMASH! Rips off the hinges of an ancient trapdoor Back flip swirl CLANG! COVER! Remedy tightens her grip on her blades Charging whirl COUNTERED! REMEDY: 360 leaping coil HIT! MOJO: Solar plexus and chest >SCHLINK!< Flips her over the crypt wall and back onto the half-roof with a trail of blood in her wake

Knockdown... or knocked up... or just don t say that

Remedy hopping up to face her, twirling her swords and seeing things afresh. The cuts and bruises hurt, but this nasty, naked nymph was gonna suffer more of them. The twisted mirror looking dazed and confused; Remedy less so. “You’se ain’t moy Mojo.” ——————————————————————

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Melodi and Orinoko. Circle, circle, circle. Alright, who’s getting dizzy? Who’s getting bored? How about we invite a load more kids to play? Orinoko’s eyes changing. Bulging; about to burst. Dainty hands waving in hectic spasms; orchestral overdrive. Grasping fingers pulling nano swarms out of the ether; mists tossed like a massive stir fry. Swirling swarms becoming grand, warped mirrors. ORINOKO: House of broken mirrors

Melodi took as deep a breath as she could muster. “Aw... shit.” Seven shadows. Seven seals. Seven sins. Seven sisters. So shadows could make mirrors too; who knew? Seven SHATTERS!

ORINOKO

Messed up shadow and the eye of the superstorm Gothic Lolita with stitched-up Gothic Lolita with stitched-up Gothic Lolita with stitched-up mouth and green-trim dress, mouth and white-trim dress, mouth and black-trim... decorated with swirls decorated with skulls

We know.

We know.

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

NUT

We know Yes, yes; we’ve met these alters before. Or as Melodi would prefer to call them:

NUT. We’ve met them before, but we don’t really know them. They weren’t really people, of course, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have histories… just perhaps not entirely their own. Melodi had a bit of a phobia of history. Especially the way it hadn’t happened yet. Melodi probably percieved the wide, wild world a bit wider and wilder than we do. Or perhaps she was just a typical adolescent; convincing herself she was the only one who was different even when she was basically staring into mirrors everywhere she went.

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A shear of skin rattling through her left ear; a shriek of terror screeching by her right. The carousel car slamming to a halt before a spartan stage. Metal floor plates, scattered chairs, big old table smothered in shadows. Around which the cadenzas sat. Hunched over, decked in freaky symbols and odd attire. Lines, dots, arrows; spiderwebs, spirals, skulls. Rocking and trembling, giggling and leaning; none of them quite there. Well of course not, thought Odine; what was left of her at least. She could still dream; that was the problem- when she dreamed she was her again. When she was awake... well she wasn’t, was she; because she was dead by this time. Reanimated by the same crazy spook stirrer who dreamed up these shadows. Pieces of the storm; reflections of himself. So she watched them, trapped in this dollhouse; this endless horror ride. Trapped in a body she thought she’d abandoned and which continued to decay. A petrified old puppet in his newly spooked hands; and she certainly wasn’t quite there. Nope, none of them were quite here in the Tapestry, or a twisted rendition of the nano storm within weaved it into existence, but at least their daughter wasn’t there- safely dead. Odine was alone in the eye of the maelstrom... like a dark dormitory on a ghost train here. Oh, and the messed up little girls who played this cluster of splintered cadenzas... RAIDNE: (Poking a web-decked glove) YOU moved it! PARTHENOPE: (Snatching her at the wrist) Did not! They spoke to each other in sign language; double quick jitters of the hand; jarringly so. Because their mouths were stitched; that was the problem. That and because the dreamer hadn’t given them voices. The dead have to stay silent after all, and the dreaming can’t dance. So here they were as always, arguing over who’d used the dolly. Orinoko was her name; she was a doll on their table, but captain of their worlds. Because this was the eye of her storm and they just the cogs inside. Odine’s captured heart had got used to the nightmares a life ago. They didn’t have to make sense to churn her insides and tear her skin- that’s what it felt like anyway; being part of the storm whistling through what was left of his soul. The one he’d cast away when he’d dragged back her body and split her id. Split his own; because when you love somebody beyond life... it’s probably not healthy. AGLAPHENE: (Head spinning in her hands) We can’t move it, beaus; it stirs us MOLPE: (Pacing up and down) No, it livens us Well it spooked them, really. Their nanos bucked by the hastening of the storm; which stung as nanos was all they were. Because they were all just parts of Orinoko. Different dreams given form; cried into that delinquent dolly round upon round. It was a hyperdoll; one of only two genuine ones left in the wide, wild,world. So it tended to absorb things; a vessel looking for a ferryman. An empty grave seeking to fill the hole. A stillborn princess who’d never wear the crown. So a bit angry, as it goes; all the father’s thunder. In time, it’d absorb the entire Tapestry; this forgotten dream. These bitter shadows of shadows were just mists trundling around in this superstorm. You’ve got to trundle around quite a long time to whip yourself into individual spook girls. So even as she sat here trapped in what little was left of herself, Odine felt kind of sorry for these bickering shells- that they’d never actually exist. If only a bigger, bolder, brighter tsunami would come and wash them all away.

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————————————————————

The mausoleum was push-pulling at the metri in Elegy’s swords. Like it was tugging at her... time? But let’s have father and son have their’s, hey; before it’s too late. Mana and Materia, examining each other as any good mathematician should.

Pyronettes and parahack were the pinnacles of evolution. Evolution and design; nature and nurture; no wonder they were almost opposite. In effect, neither extreme was particularly balanced. Parahack were built as soldiers. You can blame Zarathustra and co for that. No more troops left, you see. So if you’re going to breed some new ones, you may as well make sure they’re effective. That’s right; parahack were the ulitmate peons of war. They did everything on the field; fought, cooked and didn’t question orders. They were self-sufficient killing machines, tuned into the motion of the plates and desperate to protect them... against the map-warping über wepeons of anarchy, of course. And against Zarathustra’s loneliness and paranoia... maybe to fill those lost chunks of soul. Pyronettes had evolved; formerly psycientists. You can blame those aforementioned map-warping über wepeons for that. They were what was left when humanity became dependent on computers. So if you’re going out in the wide, wild world during the Fall, you may well get space-faced. That’s right; pyronettes were people who’s bodies had been stripped away. They did everything our human brains can do; thought, mathematised and worried. Highly intellegent but brittle beings; all numbers and no substance, petrified of the world around them- techo geeks who’d ventured into the storm. Back in the days when you could leave your body behind and go surfing. Pracks were packed with nanos, pyros little more than ether. But it’s the balanced who make the best soldiers, to an extent, at least. Because teach them too much and people have a tendancy to become Anarchists. That was why orphons were the best option; indoctrinate them young. You can certainly thank Zarathustra for that. He spent many rounds seeking out Anarchist orphons. More often than not, it was he who made them so. You craft order by giving people an inch but keeping the lead taut. So they don’t take a mile. But then again, even loyal pyronettes get bored of orders, don’t they sprites? ————————————————————

So we’ve met the abandoned contents of Zarathustra’s soul before. Stillborn sisters finding form in the mind of a madman… dreams of dreams. But you know what, soot kitty? Two can play at your freaky little game! Melodi’s eyes changing. Deeper; like pits. Dainty hands slammed together; full metal drum kit bang. Tensing fingers, clogging her bloodstream; odd pulses sneaking through her nails. Dripity-drip. Thumping rivers becoming brash, broken beats.

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MELODI: Fractured echo night parade

Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. Wake up, wake up, wake up,

wake up!

Orinoko took a step back as reverberations formed out of the rainbow dribbles. I think the words you’re looking for are ‘oh... shit.‘ Seven ids. Seven instruments. Seven breaths. Seven deaths. Little riffs can break up into big bands, you know.

MELODI

Messed up mistress of the doll dance, and the model on which all puppets were based A little girl surely no more A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old, than 5,500-odd rounds old, with green skin, blue lips, blue with white skin, green lips, dress, white hair green dress, black hair

Alright

A little girl surely no more than 5,500-odd rounds old, with black...

Alright. We get the picture

Alright.

Seven ECHOES! Melodi had met her chambers before. But on account of her not getting on very well with them, she liked to keep them inside. Melodi and Orinoko. And the whole, warped freak show. Circling each other between the obelisks. Pretty crowded round here, as the dupes began growing personalities of their own. Let’s check ‘em all into brawl school before they learn disobedience!

BIOS

RASH

Overhand whack HIT! Bloody nose MISS!

Underarm thump MISS! Cut eye HIT!

Underhand thwack

Overhead smack

MELODI

Puppeteering her stroppy split selves

DORA

Wild elbow HIT! Split lip MISS!

Bundle!

Rabbit punch

APIPA

IPSEC

Rabbit kick MISS! Broken ribs HIT!

Underbelt punt HIT! Eer; that was rude! MISS!

Wild knee

Bundle! PARTHENOPE AGLAPHENE THELXIEPEIA RAIDNE Orchestrating her anarchic derechos

ORINOKO

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Overhead smash

MOLPE

LAN Hey! Hey!

HEY!

Break it up

Break it up! LIGERIA


Thelxiepeia bundling Bios over; smouthering her as they rolled in the mud. Apipa reacting; decking Aglaphene with a deft fist and a scatter of teeth. Raidne ramming Ipsec’s face into a gravetone with a flurry of snapping cobwebs.. Melodi...sighing at all this. Well, it was nice, wasn’t it? But not really. It was a shadow show; so many puppets, vying for attention. In her own brimming head and in Orinoko’s empty one. Orinoko liked this at least; what a rebel- to appreciatte chaos. Pathenope being choked out by Rash’s tug-gloved hands, Lan knocked carelessly off her feet by Molpe’s sneaky boot to the jaw… Boring, boring, boring; Melodi and Orinoko staring bolts of fire and thunder at each other through the sea of brawling alters. Orinoko’s nose bleeding a bit; deep red, like a person- keep dreaming. Melodi coming out in rainbow bumps and bruises, sneaking across her brow… because sadly, shadows smacking shadows did tend to hurt those casting them.

Only the most complicated beaties had cadenzas, and in ‘beasties’, of course I include people, who are often the most beastly kind. You have to have more than one id to split them. And though some species may inherit multiple ids, one particular meddler had built himself some; by mistake,as it goes; a side-effect of the metri smelting process. Tying to raise the long, long dead, or at least their tombs- their cages, was always going to have it’s freaky side effects. As did the raising of the more recently dead, of course- his Odine. In raising the ghost he’d meant to, he’d conjoured up a few more along the way- shadows of himself, because he hadn’t really perfected the art. He was human after all... which kind of explains the whole god complex thing. So cadenzas were lone voices yanked out of the storm, or the breeze, or whatever. Nurture or nature. When the surrounding passage of life is almost gone and that last gasp is all that’s left. Ornoko lapped lone voices up; lapped them up, whipped them up and shut them up. A twisted ghoul so eager to be and so riled that she wasn’t that she urged his dreams into existence; plucking them out of his smelt-shattered pyche over the rounds. Because Orinoko was an ancient doll, crafted in an earlier age. Yeah, yeah; boring to Melodi, because she’d seen an age or two and wasn’t impressed. These nightmare Orinokos looked a bit like Melodi for a reason, you know. Doll masters also go through a range of rejects before one gets to shine. And sparkle, and echo and probably fall flat on her face in the end because she’d been left all alone, crammed full of memoriies and left to fend for herself, or selves, or something. So there were similarities between Melodi and Orinoko. They were sisters, if you want to simplify it; or at least the vessels they inhabitaed were. Melodi only wished the unborn would stay dead, or at least give it a go. Because the unborn and the undead aren’t living for a reason. Just accept it and move on. A wayward alter’s eye gouged out with a railing. Another’s head crushed under a toppled tombstone. Blood streaming down Orinoko’s face now, mixing with a contorted smile. Bruises leaving Melodi’s faces all puffy; making her all the more angry.

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Yeah, she was fed up of this already. She’d seen enough of herself trading random swipes and boots; she was more refined these days. And besides, the bone ache of self reflection was draining her to death. Oh-oh; do you see ether forming around Lolita’s heads and parasols soaring in the breeze? Let’s just make this between the blue girl and the superspook!

MELODI

Oblitorating those eerie, ghoulish reflections

Green ether ear muff

White ether ear muff

HIT! AGLAPHENE

HIT! THELXIEPEIA

Burst of swirls

Burst of skulls

Burst of green noise

Burst of white noise

Green parasol

White parasol

Stomach BIOS HIT!

Heart RASH HIT!

Black Yellow ether ear muff ether ear muff Tighten and POP! HIT! HIT! RAIDNE PARTHENOPE Brains Burst of spiderwebs Burst of stars

OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY

Burst of black noise

Burst of yellow noise

Chest Eye DORA APIPA HIT! HIT! Swoop and >SCHLINK!< Black parasol Yellow parasol

Purple ether ear muff

Orange ether ear muff

HIT! MOLPE

HIT! LIGERIA

Burst of roses

Burst of butterflies

Burst of purple noise

Burst of orange noise

Purple parasol

Orange parasol

Head IPSEC HIT!

Annihilating those pesky background jingles

ORINOKO

Melodi and Orinoko. Just the two of them again. Circling, circling, circling with their random bags of tricks. Melodi wasn’t sure who’d scored more shots that round. But one thing was for certain; this was why she hated diablos. In case you’re wondering:

———————————————————— Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Round and round the graveyard. Jab, dab, loop, hoop. Who’s falling next? Zarathustra drew the Shadow Splitter. Prince facing paupers. Back-stepping slowly as the horde surrounded him. Ringing around the gravestones.

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Face LAN HIT!


Let s just put them out of their misery JEREMIAH MAINYU NEHEMIAH SERENITY Flipped back over the railing Thrown through a collapsing mausoleum wall ZARATHUSTRA Downward tang Speed mirror: Sword hilt uppercut HIT! HIT! SEVERITY HOSEA SPLAT! ZAP! Thrown through a tombstone into muddy ground

Whacked off the plate, into ether

OUT OF PLAY

Jeremiah Mainyu would have cried if he could. He could have cried for mummy, but she wouldn’t have heard. You see, that’s the problem with familia. When you lose them, you lose yourself. Zarathustra clanking the Shadow Splitter back into the rack. 4-0, lord of Asgard versus random degenerates. Waiting for the beaten band around him to raise themselves. Broken and bruised amid the gravestones.

———————————————————— Remedy settling into a comfortable stance, wiping her mouth with a sleeve. Mojo moving wildly to and fro, crunching her knuckles and tossing her hair. That wasn’t how Mojo would move at all, and in fact, she was repulsive. Chant it Remy; just a spook, just a spook, just a spook. A spook on a fast track back to the grave! REMEDY: Blitz break chain MOJO: Blitz break chain Overhand hoop CLANG! Back step scoop Roundhouse swoop CLANG! Side flip loop Leaping loop CLANG! Front flip swoop Backstroke scoop CLANG! Somersault hoop Eye to eye, toe to toe, heart to... Not with you, spook soup! Overhead curl CLANG! Spinning whirl Spinning swirl CLANG! Overhead twirl Looping twirl CLANG! Toe spin swirl Cross-face whirl HIT! HIT! Cross-body curl MOJO: Sliced face REMEDY: Sliced top Thrown off the crypt roof onto adjacent mausoleums

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But keeping their footing and holding on to their swords. And Remedy had energy to spare. The two of them eyeing each other, blades a-twirl. “Hey, mood juice...” Remedy seeing clearly. “Have you’se any idea how many coco ‘fusin’ ways I’s gonna z ya?”

Glaring at each other down parrelel paths. Sauntering down the mausoleums as they grew closer together. Just about in range to... REMEDY: Mid air blitzbreak chain MOJO: Mid air blitzbreak chain 360 leaping hoop CLANG! 360 leaping scoop Backstroke swoop CLANG! Roundhouse loop Overhand loop CLANG! Backhand swoop Underarm scoop CLANG! Bowling hoop They d hit the ground by now, and in very close quarters Overhead curl HIT! HIT! Backstroke whirl MOJO: Shoulder REMEDY: Elbow They drop a sword each Looping swirl HIT! HIT! Overarm twirl MOJO: Forearm REMEDY: Wrist That makes them swordless Low boot HIT! HIT! Stranglehold (clunk arm) MOJO: Shin REMEDY: Throat Now they were down and dirty Overhand right HIT! MOJO: Mouth Well that s lost her some teeth HIT! Yow! REMEDY: Hand Leaping up and down, cradling her knuckles You did that one to yourself, siz Knockdowns!

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Remedy and Mojo face to face, in a heap. Sweating buckets, dripping mud; hating each other now. Naked nymphy Mojo in the mud... No, she hadn’t ever imagined that, OK?

——————————————————————

Melodi and Orinoko. Someone borrowed and someone blue, but neither of them particularly stupid. You can’t flip the translucent and you can’t manipulate non-existent minds. Angels aren’t animated with cogs, and diablos don’t breathe real air. But what you can do is reflect; nanos for ether! ORINOKO: Ethercast HIT! SMASH! MELODI slammed back into an obelisk, dislodging dust MELODI: Nanocast HIT! SMASH! ORINOKO slammed back against the other obelisk, dislodging dust ORINOKO: Ethercast SMASH! MELODI slammed against the cracking obelisk Falls to the floor, holding her back MELODI: Nanocast SMASH! ORINOKO slammed against the other cracking obelisk Falls to the floor, clutching her spine ORINOKO: Etherzip MISS! MELODI: Leaps aside

CRASH! The obelisk is torn apart

Melodi and Orinoko. Circling each other, boxes of tricks all ready to flow. Round and round what was left of the obelisks. Well that was a close call, wasn’t it? Melodi didn’t like this sprite one bit.

For the record:

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————————————————————

Elegy was hearing time now, and that’s an odd thing to hear. Technically, we all hear time, all the time- our heartbeats are an echo of it starting after all. But she could sense that she could hear time, if that makes any… sense? It didn’t make any sense; that was the problem, and that was why she’d been drawn to the mausoleum behind them, or more accurately to the deep catacombs beneath. Jamming the tip of the Twisted Epiphany into a corner of the stonework, or metalwork, or whatever it was, to prise it open. It wasn’t easy; whoever had sealed this thing shut had done so as if driving the last, desparate nails into the coffin of some undead beastie caped in the blood of their nearest and dearest, not completely convinced it wouldn’t rise again if the hatches hadn’t been battoned down tight enough. But with a buzz and a clank of the pyro-powered pistons she’d built into her customised blade, the trapdoor began to creak open. No, closed… open… closed… there be timeswirls down there. She grimaced a little. Elegy was the most balanced of the breeze belles, and that meant even though she liked to cast a little chaos, she drew the line at living her life by it. And time progressing in random ways sounded like a pretty chaotic life to her. But the darkness down there foreshadowed something… no; reminded her of something. Of the old cavern system she’d seen those two messed up anarchs rush into back on the Auburn plate; back when she spoiled the habit of a lifetime and failed an assessment. Maybe a timeswirl made her life flip back on itself for a sliver, but at least she was alive. There could’ve been endless catacombs down there in the bones of the plates; winding through the ethereal flame on which the world they knew sat. Well of course there were; Zarathustra and his ilk called it the naussaduct; still running under plateaus which no longer existed, and though the naussapods themselves were long gone and probably burned to dust, Anarchists still managed to pop up everywhere, generally all jinned out of their heads on swirling ether and raging mists. No, the naussaduct was still there (here and there); it’s just that a certain god among men deemed it troublesome and smelted entrances shut wherever he was able. Plus of course, the naussaduct carried enough meddlesome memories already. Tunnels like these, sitting under necropoli, were the worst; full of nano-frying, blood-boiling timeswirls- kicked up by the use of arcane majicks. And though there wasn’t much in the tybrary on this kind of thing (and let’s face it, it’s probably best not to trust Academy knowledge now), she did remember one thing: That they said only the pretty-much-dead can navigate timeswirls. ————————————————————— So here’s where the merry-go-round grinds to an icy halt. Zarathustra the carnival killjoy. Joy and whatever else happened to stagger giddily into his path.

Stomping up the stony steps after what was left of the pyrate horde. A family; that was what it was. Well the least his brave new world has of those, the better. Zarathustra draws the Prodigal’s Edge. Stops stomping and settles into a firm stance. Didn’t these... people know when they’d met their match?

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ZARATHUSTRA Diagonal slice Lunging jab Diagonal hook SEVERITY NEHEMIAH SERENITY Toejack block Crookblade cover Plasma wand buff ZARATHUSTRA Rainbow serenade HIT! JEREMIAH MAINYU Flips his parahack nanos That means you re nothing left but ether Join the family OUT OF PLAY ————————————————————— Remedy and Mojo gripped their blades. Because with swords in hand, a blitzer is never truly naked. Remedy didn’t feel so naked anymore; not her heart, not her soul, not her grief. Don’t know if the same could be said for Mojo. All mud-caked on the floor with her and ready to roll! MOJO: Push-off kick HIT! REMEDY: Face Thrown into a muddy backward roll REMEDY: Flip-up swoop CLANG! MOJO: Cross-body parry MOJO: Overarm swirl CLANG! REMEDY: Cross-face parry The lovers having fought themselves to a standstill. Hey; less of the ‘lovers’, please. Remedy’s girl was indeed a snazzy, jazzy, candy mint sapphire blitz belle. But sadly for Remedy, her girl was gone and this wasn’t even in the same league. Backing off from each other, pointing their swords. Cut, bruised, mud-caked and blood-splattered. The two of them eyeing each other between the mausoleums, blades a-whirl. So, how do you break a deadlock? Let’s not say dead; it’s... factually accurate. Maybe soon for both of them.

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MOJO: Takes a long run-up REMEDY crosses her blades, tightens her stance and takes the strain MOJO: Tunes up the band REMEDY: Keeps herself settled MOJO: Front flip into back flip into side flip into somersault into... The Devil s Pirouette CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Remedy soaking up the kinetic energy. Holding firm against the frenetic pace. Staying calm amid the anarchic barrage... And thinking all the way. MOJO: Devil s pirouette Then just when the reckless spiral had burnt itself to a standstill... COUNTERED! REMEDY: Speed mirror She just threw back Mojo s attack at twice the pace, channelling her own momentum REMEDY: Devil s Pirouette, double speed! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Whatssamatter; can t keep up? HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! It doesn t really matter where All that mattered was that nobody can mirror perfection without being the real thing And you se be peepin at it! HITS! MOJO: Wherever Puffs into soot OUT OF PLAY

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Remedy biting her lip. Slowing her heart. Because that’s where her Mojo was, thank you very much. Sour milk, mirror kitty.

————————————————————

Melodi and Orinoko. A drop in then ocean and a storm in a teacup. Little mites with whole factories full of fireworks. Cracking knuckles, stretching fingers, rolling shoulders, full stop. Alright, let’s slow down a sliver of a shade, shall we? Orinoko with a crooked smile. The reaching fingers. The blood-caped apron. The storm clouds gathering behind her. She liked her odds, thanks very much. Melodi with a stroppy grimace. The glossy chequered gloves. The tinkling trinkets. The rhythms of the world welling up around her. Melodi didn’t like maths, but somebody’s number was up!

MELODI: NANOFLARE HIT! ORINOKO: In the hole that was her soul (Or the Principle’s discarded memories, or whatever) Blasts Ori s nanos into sooty vibe splats on the broken obelisk OUT OF PLAY Fuck maths And fuck you. Melodi and Orinoko. And by that I mean Melodi and a smattering of oily goo. No, Melodi didn’t like maths, but she was learning. Spooks into the real world? Sorry sis, but that don’t go.

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One last look at the scoreboard

————————————————————————————————-

Elegy might’ve stopped Materia doing something stupid. I mean she really might’ve, and maybe a timeswirl leapt up and reversed it. But while she was trying to put her actions and perceptions in order, he bolted out of the blue, seeing a sudden gap in the equasions of this battle which needed filling. An x or a y which an adventurous soul could step in and define, or as he was quite innumerate for a pyronette, maybe he just miscalculated.

Well, timeswirls could well qualify for that if he were anarchic enough to read them well. To get to know their moods and work around them. But Zarathustra had left the ravages of time in the dust half an age ago. So broken beats are only going to lead to busted space faces. MATERIA: Heroic double-handed drive (Raucous Whisper) COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet chop HIT! MATERIA: Across cheek- punctured!

Little Mana rushing in to nurse his dad; mathematically... awkward to subtract him so soon. Melodi drifting in by his side. Curious that her usual disturbing presence had been replaced by something warmer. A hold of the wrist and a rare, lop-sided smile. A moment of sensitivity in the middle of a manic maelstrom. Zarathustra picks up the Raucous Whisper; revels in its resonance. Switches into a bouncy stance. Didn’t these delinquents know when a dance is done? ZARATHUSTRA Reverse roundhouse curl Up-and-over swoop Spinning roundhouse coil SEVERITY NEHEMIAH SERENITY Toejack block Crookblade cover Plasma wand hollow ELEGY REMEDY (from behind) Charging swirl Charging twirl

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COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA Shudderwave Pirouette Angel s Pirouette Charge and release! Hover and spin! HIT! HIT! ELEGY REMEDY Sword Sword Flip and crash! Bat and shatter! SMASH! SMASH! Through mausoleum walls back at the base of the ravine (And sod la revolution)

Upside down. Heads spinning around. Ears full of sound.

STOMP!

STOMP!

STOMP!

Do you’se twos lickle mites tag a spookstorm descending the hillock towards you’se? ZARATHUSTRA: Evil stare HIT! HIT! MANA MELODI Freaks him out Spooks her Cowers Ponders...

We’ve seen a couple of evil eyes in this book. Melodi’s got a good few herself if you want to see them that way; eye of the… you know. But Zarathurstra’s evil eyes weren’t quite what she expected. Double pupil; yes that makes sense; he was a dreamer- half his soul wrenched away from this world, stuck between it and the Second Heaven; forever in a dream. Gravimagmathics can do that- messes with the maths of the plates and those who walk them; it’s where spooks come from, you know- they shouldn’t really be here unless some mischeivous mite plays around with realities and gets things lost here and there. But then there was that frightening triple pupil; she hadn’t see one of those before. It meant Zarathustra was a more messed up metri mangler than she’d imagined. Imagined… that was the worry... if you can imagine things into reality… Well, you might even be able to raise heavens, hells and the nastiest stuff in them. And probably nastier than when they fell in there, because bad places tend to sour souls. So Melodi was slightly taken aback by that, and it allowed the doom cloud to storm on by, leaving Melodi and Mana motionless, as if they weren’t there. As if he’d stared at them so hard he could no longer see them. As if he didn’t even see their souls or as if they weren’t even worth dooming.

Little Materia passing away. Mana and Melodi by his side. When pyronettes pass, they become miniature black holes, then ether. But in the short time Materia had known his son, he’d taught him a few important things. Be proud of who you are, and don’t fear death.

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-Writer’s little side note on life-

When you’re at the end looking back, you know you’ve had a good life if…

1. You’ve got a full bank account, flash car, flash clothes, high-flying career, expensive jewellery and a house on the beach… which you can’t take with you? 2. There are a lot of hangers-on dressed up for a good day out at your funeral… who you can’t take with you? 3. You know you did the right thing by people.

Elegy and Remedy clambering up, dusting off latex and cargos. Just in time to see Melodi lift Mana up with a rub of the gloves an a kiss on the hood. “Ah, aren’t those kids sweet?” “Sweet...” Remedy twirled her swords. “And deadly.” Zarathustra draws the Crimson Harvest. Tenses up into an orderly stance. Didn’t these pitiful breathers know the game was up?

Little Mana had decided to go for broke. Numbers; who needs them? The maths said he wasn’t going to make it. But you know what; Mana was going to run on passion instead. MANA: Limp jab ZARATHUSTRA: Armour ZARATHUSTRA: Icy stare HIT? MANA: His ethers rooted to the spot... get ready to join your daddy, star shine A little purple dwarf star waiting to be pulped REMEDY ELEGY Overarm hoop Underarm loop CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA: Armour Oops!

Little Melodi pulls little Mana to his feet. No more pyrates left standing... unless you count these two. Because anarchy ain’t so chaotic if it works together.

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Little Melodi and little Mana tentatively picking up their freaky play things. Mana’s tangled loopball. Melodi’s mud-smeared dolly. The pair armed and ready to roll. Plus, they had each other. Little Mana and little Melodi exchanging prods and nods; plotting. Ah, you can feel the chemistry building here. Standing over a pile of muddled bones and flustered shadows. Let’s hope they’re not a little too late.

There was a time when it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t that long ago. Before it was too late for the blitzblades, the mini mites, the pyrates; the lot of them. There was a time back then when they were just a family. OK, so they were a leftfield family; of pyro-hacks and par-topians and just random freedom fighters and charity cases. But those are the best kind of families; natural ones- who don’t dress up and play parts. Who don’t fit, because seriously, if we’re being honest, who fits? What matters is who’s happy, and there was a time there (most of the time), when the pyrates were exactly that. “Pass the *tan, moy meu irmao,” And here it came across the chunky wooden dining table like a bowling ball, only snatched up by Nehemiah at the last moment or it’d have made Serenity’s teeth scatter like pins. Or she’d cast some fancy spell on it and her littler but already far stronger-than-they-knew twins would regret not mathmatising their table manners better. “Shhh you two- Varuna was telling a story.” “Verily I was… about the time before time.” “The time before time...” Severity leaning forward on the table, elbows over her root meal, eyes all a-glitter; a brawling brute of a teen but still inquisitive about the wideness as well as the wildness of the world. “’T’was the time before the waking of the world; when the Psytopians rose to be more than beasts- when my brothers the Ravani became enlightened and retreated to the clouds.” “Long time ago, then.” Nehenmiah scooped up Severity’s squished root, because there’s nothing less enlightened than wasting that. “The Ravani always lived amid the breeze; it was our nature. To watch and learn.”

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SERENITY: “You know Sevy; they say the world is merely a Ravani dream” VARUNA: “That they do. But even the Ravani merely inherited our dreams.” SEVERITY: “From who?” VARUNA: ”Ancient souls, of course. It was they who danced the dream.” NEHEMIAH: (Significantly more interested in food). “Ancient... huh...” SEVERITY: “And where are they now?” VARUNA: “Is where the question; or when?” NEHEMIAH: “This talk meshes my mind. All ghosts and mirrors.” VARUNA: “Oh no my friend; the ghosts and mirrors are all man-made. Echoes are the true materials of dreams- including the root beneath our feet.” NEHEMIAH: “Well that’s the most enlightened thing you’ve said, meu.” VARUNA: “That it is.”

And they all clanged pyro flasks, chomped heartily roasted root and enjoyed each other’s company while they still could. While time was still time and not the time after time. Just before a still-spoony Remedy; the flame-haired girl who’d already become renowed in enlightened circles for defeating a Ravani; burst into their diptrunk camp with two mites in tow and a ringing in the air around them. Or around Melodi at least; a ringing in the very nanos. Because like the pyrates, Remedy had realised what people had forgotten when they stopped being beasties and grew… civilised. That society and status and all that tosh doesn’t really mean much; you only really need to take a decent look at the wideness and wildness of the world to work it out for yourself. That’s the best way; no agendas and certainly no dreary dictums. The pyrates were a family because circumstance had forced them to be. Big, stomping uber-booted circumstance. The kind of thundery, metally circumstance which made orphons out of family and then made drones out of orphons like- you know; like a machine. The pyrates (and Anarchists in general) were no kind of machine; that was the point. And that’s why they’d accepted Remedy and her crackpot story about killer students and sinking plateaus and lost love; she was a cog out of place in the Academy machine. That’s why they’d given Melodi a safe house; not that she felt she needed it. No; she knew she needed it, because friendship is worthwhile after all, and sometimes it’s about going separate ways to make sure you end up walking alongside each other again. And if friendship was worthwhile… who knows; maybe family would be even better? Kind of depends on any of them surviving though. Remedy and Severity Two fiery belles with no cards left to play Elegy and Serenity Two bright girls needing to get their thinking caps on Nehemiah One bruised brute with nothing much left in the tank Melodi and Mana Oh-oh; they’d drifted into Zarathustra’s sphere Yeah, they meant that Because they were about to break the beat! MANA: Loopball punt PYRO CHARGE! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Back BUZZ! Making the überswords angry; almost rattling at him HIT?

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Their heads

MANA: Petrified MELODI: Bunraku! Strike while the ice man s vibes are luke warm! Cos with his superswords confused, she might be able to sneak a Dolo into his head And imagine puppeteering a jack like that!

Time to freeze hearts Time to boil nanos Break the clunker down Psyche his nanos out of order... Fight hard... Battle well...

Sneak in, slowly fizzle his blood and you’ll be just one sliver from z-ing him. . ZARATHUSTRA: Nanofreeze MISS, Luggy McLugface; merry Mel ain’t got no... oh HIT: MELODI’s clothes Sensory overload! Yerk! Moy frosty fingers!

Oh, merda los anarch. Melodi had just lost an invisible battle of mite-mashing; nano against pyro. Of head haze versus head cold. He’d got inside her psyche, and that leads to... NANOFLOOD! Sensory overload!

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Melodi felt her fingers chill. Her heart ice over. Her rhythm freeze.

Falls backward, still as in iceberg. You really don’t want to try puppeteering such über nano hives as his. She wondered if this was what happened to the Ossava Ovatta tribe, confused to the point of mass suicide by puppetry overload... MANA: This spark ain t been stifled yet! Grabs the frosted dolly from Melodi s cold, blue hands Eeer... how do you use this thing? A timely question:

SEVERITY & REMEDY Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Snatches the Crimson Harvest from the splodgey, muddy ground Plunge! A shocked Yeeps! HIT! Spooklet whack Through stomach HIT! OUT OF PLAY Face Flying through the roof of a crypt with a crunch Plume of dust as she disappears OUT OF PLAY? ELEGY & SERENITY Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Pulls the Crimson Harvest from Severity s splodgey, bloody body A sullen Oh-oh... Plunge! Spooklet smack HIT! HIT! Through heart Face OUT OF PLAY Looping the loop into an unmarked gravestone with a thunk . Plume of dust as she zones out . OUT OF PLAY? .

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NEHEMIAH & MANA Charge! ZARATHUSTRA Grabs the Raucous Whisper from his magnorack Plunge! Plunge! Crimson Harvest Raucous Whisper HIT! HIT! NEHEMIAH MANA Through head Through face Falls back off the cliff Falls forward down the hill OUT OF PLAY OUT OF PLAY

Zarathustra just killed the lot of them in three seconds flat. No wonder he’s the Principal. Oh, don’t say ‘killed’. How about ‘obliterated’?

The iron man standing over Melodi, sheathing his swords. A curious blue girl in a block of ice, not even able to thaw her tear ducts to mourn. Her complicated heartbeat slowly shutting down. She could’ve gotten sad, she could’ve gotten bitter and she could’ve gotten angry... But instead she opted to just hold her breath. And what do you know; he milled around a while, wiped the blood from his armour... And left. Because he couldn’t see her.

Well, how did you think he viewed the world through those doubled-up, bulbous things? Zarathustra hadn’t been entirely alive for quite some time, so he hungered for it. The nanos in every breath we take, rattling around for all the spooks to see. So he was puzzled now she held her breath; where had she gone? Zarathustra was the prime mover, the big bang, the pusher in motion; of most things. Deus vivo; what a dick. He’d built a world of order on the bones of the last, and it all made sense. Irritating then, here and there when it didn’t. And that’s what drew him to the mausoleum and its soul-flipping swirls. Yes, he remembered this place from long ago- they may even have buried his family here. Buried and burned in the flames below, as was the anarchic old tradition. Well just like the mischievous ether of revolution, tradition had swirled away in time.

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He’d ended anarchic traditions and plugged the holes which housed them. And into those dirty old holes was exactly where nasty, filthy Anarchists fled. So he parted the timeswirls with those big, brutal spooklets and descended below. Into an age-old section of the naussaduct winding under the rickerty plates.

The plates rested on ethereal scaffolding, with these tunnels at its heart. And they were danced into being in a time before time. Then not-quite-gods built the naussaduct into them. And just like clockwork... magnetics... whatever, there’s a lone light in the mist. What do you know; so untouched there was even a working naussapod down here. So though the dead can’t dance, they can certainly take the subway. To the ends of the earth if they have to. Because if the pretty-much-dead can’t make the completely dead live... Well, it’s the same difference to make the living... stop.

It was a while before Melodi spoke or thought or felt again. When the ice thawed and the grief had kicked in. When she no longer felt she was one of the dead. She was the only one who wasn’t one, of course. But if only one of those only ones had been Mana. Because she liked him, you know. Even if she hadn’t shown it.

So it was a while before she stopped sitting there. All snivels and shivers, with ice in her veins and loss in her heart, cradling him. It was a while before she picked herself up. Before she gave up the ghost. It was a while before the deep, dark pits of her eyes bloomed with colour again. Before her kaleidoscopic teeth unstuck. Before her liquid rainbow tears began to dry. Before the world around her started happening again. Melodi could see the future, you know? Mainly because in particularly frightening moments, her heart stopped and the world followed suit. Time opened up for her. But Melodi couldn’t change the future; you know that too, right? If she could’ve changed the future, she’d have changed the past. And then she wouldn’t need to. No, Melodi couldn’t change the future, but she could certainly attempt to warp it. Towards her way of thinking, which wasn’t all that revolutionary right now as it goes. Let’s take a wide, wild guess what she was thinking of right now... That’s right:

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And on the eighth day... God looked at the wide, wild world, saw that it was old and tired... Scrunched it up and started from scratch. Thank Zarathustra he was a god. Or at least, the next best thing. Thank Zarathustra that he was Zarathustra, at least. So he had all seven blades. All seven that mattered, anyway. Enough to bring the world to heel. Seven blades of order and one of chaos. But let’s leave that factor out of the equation in our brave new world this time. Because Zarathustra had enough to bring the plates into order.

Well let’s face it, he’d pretty much destroyed any resistance left in the world already. How wild was that? Not wild, he’d say; wise. Because what’s god if he isn’t wise? I dunno; all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing; all wrathful? How about obsessed?

Yes, it was quite possible Zarathustra was a touch obsessed. With what? What else but gravity, magnetics and maths, plus a bit of mythology. So he’d got curious, hadn’t he? When he felt that bone-tugging ringing. He’d felt it and he’d followed it.

Resonance.

So here he was, sitting on a naussapod. Time had truly stood still down here, or maybe it’d gone round and round and repeated. Sitting in the pod, remembering the good old days, and going somewhere. He didn’t know where... hey wait a minute; that’s chaotic, isn’t it? Well, Zarathustra was a complicated kind. Perhaps he liked a little chaos here and there. Perhaps it plonked him out of his comfort zone; gave him a rare challenge; turned him on? Or perhaps he just liked to understand the competition. So here he was, whizzing through the naussaduct to a faraway corner of the arpeggio. Perhaps somewhere nobody had been for a long, long time. Perhaps somewhere nobody had been at all.

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Wherever he was going, the gravity was getting fiercer. The magnetics were getting stronger and the numbers were making more and more sense. Wherever he was going... it didn’t matter, he was a god- what did he have to be afraid of? There was only one thing in his past, present or future which had that kind of pull on him. Only one thing that could distract him from his duty. Only one thing that could drag him from his dreamworld. Only one thing that could drive his great destiny into doubt. And her name was Odine. She greeted him as he stepped out of the naussapod. Out and up the glossy wooden stairway into a calm, tinkling world. She greeted him with the frizzy hair, persuasive stare and electric touch he remembered. She greeted him with the life she and they and the world had had. She greeted him with happiness. So he reached out to her, of course. He reached out to her, the metal and thunder falling away like ballast. He reached out to her to hold her close and wake up to the world as it was, before anything in between now and then had parted them. He reached, and he reached right through. With his silky skin and his symmetrical face and his fingertips built to touch her’s. Merely the memories of children. Happy children they were; cast adrift from the muddy stains of adulthood. Happy children before the world swept in to drown them. So in this dream he reached right through her. With his gloopy flesh and his iron-stitched face and his ugly, clumsy spooklets. His heartbeat refamiliarising itself with that crooked weight. Bitter man, he was; tossed aside from the anarchic breaths of others. Bitter man, after the world had trampled him. And as he reached right through, her eyes changed. Like fire pools they were, and now swirly, whirly comets. Egg yoke, Nike tick eyes. Just so that she and her chaos scared him as she passed into the ether. Just that, and to make him angry. Just so that he realised he’d been fooled into this fantasy. Just so that he recognised what all of you should recognise already. That it’s difficult to tell the dreamer from the dream. ————————————————————————————————

“.em. w..e .p.” “Whu...” “Rem. wa.e up.” “Huh?” “Remy, wake up!”

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But let’s not think like that, Remy; let’s just wake up. She was the last to come to, as it goes. Though to be fair, most of the others were dead. Which made them a very sleepy bunch indeed. REMEDY: “Moy swords!” ESUNA: “They’s... around.” REMEDY: “Moy blue girl?” ESUNA: “That sprite? She’s... alright.” REMEDY: “Moy coco...”

Typical Remedy; instruments first, bass line second, sanity last.

“OK, so I’s alive?” Esuna with a not-quite-certain nod. Our battered ginger pugilist sitting up with her arms and legs sprawled, her hair a mess, her bruised body cradled by broken stonework, a sword somehow still in her hand. But the other one? “It’s over there, siz; by the blue belle.” “Ah!” The shadow of desperation suddenly retreating back behind the protective veil of relief. Yeah, swordplay’s an obsession but at least it’s a healthy one. Isn’t it? “She looks a tinse fumey though, Rem.” “Moy blue girl always looks a tanse tensy, kitz.” Esuna dragging her out of the shattered mausoleum. Bumps and bruises, the both of them. “And Esu, what happened to you’se?” “Punishment from the Principal. You’se?” “Reckon we’s not the kinda kitz who should stay in school.” “Otherwise it might kill us.”

Watching a massive funeral pyre ebb into dust. Elegy, Halo, Esuna and a tinsy, tansy, tensy, fumey blue girl. Remedy could feel the stab of her eyes before she even turned round. Funny how she did that... Made Remedy feel... sad to the bone.

Melodi was a curious creature I’m hoping you realised she wasn’t Psytopian a while ago.

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She didn’t hate Psytopians. No more than she hated anyone or anything else. No more than she hated life, and still having to live it. While ones she... let’s say ones she liked were deprived of their own. No, Melodi didn’t hate Psytopians; in fact, there were a few she’d label friends. And that was a big step. She’d opened up. To Remedy, to the pyrates and to Mana too. The brittle little space ball had such an innocent soul. So open it was; so empty- just like infinity. And Melodi liked that. No hidden beats and breaks to trip her; not so full as her own multi-faceted head. Still. It reminded her of home. Home before it was cut loose, drifting into ether, all a-smoulder. It reminded her of her; before she got hurt and lonely and cynical and bitter. When she was older. That’s right; Mana reminded Melodi of when she was a child. When the weight of the world wasn’t so firmly tethered to her tender shoulders. But the child had gone; she’d grown younger. Because Melodi aged backwards, you know, or sideways or something. Like everybody used to when the world made sense. The child had gone; passed. The child was... how do pissed off, reactionary Psytopians say it? The child was dead, and so was Mana. So this was one lonely little mite who wasn’t wanting anyone near her. Who wasn’t wanting anyone to speak to her; to touch her. Who wasn’t walzin’ pretty anymore. But who realised now that she’d lived long enough for time to repeat. For the spooky reflection in the twisted mirror to grow it’s own... apocalypse? And that meant they’d both lived way too long. death, death, death,

death

But you know Remedy, right? Lively, cheery, making the best of what she had. Rolling with the bumps and bruises and... Often not doing what she should.

, death, death,

death!

“Lil’ Mana?” Melodi’s friend and the other, curious dupe girls drifting over to her now. With their forlorn, sensitive, supportive, wrist-stroking humanity. It’s enough to make you want to stab yourself through the ticker, isn’t it? “Mel; Mana would’ve wanted you to...”

“He’s transcended.” Said through grit teeth, clenched fists, unwinking gaze. And oh-oh; when she pronounced words so forcefully it really gave Remedy brain-ache. “Mel.” Remedy with a hand on the blue girl’s shoulder. Tense, wince, shrugs away. She wanted to be left alone...

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“Remy, I wouldn’t go near her; she’s pretty hacked off.” Elegy had been there, done that, got the gut-stabbing evil eye. “S’ dandy siz; merry Mel’s not the talking type.” But when she does speak it really bites to the blood. “Yeah I’s pitched a handy claw too, kitz. When she looked at moy I started tumblin’ down pits an’ stuff.” And Esuna had taken enough falls for one round, thanks very much. “Yeah, that happens. I’s g’wan talk to her again.” Halo playing gleefully with newly missing fingers; knew a bad idea when she heard one. REMEDY: “Mel, hey?” Silence. REMEDY: “Mel, it’s moy.” Shrugs. REMEDY: “Mel, you’se can ‘fess to moy, K?” Winces.

Remedy sat down next to her. Cross-legged by the smouldering pyre, tucking her aching ankles in, prodding her boots with a thumb. The flames seemed to lean towards the blue girl. They wept like willows. They seemed to sulk with her. So what’s the best way to flush guilt and grief out of your system? Settle down, take a breath, celebrate the good times, remember how the passed made you laugh and smirk and sigh and giggle... Then make that gimpy bastard pay.

Remedy.

“Melodi.” The blitzer feeling little rainbow Mels burst into cinders, singeing her clothes and making her head feel all spoony. Her eyes looping loops as she held her. “If there’s anything we’s can do kittyclaw...” And she knew what it was without Melodi even saying so. She knew what it was, and she heartily agreed; what are friends for? “Check, siz; we’s g’wan Z that gangly shaltz.” ELEGY: “Remy, is that wise?” REMEDY: “Wise, nuh-huh. Right, oh yeah.”

HALO: “He’ll probably kill us.” REMEDY: “Well we’s all got a lickle livin’ left, so why not burn it out on that?”

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“Mel, moy sapphire siz. You’se eyes are drooping lickle mimics.” They were, too; mini Melodis of various colours popping out of her tears. Wandering a few steps like pintop angels before bursting into flames. Then just as swiftly, drifting into mist.

Melodi rolled her eyes and wiped them with a chequered glove. A flickering glove. Her arms were fluttering in and out of invisibility, or existence or something like that. Woah, she really was a mess. ESUNA: “Yeeps; you think that kooky coco-coiler’s safe?” HALO: “She’s an imp. Imps aren’t safe.” ELEGY: “It’s like a million drum beats, all at once.” ESUNA: “Bang, bang, bang, same as her tears.”

HALO: “It’s rhythm. It’s what brought us here.” ESUNA: “It’s what? I just followed you’se.” ELEGY: “Whatever it is, it’s making me sad.” HALO: “The shadow at the dawn of death.” ESUNA: “You’se pitch some spooky chatter sometimes siz.” ELEGY: “Yet you don’t seem phased.”

Not like the rest of them. No, Halo didn’t get phased; not anymore. Such is the whim of the wide, wild world and all its twisted echoes. Twisted echoes... like her fingers; missing ghosts- worth a giggle because not much else is. You see things out there, don’t you? You see things and feel them and sense them and hold your life in your arms for a moment, crushed and maimed and battered and burnt, and you’re just glad to get out alive. Well not Halo; she hadn’t felt much forquite some time, but pain was a friendly reminder. Your life’s the same you know; you just fill it with things which help you avoid admitting it.

Melodi looked back at Halo for a moment. Same nonchalant shrug. Same gaunt stare. Same gloomy attitude. Death knows where death’s been, see? And all the low, low places it can take you. But then again, reflections don’t have to repeat ad infinium if you step in the way. REMEDY: “Mel, it’s mint. We’s friends.”

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There’s that word again. Strange how easily it rolled off Psytopian tongues. ‘Friends’. Wasn’t that what they said a moment before plunging swords into each other’s stomachs and carrying along on their way? Though Remedy’s friendship seemed to mean something.

“Mel, siz; Mana’s passed. It’s sad but it’s true, and we’s just gotta take a breath and let it settle, K? Lil’ sprite doesn’t have to worry about the world anymore, does he?” So much had changed in the time Melodi had drifted in this world, yet so much the same. “You brought moy sizuz here, right; dunno how, but I heard you, didn’t I? The future?” So much in the world had fallen away; too much, perhaps. And that was why Melodi took a breath, span around and hugged her.

Things pass, that’s just how it goes. There’s no point getting stroppy about spilt ether. And there’s every point in letting those tears flow. Even if they do contain freaky little pinprick echoes of yourself... Everybody passes; that’s a fact. Except maybe backward-ageing blue girls. Everybody becomes ether in the fullness of time; that’s the thing. And pyronettes tended to fall into the infinity of space. Into a world of endless numbers, black and white, comfortable binary. Pyronettes were simple things; lucky for them. But Mana wasn’t the only one who’d passed this round. Not by a long shot. NEHEMIAH SERENITY SEVERITY HOSEA JEREMIAH ZECHERIAH FIORE VARUNA MATERIA MANA

Dead.

And Melodi’s going to use the term ‘dead’ whether you like it or not. It seemed appropriate. At the end of the day, it wasn’t Remedy or the pyrates of the Blitzblades who’d killed Mana. It was that spooky, gloopy, stompy, clunky Principal. Melodi should’ve known some nutty diablo would end up ending the world. Afterall, she’d done it herself, and everything ends up reflected. ELEGY: (Grabbing REMEDY‘s wrist) “Remedy; you’re not thinking straight.” HALO: (Pouring pyrojuice into a wound with a grimace) “She’s thinking in

circles.”

REMEDY: “Yeah...” ESUNA: “He killed everyone in the Academy, Remy. Like; easy.” REMEDY: “But just two blazey belles slipped out alive...” HALO: (Spinning her around) “Look at me, Remedy.”

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Remedy looked at her. Split lip, swollen eye, slashed face, busted nose, limpy leg, messy hair, missing fingers... And only one sword. OK, so Halo had been unlucky, but... She still had that curious twinge in her voice and eyes that reminded her of... But there were other questions. “Hey, I’m glad you’re here... I mean that you’se still here too, but how did, you...” “I heard something,” which explains just about nothing. They were looking at each other again. Halo and Melodi. Yeah, this was a curious little girl, alright. Her rainbow tears messing with the rhythms of the world... But you know what; you have to be a bit weird to make sense.

HALO: (Turning away to scour the tombstones) “Remedy’s right. We have to stop him.” ELEGY: “Wait a sliver Halo, you just said...” REMEDY: “She’s heard something; like I do. Don’t you; in your drum?” ESUNA: (Punching it; eyeing Halo) “In the drum?” ELEGY: “We need more that hope, Remy. Zarathustra just wiped out the entire Academy and the last Anarchists on the plates. There’s nothing left.” REMEDY: “Uh-uh kitty claw; we’s left.” ESUNA: “We’s left, but not much of us.” ELEGY: “We should be careful. Stay safe. Get allies together and...” REMEDY: “You’se thinkin’ orthodox.” HALO: (Finding a snazzy gigabyte on the mud-cloaked ground- slashing it around a bit; classy) “Better dead than orthodox.” ESUNA: “Check, but... better neither?” ELEGY: “I am not orthodox.” HALO: (Stashing the blade; it’d do) “Dead looks orthodox right now...” ELEGY: “He’s the Principal, Remy. They taught us everything we know.” REMEDY: “So how come we’s alive and the others ain’t?” ESUNA: “Because we’s been lucky?” ELEGY: “It’s over, Remy. No Academy, no Anarchists.” HALO: “There are some Anarchists...” ELEGY: “Scattered, maybe, but we’re swordstrils; how would we find them?” REMEDY: “Nah, siz; she’s sayin’ there are some Anarchists left...” ESUNA: “There’s us.”

And that was when the blitzblades finally accepted who and what they were. Good point, Esuna; simply put. All the best points are are. Order versus anarchy; double-edged sword? Remedy gathering her swords. Whipping the air. Those subtle swishes felt so much more tuneful now. Now that she was proud to be an Anarchist.

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“But...” “Ele, siz; ‘tis dandy. That’s what moy Mojo said to moy. ‘Tis dandy, an’ there’s zippo to be scared of but scaredity itself.” “But...” But Elegy had just taken a knock to her orthodoxy.

Viva!

We don’t do assignments, squibtub; we’s Anarchists! “Now, Mel sweets; where do we’s find this block kickin’ Principal of ours?” Brightening of eyes, lessening of tears, rainbow-toothed grin. A decisive point of tug gloves; towards the gloomy steps down into an old mausoleum. And one knowing exchange of nods with Halo; funny cursed mirror that she was... “He must have gone down there.” ——————————————————————————————————— “Hey, what iz thiz pliz?” Well might Esuna ask. Melodi would’ve rolled her eyes, had they not been friends. Don’t you know anything? It was home.

The only place in the wide, wild world where the dead would walk to just to be buried. If only they knew where it was. And if only Psytopians didn’t cremate their dead nowadays. Because this place had been cut off from the rest of the arpeggio for quite some time. Since the war? Since as long as Melodi could remember. The plates around it fallen away, it was stranded on the edge of reality forever. A blue, tranquil place full of ether-snow, tinkling chimes and blinking candles. If only the dead had found a hidden gateway to the naussaduct. Perhaps they’d be here to greet them. Perhaps this would be Heaven.

They wandered a little. That’s what you do in the garden of Eden. You relax, breathe out and take a look around. What harm is there in that?

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They wandered up the steps of the spiral dome where the naussapod had led them. Up and out into this peaceful, azure-tinted place. Out and across one of the glossy walkways which cross-crossed over pyro ponds. Connecting the sleet-scattered, low-lying domes of the necropolis. They wandered dome to dome. And what a pleasurable wander it was. It was as if time had no meaning here. As if they were wandering through paradise.

AKA Necropolis Shambhala; the city of the transcendent That’s what we’ll call it, I think. If you’re not dead, if you can find ways to walk through fields of flame and if you can find it, perhaps you can visit the Bardo Thodol. With its lavishly sculptured crematoriums, its calm, hypnotic pyro ponds and its majestic bridges and waterfalls, all nestled cosily in the soft, warm snow. Untouched for an age, so it could’ve been around 2,746 years for all I know. It was dusk around here. The gloom held at bay by flickering night lights crowding every balcony, step and walkway, plus a fair few dozen scattered across the spartan wood floor. It would have been romantic if it wasn’t so... you know; spooky. So get dolled up, drift into the ether and wash your snares away Let the timeless tinkles of this ancient place tease your ears and strum your psyche. It’s all very picturesque, isn’t it? The easeful breeze. The elegant waterfall. And the jagged pulse of life bounding around down there, in your boots, in your bones and in your very soul, just waiting to bloom and sparkle. So wander into one of the grand, glazed domes of the Holy Plateau and find yourself. Find yourself, and become yourself. Because this is a better place than any to transcend.

“This be a sparkly old pliz.” Esuna wandered happily as a cloud... or perhaps as a dead person. “And you se talkin funny.” Come to think of it Remedy, so are you. “The breeze is confusing around here.” So’s your speech Elegy. “Like it’s coming from every direction at once.” She didn’t say much, but when she did, Halo tended to be right.

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Yes, sounds hit all at once here. Polyphonic. The whole place was in sync; how everything used to be. When Melodi felt different. When Melodi fitted. When she may have been a merrier Mel. “He’s here. I can feel him.” “Ha; Mel, you se talkin normal.” Of course she was talking normal Remy; I just said she fitted. But that doesn’t mean she liked it here.

Melodi hadn’t been home since... well, since she fucked everything up. One of the first things she’d ever done. Well, excuse her for breathing. Since she’d messed with the plates and left it hanging. Necropoli were sacred places. Actually, they were crypts. One for each of the six ancient ether dancers and their parents. And by that, I mean their kids, because ether dancers aged backwards... And that means this was where they were born. Melodi didn’t know whether she was ready to be born yet. Were the rest of them ready to die?

STOMP! EsUNA: “Do

you se hear that?”

STOMP! ELEGY: “Like a stomping sound.”

STOMP! HALO:

“I know that sound...”

REMEDY: “Kitties;

snag them blades.”

WHIRLWIND TOUR: Necropoli across Psytopia

AMANATI NECROPOLIS THE TAPESTRY THE ACADEMY The Lime Plateau The White Plateau The Emerald Plateau The Golden Plateau A moss-caked, muddy old A fancy temple complex where Previously located on the Charcoal Previously a repository of ancient graveyard where ancient people enlightened people dreamed their plate until some mischievous minx learning, this pyramid was later lives away made into a school buried their dead. Barbarians! mispaced it... 14-5-3-18-15-16-15-12-9 NEKROPOLEKTIKA TĒŌTL LA PAGODE LIBERDADE THE BARDO THODOL The Violet Plateau The Platinum Plateau The Vermilion Plateau The Holy Plateau The largely underground village The long-forgotten catacombs I’m pretty sure this was on the You’re here, you mindless dupe; just look around you! where pyronettes lived in the peace which once served as a meeting Scarlet Plateau until some and quiet of silent numbers place for revolutionary thinkers malicious man-god moved it... GRUTO DE LA PARKITA VERDE

>SCHLINK!< That’s Zarathustra plucking La Sensoria out of a pretty pentagram in the wooden floor. >SCHLINKITY SCHLINK!< That’s four kitty claws drawing a multitude of blades. And this is the final battle!

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Principal Prime mover Practically god? A very bad man with a very bad attitude Standing in the central circle of the main hall A fence made of blades stabbed into the wood Only intermentists would do things like that Suicidals, in pytopian speak Perhaps Zarathustra wanted to kill himself No such luck; Zarathustra only wanted to kill everybody else!

Pretty handy Pretty dandy Pretty much expelled? Remedy, Elegy, Esuna and Halo (with Melodi) They felt extra sparky round here though, hey; or were they just tripping? A disorganised band of little girls a world away from where they belonged They belonged... Yes, you’ve guessed it; dead! So here’s a question for you. What wins; order or anarchy? Are we better off living life as we’ve been taught, lesson by regimented lesson, by the book, whether or not living really happens like that? Are we better off living life in perpetual chaos, doing what we want when we want, never thinking of the consequences, never looking back and probably never getting anywhere? Or are we better off finding our own middle way through the mess? Answers on a tag-pitched postcard to the the Bardo Thodol!

Inside the central dome of the Bardo Thodol A flat, circular hall with a lofty ceiling; a bit like the roof of a planetarium The hall of sighs; where the transcendent came to... I dunno; be reborn? Decorated with intricate geometric shapes and colourful, half-melted wire murals of... Hey; those murals looked like grown-up Melodis of various hues One with green skin and white hair, one with...

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Urgh; home made her sick. Don’t look at them, kitz! Melodi said she didn’t want to be born yet!

Remedy ushered the blitzblades further into the hall of sighs. Because somebody’s got to do it, haven’t they? It may as well be her. Though to be honest, her sword was pretty much pulling her there. “Remy,

he s holding La Sensoria; Freia s sword. That means he s gonna.. ”

“Fight scrawl; I know.” Oh yeah, Remedy had learnt maths, thank you very much. Elegy backed her up. “We s g wan Z him this time, right?” Esuna not so sure, drifting in alongside Halo. A quick nudge of the wrist settled her down. “We’ll be dandy; an even four.” Melodi hovered in the background. Not because she was scared or anything... Not because she was scared of Zarathustra, at least. No, Melodi wasn’t scared of many things. Except perhaps the future.

Zarathustra almost had the full set. But the full set opened the gates of chaos. And if Zarathustra remembered one thing, it was that people can go too far. People can get carried away. Zarathustra remembered getting carried away; obsessed, even. And if he’d learnt one thing from being so close to Odine that she had his very breath wrapped around her anarchic little finger... It was that you should hack chaos down fast before it flips you. Blitzy, blazey options: 1. Make it up as you go along Too simple 2. Dig your heels in and fight close and bold Too gruff 3. Pucker up and trade, and rough and tumble Too barbaric 4. Wait for him to attack and respond Too contrary

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REMEDY

Blessed Angel Holy Judgement

5. Pick him off, shot by perfect shot Too tactical 6. Charge Right up their street!

ELEGY

Twisted Epiphany La Renaissance

MELODI

ESUNA

Swords are for kids

ZARATHUSTRA

Heaven’s Destiny The Inquisitor

HALO

La Faux Fatale A gigabyte

La Sensoria Memento Mori Burning Rage Shadow Splitter Prodigal’s Edge Raucous Whisper Crimson Harvest

Zarathustra changed swords to the Crimson Harvest as they charged. If you’re going to slice up kids you should at least do it with the best blade you have. Anything else would be... rude. He squinted at they sped at him. All rage and fire and spinny, spin, spin. Reminded him of himself when he was young, if only a vague shadow. Six of the seven megablades placed in the floor like swords in stones. He could feel the gravmagtity of that eighth sword baring down on him. Now he was here, standing in its citidel. Only, which one was it? REMEDY

ESUNA

HALO

ELEGY

Blitz break chains Cross-faded! Overhand hoop Backhand swoop Roundhouse loop Charging whirl Spinning scoop Front step twirl Leaping swirl Overhead loop Cross-face curl Backhand scoop Charging swirl Roundhouse loop Front step curl Spinning scoop Leaping whirl Cross-face twirl

Overhand loop Backhand scoop Charging swirl Roundhouse hoop Front step curl Spinning swoop Overhead hoop Leaping whirl Backhand swoop Cross-face twirl Roundhouse hoop Charging whirl Spinning swoop Front step twirl Leaping swirl Cross-face curl

OK, that was anarchic-looking. The breezers weaving in and out of each other like winds through passages. Knotting up the play. Oh, but did I miss something out? That’s alright; the blitzers missed it too. Zarathustra’s tendency to counter.

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COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Lockdown! And the brash and breezy suddenly stopped in their tracks

IE Fabri portioning All students were taught to portion. To divide their minds into smaller and smaller triangles. It prevented the stuff inside them from getting rowdy and interacting. Nano-flecting. Dreamblur. Disobedience. Because that causes doubt, and the Academy wasn’t very good with that. You can’t build a system on doubt, can you? It’ll crumble. So they disrupted the randomness of reality and built systems on certainty instead. In any case, mental portioning regulated minds, whereas corporeal portioning regulated the world around you. By utilising that unholy trinity of gravity, magnetics and maths. So you concentrate and raise icy barriers; storm fronts. Or more accurately, you warp EM fields using the veritable army of souped-up nanos in your blood; throwing up fuzz walls. Undulating sheets of buzzing static, heavy with nanos. Angry things, packed so tight and pure that they locked all other fabris out. So pick your bricks and raise your wall. Like puppets on strings. Like zombies from graves. Like steam from kettles. Six walls raised, trapping the blitzers in separate triangular compartments. Like pieces of pie, from a bird’s eye view. The hall the plate and Zarathustra the cutting knife. Well unfortunately the blitzers didn’t have bird’s eye views. Unfortunately, they were about to get buried.

Zarathustra drew La Sensoria from the floor. And as if by magic, the first wall fell. Crumbling into scattering nanos. One portion of the pie ready to eat. One student in the mix with the master. Esuna versus Zarathustra.

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Lights on for one portion of the hall. A dull smattering of green. The rest of the chamber hurled into shadows. Remedy stuck in one portion, her sword swishes meeting the fuzz wall with a furious fizz. Elegy trapped in another, the snap and sizzle of the nano showers giving her a head cold. Halo in herâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, pacing up and down, irritated. Melodi locked in another icy compartment... urgh; she hated nanos. Esuna and Zarathustra, face to face in the limelight. Esuna brushing her skirt, bouncing on her heels, puffing a little; intimidated. The blitzers egging her on. Well, what is it they say about going for broke?

ESUNA: Scribble Montage A very scrawly combo MISS! ZARATHUSTRA Back steps ESUNA: Scrabble montage A very scrawly combo with nifty steps MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps ESUNA: Scriptal montage A very scrawly combo with nifty steps and jumps MISS! ZARATHUSTRA front steps... GRAILBREAK! Scripty, scrabbly, scribbly montage! That s a hypertek! HIT! ESUNA: It d be easier to list where he didn t hit her SIZZLE! Flies into the white fuzz wall Hell freezes over Esuna s world pauses for a moment Knockdown In a heap of frost

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Alright, so that was hot. Cold, in fact. And staring through the fuzz, Halo was not amused. The blitzers pushing their hands into the fuzz sheets. An inch through before the jelly got solid again. You don’t have to be highbrow psyientists to work out why. Because the storm of the fuzz is repelling your nanos like magnets.

There weren’t many necropoli around. They were the building blocks of the wide, wild world, you know. They were how reality was danced into existence. They were the dreams of the transcendent given form. Because way back before pyronettes and pracks and people and plates, there was nothing. Well, if you’ve got to have a creation myth, that’s the best place to start. There was nothing, and then there was a bang. Well who knows if it was a bang per se; there was nobody there to hear it. There was a noise, at least, and there were necropoli. One for each of the eight ether dancers; seven born and one to be. The cradles of their births and the places of their deaths. Their history went backwards remember? Our beginning; their end, like a crazy mirror. The necropoli were ethereal things. The dreams of the ancient. The bones and the blood and the imaginations of angels. And as these dreams spread, they formed. Into elaborate complexes at first; all held up by ethereal scaffolding. All held up by dreams. But I’m getting metaphysical, and like humans before them, Psytopians didn’t compute such things particularly well. Getting physical makes so much more sense.

The blitzers retracting their hands as they began to freeze over. Angry nanos breaking their very cell structures down. Only merry Mel seemed to be able to unwind the static, thread by painstaking thread... Zarathustra drew the Memento Mori. And as if by magic, the second wall fell. The first reasserting itself.

The next portion of the pie, slapped onto the plate. One student in the ring with the master. Halo versus Zarathustra.

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Lights on for one portion of the hall. A ghostly glow of white. The rest of the chamber consigned to the shadows. Remedy zapping the fields with a sword, to little effect. Elegy running through plan after ever-less likely plan. Esunaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes and lips glazed with ice, mumbling on the floor. Melodi suddenly wishing she had a gravmagtic baton like those swords. Halo and Zarathustra, face to face in the mist. Halo cracking her knuckles, rolling her neck, sneering; infuriated. The blitzers egging her on. What is it they say about revenge?

HALO: Powersnap Reverb Meant to break your breath MISS! ZARATHUSTRA holds it HALO: Powerwave Reverb Meant to break your blood MISS! ZARATHUSTRA tenses up HALO: Shattershock Reverb Meant to break your bones MISS! ZARATHUSTRA s armour soaks it up GRAILBREAK! Wavesnap shattershocker! It sounds roughly as destructive as it really was HIT! HALO: That could well have broken everything SIZZLE! Thrown into the black fuzz wall Hell freezes over Halo s world upside down and inside out for a moment Knockdown With a frosty gasp

Alright, so that was cold. Nasty, in fact. And staring through the fuzz, Esuna was bitterly dismayed.

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The blitzers pressed their hands into the fuzz sheets. All angry static and thick, gloopy jelly. You don’t have to be a doctor to feel Halo’s pain. Because it wouldn’t take an x-ray to work out she was broken.

Psytopia’s necropoli hadn’t always been where they were today. That’s because people weren’t as respectful as the ancient ether dancers. People like to meddle with things. Because people thought they were über important. So people just couldn’t leave the dead to rest. The arcane art of necropoli raising was an Anarchist trick. It was the most devastating weapon in the wide, wild world. Because you can’t have two reflections in a mirror. You raise a necropolis and wherever it was before, it falls. Along with everyone and everything in it. That was why there were gaps between the plates. Why things drifted around somewhat. The necropoli and the plates and even the ether below had been uprooted by majick. Or at least, by very, very fucked up science. ‘Psyience’, they called it, and it was the beginning of the end. Anarchist puppeteers raising the seven necropolis over and over, allowing the plates where they belonged to fall into ether; constantly rewriting the map. By raising those necropolis, they quite literally raised hell. Because the wide, wild worlds were weaved out of the souls of dead ether dancers. Whole, sprawling dimensions full of landscapes, beasties and even people. This dimension, for example, is an unravelled ether dancer’s soul. And it’s still in the process of unravelling. That’s how time is still happening. That’s probably why nothing much happened on the Holy Plateau. The unravelling hadn’t even begun. Of course, Anarchists didn’t invent their arts; they just copied them. But in any case, Anarchist puppeteers raised hells. And from the hells they unearthed, they plucked all manner of gargantuan beastie. No wonder this world was so wide and wild! It’s a casserole of hells and heavens! Only Zarathustra could raise necropoli now. Not that he was an Anarchist or anything, but he’d picked up a few useful tricks. Alright, so he’d only raised one thus far; he’d only just perfected the art. Übertek 2; that was what it was. Middle cog of a trilogy. He’d sunk La Pagode Liberdade and raised it again on the Vermilion Plateau. And with it he’d brought all manner of interesting freak shows. But sadly not his memories... because even in an anarchic world, those stay dead. The story of his life... The blitzers studying their icy fingers as they withdrew them from the fuzz walls. The buzz and fizz easing somewhat on Melodi’s wall as she patiently unwound the storm. The crew back to their feet again, whatever new aches and creaks had befallen them. Zarathustra drew the Burning Rage. And lo and behold, all the fields fell. That’s the problem with brute school nanos. Difficult to maintain their balance.

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The hall open up in all its dull glass, lush mural-walled glory. Four students and one master, a thousand random night lights scattering their vagrant shadows every which way. The blitzblades versus Zarathustra.

ESUNA Head of Steam Epitaph

ELEGY HALO REMEDY

Total Torment Epitaph

Mein Requiem Epitaph

Electric Guillotine Epitaph

You want anarchy; you got it! COUNTERED! A good thing too; Halo for one was about to kill herself But if you want a job done properly... ZARATHUSTRA: GRAILBREAK! Total Steam Requiem Epitaph If you can imagine a megagimp leaping, charging and combusting nanos all in one If you want to imagine such things... HIT! ESUNA, ELEGY, HALO & REMEDY FLOOR QUAKE! Tears it up beneath them and...

CRASH! Thrown into various corners of the hall of sighs Knockdowns! And they d dropped their swords Such are the drawbacks of employing Anarchist tutours...

Melodi was not impressed. Melodi wasn’t even moved. Melodi wasn’t scared. She wasn’t even startled. Because Melodi had a few tricks of her own in those glossy chequered gloves of hers...

Stroppy, broody options:

Doloroso? Ethersash? Tug gloves? Bunraku? Obakeraku? Ethertek? Or perhaps something even more fiendish than that? ZARATHUSTRA: Lockdown! Up go the gravmagtic fields and the blitzers are separated again So much for fancy, dizruptivist tricks

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Zarathustra drew the Crimson Harvest. His favourite, if the truth be known, and that was because it was ordered. Ordered to the point of cold, cold callousness.

Remedy Vs. Zarathustra. Locked together between the fuzzfields. Alright gek head; let’s dance! REMEDY: Overhead loop (HJ) CLANG! Armour block ZARATHUSTRA: Sweeping Montage CLANG! Multiple hilt block (BA) REMEDY: Roundhouse whirl (BA) CLANG! Spooklet block ZARATHUSTRA: Front step Reverb CLANG! Uneasy hilt block (BA) REMEDY: 360 leaping hoop (HJ) CLANG! FIZZ! Sword block A pause. A moment of calm. A break in the track? Or the eye of the storm? Remedy and Zarathustra. Shoulder to shoulder. Eye to eye. Blade to blade. Crimson Harvest and Holy Judgement. Zarathustra with an accusing squint. Remedy with an anxious shiver. So she had the final supersword, did she?

Like the others, the soul-cage of an ether dancer. Caught up, bound up, tied up and poised for puppetry. But this supersword was different from the rest. This sword was argumentative. This sword was disorderly. This sword was trouble. Because this sword was a moving shadow. The soul-cage of an ether dancer who wasn’t even dead yet.

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Remedy and Zarathustra. Chaos and order. Face to face with her pulling away and he drawing near. Desperately gripping that blade. Tensing every muscle. Fists squeezing, boots scrunching, brow dripping. But still the swords stuck together like... like magnets. REMEDY: Last gasp wrench YANK! Pulls the blades apart, into an unintentional spin ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug HIT! THE HOLY JUDGEMENT “Yeek!” If the blitzblade won’t leave the classroom... Plug your stance Remedy; stand your ground. And grip your sword. REMEDY: Desperate cling SQUEEZE! Pulls the hilt to her chest, kneeling away, making herself smaller ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast HIT! REMEDY “Yeeps!” He was trying to push her away from the sword now. Well, if the classroom won’t leave the blitzblade... Keep hold of your sword. But thank Zarathustra that there were greater tricks than push and pulling clouds of nanos. If you can’t physically shift them... Then play with their minds. A spot of untotemacht, perhaps. Let’s stand behind a funny mirror. So that when our huddled heroine realises the storm’s over and turns around... “Mojo?”

It really way Mojo this time. No contorted grin. No messed up hair. No nakedness. “Mojo. I knews you se “Remy. ‘Tis dandy.” “ Tis all dandy now.” So they embraced.

come back.”

And the world was whole again. And safe, and warm, and vibrant. They embraced; heads to shoulders; hands around waists. All a wonderful, slow-spiralling whirlpool of smirks and giggles.

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It really was Mojo this time. Neat and lean and sparkly and smiley. It really was Mojo this time, right where she was meant to be. With her. So Remedy dropped her guard and kissed her.

Mojo.. I could wait till the round before the last one I live as long as I get to spend that last spangly round with...” “Moy

>SCRIPP!<

Silence.

In the eye of the storm. Eyes closed. Bodies pressed. Lips locked.

A drop of blood. A dribble, in fact. Out of the pair’s locked mouths.

A little dribble. It didn’t mean much. Nothing much, except the world. Except the world torn to shreds.

Somewhere across the hall, a blue girl felt a spine-tingling chill. Felt her body sigh. Felt her head spin. Felt her hopes dashed. Because she’d been shouting, but Remedy hadn’t heard. Because that wasn’t Mojo. And because you can’t stop fate, can you? Even if you can see the future. If you could’ve done something about it, it wouldn’t be the future, it’d be an illusion. And Melodi didn’t see illusions. If she could, she’d have told Remedy she was about to fall for one. Reality was a much more gruesome beast. An eye darting open. A terrifying one. A bold, blazing triple pupil. Aw, that really wasn’t Mojo, was it?

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Remedy looked through her as she shattered into dream dust. As the most precious thing passed through her fingers yet again. As her insides hurt. And not just her heart.

CRUNCH!

Remedy collapsed to a knee with a cough of blood and a ‘muddledy...‘ With a spooky gauntlet wedged messily in her stomach. Because she’d forgotten one important lesson:

Zarathustra snatched the Holy Judgement, and the fields fell. Let’s just keep that one sheathed, shall we? The best way to control anarchy; cage it. And while we’re at it, let’s make mincemeat of the last proponents of anarchy too. Three left. What an orderly number. ZARATHUSTRA: Raging buzzdrill Epitaph MISS! ESUNA rolls backwards ZARATHUSTRA: Napalm superstorm Epitaph MISS! ESUNA scrabbles back on hands and knees this time ZARATHUSTRA: Psychotic marionette Epitaph MISS! ESUNA slams against the fancy mural-covered wall Cornered! With a shiver and a sob and a turning up of the bottom lip. He was making übertek up as he went along now. She wouldn’t last a sliver of a slice. Zarathustra stalking her. That great, metal-infused head hovering like a guillotine over her’s. So close his breath formed little icicles on her eyelashes. Esuna dragging herself across the glossy wooden floor. Desperate hands reaching at nothing. No... at Halo’s. Esuna tugged up onto her feet. Pychogimp; you’re gonna pay for that! HALO: Leaping hoop HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head, unphased HALO: Spinning elbow HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Cheek, knocked to the side HIT! HALO: Elbow: Dislocated

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ZARATHUSTRA: Side swipe slap HIT! HALO: Cheek Thrown back across the woodwork Knockdown!

Meanwhile, Elegy sprinted for Remedy’s portion of the hall as she collapsed face first. And Melodi dashing for Elegy’s. Round and round, like hands on a clock face before...

SIZZLE!

Zarathustra raised the walls again. But you know what; the EM fields were faltering somewhat. As if something was messing with their magnetism; unbalancing them. ZARATHUSTRA: Brute battering barrage Downward hack Overhead blast Bowling whack COVER! ESUNA: Protecting her face with her blades

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!

A whimpering blitzblade tucking her legs in. Crunching her arms together. Shutting her eyes. The world a scary blaze of sparks and splinters. But that fuzz wall behind her was feeling decidedly.. spoony?

The fields drop. Elegy racing into Remedy’s portion of the hall. Melodi scampering into the one behind. Zarathustra frustratedly raising them again.

He sneered a little. Not that you could see under that gimpy latex, zipper and mask of splintered sword tips. Yes man-gott, you feel that ethery gap in your gravity, magnetics and maths? It’s called the Holy Judgement. Halo standing next to him with mirroring sneer and an unzipped buzzjack in an open palm. Tick, tick, tick, tick... And what comes after that, metal mickey?

BOOM! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face HALO: Arm Drops to a knee Thrown into the fuzzfield Dazed, singed and confused Shaking a bloody hand Not enough fingers left to flash a blade And all the fields drop

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Elegy skidding to a halt beside Remedy. Cradling her drowsy head as she rolled her eyes, dribbled blood and babbled nonsense. Melodi sailing through the field behind... Before the walls went up again.

Halo vs. Zarathustra. Caught between the fuzz fields. No words, just violence. ZARATHUSTRA: Storm Talon Serenade MISS! HALO backward steps ZARATHUSTRA: Broken Heart Serenade MISS! HALO backward jumps ZARATHUSTRA: Dance of the Deity Serenade MISS! HALO back up against the faltering fuzz wall COUNTER! ESUNA: Dives onto ZARATHUSTRA s back HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Sword across throat And that spooks him enough for the fields to drop again!

Melodi in to help Remedy. Esuna hurled over Zarathustra’s shoulder with a bump. Halo back-peddling with the metri maestro in cold, cold pursuit. As the fuzz walls rose up behind him. “Remy.. ” Elegy guiding her friend through her penultimate breaths. Through her final beats. Her last momories. Oh, move aside breeze belle; we’re not ready to get sentimental yet. Melodi pushing Elegy off. Propping Remedy up. Waggling her fingers at the wound. “Just... hold your breath.”

Not to be confused with that other, magno-clamping form of psychosurgery. I’m talking about nano-patching; what the Medizmeinungsschule taught.

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No, ether arts were far more ancient disciplines than that. I’m talking about the power of positive thinking; spiritual healing, if you will. Dreamed up when they first crafted pyro. The ether dancers, of course. Patching lazers nanos together, stitching melts hope into the heart. No fancy computer-books or nano-plungers, lithoscreens or gravmatisers. Just a sheet of pyro placed on a wound, a will and a way. Don’t pretend to understand, just do; after all, I’m lost on this myself. Twiddle your ethereal gloves as if you’re knitting thread, sing a little song to guide the death out of the injury, and you’re all sewed up. Before the ether of life escaped Remedy and made its way into higher heavens. Almost as if time was going back on itself.

“Mel. Ele.” That was Remedy, spoken with a gasp. Because the dead can’t gasp; that’s how you know. Leaving Elegy’s empirical mind to judge what had just happened: “. .freaky.” HALO: Overhand curl CLANG!

ESUNA: Backhand coil CLANG!

Back in the here and now, the fields were really fluctuating. So much so that the blitzers could step between them without much bother. Unless you count a squeeze, a headflip and a chill. Zarathustra switching between portions as if fighting two simultaneous tugs of war.

Melodi exhausted. Remedy recovering. Elegy ducking through the gaps in the static; entering the fray. Their frazzled colleagues could’ve told them to get that sword back if they’d had it in them. ESUNA: ELEGY: HALO: Leaping twirl Front step curl Leaping swirl CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Scribble Montage Head of Steam Epitaph Shattershock Reverb HIT! COVER! HIT! ESUNA: Arm, elbow, hand ELEGY: Covers up HALO: Broken wrist Drops her sword

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Well, that made two of them unarmed. Zarathustra really should’ve given these tykes a better mentor. Because swordstrils without swords aren’t even worth a fight, are they?

HIT! ESUNA: Shoulder Slding over by Remedy

ZARATHUSTRA: Psy Mirror CLANG! ELEGY: Covers up

HIT! HALO: Midsection Rolling through night lights

Esuna holding her aching limbs. Halo patting the flames out of her clothes. Melodi tired and aggravated as usual. Remedy staggering onto her feet. Zarathustra raised the fluctuating fuzz fields. Sneered. Tossed the Holy Judgement aside and raised them again.

Ah-ha; now the mind and matter fall back into sync. And then there were two. Elegy Vs. Zarathustra.

ZARATHUSTRA: Flashlight Serenade ELEGY: Covers up PING! That s one blade swept away

Remedy snatched back her ultisword. If Zarathustra didn’t like anarchy, she’d have it. It was baring down on him anyway, so it’s time to accept it. Accept it or fall under its roaring tank tracks and taste the rust.

Remedy revved up a pirouette. Overhead whirl over backstroke curl over roundhouse twirl over... You know how it goes by now. 50, 100, 200 BPM... And Zarathustra thought he felt something coming. Looked over his shoulder; nothing there. Just the angry buzz of the fuzz fields.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Rainbow Serenade ELEGY: Covers up PING! Her other blade wrenched off its various straps up her arm

Remedy speeding up that pirouette. Round and round and round and round she went. Visible into invisible. Now let’s just she if she’d guessed this right...

Zarathustra could swear he felt something coming. Looked over his shoulder; all clear. All but the protective wall of static. So let’s turn back and finish the task in hand. ZARATHUSTRA: Death s Head sere... COUNTERED! REMEDY: Right through the fuzz field, back into visibility and... Devil s Pirouette HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head, back, arm, chest, chest, arm, shoulder, face The fields drop And that last shot even lopped a chunk off his gimpy face mask

CRUNCH! Down to a knee

Yep, Remedy was right. Stitched up, pissed off and right. That if she was invisible, that meant she was insubstantial. And spooks can pass through whatever the hell they want.

So here’s the scoop; Zarathustra wasn’t omnipotent. And not quite the man-god he imagined himself to be. He’s just a plain lickle man, and you know the thing about men? When they mess with you, you can hit them back. Elegy without her swords. Elegy the tech head. Elegy the thinker. Elegy the patient, rational, the fair and meek.

Well if the wide, wild world had taught her anything, it was what life wasn’t like that. That life wasn’t quite how it should’ve been. That life was a little dirty, if the truth be told. And that if you haven’t been taught something... give it a go anyway.

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ELEGY: Overhand hook CLANG! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face That hurt her more than it hurt him But at least it made her feel better

Yeah, but...

The blitzers gathering their swords from their fallen places. Gathering themselves into an arc around their frazzled Principal. Gathering their senses and holding their ground. Melodi would’ve urged them to strike while the iron was blazing but... too late.

Stompy, psycho options:

Charge at them? Expel them? Execute them? Gravity? Magnetics? Maths? Or how about combine the trinity and give these troublesome tykes a field trip to hell? ZARATHUSTRA: Ultitek 2 Necropolis raising

Zarathustra wasn’t interested in games anymore. Zarathustra wasn’t playing with toys. Zarathustra was ready to put on a puppet show!

Alright, so you’ve mastered ultitek one... What do you mean ‘yes’? Only gods master ultitek. The ones who step beyond reality as we know it. Last time I looked, god had abandoned us. But for argument’s sake, let’s say he’s come back. What next? I dunno, transcend? Sorry, but you’re still one verse away from that. You’re on step two of the proverbial three. OK, so have you mastered either übertek or hypertek? What do you mean ‘both’? Only a truly messed up deity could master both.

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It’s like being both a perfect preacher and a perfect serial killer. Able to switch between roles at will. Last time I looked, such... people were... well, were a little rare. But for argument’s sake, let’s say you really have mastered both über and hypertek What’s next? Now you’ve got free reign over the heavens and hells. Provided you have a hyperdoll in your possession. You have? Alright then; go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nekraku was the process which threw the wide, wild world into being. And also one of the arcane arts which brought it to its knees. So have you ever wondered why Psytopia’s plates differed so much? It was all because of Nekraku. Necropolis were where the dead went to sleep and dreamt this world into being. Each plate a different dream. I’m not talking about dead people, you gekky squib, I’m talking about ancients. And when they slept, they transcended,leaving only their bones to balance this world. Their bones were housed in things we might choose to call ‘swords’... ...though their form would depend on your culture. And the vibes of those übejects; the dreams the dancers left behind, seeped up through the topsoil and into the air as they slept, building structures- forming worlds. We might choose to call those plains of reality ‘heavens and hells’. There were eight necropoli scattered across Psytopia. The rest of the plates were just poor reflections which grew around them; a bit like weeds. Or daydreams; echoes of the places where ether dancers breathed their last/first/whatever. And that was when people started messing with things. By raising necropoli themselves; twisting the mirrors. And messing with the rhythm of nature.

But anyway, I digress. It takes a very special kind of person to raise a necropolis. There was a time when it took an ancient, but you can always copy master at work. But back in the days of that god-awful war, the raising of necropoli was common. And ergo, the sinking of enemy encampments. Of the Anarchist hordes, the dizruptivist clansmen and their beastie-baiting WMDs.

And this is how you raise one. Zarathustra held Orinoko aloft. As his eerie, tartan spooklets turned to ice and the night lights snuffed themselves out. What better instrument with which to grind his opponents into the shadowy mists of hell?

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He held her up and clasped those nasty spooklets around her dainty neck. That’s right; make the patchwork spookstorm breathe. The dolly bleeding gloopy cogs all over the chamber’s glossy wooden floor. Spookjuice; that was what it was- the building blocks of nurture. Slopping tunelessly on the broken wood. The noise concealing a palpable rumbling underfoot... CREAAAK! “Hey, isn’t the floor swishin’ under moy foots?” “You re imagining things Remedy; you had So even Elegy was using that word now?

a near death experience.”

CRRREEEAAKKK!

“Look kitz, I s not been half deaded for at least a round an I s sayin there s some subtle spinni in moy toes.” Esuna adding her two Pytopian cents. “We’re being dragged down to hell.”

And paranoid as it sounded, Halo was pretty much right. Grotty swordstrils and glum blue girls can both vouch for that. Because this particular swordtril and blue girl had been there before.

CREAK!

CRACK!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

The breezers almost off their feet now. As if being caught under fire on a 60’s Star Trek set. The blitzblades turning...no, the hall turning... no, the world itself.

It didn’t really matter what was and wasn’t turning. What mattered was that they were going down. Conjoured into the bowels of the hells...

Hear the hydraulics. CLANKETY-CLANK! Feel the earth move. CRUNCHETY_CRUNCH! See the plate whirl.

SPINNITY-SPIN!

“Um... what the rusty hack’s happenin’?” Remedy feeling as if she was standing in a gigantic elevator. A swinging rope bridge. The deck of a sinking ship.

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AKA this world Going down!

CREAK! CRACK!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

The breezers lost for words, lost for breath, lost for balance. As the plate sunk or the hells rose or something in the middle. As dust and smog and clouds puffed up; careful- some of those whipped up timeswirls. As the ancient cogs of war dragged them into the gloomy depths of the underworld. They weren’t alone, of course. Nekraku wouldn’t be a weapon of mass destruction if it just left opposing armies alone. Yeah, great; death by isolation. No, the destructive thing about raising hells was what was in them. Feel your bones quake. CLICKETY CLICK! Hear your heart race. THUMPETY THUMP! Watch the spooks gather.

CREEPERTY-CREEP!

Hells seeping up out of the ether.

Melodi happened to know a few things about Makai, and by that I mean levels of hell. You see, hells aren’t physical things; neither are heavens. If they were, miners would bump into devils and airline pilots into gods. No, Makai weren’t physical places. They were corners of your mind. Where dirty, nasty, evil thingies formed. But like all good spooks, they existed in a public consciousness. Conjoured into reality with the expert application of gravity, magnetics and maths. The appliance of psyience! Melodi had been to different Makai before, and they were a headache, I’ll tell you that. The dreams of the dead. So she’d only choose to go there out of desperation. When she didn’t have anywhere else to turn. Psytopians didn’t believe in heavens and hells. Because Psytopians had ordered minds. They did as far as Zarathustra had anything to do with it. Because the cogs of war had scarred him just like the rest. The wacky weapons of anarchism. The raising of grotesque, psychological worlds; the waking of dreams. And all the earth-wrenching beasties which lived in them. Oh, Melodi knew about raising necropoli, alright. So let’s take a trip through the heavens and hells. And see which one is your nightmare.

And it’s quite possible youcould dream your own up... to be fair our pysches probably pluck platters out of each Whether you see them as hells or heavens largely depends on your viewpoint.

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Melodi had been to various gaias. By that I mean heavens. To be honest, they didn’t impress her much. The squeaky clean, sickly-serene sensation of transience. No, it you want go hook a random bag of spooks, you go downtown. And whatever you do, you hold your breath. Because you don’t want to have some bizarre beastie grab it from you and trade lives forever, do you? So überbeasts didn’t really exist; they were simply horrific figments of the imagination. Transcendent people’s personal nightmares given form after they left their bones behind. They weren’t real until you made them real. By dragging their world up into your own and bridging the imagination gap! “What are those things?” Elegy picking up shapes as the lift whirled down, clankety-clank. The lift, or the hall, or the plate, or her soul? If you think and feel and fear it’s real... Well, then it might just become so. “They’re psycho storms.” Of course they were, Halo; but not just any kind. The White Hell was literally made of the things. Swirlin’ on up at you... And they were ragin’; no, I mean really. This gloomy mess was carved out of the stuff. Seeping over the edges of the grand wooden elevator and into their souls. Gloopy, grumpy, globular gunk. It’ll get everywhere, you know. So before it gets into your head and you start subconsciously forming it into random gargantuan monsters from the most horrendous corners of that fucked up mind of yours... Jam your boots into the crunching wood, drawn your swords and hold your breath. Because beasties don’t lurch long at you when they can’t sense what they’re swiping at.

CLANKETY-CLANK!

PUFFETY-PUFF!

CREAKETY CREAK! So the swirling world around the hall of sighs had come to a tumultuous... SLAM! With dream dust and floor quakes and all the fun of the fair.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Psytopia: Adagio 3

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Zarathustra had just raised a necropolis. A lavish complex of intricately carved marble courtyards and rain-soaked walkways hanging in the mist; the soul torn away from the White Plateau across the plates. Brought up through the idyllic surroundings of the Bardo Thodol like a speeding car through a crumpable fibreglass wall; a new cage for an age-old necropolis. That meant he’d sunk the Ravani’s ancient hideaway unceremoniously into the ether. The greatest warriors in all the lands, probably slipping into the wastes of hell. And all to beat the blitzers or... because he was obsessed by this kind of psycho shit?

ORANGE HEAVEN A place that bathed you in an all encompassing warmth PURPLE HEAVEN A place so balanced it’d calm even the most ragey types YELLOW HEAVEN A place safe from the ravages of time BLACK HEAVEN Primal passion WHITE HEAVEN Sweet dreams GREEN HEAVEN Also known as this physical world GREEN HELL WHITE HELL Twisted dreams BLACK HELL Primal rage YELLOW HELL A place where time consumed itself PURPLE HELL A place so cold even your feelings froze ORANGE HELL A place that’d leave you spinning in your grave Melodi could hardly see her gloves in front of her face in the rising dust. That’s the blurry mist of the dream world, you know? Melodi couldn’ t see because she ‘saw’ in moods, not forms and colours. If she could, she’d have noticed her own skin had turned white; her hues all a muddle. HALO: (Unimpressed) “Well, that’s spangly.” ESUNA: (Slightly more impressed) “He just dragged us down to hell, right?” REMEDY: “A hell, siz; aren’t there a taggle of ‘em?” ELEGY: “Shouldn’t we stop and work out exactly what’s happen.. ” HALO: (Disturbingly icking a blade)”Do what you want; I’m z’ing a spook.”

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You’ve got to commend Halo for her tenacity. Stupidity. Deathwish. Whatever. But the problem was, she was about to step into a timeswrl. Because meddlesome majicks tended to tear the fabris of nature. Tended to tear holes in its building blocks. Tended to mess things up a bit. Histories. Realities. Minds. Timeswirls extended to the edge of your sphere. Care to share one? Timeswirls were easy to fall into but not so simple to navigate. To be fair, it wasn’t the most damaging side-effect of arcane arts. HALO: Suicidal bundle Takedown! HALO: Underhand plunge HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Through chest OUT OF PLAY Deja-v...oh. SNATCH! That was the tug at her little, raggy shoulder, tearing her away.

SLIP! That was the last time her little, anxious fingers would touch her mother’s hand.

SHRIEK! That was mother, she assumed; she didn’t have any memory of her until now. SPLAT! That was part of mother hitting the ground at the behest of a crimson blade. Halo shook her head clear. That was... worrying. Another timeswirl creeping up on her. What had she been doing again? ZARATHUSTRA: Overhand right (dolly in hand; strong look) HIT! HALO: Jaw. Teeth tinkle, doll stained, time still spinning Oh, he’d got on top after that fortunate swirl... ZARATHUSTRA: Overhand left MISS? Funny; she felt like she had her teeth back too. Somewhere in the haze around their shared sphere, three blitzers frowned. Well they would if time for an odd octagon doll fight and a flashback had passed for them. But you know what; maybe Halo was crazy enough to try to use these random swirls to her advantage; odds not in your favour- risk another bet. HALO: Rolls them into a timeswirl

FIZZ! Psytopia: Adagio 3 3

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6


HALO: Mouth >SCHLOP!< All her teeth bar one that time, spat out with random chunks of doll hide Muddledy... HALO: (Finsing this oddly funny) Rolls them towards a timeswirl... ZARATHUSTRA: Double-handed smash (double deadly descending dolly)

SMASH! >SCHLOP... tink!< All the teeth this time HALO: Reaches for a...

SMASH!

Was that her brickin’ teeth again? No, it was the world as Halo knew it. Like being caught in the heart of a shatterstorm The time-tangling game well and truly over. Shattered windows and windowsills. Nothing but cracks in the architecture, blood on ice, misplaced fingers hanging on the ‘sill... Hey, skip a shade; that’s how she got out of that predicament in the Principal’s penthouse. She didn’t know at the time because it hadn’t happened yet. But arcane arts stoke up swirls across time, you know. Wouldn’t really be timeswirls if they only happened in the present. Crunching squidgy icecubes... no; that was a broken bag of teeth again. Maybe if Halo concentrated hard enough, she could control these things... Maybe... but control wasn’t exactly Halo’s forte. You know who’s it was though?

FIZZ! SMASH! >SCHLOP!<, FIZZ! SMASH! Well this was getting... rude...

But Halo was a glutton for punishment, so she kept on rolling them into timeswirls. Made her feel alive; not much did. Not since... maybe rolling the time dice wasn’t so random. To be fair she should’ve known, if she hadn’t tried really, really hard to forget... MARIONETTE 69: 360 degree body spin HIT! MYTHRIL: Slice across face OUT OF PLAY >SLUMP!< Oh-oh; this wasn’t the best time and place to be. Time stood still for plucky little Halo at that moment; when she first saw death. It was kind of the moment when she lost herself as a child and found herself as a woman. Actually she wasn’t sure if she’d found herself just then, or ever- it was kind of thrust into her hands, with all their red stains and blue bruises, trembling with nothing but adrenaline. She wasn’t sure if she’d skipped the child to woman part and gone child to dead. Depends on your outlook. What she did know was that at that moment, when the first of her party was cut down by the gangly automatons back on the Vermilion Plateau, with hundreds more still baring down on her, she was alone in a crowd and time stopped.

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3

2


Timeswirls can be perilous things. Especially when they clash and combine; just like superstorms. Confusion isn’t the half of it; the half of it is repetition. Or the double of it, or the quadruple of it; it repeats. And suddently you’re past and present are flipping around ad infinitum.

Thank Zarathustra that Zarathustra was OK; he’d avoided being picked up by the swirl. Which was fine because he’d been here before of course; La Pagode Liberdade necropolis. Actually, Halo hadn’t revisited the best time in this place’s history. The best was when this place was somewhere different; where he’d met Odine, Zarathustra was able to step outside of time, or at least to swat the swirls away. Dreams can play out in no time, after all. But Zarathustra had been here before, even when here wasn’t somewhere else. He’d sunk La Pagode Liberdade and raised it here many rounds ago, when a small sprig of anarchic thought still played in his head and made him do illogical things... what was it? Oh yes; love... and no, he didn’t completely recall what it felt like.

It was Zarathurstra who’d built the dupe factory on the Vermilion plate. Well, if raising a necropolis wasn’t going to bring his love back, it may as well spawn hate. So he’d converted the place- brought in some old skool tech. And he made... friends here? He’d constructed dupes; robots if you want to call them that. Thundery metal minions to carry out his will. His only will at the time being to kill the pesky Anarchists who kept crawling back here to pay their respects to all their dirty, nasty comrades who fell when he first sank the ship. So that’s what they did, and once all the Anarchists were gone, they stopped. Or they were supposed to, but even technology gets confused by timeswirls. Wake, kill, spawn, repeat. He’d thought by stationing loyal little pyronettes there to dismantle the place, there wouldn’t be any trouble, but I dunno- maybe one solitary pyronnette had a revolutionary thought during a particularly dreary day, and out spawned the spinning psycho marionettes again. Well, at least deleting the workforce meant they’d extinguished that bright spark too. Halo though... I’d forgotten about her, hadn’t I? A bold, bright spark which could burn for a thousand rounds, battling the marionettes. Oh right; raising necropoli left timeswirls everywhere you stepped, so it may be a while. She’d burn out eventually though, wouldn’t she? MARIONETTE 134 & 135: 360 degree body spin MISS! MISS! ETUDE: Crossface parry HALO: Diving hoop FIZZ! Halo leaps into a timeswirl MARIONETTE 317 & 318: 360 degree body spins HIT! MISS! ETUDE: Across neck HALO: Sweeping loop OUT OF PLAY GULP; now she was alone in the crowd FIZZ! Halo drops into a timeswirl

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MARIONETTE 483 & 484: 360 degree body spins MISS! HALO: Weary stagger; bruised, broken, still battling FIZZ! Halo drops into a timeswirl MARIONETTE 1: Magno-eye blaze; ACTIVATES! Back to the start; are you serious? FIZZ! Halo drops into a timeswirl

And there she was, standing in the heart of the factory; the belly of the beast. Surrounded by piston pumps, automation pulleys, bodies on bodies on bodies. Marionettes, pyronettes, friends.. she’d very quickly gone from seeing her first death to seeing many, but the odd thing was that a lot of them were her own. Because as she reached for the sword left in here by some long dead Anarchist, she was hit by her first timeswirl... MARIONETTE 69: 360 degree body spin HIT! MYTHRIL: Slice across face OUT OF PLAY >SLUMP!< The first time Halo had seen the face of death. The death of a friendly pyronette at the sharp, razored hands a peon. She grew to recognise that face as she did her own. “Halo; wake up!” Had she fallen asleep? She had, hadn’t she? As a marionette span in from one side and a sword from the other... MARIONETTE 69: 360 degree body spin COUNTERED! ETUDE: Sidestep plunge HIT! MARIONETTE 69: Through chest ELECTRIC FIZZLE! OUT OF PLAY Halo backsteps a pace, confused

FIZZ! Another timeswirl.

Another zapping of the contents of her sphere into a time and place which may have happened differently if she could only remember. But there were ghost memories; not quite there. Overlaid on the most recent version of events like a shroud; making it hard to tug the shapes of reality from the murky memories of what could’ve been- making everything misty.

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3 6


MARIONETTE 7: 360 degree body spin HIT! HALO: Across stomach

ETUDE: “Halo!”

MYTHRIL: “01010011 01101000 01101001 01110100!”

OUT OF PLAY!

FIZZ! Halo’s body falls into a timeswirl

And that was probably where her problems began. La Pagode Liberdade was a hotbed of arcane majicks; the stuff that kicks up timeswirls. And Halo had stepped into a whole, hateful storm cycle of them. You’ve got to feel sorry for her; she’d been pretty much normal until death started rapping at the door... again and again and again. She’d lost count of how many times she’d answered it. Because the Vermilion Plateau was teeming with timeswirls. She grew to despise them a lot more than the marionettes, that’s for sure. The marionettes just killed her. The timeswirls stopped her from staying dead. MARIONETTE 78: FIZZ! MARIONETETE 221: FIZZ! MARIONETTE 523: Those ear-jarring, bone-aching, brain-sapping 360 degree body spins HALO: Leg lopped off HALO: Heart driven through HALO: Baheaded OUT OF PLAY >BACK IN PLAY< OUT OF PLAY >BACK IN PLAY< OUT OF PLAY... She could’ve died a thousand times; she’d lost count. She could’ve been here for an age in her head, on perpetual re-run. It could’ve taken forever to z all those dupes, until she faced that last 666th again... Real blood caked over spook blood; the psycho stains of break on break, puncture on puncture, pain on pain- half dead, part dead, dupe-dead, whatever. Until she was finally back there, past the courtyard, the drawbridge, the hall. Standing in front of the drive lever which kept this place spawning dupes. Deal bodies atop spook bodies piled so high in her head it’d take another age to scale them. Sabre slash upon skin slash; death upon death, like a dream that never ended. She’d left a lot behind in that courtyard, on that drawbridge, through this hall. Her hope, her soul, her bodyparts. So yes, it was this interminable timestorm, cooked up by the arcane art of necropoli raising which had terrorised Halo’s past and her present, mashing living and dying into one. But there was another thing she left behind aside the hope, soul and bodyparts; fear.

CLANK!

6


And once fear had joined the swirling collection of Halo gravestones, she got there. The end of the hall in the central mausoleum; where she’d first been zapped by a timeswirl in a necropolis which may as well have been made for her. Staring through a blood-caked fringe and bloodshot eyes so freaked one of her pupils had popped and parted; half of her had passed. Staring at that sword in the proverbial stone. The heart of the necropolis where some desperate Anarchist in times gone by had plunged the thing with his last breath, Fruitlessly believing in some crooked myth that he could send this death-drenched hell hole back to whence it came... And you know what; the chugging, clugging and bone-tugging of the machine stopped. And Halo full on collapsed into a timeswirl. FIZZ! “Halo? Halo; what happened?” Oh, Esuna; you really don’t want to know. And she wouldn’t get it anyway; innocent sprite, they all were. Halo ghosting her fingers over Esuna’s face... innocent sprite like she used to be...

We’ve established that it can screw you up, right? Well Halo was more screwed up than most. She was older than most, too; in her own head at least. Maybe that was why Melodi saw something in her. Something connected; reflected. Halo had tasted death a million times. A million times, but it didn’t ever quite take her. Well OK, so she was now back in the world with things to live for... Half back in the world, because death’s hand leaves an indent in your wrist. Half back in the world with things to die for. So how about we place gamble number one million and one? “There are loopy loco lurches all over thiz pliz.” No Esuna; there’s merely the movement of your mind. So how about Melodi steps in, reels them back towards the heavens and... And gather your dolly! Do it quick though sparkletips, because Zarathustra hadn’t brought them here to signtsee. No; Zarathustra liked the wildlife around these parts; from ancient imaginations. And by wildlife I mean wild; wild, freaky, fucked up and furious. Wouldn’t you be if you lived in hell?

BOOM! BOOM! … CREAK!

6 6 6


“Well at least that noise has stopped.” Oh come on Elegy; haven’t you learned anything about the eyes of storms? Creak... scrunch... Remedy shrugged. “Hell ain’t so pangy.” Esuna grinned. “Just a lil hazy is all.”

Elegy breathed freely. “At least there aren t any ghastly, ghoulish beasties to.. ” Halo duly wedged a great, heavy sword messily into their complacencies. “Something’s above us.” Something indeed. Something big. Something bad. Something beastly.

CREAK!

CRACK! SCRUNCH! RIP!

Melodi not quite as startled as the rest. As the dust sprinkled on them from the crumpling ceiling. As the rainbow faces of the ether dancer murals on the shaking walls seeped goo; almost crying. As the diced wooden floor was struck with brain-looping magnetic waves. Because Melodi knew all she had to do was hold her breath. “What is thiz diz?” Remedy, swords drawn. “And what s spewin it?” Esuna, wide-eyed and curious.

“Whatever it is, it s big.” Elegy back stepping with an upward gaze and a gulp. And Halo with the answer to the million dollar question. “It’s an übersquib.”

WRENCH!

YANK! CLANK! TEAR!

The noise. The cold. The walls shuddering like tidal waves on a beach at night. The roof screwed off like the lid off a jar of peanut butter. The roof. The walls. The top of a boiled egg lopped off with a spoon. And suddenly, there was only darkness.

PUFF!

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“Hey, that ain’t so stumpy.” Remedy relaxing her grip. “We s s posed to be yeeped by darkness?” Esuna not only wide-eyed, but bushy-tailed.

“I don t get it. There s nothing; what pulled the roof away?” Elegy thinking... But once again, it was Halo who cracked the conundrum. “Look closer.”

Shadows, that was what they were; all of a sudden the world was nothing but. A sky... no, an expanse... no, a universe of shadows. Nothing but shadows, all the way up. Like space without the stars.

There was something comforting about the bindless void. Stretching up beyond them and the necropolis like a plump old crow over a wounded field mouse. And then, just to flip the coco... the shadows began to form into what they really were. Fears. BLINK!

Think of the great, grand daddy of the übersuar, pumped full of steroids, superimposed on a miniaturised set, inflated with helium and in close zoom while the rest of the world remained screen size. Yes, the ultisaur was big. Tower block big. Mountain range big. Eastern seaboard big. That’s right; the ultisaur was big. Quite possibly bigger than the entire plate. It could well have spanned two or three. And it was as ugly as it was massive. Six triple-jointed, birch bark coloured, carved steel textured, scaly legs. Multi-pincered, triple stomach drooping, spooky speckled torso which seemed to incorporate a million screeching faces trapped under the skin. Grotesque triangular head complete with ear and chin sabres, flip-top head and spinning trapteeth, primed to decimate whole cities in a single gulp. And the eyes, of course, because that was the part they noticed first. You couldn’t not; this one eye had just replaced the whole roof of the chamber. Staring down at them with diabolical intent. They were specs of dust and nothing more. So I’d advise you to sheath your blades, girls. As Zarathustra stands in hover-prayer, his patchwork dollinoko being strangled nonchalantly in his spooklets, the misty breath exiting out of her eyes and ears spewing the smog which descended on the scene. Because these were Zarathustra’s memories weaved into life through the blitzer’s fears. Syphoning them like living conduits. The Principal’s mind channelled through the cogs of the dolly into the head of the beast. Time to give the kids the ultimate lesson!

DING!

666 3


Remedy, Elegy, Esuna and Halo And Melodi if she’s prepared to grimace and take part

It had three eyes on each side of its head. That’s three sets of three (its head was triangular), and just one mouth in the middle. That’s OK; the mouth’s pretty sizeable. Flip-topped, dribbling gunk and filled with buzzing chainteeth. It had six flaying limbs, big, stomping hooves and could have been a cross between an elephant and a praying mantis, if either species grew so large. Yes, the ultisaur was pretty ulti; a thousand stories high, a thousand metres wide. It was covered with branded lines, dots and arrows. It was big and ugly and not too clever. Stapled together, seeping oily, ground-melting goo and pissed off. I mean, wouldn’t you be? Somebody wrenches you out of your world and drags you by the tonsils. You’d just be itching for a fight. Well, the breezers were young, eager, hungry types. But not that hungry, if the truth be told. Come back zombo-squips and megagimps; all is forgiven!

The Amanati Necropolis Cluttered messily with the architecture of the Bardo Thodol The Second Hell, superimposed clumsily on top of the first A psychological makai around which real form had.... formed Because that’s how reflections work,if you didn’t know, though perhaps in reverse Wrench the original object out from beneath it and the reflection crumbles Along with anyone unfortunate to be on it; cast into the fiery ether below It’s OK, the night lights are dim; you won’t see the mess unless you’ve brought... Ah, the blitzers had brought tapers Illuminating the hall of sighs, where the ancients came to pass on Or what was left of it, anyway

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(Squinting by taperlight) “Oh-oh, I think that’s an übersaur.” (Squinting harder) ”That s a super saur.” “An ultisaur.” ”Ultisaurus megamus.” Elegy knew her Psytopian species. Even mythical ones. Nightmare ones. To be honest, by this stage I’m pretty much resigned to realities and unrealities falling into each other and not making all that much sense.

”You know the bigger they are…” Remedy thought hard, “the trickier ‘tis to tumble ‘em.” “Remy, wait.” (Taper aloft) “It’s rearing up.” (Taper aloft and squinting) “It s lookin pretty vexed too.. ” Rearing up. And up, and up... Big, chaintooth-lined, flip-topped mouthie wide, and...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICEBALL! CRACKLE! SHATTER!

BUNDLE!

The blitzers scuttling every which way out of the blast radius. And I’m talking a blast of soul-chilling, breath-freezing, blood-numbing ice. Casting everything in its path into a frost-caked silence. “Yeeps.”

“Yikes.” “Alright, I’s not likin’ thiz beastie.” “Even the breeze is frizzled.” And it was, too. Esuna prodding the edges of the ice sheet as it began to melt away. As the breath of life hit it. This abominable freaksaur could even solidify space.

65


Zarathustra in the centre of the hall. Feet together, head back, eyes shut. Orinoko; tongue out, eyes bulging, strangled in his spooklets. Freezing over. And der Masterschwertfechter swiftly turning translucent. Interesting, thought our merry little blue girl. Watching from an eave in the architecture, apparently undaunted by the dark. Is that what people looked like when they swapped places with spookworlds? Not quite there, not quite touchable. By ordinary hands, at least...

Ether dancers didn’t have ordinary hands. Or ordinary brains, or ordinary souls, or ordinary legacies. They were just murals now; running all the way up to a lofty roof of the hall. What was left of it. A bit like the paintings in the Sistine chapel. The murals depicted events of the past or maybe the future; I really don’t recall. Or foresee; it’s hard to tell which is which. That’s because ether dancers don’t move as we do. They don’t see as we do, or think as we do, and they certainly don’t hear as we do. No; ether dancers were better than that. Or at least, more ancient. Who knows who drew those murals? The dancers depicted in different styles; scratchy, bold, angry, whatever. And each of the seven in different colours. Perhaps they were drawn by the spirits of the dead. Perhaps they were drawn by the folds of time. Perhaps they had drawn themselves. And if you looked closely, you could see they were moving. Dancing, of course; albeit very slowly. Just like time tends to. And always dancing backwards. Dancing between motion and stillness, life and death, order and chaos. Take your pick; all these pairs meet at the end of a Möbius strip! So what were ether dancers anyway? If you want to know that, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning. Which, coincidently, is also the end. The world began with a big, almighty noise. We all know that. A cavalcade of noise. Every noise that had ever, would ever and could ever sound. And all at once. You can see how such an impact might have shaped an entire world. And the noise was made by the death of the ether dancers. Which means their birth. Oh, ether dancers are confusing things; I’m not even going to talk about them. In any case, when the ether dancers died, they split into a billion sounds. And the rhythms of reality began. So ether dancers were ancient things. And at their deaths, the universe started. Because they aged backwards.

64


“Alright kitties; we ve got to form a plan.” Elegy gathering them together behind a hefty chunk of overturned timber. Clasping wrists and lighting new tapers as they huddled together in the cold. Hiding from the ice storm.

“What sorta plan we s gwan craftify against that?” Esuna holding her arms and legs in, rubbing chilly thighs and forearms. It was cold, alright. Cold as death and garnished with gloom.

“We’s gotta strategise, kitz. I’s fought one of these before, though not quite as gigantified.” Remedy covering her ears with her wrists, swords still forever in hand. It was loud too; its humongous stomps sending shudders through the earth and beyond. Shudders so huge that it was difficult to keep an eye on her friends as the scene shook. “Let’s fry it.” Halo sprinting out into the path of the beast; a little bobbing light in the dark. A microbe on a kitchen table, too small to see but not small enough to... What was that breezy belle thinking?

SUCK THERMO SHOCK! ICE BALL! FRAZZ!

CRACKLE!

CRUNCH!

“Halo!” It’s alright Esu; that last noise was an ultifoot crushing a skeletal wall. A ghost wall; not quite here- conjoured with the rest of the necropolis, and as Halo had suspected, more solid to the beast than it was to her. Halo had seen some scary things; perhaps she’d tell Esuna about them one day. But not being scared isn’t enough to make you invincible.

“Ele, what’s the diz with it’s dribblin’?” Well spotted Remedy; that’s the kind of observant attitude that may well save your lives. It was dribbling dream juice. Space-time warping raindrops, dripping in crazy stop-start motion from its maw.

“It s surrounded by storms too. It s presence here is muddling things.” That’s it Elegy; get the thinking cap on and illuminate the beasty thingie. It was swamped in storms as a matter of fact. Nano-flipping mists; creating anti-matter hazes around every joint of its mammoth frame.

Überbeasts kicked up storms. That was because they weren’t meant to be here. They unbalanced the weight of the world. Now, Melodi and Zarathustra knew this all too well. The others would have to learn the hard way. The ultisaur dripped time warps from its lips, kicked up spook storms with its limbs and billowed space-slicing smog from its ears. All in all, it wasn’t the kind of monster you’d want to get too close to. It pushed the pause button on the very rhythm of nature. So for hack’s sake, hold your breath!

63


Remedy, Elegy and Esuna hunched behind a chunk of overturned timber. Halo picking a sword for her good hand; la Faux Fatale- pointing at the arcane megaghoul. The blitzblades versus the ultisaur. Well I hope you’ve packed a woolly coat, because this one’s gonna be chilly!

Zarathustra in the centre of the hall. Still and silent, as if he was sleeping. Orinoko crunching up in his spooklets. Freezing over. Der Eisenfaust almost invisible, even to a gloom gazer like Melodi. Curious, thought our merry little mist-white girl. Clambering out of an eave in the architecture. If he was see-through, he was probably tripping; at one with everything, aware of it all. Except transcendence itself...

Ether got into everything. And ether tends to dance. In the buildings, the air, the earth, the people. All those things had grown around ether dancers. Around where they fell; where they transcended. Little, subtle pin-pricks in the laws of time and space. Exceptions to the rules. The world had grown around necropoli like moss around graves. Like twisted echoes ad infinitum; weaving into each other. And the first things to grow from them were their soul cages; their bones. Swords in this day and age; dolls in the last- whatever’s most fitting for the culture. The prime metris, the EM conduits to other worlds, the black holes in the fabric of reality. The instruments of the divine. Holding divinity in your hands is a pretty trippy thing; plays havoc with time, space, etc. Melodi would keep her bones, thank you; and her blood and her brain. But she didn’t like this parched skin of hers down here in the hells. Made her remember being dead, of course. It’s not holding your breath if you do it forever.

Halo eye to gigantic eye with the beast; unphased. She knew it’s kind; dream dust- stuck between worlds, like her. Part of her had never come back, out on the plates, outnumbered; where death took her. Just a moment though; falling between the cracks, death seemed like home. “We ve gotta pragmatise.” Elegy more together than most. “Check, but how pragmatic’s jivin’ with a squibtub like that?” Remedy less so. Sit back, hunch up, pragmatise... while Halo’s lurching into no girls’ land? Esuna had a different opinion; “Hack that!”

62


ESUNA: Leaping 360 degree swirl (both swords) MISS! Come on kitz; that plodder s head s as high as a moon up there COUNTERED! ULTISAUR: Tail swipe MISS! About a metre away... HIT! That was the wind whip ESUNA: Back Hurled into Halo The pair toppling over a leaning Ravani statue and into the muddled wood-marble floor Knockdowns! HIT! ESUNA: Back Hurled into Ha... hey! Esuna patted herself down. Her top, her arms her legs, her head. Feeling as if she had a second self, just a notch off the pace. Until Halo grabbed her wrists and steadied her. “I spied a mirror of moy.” She did, too. Right on her shoulder as she glanced back at the beast. Right in her blind spot.

Time is a curious beastie. Yes, it’s a beastie. What did you think it was; a process? No, time is a huge, gargantuan beastie from another hell. The seventh hell, in fact. A hell of obsessive order. No wonder it ruins every inch of the fabric of this world. It doesn’t belong here! Time plucks random events out of the mish-mash and reassembles them in some kind of tangible structure which our feeble brains can understand. We should probably be thankful to time, otherwise we’d be scrabbling around with the other animals, living in the now and never able to progress. Time shackles anarchy, but it also limits us. Of course it does; it knits in an expiry date, otherwise life lasts forever, how it’s meant to.

61


Why do you think Melodi spend most of her time trying to hide from it? Easier when you’re seeing a step ahead. But just like any beastie, time can be trained. To leap forward or backwards, to sidestep, to mimic or to stay. It can be confused, too; so be careful. Or we could just stop meddling with it and leave it to hurry up and happen. NOTE TO SCIENTISTS What’s the quickest way from point A to point B?

This is why the ancients wrote in lines, dots and arrows. Because they understood the moods of time. That the quickest way from point A to point B is to scribble point B on top of point A and you’re already there; time’s happening in you, brick head- just change your perspective. Because as with every other monstrous ultibeastie in the menagerie... Think outside the box. Mess with their maths. And tame them with psychology.

“You’re here.” Halo could have been reaching at nothing. But she plucked Esuna out of the haze and centred her. Like being emphasised by a highlighter, a headline; big, bold text. Made her feel... special?

“The winds around it warp time and space.” “Freaksome, huh?” Remedy held a hilt in her teeth and searched her pockets for fuzzjacks. Because there’s an old adage, you know:

(Even if it’s so dark you’se gotta squint!)

Remedy and Elegy, scrambling around for long range weapons, backs to the wall. Halo and Esuna, regaining their bearings, backs to the... Ah; no wall. No chance?

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL!

60


PLUME!

FIZZ!

CRACKLE!

“Yipes!” Esuna and Halo blindly diving down a ramp way, frost at their feet. Landing in a clumsy heap of limbs and swords. Covered in frozen night lights and icy rubble. It would be cosy if it wasn’t so cold.

REMEDY: Overhand loop MISS! Nice leadin Remy, it s gargantuan, you re tinsy Plus you d stand a better chance of hitting the target if you let the taper lead the sword I know you re no good at such things, but do the maths!

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! Remedy’s spine back against the other face of the ghostly marble boulder. In the nick of time. As the rain began to bare down and the drips began to whirl around her ears and the chill began to bite her bones like piranha teeth on a hapless paddler. And as the panting beastie’s watery dribble fluctuated; running out of juice?

Zarathustra about to be crushed by one of its random stomps. Stoic still as the mammoth hoof crushed him. No, no; it passed right through. As if he was ether. Der Höheremacht essentially untouchable? Strange, thought our stroppy little sprite. Approaching him gingerly in the centre of the hall. If he was invincible, he’d probably magno-warped his nanos. His soul off puppeteering the beastie. Which means he’d left his body all alone...

That’s right, deadhead; like the ether dancers had done.

59


So how about we make him follow suit and disappear forever? HALO: REMEDY: Charging hack Charging buckler HIT! HIT! Ankles ULTISAUR: Back swipe claw slap HIT! HALO and REMEDY: Side and chest SPLOSH! Hurled over a sunken courtyard wall and into a water pool Knockdowns! “Urgh. Dreamblur.” The resurfacing Remedy was seeing things. Second selves all over the place. This supersquib’s mist fist was a head tripping instrument and no mistake. Made her inner rhythms go all spoony...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! “Yerk!” Remedy and Halo nipping back underwater as the ice breath hit. And CLUNK!, trying to break the surface again. Frozen pond; frozen out? “Ele.”

“Esu.” The pair of them propped up against a see-through marble boulder. Zipping their fuzzjacks.

ELEGY & ESUNA: Fuzzjack tosses TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! An ugly great ultisaur feels feathers tickling its legs Wait for it... POP! BANG! POP! BANG! POP! BANG! POP! BANG! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Calf Thigh Foot Toe So you know what you can do, kitty claws...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! 58


Halo and Remedy, banging on the underside of the ice, gasping for air. Banging and gurgling and crunching their heads against the frost. Enough to see their friends’ shadows rolling away; their boulder shattered to bits. Somebody needs to heat things up a bit.

Zarathustra levitating an inch off the ground. Eerie tartan spooklets puffing ghostly mists as they strangled poor Orinoko. As far as Melodi was concerned, strangling wasn’t nasty enough for her. Strangling the dreams he’d wept into her as a child out into reality. Der Mann-Gott could have belonged on either side of that equation. Freaky, thought our moody mite. As random ‘saur stomps passed right through her too. Right up close, staring into the Principal’s eyes. Blank they were; not quite there at all. So smirk away, show your teeth, hold your breath and deprive him of his!

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! Esuna and Elegy covering themselves up as best they could behind a sloping wall like mountaineers clinging to a tent in a blizzard, cradling their dribbling tapers. Icicles in their hair, frost on their lips, crackles in their ear drums. “Alright. We need to get Remy and Halo out of there.”

“Check,

but.. that vexy psychosaur s fumin like a prack in an empty rootbo.. ”

SMASH!

CRASH!

SHATTER!

Just to labour the point, the ultisaur pummelled the hall with its gargantuan frost fists. That’s like knocking on a door with a wood axe. Overkill. Let’s not say ‘kill’ though; it’s pessimistic and Anarchists or not, it’s still kinda rude. SMASH! The roof of a courtyard.

CRASH!

The splintered floorboards.

SHATTER!

Ah! Pieces of debris making potholes in the iced-over pond. That’ll buy them a breath or three.

57


Melodi poked Zarathustra with a gaunt white finger. Did a double take, forgetting she wasn’t her usual colour down here. And another double take when that finger passed right through. A double double take; she wasn’t expecting that. But let’s not muck about. Let’s not play kid’s games. Melodi wasn’t a kid, I’ll have you know. So she’d learnt to take opportunities when they present themselves.

AKA The Festival or Mirrors You’ll be needing a hyperdolly Ah; Doloroso will more than do! Grip her tight in those tug gloves Not too tight- this is basic puppeteering; you don’t want to drain the poor vessel yet Get reflecting Use your pineal gland; just shut your eyes and imagine all the things you didn’t do Look into his eyes and split his id You know there ain’t much in there right now... Pull out all his possible selves, spawned by every available decision, cut then down like paper soldiers and he’s got no self left to... Hey, you’re stalling on step 4 I said there’s no id in there! Melodi let Doloroso go limp in her grasp with a sulk. How about nanotek? How about a fierce kick in the shin? Her platform trainer passed all the way through. This was why she hated the marginally undead.

SLIP! SNATCH! WRENCH!

56


Elegy pulling her classmates out of the ice pool. Bedraggled felines irritatedly shaking their fur. It’s cruel to cold-bath kitties. But at least they still had a hold on their claws. “You’se don’t wanna take a dip in there, siz.” Remedy let her head loll. “Spook juice.” Halo was already swishing her blade, watching the circling monster. Around the hall after the petrified Esuna; scattered night lights revealing her plight. “They’re coming this way.” They were, too. STOMP after STOMP after all-pervading STOMP! Buffeted by dreamy rain which sizzled as it hit the creature’s trailing spook cloud. SPLODGE after puddle-busting SPLODGE as they headed right for them and … “Get into the pool!” Remedy had changed her tune. Four of them now with a SPLISH, SPLASH, SPLOSH! And the racing hooves of the abomination halting as they stuck the surface of the water. Because pools of dream drops are solid to beings from imaginary worlds. CLUNK!

SLIP!

FLIP!

And an almighty

CRASH! as the ultisaur slipped; some of it wailing on its back...

Some, because its semi-ethereal form was so large it extened through the chamber walls.

“Yay, we s spiked that block.” “I dunno Esu, I hear it rollin’ back over.” “It s so big half of it s hanging off “Bigger they are, harder they fall.”

the plate; I smell it s nanos sizzling.”

Halo out of the water and at it already. Probably not the greatest of ideas. Esuna straight after her. And the others conceding they’d better make it an even four.

It hit the water, but couldn t break the surface.

“See, you’se gotta hold your breath, siz, and you’se nanos’.”

How do I hold a nano s breath?

“Just hold it; the ‘saur only sees our shadows.” Halo had her head screwed on right. Beaten up, kicked about, battered and bruised perhaps, but screwed on right. This thing sensed their shadows; internal and external. And by internal shadows, I mean nanos.

55


If you look hard enough, shadows are a tick off key. Behind the pace, in your blind spot. Your shadow is actually your own ghost; your exhaled breath. If the blitzers looked hard, they’d realise they had double shadows down here. Shadows of shadows. Because that’s what the hells are made of. Remedy doesn’t count, of course. She generally didn’t have a shadow, so she was better off than the rest. Oh, and Halo’s was kind of misty, but Halo was a sketchy kind of girl. Because when you transcend, your shadow lets you go. Even if you have the audacity to come back. Don’t be in a necropolis when some mischievous maestro sinks it; it’ll sink your shadow. Because makai are where your dreams come from; your second self, churned in the ether. But when nanos latch on to shadows, they reflect them; pesky mites. If you stick around long enough, you’ll become a hall of tiwsted mirrors, just like the plates. Four blitzy belles against the megasaur. Swords at their sides, breeze in their hair, gulps in their throats. Four snazzy sprites facing off against a grisly abomination in the dead of night. Lurching and leaning, arching and baying like some kind of twisted... monster, really. Remedy with a bold stance, a kick of heels, a playful thumbs down. Elegy with a cautious stance, a furrowed brow, a thoughtful frown. Esuna with a bouncing stance, a swish of swords, a wide-eyed grin. Halo with a pronounced sneer, a swish of a blade, a bolt for the beast... HALO: Leaping...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! The team whipping her back by trouser legs and boots. Into a four-way backward roll down a set of rain-soaked stairs and into a contorted muddle. Flamey-patterned arms and legs intertwined in a bed of random night lights. Did that girl have a death wish or what? “Alright. We need a plan.” Elegy. “We need a prayer.” Halo. “We s needin a fair shot.” Esuna. “We’s needin’ to draw its attention.” Remedy. Remedy wasn’t a master strategist, I’ll tell you that. Even if she managed to pull victories out of the bag with that razor-sharp instinct. No, Remedy was no mathematician, I’ll have you know. But she did remember how she’d helped beat a thing like this before. Perhaps Elegy should have been the leader of this group. Perhaps the group would be slicker, more reserved, more professional. Perhaps the group would think first, swish swords second. Perhaps the group would survive.

54


Or perhaps Melodi should’ve led the group. Remedy: The irresponsible choice? Esuna: The naïve choice? Elegy: The predictable choice? Halo: The doomed choice? Melodi: The fucked up choice. But they’d all grown up, hadn’t they? Most of them. Some of them didn’t have to grow up. Some of them were growing backwards. Back to their roots. Because Melodi was about to do something she hadn’t done for quite some time. For many thousands of rounds, in fact. Except for a little slip up on the Emerald Plateau, but we’ll let her off that minor transgression. That’s right; I said thousands of rounds, for those of you who still haven’t clicked that Melodi was the oldest living thing in Psytopia. Yes, Melodi was about to do what she’d sworn never to do again. The thing that made orphons of people. That had effectively made an orphon of her. The thing that reduced races to rubble. That decimated the wide, wild world. Melodi was about to make that age-old mistake. She was about to raise a necropolis. Pale white feet together. Chequered tug gloves engulfed by fire. Little Doloroso hovering somewhat in an eerie new breeze. And egg yoke, Nike tick eyes tumbling into pits of doom.

Let’s just see how low you can go. Little gods help us? So the blitzers were letting Remedy lead. Because she’d fought a big, hulking ‘saur before. That was the irresponsible choice. But at least it was fun. HALO: Shattershock reverb HIT! ULTISAUR INFLICTS: Leg. Broken ULTISAUR: Overhead claw swipe

53


MISS! HALO Ultisaur drops embarrassingly to one knee mid-attack ELEGY: Devil s Pirouette HIT! ULTISAUR: Toe, ankle, foot, shin, calf, knee, heel MISS! Various other targets ULTISAUR: Big stomping überfoot…. COUNTERED! Remedy had seized the opportunity to leap unnoticed onto the beastie’s thigh Then onto it s hips, it s back, it s neck... it was quite a walk as it goes, but she made it REMEDY: Double handed plunge HIT! ULTISAUR: Through nose The bigger they are, the harder they... Whirling spook clouds twirling out of the the creature’s gaping wound. Wheeling around Remedy’s embedded blade like rabid greyhounds around a track. Like signets around a mother swan. Like minisaur shapes starting to form. Signets around swans. Ghosts around blades. Weights around magnets. But worse than that. Scores of tinsy, tiny hypersaurs spewing forth from the creature’s broken womb. Yes that’s right, because messed up thingies have organs in strange places. Time to frown, withdraw your sword make a leap from it, methinks. But not much more time than that. “Aw, yeeps; that was a mummy saur...” One angry dino rearing its head. Blocking out the sky. Three startled blitzers. Out of their depth. A desperate sprint through the dark. A school of furious lickle thingies in hot pursuit. Swordtrils in their sights as they tumbled over random chunks of muddled architecture. If anyone has a miracle up her sleeves, now would be a good time... Doloroso raised up in the air. Melodi walking on ether. Ethereal sash tightening around the dolly’s stitched-up throat Concentrate, old girl, and scream hard.

MIXAGE! MONTAGE!

MUSIQUE!

STORM CRACKLE!

GROUND QUAKE!

EYE SPARKLE!

Let’s take a creaky, clunky, quirky elevator trip.

52


HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

Her feet raising off the floor. Rivets popping out of the walls. Steam pumping out of brand new fissures. Eyes then skin turning black hole black. Rolling through the step cycle:

Stifle that dolly’s breath; the doors to the hells creaking open as she drifts near Draw the contents of those hells up to the brim Grasp them as if you’ve got a puppet by the strings, reel them up and watch worlds clatter This is your stage- your bunrakuza; play to the gallery a bit Let’s have an educated guess that this is gonna involve...

“Aw no, not again.” Elegy bracing herself as jutting spires poked through the floor with a splutter and shake. Gothic balconies, staircases and streetways, dragged out of the dark recesses of purgatory. Splintering the pristine marble courtyards of the Amanati necropolis like pikes driven through heads on medieval battlements. But let’s cross our fingers tight and pray that doesn’t happen to our heroines, hey?

51


Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her arms stirring a huge, imaginary cooking pot. The hells zooming up to meet them, faster and faster. Black hole black. And CLAP! of the tug gloves!

CRASH! Necropoli piled on top of necropoli. Thrown into the eye of the stormcloud. A pretty common place to die! Welcome to the Tapestry. Population; 4 blitzers, one blue girl, one gimp and a load of diablos! Don’t stay here too long though, will you? Don’t want to attract more superspooks. Remedy helped the others regain their balance. Dusted herself off. Narrowly avoided a slanted ghoulish railing as it burst like a corpse from a crypt at her feet. “I’s gwan have to have words with that sprite...”

ZARATHUSTRA

So she could raise necropoli too That means you’re... A nymph A muse Mimir

Eye to eye

MELODI

Oh yeah gimporama; ‘cos I’s speccy That means I’m... Ain’t no diablo, shaltz No, I’s a belle, bud Have a nice, round, fourth guess An ether dancer?

Yes, Melodi was an ether dancer. Oh come on; you must’ve guessed that one. It wasn’t as if she’d been hiding the fact. But the question remains; was this finally her day to die?

Melodi could raise necropoli too, but only when she had to. After all, it was by piling the dead upon the dead like this that life first came into being. She knew; it was her who did it. And you don’t want to replicate that, do you? Because life’s such a tedious chore. A grotty collection of grime-caked factories and misty urban alleys rising to the surface. Contoured crazily as if flipped on their side. The deserted skyline of the Tapestry wrenched out of the ethereal scaffolding down there like the contents of an Egyptian tomb unearthed with primitive ropes and pulleys. Architectural ampocalypse, just to make a merry mess of the world.

BOOM!

What was that?

BOOM!

A pretty loud boom; pretty close

50


BOOM!

I remember that particular boom, don’t I? Oh yes...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL!

The blitzers leaping for cover as a scene-shattering factory was frozen solid. Sliding across its slanted roof as if they were playing in some demented playground. Off the roof and into a cluttered streetway, night lights guiding them on their way. The warped floors and their transluscent surfaces confusing which direction was which. “I’s really gwan have to have words.” At least they were safe from that misty, nano-jacking rain down here. They were safe from the rain, I said. Not the hypersaurs.

Essentially baby ultisaurs, popped out of mummy’s womb before they were quite ripe. And that made them angrier than your average abominano beastie. They were pinprick ‘saurs. No more than the size of your palm, but with heavy duty biting power. Because they weren’t much more than great big gyro-teeth. Powered by spinning propeller blades. A cross between kitchen knifes and helicopters. With one evil eye apiece and vexed as self-stirring storms. They’d snag your neck and latch onto your nanos. Sucking them out and tearing them up. Making them grow big and strong like their mother. If you let them, at least. And when you’re being persuaded by a good few dozen, there’s a fair chance. Note to self, Remedy: If you’re battling a dream beast, don’t stab it in the head. That’s where its ideas are born!

Melodi wasn’t worried about such things. Of course she wasn’t; she was holding her breath. Melodi wasn’t shocked by this twilight world. After all, she’d raised it once before. Only last time she hadn’t stuck around to take a tour.

Ether dancers raised necropolis as easily as people yank up daisies. Echoes of their forefathers; that’s what necropolis were. And by ‘forefathers’, I mean their kids; all that living backwards. Melodi’s parents had taught her how... all six of them... from inside her head... At least Melodi had raised an uninhabited necropolis. But spare a thought for Zarathustra; whether his soul was hovering between a metal shell and a supersaur or not, it certainly didn’t want to be here. That’s right; the scariest place on Earth. Home.

49


SMASH!

Remedy and Esuna launching themselves off a slanted roof and onto a cast iron balcony as the rabid ‘saur levelled the building with a wild claw swipe. Esuna clutching Remedy’s wrist before she tumbled into the deadly spires below. Hauling her up in the dim glow of flickering night lights, hanging in the gloom. “Hack, that wasn’t much more than a click away.” Remedy’s boots slipping on the crooked metal of the balcony. Or was it she who was crooked; it was getting harder and harder to tell. “Check Remy, and the brickhand s zeroin in on us again!”

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! The breeze crackling chaotically with chilly timeswirls. Esuna and Remedy leaping through fuzz doors and lavish balcony cribs. All the transluscent furniture stacked up on its sides against the walls. Their clunky blitz boots buckling on the slanted surface, sending them into painful slides. Out through the fuzz windows on the other side, hanging like raindrops on weeping fringes. Remedy hauling Esuna up this time. A buzzing in her ears as the crooked building swayed somewhat... An anarchic whistle in the wind... Oh-oh; the hypersaurs. CREAK!

CLANK! WHIMPER! Zarathustra stared right through our cocky little blue girl. A miniature black hole; that was all she was. Ether sucking up ether. An irritant, that was what she was; muddling his realities. It was she who’d hidden that last supersword from him, wasn’t it; like she’d hidden herself. And now here she was again, messing with his maths. What was that Zarathustra; a tear? Or was it a memory?

It isn’t easy being an ultisaur. Actually, it’s an insurmountable strain. It’s just as hard puppeteering an ultisaur. Putting yourself in its place. Makes you feel somewhat... absent. Zarathustra dreamed of ultisaurs. And other twisted things. He painted pictures of them on his walls.

48


Down there behind the bed where mother wouldn’t see them. Yes, Zarathustra was a lonely child. Locked away, safe in the silence. While mother and father argued; the fearsome fog of war. He didn’t like that father was always away. He didn’t want him to die when he’d only just met him. ‘Die’; that was such a chilling word. He tried not to use it. Father never died in the pictures, at least. In the pictures, he always came home. He’d tame even the most demented überbeast. And he’d return without a scar. But children learn about life in the end. When they emerge from their shells. All it’s wildness and wonders. And it’s many ways of tearing you apart. MELODI: Conjured memories HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Soul Drops to a knee Melodi and Zarathustra head to head, nose to nose, face to face. The shadow-skinned girl with a vicious smirk. A stir of the pot and a clap of the hands. So the metal man did feel things, did he? Let’s spice up this combo and make the next whack a shot to the head. HISS!

RUMBLE! CLANKETY-CLANK! The scene shakes. The dust rises. The world whirls. The puppet strings quiver. And a great, golden pyramid crashes through the floor.

Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her snigger spreading wide. The souls of the plates collapsing down the pits in her eyes. Glimmering gold. Let’s see how you like this!

47


CRASH!

Smashing through the floor, all crooked halls and broken windows. This is where you lived, ice man; this is where you’ll die!

“Yerk!” Elegy and Halo huddling up as a crumpled golden staircase bursts through the coiling streetway in which they stood. Like a beast surfacing from the depths. Like bulldozers crashing through the front door. Like... school? “The Academy.” “The Academy s a necropolis?” For the wise one, Elegy was alarmingly slow to catch on. “Well that’s trashed it now; good riddance.”

All in all, necropolis weren’t much more than echoes of the divine. That’s what the world’s made of afterall; shadows of shadows, echoes of echoes. Depends whether your life is heavenly or hellish; transcendent or just a dream. And just like echoes, once you’re hearing them, you can be pretty sure the sound itself has passed you by. The Academy complex had been sunken and raised time and time again, and used for all manner of things; raised, built on, repurposed and rebranded. History’s a muddle, so let’s leave it in the past. But Melodi liked a muddle, because Melodi was an agent of chaos. Necropolis upon necropolis; landscapes junked together like the contents of a removals van in a head-on collision; making a merry mess of the Bardo Thodol. The breezers having to stagger through contorted halls and passages, all sense of direction lost, and worse as graudally the ghostly architecture solidified. Worlds of the dreaming and the dead, gaining form as the living began to believe in them. So school was quite clearly out, then; school was burnt to a crisp. The distant rumble of the Golden Plateau sinking into the ethereal sea beneath. Oh, this is gonna test the Principal’s patience... MELODI: Derailed futures HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head Drops to his knees

Flicker of eyes. Shiver of fingers. Rustle of nanos.

46


Reverberating of blades. Gritting of oily black teeth. OK freak; enough.

Remedy and Esuna scampering over warped streetways and interlinking Academy halls. They almost remembered the layout, but not quite like this. Three intricate complexes thrown together. But in the dim light, they didn’t know where each step was taking them until they landed. “They’s gaining!” The hypersaurs buzzing so loud even a blind man couldn’t miss them. A dozen palm-sized assassins, hovering through the broken landscape. Helicopter eyes with gnashing teeth; swooping in like bombers, plunging at their throats. GRUFANGS Six-way swoop MISS! REMEDY

ESUNA Aimless leaps

SMASH!

CRASH!

Through a pyramid arch into what used to be Pyrotech

Over a staircase into what was once the squib pen

In another world, where such memories made sense

EAT THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL!

That one was directed at Melodi. Silly ‘saur; the chill passed right through her. Puppeteers may as well be ghosts around here. In between hells and heavens. Well let’s give the golden girl a taste of her own.

Zarathustra’s translucent form rising onto his feet. Squeezing those permafrost-caked spooklets tight. Orinoko’s patchwork eyes widening to bursting point. This was a mind game. A psyche-out. A headlong battle between order and chaos, heaven and hell. So let’s take note of the real showdown taking place here. As the very earth quakes at the whim of their will. The main event; top billing, pay per view. In case you’re wondering...

45


HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! The scene shakes. The dust rises. The world whirls. The night lights flicker. And a disappointed golden girl gulps. Smooth, violet-hued buildings smashing through the churned-up surface.

Four spooked blitzers holding on. To jelephant statues, cable cars, each other; anything would do. As yet another necropolis rose through the rest. CRASH!

Crunching through the floor, all speckled stone walkways and stained glass windows. Isn’t this where your precious pyronettes come from, ether sprite? And doesn’t this mean they’ve just been sunk into the great pyro sea? ZARATHUSTRA: Dashed hopes HIT! MELODI: Heart Drops to a knee “Mana...” She hadn’t forgotten him, you know. Ether dancers never forget, worse luck.

Psytopia: Adagio 3

359 43


Melodi’s skin changing hue, her expression dropping swiftly into a grimace. Those pit-like eyes of hers filling with purple tears. Violet skin, tangerine hair, yellow lips, yellow dress... looking like one of her parents. She said she didn’t want to look at them, or to embrace them yet. Alright freakstorm, this means war! “This is getting’ pretty ‘fusey right here.”

What exactly is happening?

“Ignore it.” Easy for Halo to say; she and Elegy behind a quickly solidifying wall, struggling to keep track of where in the hells they were standing. HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! Oh-oh; the scene’s shaking again. The dust rising, the world all a-whirl. Let’s stomp that purple princess while she’s down. Ancient, intricate mosaic walls popping up through the confusing surface. Four desperate blitzers holding on. To golden bannisters, broken brickwork, each other; who knew? This was getting steadily out of hand. CRASH!

Poking through the floor, all gloomy passages and candlelit catacombs. Feel the eerie old breeze down here. Isn’t this that secret place where you first came face to face with your new god? ZARATHUSTRA: Shattered dreams HIT! MELODI: Confidence And that puts her on both knees; down for the count?

Melodi’s skin changing hue; her grimace giving way to a helpless sob. Those pit-like eyes of hers dribbling orange patches on the cold, frozen floor. Orange skin, red hair... feeling spoony. Feeling her id splitting; like birth, like death, becoming shadows of herself. Perhaps she should have just shut up and kept herself to herself. ZIP!

WHIZZ!

SWOOP! 42


HYPERSAURS Six-way fang-first dive MISS! MISS! ESUNA REMEDY LEAP! TRIP! Over a gothic spire and onto a walkway

Down a staircase and through a stained glass window

Picking themselves up, dusting themselves off. Stood on adjacent walkways, hanging in the breeze, watching layer upon layer of jutting-angled buildings take shape around them as if mice in a maze being slotted together on the go with Lego brocks; ethereal flame fissures emerging from the battered floor of this stack of muddled makai. Exchanging glances across parallel walkways, discarding their tapers. Enough light to tell them that the hypersaurs were still whirring on after them. HYPERSAURS 1-3 Swooping tooth stabs MISS! ESUNA: Backhand swat

HYPERSAURS 4-6 Swooping tooth swipes MISS! REMEDY: Backspin slash

“Esu, there’s a break in the track up ahead!” “I spies it; they s gwan cross then buckle.” Sure enough; the gothic walkways and grand golden stairs growing from the memories of the necropoli that had been brought here; not quite formed. Winding into each other like a double helix before trailing off into ethereal flame pits below. HYPERSAURS 4-6 Swooping tooth snaps MISS! REMEDY: Sideways slash

HYPERSAURS 1-3 Swooping tooth spikes MISS! ESUNA: Strafing swat

100 feet... Their boots weaving in and out of the gradually solidifying debris in their paths. 200 feet... The ever-present buzzing in their ears. 400 feet... The incline of the the walkways steadily gaining influence over their fluctuating pace. 800 feet... The hypersaurs at their necks now... Stomping blitz boots up parrelel paths. Speeding fast enough to defy gravity? Sprinting blitzers up those half-loop-the-loops. Up and over, into the air and...

41


ESUNA: REMEDY: Charging double-tuck flip Leaping double-back somersault Don t forget to flash them blades as you go! Overhead whirl Backhand twirl Side swipe curl Overarm twirl HIT! HIT! HYPERSAURS 4-6 HYPERSAURS 1-3 All three sliced into two OUT OF PLAY WHUMP! SLAM! Landing on their feet in skilful crouches, on each other’s ends of the helix. Parallel paths, creaking architecture underneath. But landing; that’s the point here. Alive rather than dead. Melodi wasn’t quiet sure if she was alive or dead. She didn’t even know if she was in the past or the future, though it’s much of a muchness.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Oh yes; Zarathustra standing over her. Welcome to the all-too painful present, then. “Hey Ele...” Sorry Remy; she’s just zipped past.

Halo!

Her too, Esuna. And there’s a reason why they’re running.

So altogether now and join the sprint. Ring around the necropolis, adrift in the darkness. The beastie STOMP, STOMP, STOMPing after them at a tenacious rate. Smashing catacombs and courtyards and cable cars and training halls to ghostly rubble as it thundered through them with its gargantuan space-splicing legs. “Kitties; flickswitch!” Remedy at the back of the precession, her recommendations not making much sense. Something lost in the misty warps of time? No you bricky shaltz; think about it... “Remy, it s pinching our heels; it s no time to turn round and fight it.” Elegy’s point apparently made as the hulking beastie swang an ulticlaw. And that was one ulti, ulti claw I’ll have you know. Sweeping though the parting buildings as it rolled into them like a bowling ball to a series of shell-shocked skittles; big, nasty knives through spook-smooth butter.

40


Halo, Elegy, Esuna, Remedy, ulticlaw, beast. That was the order of things. Careering across the jumbled structures of the megacropolis like vegetables in a mixer. Though to be fair, it was only the first four ingredients on the list that were about to get diced. “Kitties, listen; flickswitch, on the run.” Remedy’s yell from the back getting lost in the shadows. In the crunching folds of time. That meant the ulticlaw was very, very close to swiping her into oblivion. “She’s right; flickswitch.” Halo at the head of the line. Round and round the not-quite-merry-go-round. Swiping shadowclaw so huge you could hold a brief conversation before it got around to hitting you. Just remember to say everything you’ve ever wanted to say to the person, because you’re not likely to get another chance. “Why.. “ Esuna.

“But.. ” Elegy. “Just do it.” Halo So they did. ULTISAUR: Humongous plateau-slicing, time-bending hyperswipe HALO: Flickswitch Pirouette On the run! ELEGY: Flickswitch Pirouette 800RPM On the trot! ESUNA: Flickswitch Pirouette Invisible! 800RPM On the hop! REMEDY: Flickswitch Pirouette Invisible! 800RPM On the sprint! Invisible! 800RPM Invisible! Claw passes right through Claw passes right through Claw passes right through Claw passes through... Snags a button on Halo s top Spins out Spins out Spins out Spins out

39


“Mint!” Remedy almost jumped for joy. Her grin as wide as an ultisaur’s clawspan as it stomped on round the hall, chasing shadows. Slipping up...

Ultisaur skids Halts Its own timeswirls catching up with it Was I stomping? Should I stamp? Or am I standing... urgh! HIT! Mindfuck! Knockdown!

SMAAAAAASSSSSSHHHHHHHH! Ground quakes. World shakes. Time shudders. And a fair portion of the cluttered slopes, spires and stairways are reduced to misty rubble. Alright, so the blitzblades were craftier than ultisaurs. But remember this, breeze belles: Don’t bring ultisaurs to their knees. It’ll whip you off your feet too. ULTISAUR STUMBLE: Shockwave HIT! HIT! ELEGY HALO Whipped off their feet Thrown over a liney, dotty, arrowy mural Tossed through the wall of etchings Knockdowns! HIT! HIT! REMEDY ESUNA Whipped off their feet Knocked over a neat mauve wall Skidding down a sloping walkway Knockdowns! The four of them rolling into a lopsided circular platform in the centre of town Well, at least the band stuck together HIT! MELODI A tremor passing through her knees, up her ribs, into her bones

38


Now was Melodi’s chance. Now was Melodi’s time. Now was Melodi’s opportunity. The killer blow. The fatal moment. The... aw; she’d missed it.

HIT! ZARATHUSTRA That d be the ultisaur again Different bodies, same mind Headfuck! Wobbles...

HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! Zarathustra’s eerie spooklets wrenching the hells out of place. Trundling up through the broken wood. Little Orinoko’s patchwork eyes bursting in globs of spookified goo under the gravmagtic pressure. Scene shakes. Dust rises. Doom descends. Stern, decorated pillars poke up through the archaic surface. Four floored blitzers holding on. To eerie gargoyle and angel statues, cracked stonework, each other, apparitions? All lost in the clumsy arms of anarchy. CRASH!

Jarring through the floor, all regimented pagodas and blocky altars. A mathematical masterpiece, it was. Crashing through the scenery as this anarchic elevator seemed to reach a halt. The combatants’ souls dunked so many leagues below they could feel their blood freeze. ZARATHUSTRA: Fractured futures HIT! MELODI: Hope Head down, burning arms cooling off; game over?

37


Melodi’s skin changing hue, her tears turning solid as they fell. Those pit-like eyes of hers closing up; icy shatters on the cold, broken floor. Red skin, blue hair... she didn’t recognise herself like this; didn’t like herself. Heartbeat slowing, close to death, her box of tricks all but empty. But the thing that freaked out Zarathustra was that the ether dancer’s new colour scheme reminded him of... father?

Four bruised blitzers on the slanty oval platform in the middle of the hells. Whatever she s doing, she s drained. Elegy.

She s lost it. Esuna. “She’s dead.” Halo. “Melodi; get up!”

That last voice was Remedy’s. Her... her... what was it again? Oh yeah; her friend. Red girl on her knees, picking up the pieces. Of her mottled dolly, cast lifelessly to the floor. If only she could summon one meagre measure of strength from within her. But Melodi had never liked the future; the spooks it housed- the possibilities... Elegy and Halo, flat on the floor, separated by random slabs of dismissed debris. Trying to stay low, small and against objects so the beastie couldn’t track their shadows. So do you see a psycho ‘saur rising up off the sea shore? Maybe not, but one false move and it could certainly see them. Diablodocus gathering itself; looking for a footing- searching for shadows. Halo with a clenched fist motion to her eye across the grand central landing. Elegy being absent-mindedly eyeballed as the thing struggled to find its feet. Seriously; punch that? Do you’se see a psycho ‘saur splashing around on the sea shore? Dinosaurs are extinct, not stupid. And this wasn’t exactly a dinosaur, it was a big, angry puppet. Creepy triple pupil blinking open as it began to gather itself up off the... ELEGY: Reluctant stab (using a sword, you philistines) HIT! ULTISAUR: Eyeball SQUELCH! Now that probably hurt

And it probably made the puppet master blink too. Enough to drop his dolly. Enough to lose his grip. Enough to wake Melodi up.

36


Spent little red girl with a second wind. A sneaky grab for that patchwork dolly. Dragging her bruised knees across the splintered floorboards. Pulling what was left of her smouldering tug gloves up her arms. Perhaps the party wasn’t over yet.

Necropoli were curious things. Building blocks of the wide, wild world. But you know that already. Necropoli were freaky things. The dreams of the trascendent given form, and all those other daydreams which had latched on over time; haunting these sacred places. But you know that too. Necropoli were unique places. Six levels, with our world on top and all manner of madness beneath. Six levels, give or take. Until you get to the totalities at either end. Emptiness and everything; past and future, and how they roll into each other. Odd, gravimagtic time and space shit which human brains can’t really comprehend. Order and anarchy. So you can tour the underworlds all you like, but when are you going to come home? To a world of calm or of chaos, blue or red- embrace the past or surrender to the future. Oh, you know; flip them. Reach out and take your pick! Four bruised blitzers huddled on the floor. One angry ultisaur rising to its feet. Two pained puppeteers reaching for their dollies. Melodi on hands and knees, grasping for the fallen Doloroso. Zarathustra doubling over, reaching for the bug-eyed Orinoko. Where’s the freak show stopping off next, psychos? Well that depends on who grabs their dolly first, doesn’t it? Eye to fucked up eye across the misty soot and mangled debris. “Come on blue belle; snag it!”

GRASP! REACH! SNATCH!

Ah, Doloroso. The ether dancer wins!

Necropoli were essentially super-magnetic machines. Organic, though. Everything was organic once. Even robots. Actually, necropoli were anti-magnetic machines.

35


Let the living live by keeping the dead dead. Because there’s only so much breath to go around. Only so many riffs in a heartbeat. So many rounds to shine in each life. So sorry spooks, but some things have to die and others never get to live. Zarathustra would be wise to leave such absolutes out of his Academy teachings... Well why do you think; because if dead was dead... The old school house would be without a Principal. And altogether now; let’s reflect. The world is a chaotic amalgamation of things. A piping cooking pot of swirling meat and veg. You never know what the next spoonful is going to reveal until the broth’s scalding your taste buds, so it’d be fair to say that anarchy has its place. And so, as it happens, do the dead. Melodi’s feet an inch off the floor. Her hands spread like swooping wings, Christ on the cross, flowers by the graveside. Her dolly looping the loop in the air. Her eyes going green as the hells fell back into the pits where they belonged. And CLAP!

Necropoli grew out of the bones of the ancients; pretty good fertiliser as it goes. And the wide, wild world followed suit. Perhaps without ether dancers’ souls, our world would be a characterless place; all orderly. All mind numbingly boring. So thank the ether dancers for necropoli. Thank ether dancers for dying for our sins, our pleasure and our entertainment. But don’t expect an encore now, will you? The necropoli were the dreams of the long gone ether dancers given form. And of one who’s still got a little fight left in her yet. So how about we settle the storm by casting them out into the ether? MELODI: Nekraku Quickstep history lesson: creation to cremation Eyes burn with an orange glaze CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR... CLA NKETY CLA NK! CRASH!

Going up!

34


The blitzers wobble. The ultisaur shakes. The necropoli cave in on themselves. And the wind rips the swords out of Remedy’s hands. Spinning around her as the chamber whips up a freakstorm. Watch it kittyclaw or you might just get shish-kebabed! Eyes flash purple CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

The breeze belles wobble. The man-gott shakes. The necropoli fall into ether.

Going up!

And the wind whips the sword out of Halo’s hand. Whirling around her as the freakstorm picks up speed. Death wish or not, you might be wanting to be running for cover! Eyes blaze yellow CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR...

CLANKETY-CLANK!

CRASH!

Going up!

33


The catch kids wobble. The whole scene shakes. The necropoli wrenched off their hinges. And the wind tears the swords out of Esuna’s hands. Hurtling around her as the freakstorm goes haywire. Like standing in the middle of that speeding merry-go-round; cleavers chained to the horses’ hooves, ducking as best she could as the blades span maniacally her way. Eyes turn black CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

Going up! The spooked swordstrils wobble. The hells and heavens shake. The necropoli begin to smoulder; burn, brethren, burn! The wind wrenching the swords out of... um, Elegy; that sword of yours is strapped on, siz. Remedy reaching for her; snagged the sword...but pop go the straps. A hapless delinquent sucked into the cyclonic breeze. Eyes become white CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

One more stop!

32


“Ele!” Remedy reaching; her sleeve slashed by her own flying blade as it nipped through the air. The necropoli stripped bare layer by flame-swept layer. And the EM fields at bursting point; fire ripping through the ultisaur’s ghostly flesh. Reducing the beast to ash and ember, tearing its master’s psyche up like cheap thread. Falling through the floor of the rotating chamber as if a stone to water. Eyes go green CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK!

CRASH!

DING! CRUNCH!

CLUNK! SPLUTTER! Where the extreme elevator ride finally shuddered to a halt All the twisted echoes of this place finally set free. And the universe could see again!

31


An iceman thaws out; four erstwhile Anarchists are thrown off their feet. Struggling to skip up past the random timeswirls and fateswirls which belched out of the newly popped vents in this clanking hellevator as it clanked to collapsing point. Weaving this way and that at them; the blitzers hurled around with the scene-splitting bangs and crashes, barely keeping themselves free of the rising mists. Barely, but not really; Remedy dodging a cavalcade of misty spooks, Esuna rolling out of the path of a see-through gothic cathedral as it collapsed; probably a vagrant memory dredged up, but let’s not chance it... Halo and Elegy less fortunate,

>BMPHF!<

Halo snagged by a nasty fateswirl, yanked in from another hell. Full force to the chest and right through her; jangling her heart, her head, her soul. But she somehow managed to just absorb it; wicked twists of fate nothing new to this grotty breeze belle... or maybe fate would just save itself for later. Elegy was probably less lucky; a casualty of unsure. You know; what time it is, what day it is; who, what, when. All those questions would become meaningless pretty much now, then, whenever. As she was struck by a wayward timeswirl. Oops. Because time waits for no woman, man, Psytopian or beastie. It just... happens. “El!”

She can’t hear you now Remedy; she’s been reversed to three seconds ago; it hasn’t hit her yet. Now she’s been fast-forwarded to time where this place is a debris-strewn junk pile and she’s busy searching for survivors in the ruins. Nope; now she’s back as a bawling baby, snatched out of the cradle by a cold, metri hand. A few moments in the future now; the temporal collision causing her to drop a sword. Sorrow in the storm, knives in the wind, ball-bearings on a catapult. Not knowing where time would strike next. Spinning in the mists, not knowing which way was the present. And giddily dropping a sword.

Ah; they’d lost her, or time had anyway; fumbled in the process- dropped off the clock. Emerging from the mausoleum into what was once a graveyard; dug up and torn asunder. So this was the future, she guessed; the Emerald plate; on the way back home. She’d survived, at least- one possible future... but why was she alone? The sound of Halo grabbing Elegy’s fumbled sword woke Remedy from her trance. She hadn’t seen Elegy vanish... bur she wouldn’t, would she? She supposed she’d survive; timeswirls don’t kill, they just inconvenience- the rest of the world trundles along as is and you’ve just... well you’ve got to wait for it to catch up? But even if a swordstril’s only passed into the past or future, finders keepers on that blade. ESUNA: “Where’s Elegy?” REMEDY: “She got snatched by some ‘fusey timeswirl, siz.” HALO: “She’ll be back; I’ve seen worse.”

Psytopia: Adagio 3

30


REMEDY: (Still a boot or three off the pace) “You’se a noir one, Hey.” ESUNA: “Yeah, but...” HALO: (Uncharacteristically delicate hold of the wrist) “Trust me.”

CLANKETY...CLANKETY … CLANKETY … GROAN.. CREAK...

CLANK.

Round and round, soot and dreamy dust clearing up. Round and round, wind and ghostly debris fading away. Round and round, grinding to a relieving full stop.

Esuna Hunched up behind a newly raised mausoleum, feeling sick Remedy Clinging onto a freshly unearthed gravestone, feeling spoony Halo Strapping Elegy’s sword to her bad arm, ready for business Well, all their shadows had been cast into hells now, so they’re on their own The ultisaur Oh, abominano beastie, what big eyes you had; all the better to spy your shadow with Oh, abominano beastie, what big legs you had; all the better to stomp your shadow with Oh, abominano beastie, what a big head you had’ all the more mindfuck when the little blue girl wrenches your mind away And leaves you falling through the gaps in realities

SUCK SWEET NOTHINGNESS, FIRE BALL! OUT OF PLAY

You can’t kill ultibeasts per se. You can only un-imagine them. By confusing their conjurers. By tossing them back from whence they came. The deepest darkest hells? Or the heads of weirdos? And talking of weirdos... Zarathustra woke with a start. I mean he thought he was Zarathustra. Or was he an ultisaur? Falling through the hells. Nothing but space. Frazzled by the the eth... urgh.

“Oh, ergi.” Melodi had awoken too. With a hic and a tick and a disorienting feeling; as if she wasn’t quite there. Blue skin, red dress, egg yoke, Nike tick eyes, just how she liked them. Back in just one world at once, thank the all-transcendent id.

Psytopia: Adagio 3

29


“Freaky.” “Loopy.” “Loco.” All three remaining blitzers were right as it goes, gathering their swords, their senses, their footing, their bearings? “Ain’t we’s been in thiz pliz before?” “The necropolis on the Lime Plateau.” “So that’s what all them ghouly gravestones were for...” But the mossy headstones poking through the upturned floorboards weren’t so interesting. The meaty mausoleums messing up the charred mosaics were neither here nor there. The remnants of the sunken necropolis burning away was nothing to write home about. No; the interesting thing was that the Principal was spooked. “Uuugh...”

“Yuuurrk.. ” That was Zarathustra and Melodi. You can probably tell from the freaky fonts. Dropping to their knees in unison as the hells vacated their heads.

Over-gravitised, over-magnefied, over-mathmatised. Out of sync with the world around them and just plain spent. Oh, but you know what really spooked the superspook? Where were his swords?

MELODI

ZARATHUSTRA

Ether-chilled

Nano-fried And that means exhausted They couldn’t quite work out where they ended and the wide, wild world began now Total ether trip-out Total nano shut-down So her head lolled and her eyes rolled So his head drooped and his eyes glazed Doloroso frozen into shattered pieces Orinoko burnt to an ashy crisp Two little hyperdollies dead on arrival Their fragmented portions scattered down through the hells like severed petals Pulled back into the corporeal world Plonked back into his own head And it phased them, if the truth be known Enough to let her breath out Enough to drop his last sword And SHATTER And PUFF! Gloves reduced to icy fragments Spooklets reduced to smoldering bits And your arms too, freaketeers Because there’d never been arms under there anyway, had there? That’s what happens to metal men when the magnets suddenly use their stick Just like what happens to a blue girl when something flusters the rhythms of her heartbeat Thd staples and stitches come undone. And you feel everything is... falling,

Psytopia: Adagio 3

28


EVAPORATED: La Sensoria

DUSTED:

The Memento Mori

FRIED:

The Burning Rage

DISAPPEARED:: The Shadow Splitter

CREMATED:

The Prodigal’s Edge

LOST IN THE BREEZE: The Raucous Whisper

Just fumbled for a moment: The Crimson Harvest

They stared at each other across the cluttered floor of the hall of sighs. Less like stares, more like agonised squints. Across the mauled surface of the real world; the pair suddenly solid once more. Removing all the frights and the fears of conjoured hells and imagined heavens. Finally seeing each other. “You are an ether dancer.” “And you are a shaltz.” And that meant just one thing. The master’s wide open, kittyclaws! So get them breeze boots hot steppin’... And lose him! REMEDY ESUNA HALO Triple boot HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Rolls him backwards through the last, collapsing wall of the hall of sighs And out onto the snow-garnished, night light-lit, chime-tinkling, flame-framed gangway With a CRASH! Tinkling nightlights, dreamer; wakey, wakey!

_______________________________________________

Psytopia: Adagio 3

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And CRASH! there’s another; Elegy this time, her fall eased by the thinning cyclone. Let’s just call it Melodi’s one-off overhead transportation system; an aeroduct, if you will. Burning off the last memories of the ancients; sorry siz- you’re collateral. Crashing through a handily placed fruit shed a plate or so across the ethery divide. Her tumultuous dive broken by shelves of tasty papatoe, blucumber and neeproot; better than it being broken by her shattering bones, at least. She wiped blood from her lip, patted herself down, thanked Zarathustra she was still alive. No; let’s not thank him, hey? Let’s just kick ourselves that she’d been dumped out of the dance. ___________________________________________

One scant wooden gangway, decorated with lines, dots and arrows Leading from the remnants of the hall of sighs to a serene courtyard at the end of the world And by that I mean an island in the ether Bathed in the flickering glare of a million scattered night lights Backed by billowing lakes packed with a million translucent blue flames Serenaded by the tinkling tune of a million twinkly chimes, hanging in ether like puppets It may not have been millions Who knows; mathematics had just gone out the window Along with gravity and magnetics All that remained were the players and the dance

Über Teufel (The Great Devil) Vs. Der Valkyries von der brise That’s Halo, Esuna, Remedy and if she’s got it in her, we can count Melodi Vs Zarathustra

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Zarathustra was a broken man. No, really; I mean it. Though of course, he wasn’t really a man at all. He was... something it’s not really worth trying to fathom. On his knees. All in a daze. Studying his spooklets. He didn’t have spooklets anymore. He had nothing more but vagrant memories, wisping free in the breeze. Forming into a familiar mist as they walked away from him. Drifting across the walkway and into the flames. Drifting across the ether and into space. Drifting out of reality and into his dreams. “Odine!” Zarathustra didn’t talk much. Gods don’t have to. Don’t speak; just do. Perhaps Zarathustra was realising he wasn’t a god afterall. Perhaps he was realising he was savagely mortal; his sleepy head had just never clicked. Or perhaps he had taken a knock on the head and needed to shake himself clear. Watching Odine as she crumbled into nothing. A soul he’d bound and tied, trapped and tortured; finally set free. Another soul cage thrown open, allowing the dead to drift into dust. Looking back at Odine and then at himself; at the dying embers of the spooklets in which he had contained her... Spooklets... or cogs? Zarathustra had forgotten what he looked like underneath it all. Under the metal, the mist and the goo. Winding cogs, clunking away. Revealed by that accursed ether dancer...

There were only ever eight ether dancers. And they echoed through history; through everything. Echoes of totality; the ether between things, tying them together in sync. Ether dancers were curious things. They were born backwards, each generation made from components of their children... Who were born first. It’s confusing to us mortals who believe in linear time and all that inconvenient nonsense. Who like to make life harder for ourselves. Ether dancers gave birth to their parents, but only when they finally became children. Pure enough to transcend. So there were six ether dancers in the beginning. Who passed away, their last breaths knitted into dolls and their souls locked into metri. They were Melodi’s parents as it goes, and her childen, which was probably why she was always so disinterested in meeting them; awkward, isn’t it? They made her feel old; old enough to be born.

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Family; urgh. Then there was that red girl; the angry stormfest named Orinoko. Her daughter.... or her son... or her sister- nah, she wishes; just a ghoul. Ether dancers were pretty androgynous as it goes; depends on the observer. Melodi didn’t like Orinoko one bit; a shadow of an echo; über urgh. She was OK in doll form, she supposed; where Melodi had left her, because dolls are soul cages too... but then unfortunately some big daddy storm trooper picked her up. The worst parts of her soul were in there; the boring parts, churning to be free. And becoming spooks... another gallery of shadows. Echoes... shadows... broken bones. Melodi had crafted a more intricate doll for her own soul... yeah not Doloroso; herself. What, you thought she was a little blue belle on the inside? It was only a cage, though unlike her family, she had the benefit of breath to animate it. Doloroso was an empty vessel... for now. She’d done what she could; even raised necropoli: out of anger, maybe. Because she was really an only child; the last. Alone with the echoes and the shadows... and metri-clad megaspooks twisting them. Yeah OK, she’d raised necropoli out of anger; a wrinkled old toddler mad at being born, stark and lonely, smashing up the memories her family had become. But still these ethereal graveyards followed her around; maps of her minds. If you want to be really macabre, you could say that Melodi’s family were buried inside her. Parts of them, at least, because at death, ether dancers split their ids. Even the ancient symbol of Psytopia was based on that forgotten fact; the valknut. The two bars of the plates and the bones which sunk underground them, topped by the free soul which hovered above the shadows and echoes of the world. The lone voice of transcendence; alone, yet only alone in that it saw everything as a whole. So if there was only the whole, why didn’t it stop? Why did the echoes repeat in her head? Well, it was because she was still breathing. And if you happen to find something that can part the id of an ether dancer... Well, something’s gonna burn.

Melodi wasn’t worried about all that. Destiny... pah; she’d do what she felt like. All she was worried about was sobbing over little Doloroso. Just a shadow now; frozen to the floor. Side by side with the soot-stain that was once accursed Orinoko. “Hey, the cracklestab’s breathin’ hard.” “Spluttering, even.” “You know what they say; everything that breathes...” “Can die! Come on siz!”

Remedy leading the charge. Down the pristine wooden gangway with the scatter of snow, the twinkle of night lights and the fanfare of wind chimes urging them on all the way. Down the walkway, three blitz belles flashing six whipping blades. Feeling awake and alive and relatively positive that they might just win! Melodi wasn’t feeling alive. Melodi was feeling somewhat glum. Because Melodi was seeing shadows.

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Rainbow Melodis shadowing her every way she moved. So she didn’t move much, just tensed up; keeping them inside where they belonged. Maybe she shouldn’t have scrapped those superswords; it was letting the alters out.

On her knees at the edge of the wooden gangway. Tug gloves shattered into icy shards; black and white blocks spread across the stonework. Her arms beneath... well, they weren’t arms; they were ether plumes. At least she was blue again. Yeah, but she was dying. ESUNA REMEDY HALO Blitz break chains Overhead loop Backhand whirl Overhand hoop Backstroke hoop Roundhouse curl Turn-around loop Rolling scoop Leaping twirl Cross-face swoop Jumping swoop 360 spinning swirl Cross-body scoop HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Every inch of his armour Driven back stomp by stomp down the gangway Random, gloop-caked chunks chipping off

Melodi held herself together, trying not to sink. Trying not to become a necropolis. Because that’s what happens to ether dancers at death. When the orchestra splits up and becomes echoes. She shut her eyes, grit her teeth struggled to thaw out the icy cobwebs, tried to re-start her heartbeat... Gulped.

ESUNA REMEDY HALO Blitz break chains Overhead whirl Backhand loop Overhand curl Backstroke curl Roundhouse hoop Turn-around whirl Rolling twirl Leaping scoop Cross-face swirl Jumping swirl 360 spinning swoop Cross-body twirl HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! COUNTER! You can chip away forever at the armour of a god; it s pretty much infinite You can push a god back all the way to the courtyard at the end of the gangway... Until such time as said god flips!

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ZARATHUSTRA Nanolock HIT! HALO: Her nanos, of course Oh-oh; that was a pretty hostile magno-mudra he threw right there. Dropping Halo to her knees like a block of ice into the wall of an igloo. Frozen to the spot. Her flesh, her bones, her blood, her heart. Even her awareness of time. And if you’re stuck in time, you’re really quite vulnerable.

STOMP!

Zarathustra finding his sense of self at last. One forward step and a decisive finish. ZARATHUSTRA: Beheading swipe That s a big, coggy arm you re swiping with, Mr. Wolf All the better to... COUNTER! ESUNA bundles HALO out of harm s way Esuna and Halo inadvertently straddling each other for a moment. Just a moment; not intended, I might add. A moment of Halo’s insides tensing up and her breath cut short and her eyes all gooey. A quiet moment as they stayed still; a sinister shadow passing overhead. Just a moment and it’d be gone; her blood would ease and it’d all be back to normal. Yep; normal. Esuna sneaking a stroke of Halo’s hair, placing it behind an ear; a playful smirk behind the frost sheet... That wasn’t normal was it? ZARATHUSTRA Nanolock HIT! ESUNA: Her nanos Rooting Esuna to the spot. The pair of them lined up for a scalping. All chilled out and nowhere to go but...

STOMP!

Zarathustra back on track. Let’s not muck about now, shall we?

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ZARATHUSTRA: Double-handed beheading swipe Those are hefty, coggy arms you re swiping with, Mr. Wolf All the better to... COUNTER! REMEDY bundles HALO and ESUNA out of harm s way

One on one. Mano-et-girlo. Heretic facing God. Well, you can’t win them all, can you? Even if you are the heroine in the pack. You can’t win them all. But at least if you try, you can look good being dead.

REMEDY: Devil s Pir... ow! COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Nanolock HIT! REMEDY: Had she been hit? She didn t know Had time passed? And who was she, anyway? One on none; the play well and truly over. So let’s watch him raise those coggy arms, shut the book, go home and sulk about it. About how tough reality can be. His Academy sunken, his plans in tatters, his brave new world cast into anarchy. The shadow of Remedy’s supersword a jagged reminder that it wasn’t one on one yet. He still had a bigger mite to fry first; one that should’ve passed an age ago. Alright, so she was a smaller mite, but looks can be deceiving. Even dying ether dancers have tricks up their flame-wisp sleeves. So if in doubt; ice them out!

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STOMP!

Melodi battling with her alters. Slithering around in her like snakes in a jar. Desperate to break the surface and get out. What; were they running from something?

STOMP!

Melodi struggling with her inner family. Herselves, if you want to get technical. Desperate to conduct all the instruments in the band to fall back into sync. What; were they freaked by something?

STOMP!

Melodi tensing the echoes of the ether dancers in her blood. Skin bulging here and there, different colours trying to break free. Desperate to sneak into the shadows and go away, go away, go away! What; were they scared of something... Ah.

Merry Mel not so merry right now. Even less so than usual. With a big, clunky man-god standing over her, all rusty cogs and gimpy armour. Readying that sword...

So they said if you unite the necropoli, you can guide the rhythms of the wide, wild world. I don’t know who said that, or how or when; probably Melodi’s inner demons, her parents or her children, or whatever echoes made her up, and maybe they were saying it just now. If you just brought the eight necropoli together like they were when they lived; familia! You could play the song of the ether dancers or silence it forever. Well, let’s test that myth, shall we? Big old Zarathustra. Little unmerry Mel. So you want an optimistic finale, do you? Sorry to disappoint you all, but...

>SCRIPP!< ZARATHUSTRA Hooking plunge HIT! MELODI: In one ear, through her brain and out the other side OUT OF PLAY

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A splutter of rainbow blood. A sizzle on the wood below. A moment for time to fluster in the blue girl’s wake. Lazy eyes. Lost words. Broken heartbeat. You could almost hear the friction of the plates. The disapproval of the elements. The world’s wide-eyed wildness crumbling into order.

Melodi knew from the moment she stepped onto this plate that it was to be her grave. After all, it was her home... And ether dancers see time backwards, subconsciously, at least. So she knew, in her heart of hearts (and she had eight) that this was to be her end. But the thing is, even if you see time backwards, you can’t stop it. You can’t blame her for being glum about that. So the eighth necropolis was finally christened; made full. This twilight place, seen only by dreamers and the dead, stuck between heavens. This empty casket awaiting it’s occupant; this body pending it’s spook. This framework she’d made in her head; an echo in the wrong place in time, about to form. The earth burnt away by her blood as she shut her eyes, met the past and transcended. Into history, where she’d always sat if the truth be told; just echoing. Who cares if the world ascends into heaven or falls into hell after that? Melodi was back with her family again; for the first time in life, not carrying them anymore.

CRACK! “Melodi!” That was Remedy, in case you were wondering. The icy storm sheet which glued her nanos to her bones breaking up. Time taking place again. Just a moment too late. CRACK! CRACK! Halo and Esuna. Raising their swords above their heads. You can’t deflect shots that were thrown an age ago, kitty claws. So look around and draw your breath. Because your hope’s just been diced to shreds and even the earth is falling in at your feet!

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You shouldn’t mix necropoli. They tend to unbalance the world. That’s why originally, they were lined up nice and neat along the base of the plates. They held the jigsaw together; cages to hold in spooks. More than spooks of course; the forms which cast them. So you really shouldn’t cocktail necropolis unless you want to fall flat on your face. Unless you’ve got a death wish... or a life wish... depends what way you see time go. Linear order or random chaos. If you mix necropoli, you’re piling dead on dead, and too much dead can kill everything. Nice and neat how Zarathustra liked it; because the dead don’t make mischief. You’ll come to a calamitous cross-fading of gravity, magnetics and maths. And the whole stack will sink into shadows. “Mel! Is you’se alright, lickle sprite?” Of course she’s not alright, Remedy; she’s just had a blade plunged through her head. The swordstril sliding to a stop by the blue girl’s side, cradling her, blood eating through her clothes, unwinding the threads, turning them into ether. Of course she’s not alright, breeze belle; and you’re not alright either. Scooping the dribbling blue corpse off the floor, blade and all. Still in the grip of the reaper. Because Zarathustra had just tripped the dancers. Put a stop to the wild-waving rhythms of the world. And a chill was beginning to creep across the plates. >SLINK!< That was Zarathustra pulling the Crimson Harvest out of Melodi’s crumpling skull.

RUMBLE!

And that was the shudder of the ethereal scaffolding below the plate beginning to buckle. Or was it the shiver of Remedy’s heart? Realising she was kneeling, swords cast aside, at the feet of the Principal. Screwing up her face as a fateswirl came in to claim her. ZARATHUSTRA Overhead... COUNTER! ESUNA HALO Shudderwave pirouettes HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Back Tossed over Remedy and Melodi and into a heap “Remy!” Esuna, defrosted and ready. “Get up.” Halo, fired up and angry.

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Remedy clutching her precious blue girl close to her chest. As the rhythmic tinkle-twinkle of the blood drips ate through her hair, clothes and boots. As the melodic tink-tonk of the hanging wind chimes fell out of sync. As the globular puddles of rainbow dream juice dropping from Melodi’s ears formed ghostly pin-prick ether dancers of various hues before shattering into ice shards across the woodwork; cadanzas- echoes falling apart. “Remy!” Esuna, tugging her shoulder. “Get up.” Halo, preparing her swords. Zarathustra back up and at them. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP; making the blitzers scramble down the gangway. How about we finish things off by consigning this jive into a simple order? Dead girls cast no shadows, see? ZARATHUSTRA Scribble Montage Scrabble Montage HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Various Pushed down the gangway towards the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy still cradling Melodi. As her flesh flushed green. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers going from rainbow to mono. As her parents, her children, her alters, tumbled away.

The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Putting Zarathustra off? ESUNA HALO Leaping swirl Whirling coil HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Arm cog Sword Weakens grip Dislodges a cog What, you think Zarathustra’s going to drop his sword?

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Armless or not, he could handle the last gasps of the revolution.

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ZARATHUSTRA Powersnap Reverb Powerwave Reverb HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Breath Blood Pushed down the gangway towards the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy wiping away Melodi’s blood and tears, burning her fingers. As her flesh flushed white. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers appearing to fill with skulls. Grasping at her, even though her; like holding onto a spectre.

The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Pissing Zarathustra off?

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

ESUNA HALO Charging whirl Backspin curl HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Arm cog Sword Weakens grip There goes another cog These kids need to behave themselves

Alright freakstrils; harsher lessons all round. ZARATHUSTRA Head of Steam Epitaph Total Torment Epitaph HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Rolled across the floor Bowled into the ground At the end of the gangway leading to the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy stroking Melodi’s unkempt hair. As her flesh flushed black. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers squeezing shut. She’s grasping for something Remy! The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Gradually helping the blitzers chip away at his mechanical grip.

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DING! Another couple of deft back-stepping swipes Little cogs bouncing away; fizzing into the ether “Mel; you’se can hear moy, right?” Of course she can’t hear you Remedy, she’s had a sword plunged between her ears. Perhaps she could hear through her eyes. Or perhaps she didn’t need to. Perhaps she just knew. The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. DING! More little cogs torn off mini pulleys, sizzling away. “You’se loved, you’se knows...” Of course she knows, Remedy. Why do you think she’s so glum? Because she’s always known she’s going to lose it. The only thing in the wide, wild world that matters; friends- family, even. But she’s been grasping for an age now siz, so be a friend and follow her lead. Yes, that’s right; that’s what she’s reaching for. Your sword. The Holy Judgement. Her own, personal, purpose-built funeral urn.

When ether dancers transcend, they don’t take much with them. Only ether, in fact. The rest sinks into the hells or the heavens, depending on your perspective. Is the world half empty or half full? But when they die, they give back, not take with; that’s the point. That’s why you could equally say they’re born; because the world is born this way. The myriad hells and heavens are nothing more than ether dancers releasing their breath. And Melodi had held hers far too long, if the truth be told. That doesn’t mean that as she let out her last breath, she couldn’t keep the family tradition. Keeping her soul around to watch over the precession of breaths she’d put in place. To make damn sure some gekky uberspook didn’t go and stifle it. So she’d need a spangly soul cage, wouldn’t she? Come on Remedy, break a habit of a lifetime and hand it over! The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. DING! Zarathustra had just lost the Prodigal’s Edge. And the world really was rumbling, too. The plate ebbing noisily away. As the snow fell thicker and the ground lurched. The necropolis weaving itself into being. Sinking into the pyro sea.

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“You’se... you’se want this?” Yes Remedy, she wants that; now pick it up and hand it to her. It might be the last thing you ever do... If only Melodi had hands... DING! Little cogs bouncing out into the faltering flame pits as the others were pushed back further; the last of Melodi’s internal family falling out of her absent grasp. Nowhere left to back-peddle at the edge of the world, and Melodi could feel it beckon. The Crimson Harvest; another empty casket- a mirror in the mist. The dull, tuneless instrument through which the echoes of her family would be silenced. The echoes which brought life to the world. ZARATHUSTRA Cross-face wave HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Slice across the midsection Slice across the neck Knockdowns! Pushed into the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world CLANG! And they dropped their swords

Friends and family can flicker away as swiftly as night lights in the breeze, however ominous the shadows they cast and however wonderful the echoes they leave. So you’d better make sure you’ve done the right thing by them. Right? Remedy passes the Holy Judgement into Melodi’s ethery arms.

FIZZZZ!!!

Alright; that reaction made even Zarathustra shiver. That crinkle in the rhythm of reality caught the attention of the wide, wild world. That sudden wave of ether flipped every nano on the plate. Because that was what happened when the last living ether dancer passed. And by that I mean her soul had grown old and wise and accepting enough to be born. To share herself with all the other echoes at last. To reflect time back on itself, because this wasn’t where it ended, it was where it began. I just feel sorry for any sad, coggy spooks who’d snuck in through the gaps between time while the last ether dancer hung around all blue and broody, feeling sorry for herself. The scene shakes. The chimes chortle. The night lights flare up double-high. The flame fields buck and whirl, sizzle and flourish.

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She is the Third Heaven, you fool! And all the others in between. She was just done with making unmerry mirrors. So then she was gone. Just be a friend, Remedy and keep her soul close to hand. Remedy wasn’t quite sure how long she’d been holding nothing. I dunno; a click, a flicker, a sliver, an age? It didn’t really matter around these parts, did it? Where time and space and all that hazy hokum tumbled into a muddled rage. No, it didn’t matter how long Remedy had been clinging to nothing. How long her tears had been passing through the burn holes left in the courtyard floor. How long sounds had been bouncing in her ears, all over each other like a... like a... tune. What mattered was that the world was bright and she was awake, bathed in a lively blue. And that she was still holding her sword.

The bestest, breeziest sword in the wide, wild world. It had learnt a lot, that sword; a lot more than the others. Maybe because it had been born here, in the future. It had seen hells and heavens and felt pain and joy like you can’t imagine. Well, you probably can imagine, because you’re a person too. And that means you’re also an echo of an ether dancer. It had fear, pleasure, joy and attachment. It had humour, hardship, hope and loss. And it had friends; that was the defining thing. It had friends and it had family; out there making the world wide and wild; free at last. It had life and death it it like everything does, even if it learnt them backwards. It carried the soul of an ether dancer, you see. And you’re best off not caging ether dancers. because they’re a creative bunch. And there comes a time in life when you scrunch up the lecture notes and graduate.

So what have we learned about swords? We’ve learned what they neglected to teach us. The most important things of all. That swords are made of memories. That swords are people too. Well of course they’re not people, they’re vessels; like dolls. We’re all vessels; it’s what we do with them that counts. And if you’re just going to hunt and haunt, stomp and slumber... Well you’re hardly a full vessel; you’re just a hungry ghost. So move over Zarathustra; you’re not a deity yet.

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Oh, and what’s the other thing we should always remember about swords? That despite the muddledy metaphysics, at the end of the day, they’re for hitting people.

Zarathustra stomping into the rainbow courtyard at the end of the world, the gangway falling into the ether behind him. Two bloodied blitzers lined up ready to be knocked down. Like boiled eggs poised for a spooning. ZARATHUSTRA: Beheading... Tap-tap. That was curious. A reverberating pat on his shoulder. And his arm, and his chest, and his legs, and his head. A reverberating pat which passed right through him like a... like a... rhythm? “Hey

squib pie.”

That was Remedy, standing calmly beside him. Slipping so stealthily into his sphere that he was startled enough to drop his guard, turn and face her. Well, that might just be the last thing you do, hilt head. The plate’s sinking into the afterworld; no time to waste! “Let‘s quickify this jive!”

REMEDY Letting the blade guide her HALO Charging clef ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Revving up across the court ZARATHUSTRA Kicking off across the yard Shoulder Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

25BPM The chimes tink-tonking faster. The flames rip-roaring harder. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. As the fuzz fields at the edges of the plate sunk into the ether. Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs revealed under his shoulder plating, dribbling goo into the ice. Melting under his back-tracking boots.

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REMEDY Throwing out techniques she d never been taught HALO Spinning slur ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Speeding up across the court ZARATHUSTRA Tearing it up across the yard Shoulder Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

50BPM The flames rip-roaring harder. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. The chimes tink-tonking faster. As the whole plateau around them sunk into the ether. Zarathustraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s armoured feet muddying the kicked-up snow. Oily cogs puffing and wheezing as they were exposed to the elements, spewing goo. Mushed under his back-tracking boots. REMEDY Swifter than ever before HALO Leaping drone ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Charging across the court ZARATHUSTRA Zooming across the yard Waist Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

100BPM The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. The chimes tink-tonking faster. The flames rip-roaring harder. As the courtyard itself began to sink into the ether. Zarathustraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s armoured feet stumbling through scrunched-up gunk. Oily cogs belching mist and steam as they started to slow; nanos cast asunder. Blackened under his back-tracking boots. REMEDY Oh, she was hitting that tuneage now! HALO Cross-body coda ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Whirling around across the court ZARATHUSTRA Spinning about across the yard Leg Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

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200BPM The flames. The chimes. The sleet. Thickening blue haze descending. REMEDY Being spurned on by voices, senses, memories; who knows? HALO Cross-body cantabile ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Wisping about across the court ZARATHUSTRA Weaving around across the yard Leg Lops off a chunk of armour Down to a knee at the very rim of the courtyard at the edge of the world

400BPM Flames. Chimes. Sleet. Roaring blades approaching. REMEDY Her blade cut through his armour like ether HALO Arcing allegro ESUNA Devil s Pirouette HIT! Devil s Pirouette Swirling across the court ZARATHUSTRA Twirling across the yard Chest Lops off a chunk of armour On his knees at the very tip of the courtyard at the edge of the world

800BPM Flame, chimes, sleet; all much of a muchness. The whole place was tinkling now; buzzing. The different elements of the scene indiscernible; collapsing into one. Along with the zip-zap or the blitzerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s blades, the swish-stomp of their steps and the thump-bump of their heartbeats.

That meant they were all tripping now. And the Holy Plateau was tripping with them. Reel in the funeral parade, sizter blitzers. Because the dead are here to dance tonight!

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HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA COVER! The Crimson Harvest

Sorry to break it to you breeze belles, but you’re back in the land of the living. Sorry to break it to you catch clique, but the land of the living’s falling to bits. Sorry to break it to you kitty claws, but you haven’t killed god just yet. And sorry to break it to you adolescents, but the revolution ends here!

BOOM!

The shudder of thunder

ZAP!

Flames wince. Times stops. Snow falls like showers of feathers.

And there’s the flash

No more scenery to destroy. No more tricks to tease. No more moments to waste.

A man of metal and thunder, stripped bare His facial armour the only thing left that wasn’t oily cogs and puffing dream steam On both knees, the Crimson Harvest above his head The ultimate clash of ultiswords Built to channel every breath of the ether dancers down one route or other The rhythms of the world To chain or to free them?

THE CRIMSON HARVEST

THE HOLY JUDGEMENT

ORDER?

CHAOS?

Glows red Glows blue The only two instruments which could channel the breath of ether dancers left in the world Strangle it? Release it? Cast a world of shadows? Ignite a cavalcade of echoes? So what’s gonna win? Here we are on the edge of the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world. Three swordstrils and the Principal. Three Anarchists and a megalomaniac.

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As the flame pits around them raged so hard they sparked and froze. As the snow fell so thick over them that it iced up and friction-burned. As the chimes clunked so frantically that they appeared and disappeared like ghosts. As the sinking platform on which they stood threatened to make spooks of the lot of them. Remedy clutched her blade. Standing over him. Her friends around her. Awake and alive and seeing clearly at last.

I mean really clearly now. I mean triptastically so. I mean the way the rhythms of the world rose and fell, threaded and frolicked. I mean awake enough to know that anarchy was often your best bet. And that she was only a simple sword slice away from letting it flow. REMEDY Shrugs her shoulders REMEDY Raises her swords REMEDY Finds time for a swift smirk...

Hold it a click, blitz belle; you’ve got a mouthful of rainbow teeth. That’s a souped-up ultisword you’ve got there Remy; it has a contagious personality... She grimaced for a moment. Felt somewhat blue. Eeer... oops?

ZARATHUSTRA: Overhand whack (hilt) HIT! REMEDY: Jaw Knockdown! And what’s more, she dropped her sword. Watching it clutter to a dismal halt at his stomping, coggy feet. Studying a chunky blue tooth that had fallen from her mouth. Shouldn’t you be saving your supersword? Shouldn’t you be rescuing your friend? Because if you won’t, der übergeist will. Say goodye to your lively blue heaven. Time to choke the wildness out of the world and pass it on to the spooks!

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HALO Blitz break chain Overhand whirl Backhand curl Spinning twirl COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! DISARM! CRACK! Broken nose Knockback! Across the sinking courtyard, clinging to the woodwork ESUNA Blitz break chain Rolling hoop Backhand loop Leaping swoop COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! DISARM! WHACK!

Bruised skull Knockback! Across the sinking courtyard, clinging to the woodwork Three blitzers, one sword. Do the maths, students. Add up and weep. REMEDY: Charging curl (BA) ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! SMACK! Grazed cheek Slice knee Knockdown! Alright, so now the maths looked even worse

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Blades rolling into the surrounding flame moats and they changed to mists. Blessed Angel, Heaven’s Destiny, the Inquisitor, la Faux Fatale, Twisted Epiphany. It seemed kind of pointless to name them now; you can’t write epitaphs on watery graves. The courtyard sinking into a promordial spook soup. The battered blitzers having to scramble closer to the Principal just to stay afloat. Caught between an iceberg and a cold place. So now the victor stood tall. Zarathustra on a sinking raft of wood in an increasingly stormy sea. The flames becoming icy mists. You see the funny thing about life is this: And remember it’d be cruel to laugh, now. The funny thing about life is this: It has nasty twists in the tale.

So we’ve reached the end of our muddled trilogy. The blitzblades crawling on hands and knees. On their knees at his feet where they belonged; on their knees and swordless. Let’s scalp these pesky kids and rub salt into the wounds. Just for the cold, contorted fun of it. Let’s really end with a chill. Let’s use their own ultisword on them.

“Yeeps!”

ZARATHUSTRA SNATCH! THE HOLY JUDGEMENT Up off the floor REMEDY Nanotug SNATCH! THE CRIMSON HARVEST Out of his grasp

She didn’t know she could do that. She didn’t really know what she did. The blades hovering between them in an eerie mist. ETHERCAST NANOCAST Holy Judgement Crimson Harvest Plume and mist flipping them over in the air; pointing at their would-be victims

Yike! The tink-tonk and sudden silence of chimes. The flow and intermittent melting of sleet. The roar and partial frosting of flame beds. Switching between sound and silence at the end of the world.

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ZARATHUSTRA NANOCAST Crimson Harvest Hovers towards her head

REMEDY ETHERCAST Holy Judgement Hovers towards his chest

The clashing of EM fields; mist and plume. The buzzing of dueling blades. The breezing of ether and the fuzzing of nanos. The eye of the storm.

CRIMSON HARVEST

HOLY JUDGEMENT

Order versus anarchy

So what have we learned about the forces of the wide, wild world? That they’re wide and wild and that if you’re really special, you can freak them. What have we learned about people? That they’re pretty much echoes of the world. And what have we learned about learning? Whether we use our eyes or ears, fears or imaginations. What have we learned about learning? That it carries on until the end. And even then, there’s still stuff left to flip you. Zarathustra’s evil eyes. Stitched on a cog-covered skeleton, they were. Given that Remedy now had the questionable benefit of close inspection. Remedy on the floor. Zarathustra on his feet. The ultiswords making arrows at them in the eye of the storm. Remedy’s eager eyes. Flickering somewhat; not quite herself. Feeling stroppier somehow, as if she was being puppeteered. Gasping at those swords. Blood bulging, breath buckling. 800, 400, 200BPM... Remedy and Zarathustra on the edge of a sinking world. Just enough space for them and two floored blitzers. And just enough time for one decisive strike. Remedy. Zarathustra. Which one would it be? Sword to sword. Soul to soul. The fizz of the blades shattering the silence.

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FZZZZ!

ZAP!

WHIRRR!

Eye to eye. Remedy and Zarathustra. Her’s their usual sprightly tangerine. His... one red, one black. “Mojo?”

And that’s how Remedy lost the last tug of war on the final sprig of land at the edge of the world. Because she missed someone. Fool you once; dandy, fool you twice; fine, fool you three times; you fool. Remedy losing her grip on the EM fields. The plateau freezing over. Esuna’s boots eaten by ice.

Remedy feeling the Crimson Harvest poking at her skin. Her blood freezing over. Halo’s boots nipped by frost.

The blitzers feeling the rhythms of the world falling into order. Still and static, bland and resigned. Icing the world to sleep again.

Because that was what Zarathustra had been looking for. Not power, not conquest, not riches, not even control. Zarathustra was looking for only one thing. For living life and losing love and the waking world to finally be over.

Forever, I mean; and for everyone, because life’s better when it’s over. Life’s better when it’s risk-free. Life’s better when the storms inside you calm down. Life’s better when it’s just a dream.

So that’s how the world was lost. Oh, come on kitty claw; isn’t that frost eating away at your boots waking you up? Those spooks seizing your very toes; dragging your world down into their’s? It’d woken Halo up, that was for sure. We’re not ether dancers; we haven’t got forever, you know!

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HALO Forward roll over Remedy s back >SCRIPP!< SNATCH! The Crimson Harvest The Holy Judgement ZARATHUSTRA: Plunge HIT! Through Halo s heart Flips her head back Flips her hair back Eye to evil eye Only not the way you might think

... ... … ... ... ...

She kept it covered for a reason, you know. Because it reminded her she didn’t belong here. Triple pupil, it was; twisted echo. Some people never really belong in this world and there’s not much you can do for them. Just let them find their way... “Back to the grave, falso deus!”

BLINK!

Now Halo’s eye was like an egg yoke, Nike tick... Wait; time had missed something back there. A scripp or so snuck in through the cracks... Well that’s what Halo was. wasn’t she; a ghost in the machine, and it takes one to kill one. A skip in the record; a crack in the track. She’d died out there in the wide, wild world, but she’d taken a mis-step and come back. Not quite alive, not quite dead... but definately not a fucking dreamer. SNATCH! The Holy Judgement Plunge! HIT! Through Zarathustra s eye >SCRIPP!<

There are two ways the world could’ve ended. It could’ve ended, or it could’ve begun. Melodi knew; she’d seen it end once already. She’d pretty much caused it, and worst luck, she’d survived it. But she’d forgiven herself, because old worlds have to end for new ones to begin. To grow, fill the gaps where the spooks got in and to mature. Just don’t get caught too close to the mushroom cloud. There are two ways the world can end; in annihilation or emancipation. But it ain’t ending today, metal mickey.

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Because ether dancers lived their lives backwards. They gave birth to their parents. They saw the future. And so did people who danced with death. Because if you’ve been there before your final breath’s been spent, every one that comes after is going to be a step or three out of sync. Halo and Zarathustra were different kinds of spooks. They danced in different heavens; snuck through different gaps. But just like ether dancers, they didn’t really belong here. Shouldn’t really have hung around. They carried on living when they should’ve been dreaming or dying. Because like ether dancers, they were stubborn like that. But you can dream of an ordered world where everything fits, or you can embrace the real one, where the best things don’t. Because this was the day the world woke from its sleep!

Well, the myth of the Octet was bullshit, really. (The clue is in ‘mythical’) Sure; they were really good swords. Made out of the finest metris on the plate, and even snazzier stuff. And yes, they housed the souls of the ancients; in a fashion. The ether dancers had to put their bones somewhere, didn’t they? We put ours in fancy boxes and go through all kinds of arcane rituals to bury ours, so we aren’t that different. We don’t run around saying caskets have magical powers, but crackpots might. That’s why Freia played on crackpot theory. There had always been crackpots; in ages gone by, they’d been obsessed with dolls, now with swords, so what better instruments to ‘fuse them with. I mean honestly, humans are obsessed with money; whatever makes your world go round. And yeah, Octet swords sparked pretty spangly and buzzed pretty bright, but only because they were made by the ether dancers, back in the day... as caskets. So careful what you’re swingin’. So Freia had played her part; laid out the pieces; played on the Principal’s obsessions just as he had played her. Because chaos made a lot more sense than his fucked up application of order. And because look what rounds of chasing shadows had done to her; if she didn’t perpetuate those myths... well, he wouldn’t be so disappointed when he found out they were fake. Did they hold the souls of ether dancers? If our coffins hold ours... But what they did do was pang especially nice with those rythmic edges, and if a sucker of a super spook was to believe they had some divine power beyond that... Well, who’s to say they didn’t in the eye of the beholder? Did they do anything more than swish snazzy and all that? Not really; people did. But the more time the Principal dedicated to hunting the niftiest swords on the plates... The more time Freia had to experiment.

Good swords are meant to be played; weaving daydreams into reality. You can hear the echoes of the ether dancers everywhere; in the traits of human beings. But you need all the pieces of the orchestra to play the tune. It’s all about gravity, magnetics and maths. Plus a pinch of mythology.

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Omizukai, Sashizukai, Ashizukai, in the olden tongue. A play, a player and an instrument. To orchestrate the echoes of the heavens. The sounds which set all that mere matter into motion. We’re all dead already when you think about it; when you slip aside from time. So why waste our breath on dreams? Or, perhaps more accurately, just an explosion of gravity, magnetics and maths. It was always Melodi who was special, not the blades she could’ve been buried in. The world didn’t shudder because the mythical soul swords were united at last... It changed because the should-have-been-dead had been nailed into their caskets. And rainbows of sound exploded.

The hand which wields the ultisword rocks the world. Even the grimest Melodi would giggle at that. A hand which hadn’t been taught to obsess over order. And it wasn’t uncommon to see Halo’s hand stab swords through the faces of plate-shaking übersquibs without much though for herself. Seems suicidal? C’est seppaku? Nein, il est ….

The chimes smash the snow burns, the flames flare The ether underpinning the plates fizzes and fuzzes and pauses in time The shattering of heavens and hells engulfing their eardrums Destroying everything.


But it’d be wrong to end it there. It wouldn’t be fun and it wouldn’t be fair. Because we’re living in a world of broken beats, aren’t we? And what’s happened is that three have balanced each other out. Death through waking, sleep through dying, birth through sleep. Three misplaced freaks finding the spots they’d slouched away from.

Melodi The original missing beat; the big bang which kickstarted all those other echoes. The last of her species, forever holding her breath. And as it passed, she blossomed into ether. Zarathustra A twisted schizm in time; a deviant who made himself the master. A perpetual dreamer who made micro mites to keep the rythems of the world in line. And who could finally rest with his memories. Halo A snag in the track; the culmination of a mischeivous experiment. A lonely girl who’d seen enough of this world to step in and save it. And to realise the dream; the assesment their tutor had set them. You know; the unspoken one she’d set in motion from the start, by teaching chaos. Viva la ampocalypse.

Which leaves the blitzblades in a slight conundrum. As Zarathustra’s eye was pierced, his nanos and his dreamy little world falling to pieces, sunken back into the Rhine. It doesn’t leave them in the best of places, does it? The blast zone. Halo with a welcoming grin. Remedy with a pessimistic frown. Esuna with an anxious grimace.

A magnetic surge passing through them. Stripping away Zarathustra’s cogs and Halo’s skin. Swords engulfed by rainbows of colours. Every hue turning blue. And after that, all Remedy and Esuna remembered was the breeze.

Well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it? I suppose the dead ones didn’t win?

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FIZZ!

They felt it in their bones first. Then their blood. Then their feet. Then all their senses at once. Ah; the waterfall! Cascading over the wide, wild world, the whole range of the spectrum. All the contents of the ether dancer’s id. ESP ultiwave! Popping their ears. Spanglifying their heartbeats. Filling their world with colour. And time kind of stood still after that.

————————————————————

It took some time before Elegy had gathered her senses, her direction, her self. It took a while before she worked out what was different; how wide the sky was, how fresh the air was, how it was that she could suddenly hear colours. It was some time before she’d wandered to the edge of the plate, nodding to the odd pyronette, parahack and what she would once have called Anarchist as they staggered out of their familiar hiding places, finally safe from the storm. It was a while before she’d put the pieces togeher; that the plates were no longer separated, with their own unique wildlife, weather and even laws of physics- they were free. And quite a time had passed before she figured out why. The subtle buzzing in her blood was gone now; the subtle buzzing in everything. No more nanos; quarelling mists of them had segregated plateaus, ideologies, people. And now the wide, wild world was tripping in the breeze. It was even longer before she found her friends; and she’d had a head start rememberprodded a shade or so into the future, but even time had evened out. The static fields had settled; the ether between the plates turned to gleaming sapphire. And it was a bit of a walk; back across the connected plates to the half-sunken necropolis. She supposed there was no such thing as plateaus now; a land mass reunited. It was like she was walking on the bones of Psytopia as she ventured across that glistening field of sapphire, which was pretty much what she was doing. Her boots tink-tonking through the glassy expanse with rythem as if playing piano keys. Across the petrified pyro lake, around the broken necropolis and towards the eye of the echo- the belly of the blast. But after much frantic searching and moments of dread, she found bedraggled wrists to yank out of the debris. “Remy, Esu; you’re alive!” Remedy with a tentative point of the finger as she staggered onto her feet. At least she thought they were her feet; they felt lighter somehow, and kind of spoony. But they were attached in what looked to be the right places, so they were probably her’s. Grin... but frown; great to be alive but seriously; was that likely? Being spooks, seeing spooks... aw, she really hoped they weren’t all spooks now, but it was probably the most rational explanation. Nah; if she was dreaming, she’d still have swords. And strangely enough, she didn’t immediately lose her shit at the realisation that she didn’t.

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It was weird though; this kind of timeless sensation; so much input at once. The chatter of jojibirds; beasties which weren’t attacking for once. They seemed to be... singing? The skip of their heartbeats. The breeze in the trees. And Elegy back from the... sidetracked- even time not so strict anymore. And everything at once.

Polyphonic!

Yep; rhythm. Because music makes the world go round. Hidden away from the hungry hands of ghouls for so long by that little blue belle. But now raining down on everything; a subtle shower of every colour they could imagine. Altogether now; hallelujah, and not a little god or even a big, stomping one to be found. Remedy giggled to herself. Felt fresh and new and light and... Breezy. Couldn’t really speak though; that faculty hadn’t come back yet. They were a bit scrambled as it goes. Seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, thinking. All together they made sense... “Esu; what about Halo?” And there was that grimace again; words not yet available and not quite needed. A squeeze of the wirst and stroke of the hair. But the curious thing was, it felt like Halo was all around them; in fact, Esuna’s sense of that was clearer than all the rest.

Psytopia had woken up. That’s quite a result, as it happens. Big gold stars all round. Not that there were any tutors left to award them. But pass marks aren’t going to save you from monotony, are they? And that may well be a ultisaur-size slobbering super squib. People could hear music again. The world had officially started; every nano fried and all the ether doused. So we have a happy-ish ending, don’t we? And three heroines free to explore a brave new age. Fingers crossed they’ll use their experiences in the wide, wild world to do a little better than their predecessors, and not get so tied up in knots about it if they don’t. A world based on chaos? A world based on order? Now that our heads are clear, let’s base the wide, wild world on something better than that. Let’s base the wide, wild world on a bit of both.

So what would they do now? Three blitzers and the wide, wild world. Three blitzers with panoramic hearing, tuneful heartbeats and responsible outlooks. Where would they go and what would they do? Well, what do you think they’ll do? Whatever those choose. So they started walking; not because they had somewhere to go; just because they could. What’s the point of going anywhere if you fool yourself there’s any other point than that?

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Because as the twittering jojibirds, the humming earth, the beating hearts and the twinkling kaleido-rain would testify, there’s melody in everything. All you need do is let out a breath, look around and experience it. And if that’s anarchic... well then lock me in the squib pen and alert an übergimp, because chaos can be cool. Remedy had thought her mission was to save the blue girl, when in the end it’d been for her to save them, with a bit of help from an absent but forever present friend. So to ever present friends, and more-than-thats; because Remedy felt her restless heart eased in the knowledge that everything was dandy- her senses back and as acute as if she was pirouetting ad infinitum. “So Remy; where do we go now?”

I dunno kittyclaw, how about this; we go wherever the breeze takes us.

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'Psytopia' Adagio for Swords #1: 'Crimson Harvest' Take a journey across the strange gravmagtic plates of Psytopia; in fact, take an assessment, because Academy sworstrils need to learn about the wide, wild world before they graduate. All the tropes of a fantasy epic are here, but donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t assume, or you may end up with a nasty fail mark '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 youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be dead soon anyway. Download at: www.lulu.com/gabrieldasilva Read online at: www.issuu.com/gabrieldsilva


Psytopia 3: Holy Judgement  
Psytopia 3: Holy Judgement  

The final part of the quasi fantasy/sci-fi trilogy sees the Academy's mysterious principal gathering the instruments which will silence the...

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