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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 bandana) “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 life expectancy; 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.

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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 naive 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 invisible lines...” ELEGY: “I didn’t say paranoid, Remy...” REMEDY: “But you’se thinkin’ it.” HALO: (Walking around the pyre, transfixed on the flames) “Reading 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 reading the future...” REMEDY: “Hey! What you’se say?” HALO: “I said you’re reading the future.” ELEGY: “What are you talking about Halo?” ESUNA: “Hey Hay; you’se soundin’ a tinsy tad weird nowadays too; you’se dandy?” Let’s ignore that comment.

HALO: “Reading the future. Psybelle here’s reading the future..” REMEDY: (Delighted) “I am?” ELEGY: “Of course she’s not reading the future Halo; 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 read 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 read 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. Or higher things...” 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.”

HALO: (Glugs a subtle swig of flame juice) “Maybe life’s an illness. Maybe

life’s hell.” ESUNA: “Kitty, what happened to you’se out in the field?” 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... darkified...” 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’re rational about it.

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ACADEMY PARTY Nakatomi

Elegy

Timbré

Pre-grad

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.

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

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

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

Wasn’t expecting that!

Elegy and Nakatomi exchanging words amid the close-knit trees. Elegy adjusting the traps 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 repeatative 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. 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. 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 biggest gaps. 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 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 with students who’d just killed a tutor.

And somewhere out across the plates, a man of ice and metal 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 standin’ 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: (Sigh) “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. 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.

There’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 them 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. Either by freak weather conditions, giant beasties or other, even more destructive majiks. 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. Some 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 not a surprise to say 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?

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, chrome dome. 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 kid 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.

________________________________________________

ACADEMY PARTY Gavotte

Esuna

Rigoletto

Pre-grad

Fresher

Elective

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

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

A well grounded, mature breeze student more balanced than most.

Their swords Les Illumination

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

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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. Out in the field where strange things happen. But sometimes things don’t quite go your way. 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. 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 bandana 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 chivalry dead or something; 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 chivalry dead or something; 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.

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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 maelstrom. 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 theirs 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. 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 so. 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 it’s 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, we believe you. Zarathustra knew gravimagmathics better than most. Better than all; he’s a god, remember? Zarathustra knew gravimagmathics better than anyone. Afterall, 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. 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 amid the mists.

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.

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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, 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 laying 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. Remedy: interested in mucking about. Esuna: interested in thinking more positive. 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. Afterall, 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 its 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 that kind of thing. 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 something, 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.” 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.”

And Remedy could feel the future, so let’s trust her on that. Alright, so she couldn’t quite feel 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! And Halo? Let’s see... Psytopia: Adagio 3

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ACADEMY PARTY Etude

Halo

Mythril

Pre-grad

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.

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

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 Quartz Plateau

*Travel to the Quartz Plateau Done *Investigate the loss of contact with the pyronette work force Well, that’s kind of done... *If deemed unsafe, turn the power station 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 quartz 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 quartz.

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 MARIONETTES 286 & 289: 360 degree body spins 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 MARIONETTE 273: 360 degree body spin HIT! ETUDE: Slice across cheek ETUDE: Front step plunge HIT! MARIONETTE: Through chest ELECTRIC FIZZLE! OUT OF PLAY “Halo, I’m pleased you’re the swishest fresher in the pen, but you know; we’ve 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 circuitbods 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 289: 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 289: >6, 5, 4...< MARIONETTE 290: 360 degree body spin

MARIONETTE 291: 360 degree body spin

COUNTER! HALO: Sidestep curl

HIT! HALO: Gash across shoulder

HIT! MARIONETTE 290: Side of head

She’d really walked into that one Let’s mirror a mirror and stagger

Staggers a little

“Halo, watch out for the...” Halo 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 289: >3. 2,1...< ELECTRO SHOCK! BOOM! HIT! MARIONETTE 289: Explodes HIT! HIT! HIT! MARIONETTE 290: Frazzled

OUT OF PLAY!

MARIONETTE 291: 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 goo.

MARIONETTES 292-294: 360 degree body spins HALO: Back to her feet on nothing but instinct 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 Quartz 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, 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, just to ensure their silence. 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. So when the spinning sabres of grim marionettes come your way, you too can 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.” 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 remember the taste of being struck 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!

REMEDY: Quick counter HIT! Prodigal’s Edge

Holy Judgement 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. Tensing up to wrench them apart. A puzzled Remedy doing the same. “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! ESUNA: Thigh

HIT! 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 we’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 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. Which reminded Remedy of that gekky branch hanger Azrael. And that’s when instinct kicked in.

REMEDY: Hops onto her feet into... Flick-switch Pirouette Enter 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. Grails fuse the coco, you see. 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 it’s 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 various 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.

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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, you see. Because Odine didn’t stay dead to him forever. Love never does. She’d taught him some neat tricks back in the field 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.

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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, there are iso rooms 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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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 had an appointment.” ESUNA: “She did?” 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, siz.” ESUNA: “What about that blue girl?” ELEGY: “Blue girl?” ESUNA: “The one Remedy was talking about. She said she was... special. Said she knew 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 Yes, Esuna; you are officially an anarchist. 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 curricula activities. Tucked into the rhythms of the breeze. 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

Esuna

She wasn’t afraid to invent newfangled things.

She wasn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions.

Just like an anarchist

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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 gloopy 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, the other hidden by her drooping over-eye 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 Scrunched up like an accordion on a scrap pile

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

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, let’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 Esuna’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, crumpled up against the icy medipen wall. A cohort of kitties nursing blunted claws. “Hey...” Remedy’s nano-flipped head still not quite with it. “You’se slick 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: “Remedy, you can’t dredge up the dead.” 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.”

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

The blitzers 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 tellin’ 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 a 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?” REMEDY: “We’s killed tutors.” HALO: “Then we’re anarchists.” ELEGY: “We are not anarchists, kitty claw.” ESUNA: “Hey, stop it.”

Esuna the voice of reason. Well, somebody had to be. “We’s arguin’. First rule of blitz, kitz; neito de toungecut.” She had a point... if anyone can 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 Dreams 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, at least.” REMEDY: “Alright. So we’s takin’ it in twos.”

HALO: “Who‘s the twos?” ELEGY: “I’m sorry kitz, I can’t believe this is all down to Zarathustra.” 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 That’s where you left her, remember? It’s the penthouse; easy to find *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 intrepid 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 necropoli 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 it again. Zarathustra could have taken being ugly for the rest of his life. That short, painful, messy time he had left. He could have forgotten all I’ve told you, even the most precious things. He could have 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 it’s 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 whipping the world into order. Even as it was hidden from him in the hands of another; a protege 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 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 it’s 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, cool heart. A heart that would forever beat regimentally as it had... Back before he’d met her.

Sinto Saudades Ye es o meau 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 ether dancers. 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 the world into mist. Back before the dreamcloud began to form and the past became a 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 it’s 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 have 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 wrenching pull and his tearing 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 guff 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. When 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 colleges 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 necropolis. That was the last trick he’d learned. That was one he’d only learnt a few rounds ago.

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When he sank La accursed Pagode Liberdade into the ground and raised it again all fresh and new as he remembered it, over on the Vermilion plate. Darting under the towering stone archways, racing 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 the 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. But here in the naussaduct he’d found something better. Something closer than her. Something that had always defined him. No more tricks. No more anarchy. 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 necropolis, 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 necropolis; 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 ice and metal, dead families, misty memories and 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 onto 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 grins. 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 ice chamber 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 ice room. No, pressed against the grand golden stair rail. Nope; let’s just filter down into the quickening storm of the crowds. 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 ice chamber 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. 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 grins. 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 riot. 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 necropolis 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 platforms, 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 on 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 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 lavish gold, 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 storm 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 ice chamber 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 and wry smirks. 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 ice chamber. 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 Magnetizes 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 giving them a headache 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 smirks. 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 onto 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 anarchy 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 kids 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 icy 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 metal and ice. The man of metal and ice 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 left-field tutors.

Thirty three swordstrils in various states of dress, drunkness and disrepair. All the way up and down the grand golden 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 grinning 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 watchtower?” 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 gimpy 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? Viva la revolution!

FAMA: Overhead swipe SCHERZO: Overhead swing CLANG! CLANG! COVER! Thank Zarathustra for gimpy 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 little 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 ‘liberdade’!

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 than 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’d 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 waive 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 gold 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 its done.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Up the first flight of the gold 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!

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SMASH! Through a glassy roof

HIT! Cuts and slices

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Lords of the jungle don’t have to worry about the ants, you know. Zarathustra had faced whole armies of the things 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

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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 feet. 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, you know. 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 ice 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 kid; 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:

Charging

dab

RONDO:

Charging swipe

PALMA: Charging swing

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

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 icy 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

SPEED MIRROR

PSY MIRROR

FLASHLIGHT SERENADE RAINBOW SERENADE SHUDDERWAVE PIROUETTE

MEIN REQUIEM EPITAPH

SHADOW MIRROR DEATH’S HEAD SERENADE

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. Ah well, 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, crumpling 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 oily 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 thing?” “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. 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 Quartz Plateau. She could have given him it. And saved herself a fight. And saved herself a beating. And saved her skin.

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She could have 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 have given him it. But what was she, a peon? Oh, Halo was going to give it to him, alright. Just not quite what 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 Quartz Plateau. You remember; where she’d faced off against three hundred 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. Let’s emphasise the 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 kids 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; you might get burned.

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 ice chamber 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 superswords. You’d know it if you wielded it. 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.

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HALO Leaping twirl MISS!

ESUNA Jumping curl 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 ice chamber

COUNTERED!

Yep, just a few deft leaps and there they’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 their swords.

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: Pulls ESUNA up to her feet by the throat Just in case she didn’t have enough of a headache already Let’s rattle that kitty cage a little more HALO: (On a higher platform) Torpedo swirl (as if leaping off a diving board) ZARATHUSTRA nonchalantly draws the Burning Rage 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 HIT! HALO: Jaw Up a flight, through that self-same platform, crunching like a table in a wrestling match

Halo drops her swords. Zarathustra drops Esuna. Kneeling sprawled on the spiral steps, feeling as if vampires were grabbing at her neck. Zarathustra reaching with one of those eerie tartan spooklets. Halo’s sparkly new blade about to be magnetised away. Lying muddled on the spiral steps, feeling as if twittering birds should be spiralling around her head.

ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug SNATCH! The Prodigal’s Edge Warping EM fields as if whipping a table cloth Coaxing the übersword to come to daddy... ESUNA: Kneeling hook HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Drives a sword right through his calf That pissed the teacher off

But if you do, make sure you have a brute blade in hand.

Because brute blades thrive on such things. Fury tends to charge them up. Fury tends to make them mad.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Side-swipe whack (hilt) HIT! ESUNA: Chin Thrown up a flight HIT! HALO: Two blitzy belles in a tangle of limbs Double knockdown! Dropping their swords Zarathustra returning the Burning Rage to his spine rack. Whipping those EM fields towards him. Snagging that übersword again.

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 HALO: Desperate pull ESUNA: Eager wrench Both yanked down a flight of steps Zarathustra draws the Memento Mori. As one EM field, two blitzers and an übersword weave their ways towards him. A car wreak on the cards. Yeeps!

ZARATHUSTRA: Shattershock Reverb HIT! HALO: Wrist

CRACK! Halo lets go of the sword. Zarathustra lets go of the field. Two little blitzers crash awkwardly to the spiral steps. 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 sheaths the Memento Mori. Studies the Prodigal’s Edge. The gravimagmathity of the wide, wild world suddenly a touch less untamed.

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Grab your swords, breeze belles. Before you and they slide down into the belly of the beastie. Grab your swords, kitty claws. Because if you don’t strike now you might be punted off the plates.

ESUNA: Close-range overhead swoop HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Top of head A spark, but no real damage done ESUNA slips on the steps Let’s help her on her way, shall we? ZARATHUSTRA: Collar grab (free hand) SNATCH! ESUNA: Throat HALO reaches for a tumbling blade ZARATHUSTRA: Forearm flick TOSS! ESUNA: Down a flight of steps and through a platform in a heap

Dazed and bloodied, tired and limp. Lip bleeding down a cheek, eye bleeding into an ear, head bleeding into her hair. Which way was up again? Needless to say, she’d dropped her sword.

HALO: Blitz break chain Overhead loop CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA’S armour Backstroke punch

CRACK! Ow! That hand’s broken Backstroke hoop CLANG! ZARATUSTRA’S armour Overhead hook

CRUNCH!

OK, now the hand’s really fucked Halo drops La Faux Fatale

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. Because this breeze belle wanted her blade back.

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ESUNA: Sword toss HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: The Inquisitor embedded in his back Was that a gnat? Zarathustra turning. 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...

COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Spin-around backfist HIT! HALO: Face 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!

ESUNA: Draws her blade out of the Principal’s back Eew, it was covered in oily black gunk...

ZARATHUSTRA: Side-swipe slap HIT! ESUNA: Face

Drops to a knee. Drops her sword. Clanking all the way down to the foot of the spiral steps.

ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet grab SNATCH! ESUNA: Throat

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ZARATHUSTRA: Spooklet raise DRAG! ESUNA: Up off her feet ZARATHUSTRA: Eye to eye HIT? Now, that wasn’t technically a strike, but it may as well have been. Esuna startled by the icy 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

Chest to chest. Flesh to metal. Skin to ice.

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. Halo up to her feet on the slippery metal floor above. Slippery on her toes. Slippery what with the sweat and the blood and other miscellaneous gunk. Halo up to her feet, in a fashion. Blade in her bad hand, the other broken. Blade in her bad hand; the other worse. Blade in her bad hand, baying for blood.

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The Crimson Harvest; that was it. It woke her somehow from her slumber. Tapping into something primal; deep within her soul...

CRUNCH!

CRACK!

CREAK! POP!

Esuna could have been a whole twisted orchestra. Who knew a broken body could produce such sounds? She didn’t, that’s who; 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 goo 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. Her little hands, all colourful wraps and cartoony skull tattoos. Her little feet, all rolled down socks and flamy 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 at the top of the steps. Pointing the Crimson Harvest. And that was all Zarathustra needed to give up the ghost.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast HIT! The floor Wild warping of EM fields propels him upwards A green haired swordstril slides down the spiral steps. A blue haired one stands her ground with a gulp. And a master reaches for his prize.

Halo and Zarathustra. One on one, eye to fucked up eye. Let’s play beat the teacher.

A furious little breeze belle way out of her depth

Der Masterschwertfechter Der Eisenfaust Der Höheremacht Der Mann-gott Yeah, yeah; whatever. Let’s see some shadow-blood fly!

HALO: Spinning coil MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps around her HALO: Sweeping curl MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps around her HALO: (Angry) Sudderwave pir... ow! GRAILBREAK! ZARATHUSTRA: Psy Pirouette Throws the technique back, but in spin HIT! HALO: Everywhere? Knockdown!

Alright, so this blockhead was good. Not your everyday daisy stomping lug. This clank could grail chain.

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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.

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 apple core 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.

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. So there she was. Perched atop the pyramid, a long, long, long way down. 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. Little blitzer. The quiet type. Strong, silent... And about to go out in a blaze of glory!

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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 buzzing in her grip. Come and rattle the branches, chrome dome. 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?

Zarathustra on the inside, looking out. Halo on the outside, looking in. Starting to shift back across the flimsy windowsill. Zarathustra taking a breath. Halo releasing hers. 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. 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

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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: Nanotug SNATCH! The Crimson Harvest An EM field whipping it into his spooklets as it fell

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 her a second and take stock. Because we’re not really in a very good place.

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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 have been. I’m going to stop here, with Remedy and Elegy wandering the plates. With Melodi and the pyrates making mischief. 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?

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.

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

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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 kid growing up or what? Yes, he was growing up, alright. Worse; he was becoming like his dad. Father 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 all that. 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.

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.

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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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Psytopia Adagio 3: Holy Judgement, 2nd verse