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And on the eighth day... God looked at the wide, wild world, saw that it was old and tired... Scrunched it up and built a new one. Thank Zarathustra he was a god. Or at least, the next best thing. Thank Zarathustra that he was Zarathustra, at least. So he had all seven blades. All seven that mattered, anyway. Enough to bring the world to heel. Seven blades of order and one of chaos. But let’s leave that factor out of the equation in our brave new world. Because Zarathustra had enough to bring the plates into order.

Well let’s face it, he’d pretty much destroyed everybody left in the world already. How wild was that? Not wild, he’d say; wise.

Because what’s god if he isn’t wise? I dunno; all powerful, all seeing, all knowing, all wrathful? How about obsessed?

Yes, it was quite possible Zarathustra was a touch obsessed. With what? What else by gravity, magnetics and maths. So he’d got curious, hadn’t he? When he felt that bone tugging ringing. From down in the unfinished crypt or perhaps further afield. He’d felt it as soon as the battle was over. As soon as the red mist of war had returned to his fractured memory. As soon as the only heart beat in the graveyard was his again. He’d felt it and he’d followed it.

Resonance.

Down into the crypt and lower. Into a remarkably preserved section of the naussaduct. So here he was, sitting on a naussapod. Yes, even the pods worked; it was almost as if time had stood still down here. Sitting in the pod, remembering the good old days, and going somewhere. He didn’t know where. Hey wait a minute; that’s chaotic, isn’t it? Well, Zarathustra was a complicated kind. Perhaps he liked a little chaos here and there.

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Perhaps it plonked him out of his comfort zone. Perhaps it gave him a rare challenge. Perhaps it turned him on. Or perhaps he just liked to understand the competition. So here he was, whizzing through the naussaduct to a faraway corner of the arpeggio. Perhaps somewhere nobody had been for a long, long time. Perhaps somewhere nobody had been at all. Wherever he was going, the gravity was getting fiercer. The magnetics were getting stronger and the numbers were making more and more sense. Wherever he was going... it didn’t matter, he was a god, what did he have to be afraid of? There was only one thing in his past, present or future which had that kind of pull on him. Only one thing that could distract him from his duty. Only one thing that could drag him from his dreamworld. Only one thing that could drive his great destiny into doubt. And her name was Odine. She greeted him as he stepped out of the naussapod. Out and up the glossy wooden stairway into a calm, tinkling world. She greeted him with the frizzy hair, the persuasive stare, the electric touch that he remembered. She greeted him with the life she and they and the world had had. She greeted him with happiness. So he reached out to her, of course. He reached out to her, the ice and metal falling away like ballast. He reached out to her to hold her close and wake up to the world as it was, before anything in between now and then had parted them. He reached, and he reached right through. With his silky skin and his symmetrical face and his fingertips built to touch hers. Merely the memories of children. Happy children they were; cast adrift from the muddy stains of adulthood. Happy children before the world swept in to drown them. So in this dream he reached right through her. With his gloopy flesh and his iron-stitched face and his ugly, clumsy spooklets. His heartbeat refamiliarising itself with that crooked weight. Bitter man, he was; tossed aside from the anarchic breaths of others. Bitter man, after the world had trampled him. And as he reached right through, her eyes changed. Like fire pools they were, and now swirly, whirly comets. Egg yoke, Nike tick eyes. Just so that she and her chaos scared him as she passed into the ether. Just that, and to make him angry. Just so that he realised he’d been fooled into this fantasy. Just so that he recognised what all of you should recognise already. That it’s difficult to tell the dreamer from the dream. ————————————————————————————————

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“.em. w..e .p.” “Whu...” “Rem. wa.e up.” “Huh?” “Remy, wake up!”

But let’s not think like that, Remy. Let’s just wake up. She was the last to come to, as it goes. Though to be fair, most of the others were dead. Which made them a very sleepy bunch indeed. REMEDY: “Moy swords!” ESUNA: “They’s... around.” REMEDY: “Moy blue girl?” ESUNA: “That sprite? She’s... alright.” REMEDY: “Moy coco...”

Typical Remedy. Instruments first. Bass line second. Sanity last.

“OK so I’s alive?” Esuna with a not-quite-certain nod. Our battered ginger pugilist sitting up with her arms and legs sprawled, her hair a mess, her bruised body cradled by broken stonework, a sword somehow still in her hand. But the other one? “It’s over there, siz; by the blue belle.” “Ah!” The shadow of desperation suddenly retreating back behind the protective veil of relief. Yeah, swordplay’s an obsession but at least it’s a healthy one. Isn’t it? “She looks a tinse fumey though, Rem.” “Moy blue girl always looks a tanse tensy, kitz.” Esuna dragging her out of the shattered mausoleum. Bumps and bruises, the both of them. “And Esu, what happened to you’se?” “Punishment from the Principal. You’se?” “Reckon we’s not the kinda kitz who should stay in school.” “Otherwise it might kill us.”

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That was Halo, by the way. Closer to being killed than any of them. Remedy saw her now; Halo and Elegy, the class reunion. And... oh, she saw a lot of dead people too.

Watching a massive funeral pyre ebb into dust. Elegy, Halo, Esuna and a tinsy, tansy, tensy, fumey blue girl. Remedy could feel the stab of her eyes before she even turned round. Funny how she did that... Made Remedy feel... sad to the bone. Melodi was a curious creature. I’m hoping you realised she wasn’t psytopian a while ago. She didn’t hate psytopians. Not more than she hated anyone or anything else. No more than she hated life, and still having to live it. While ones she... let’s say ones she liked were deprived of their own. No, Melodi didn’t hate psytopians. In fact, there were a few she’d label friends. And that was a big step. She’d opened up. To Remedy, to the pyrates and to Mana too. The brittle little space ball had such an innocent soul. So open it was; just like infinity. And Melodi liked that. No hidden beats and breaks to trip her. Still. It reminded her of home. Home before it was cut loose, drifting into ether, all a-smoulder. It reminded her of her. Before she got hurt and lonely and cynical and bitter. When she was older. That’s right, Mana reminded Melodi of when she was a child. When the weight of the world wasn’t so firmly tethered to her tender shoulders. But the child had gone. She’d grown younger. Because Melodi aged backwards, you know. Like everybody used to when the world made sense. The child had gone. The child had passed. The child was... how do pissed off, reactionary psytopians say it? The child was dead. And so was Mana. So this was one lonely little ether dancer who wasn’t wanting anyone near her. Who wasn’t wanting anyone to speak to her. Who wasn’t wanting anyone to touch her. Who wasn’t walzin’ pretty anymore.

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death, death, death, death, death, death, death!

But you know Remedy, right? Lively, cheery, making the best of what she had. Rolling with the bumps and bruises and... Often not doing what she should.

“Lil’ Mana?” Melodi’s friend and the other, curious dupe girls drifting over to her now. With their forlorn, sensitive, supportive, wrist-stroking humanity. It’s enough to make you want to stab yourself through the ticker, isn’t it? “Mel, that’s Mana up on the pyre, hey?”

“He’s transcended.” Said through grit teeth, clenched fists, unwinking gaze. And oh-oh, when she pronounced words so forcefully it really gave Remedy brain-ache. “Mel.” Remedy with a hand on the blue girl’s shoulder. Tense, wince, shrugs away. She wanted to be left alone... “Remy, I wouldn’t go near her; she’s pretty hacked off.” Elegy had been there, done that, got the heart-stabbing evil eye. “S’ dandy siz; merry Mel’s not the talking type.” But when she does speak it really bites to the blood. “Yeah I’s pitched a handy claw too, kitz. When she looked at moy I started tumblin’ down pits an’ stuff.” And Esuna had taken enough falls for one round, thanks very much. “Yeah, that happens. I’s g’wan talk to her again.” Eeeer... bad idea? REMEDY: “Mel, hey?” Silence. REMEDY: “Mel, it’s moy.” Shrugs. REMEDY: “Mel, you’se can ‘fess to moy, K?” Winces.

Remedy sat down next to her. Cross-legged by the smouldering pyre, tucking her aching ankles in, prodding her boots with a thumb. The flames seemed to lean towards the blue girl. They wept like willows. They seemed to sulk with her.

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“Mel, moy sapphire siz. You’se eyes are drooping lickle mimics.” They were, too; mini Melodis of various colours popping out of her tears. Wandering a few steps like pintop angels before bursting into flames. Then just like becoming, into ether.

Melodi rolled her eyes and wiped them with a chequered glove. A flickering glove. Her arms were fluttering in and out of invisibility, or existence or something like that. Woah, she really was a mess. ESUNA: “Yeeps, you think that kooky coco-coiler’s safe?”

HALO: “She’s an imp. Imps aren’t safe.” ELEGY: “It’s like a million drum beats, all at once.” ESUNA: “Bang, bang, bang, same as her tears.”

HALO: “It’s rhythm.” ESUNA: “It’s what?” ELEGY: “Whatever it is, it’s making me sad.” HALO: “The shadow at the dawn of death.” ESUNA: “You’se pitch some spooky chatter sometimes siz.” ELEGY: “Yet you don’t seem phased.”

Not like the rest of them. No, Halo didn’t get phased; not anymore. Such is the whim of the wide, wild world. And all it’s twisted echoes. You see things out there, don’t you? You see things and feel them and sense them and hold your life in your arms for a moment, crushed and maimed and battered and burnt. Then you realise no; that was how it had always been. You just hadn’t stopped to admit how pointless it was until now.

Melodi looked back at Halo for a moment. Same nonchalant shrug. Same gaunt stare. Same gloomy attitude. Same disinterested turning away. Death knows where death’s been, see? And all the low, low places it can take you. REMEDY: “Mel, it’s mint. We’s friends.”

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There’s that word again. Strange how easily it rolled off psytopian tongues. ‘Friends’. Wasn’t that what they said a moment before plunging swords into each other’s stomachs and carrying along on their way? Though Remedy’s friendship seemed to mean something.

“Mel, siz; Mana’s passed. It’s sad but it’s true, and we’s just gotta take a breath and let it settle, K? Lil’ sprite doesn’t have to worry about the world anymore, does he?” Now that wasn’t human at all, was it; not how humans used to be. So much had changed in the time Melodi had drifted in this world. So much had fallen away. So that was why Melodi took a breath, span around and hugged her.

Things pass, that’s just how it goes. There’s no point getting stropping about spilt ether. And there’s every point in letting those tears flow. Even if they do contain freaky little pinprick echoes of yourself... Everybody passes, that’s a fact. Except maybe backward-ageing blue girls. Everybody becomes ether in the fullness of time, that’s the thing. And pyronettes tended to fall into the infinity of space. Into a world of endless numbers, black and white, comfortable binary. Pyronettes were simple things. They’d evolved that way, because people like life simple. Mana had grown, though. He’d not been satisfied with simple things. With obedience. So Mana passed into a space of endless ether. Let’s just say it was a wonderful dream. Better than a dream, in fact. But Mana wasn’t the only one who’d passed this round. Not by a long shot. NEHEMIAH SERENITY SEVERITY HOSEA JEREMIAH ZECHERIAH FIORE VARUNA MATERIA MANA

Dead.

And Melodi’s going to use the term ‘dead’ whether you like it or not. It seemed appropriate. Everybody dies, so embrace the living while you still can. Don’t make excuses. Don’t let connections slip. And don’t fumble a moment. At the end of the day, it wasn’t Remedy or the pyrates of the Blitzblades who’d killed Mana. It was that spooky, gloopy, stompy, clunky Principal.

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So what’s the best way to flush grief out of your system? Settle down, take a breath, celebrate the good times, remember how the passed made you laugh and smirk and sigh and giggle... Then make that gimpy bastard pay.

“Remedy.”

“Melodi.” The blitzer feeling little rainbow Mels burst into cinders, singeing her clothes and making her head feel all spoony. Her eyes looping loops as she held her. “If there’s anything we’s can do kittyclaw...” And she knew what it was without Melodi even saying so. She knew what it was, and she heartily agreed; what are friends for? “Check, siz; we’s g’wan Z that gangly shaltz.” ELEGY: “Remy, is that wise?” REMEDY: “Wise, nuh-huh. Right, oh yeah.”

HALO: “He’ll probably kill us.” REMEDY: “Well we’s all got a lickle livin’ left so why not burn it on that?” ELEGY: (Grabbing REMEDY‘s wrist) “Remedy, you’re not thinking straight.” HALO: (Pouring pyrojuice into a wound with a grimace) “She’s thinking in

circles.”

REMEDY: “Yeah...” ESUNA: “He killed everyone in the Academy, Remy. Like; easy.” REMEDY: “But just two blazey belles slipped out alive...” HALO: (Spinning her around) “Look at me, Remedy.”

Remedy looked at her. Split lip, swollen eye, slashed face, busted nose, limpy leg, messy hair, broken fingers... And only one sword. OK, so Halo had been unlucky, but... She still had that curious twinge in her voice and eyes that reminded her of...

But there were other questions. “Hey, where’d you’se two come from anyway?” And when, and how and... “Magnetics.” Thanks Halo; that explains just about nothing. They were looking at each other again. Halo and Melodi. Yeah, this was a curious little girl, alright. Her rainbow tears messing with the rhythms of the world... But you know what, she made everything make sense. HALO: (Turning away to scour the tombstones) “Remedy’s right. We have to stop him.” ELEGY: “Wait a minute Halo, you just said...”

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REMEDY: “She’s speakin’ her heart, not her head siz; makes sense.” ESUNA: “It does?” ELEGY: “It makes no sense at all. Zarathustra just wiped out the entire Academy and the last anarchists on the plates. There’s nothing left.” REMEDY: “Uh-uh kitty claw; we’s left.” ESUNA: “We’s left, but not much of us.” ELEGY: “We should be careful. Stay safe. Get allies together and...” REMEDY: “You’se thinkin’ orthodox.” HALO: (Finding a snazzy gigabyte on the mud-cloaked ground) “Better dead than orthodox.”

(Or at least, arm yourself) Or you might just end up dead! ESUNA: “Check, but... better neither?” ELEGY: “I am not orthodox.” REMEDY: “Well, then you’se and moy both.” HALO: (Swishing her makeshift blade) “We’re all that’s left. Last stand.” ELEGY: “He’s the Principal, Remy. He and the tutors taught us everything we know.” REMEDY: “So how come we’s alive and the others ain’t?” ESUNA: “Because we’s been lucky?” ELEGY: “It’s over, Remy. No Academy, no anarchists.” HALO: (Pricking her finger, looking pleased) “There are some anarchists...” ELEGY: “Scattered around, maybe, but we’re swordstrils; how are we going to find them?” REMEDY: “Nah, siz; she’s sayin’ there are some anarchists left...” ESUNA: “There’s us.”

And that was when the Blitzblades finally accepted who and what they were. Good point, Esuna; simply put. All the best points are simple. Order versus anarchy; double edged sword?

ELEGY: “Alright, so now we’re anarchists.” HALO: “We’ve always been anarchists.” ESUNA: “Is that what Freia was teaching us to be?” REMEDY: “We’s been brought up anarch without even taggin’ it kitz; that’s why we’s alive and the rest of them ain’t.” ELEGY: “But...”

Remedy gathering her swords. Whipping the air. Those subtle swishes felt so much more tuneful now. Now that she was proud to be an anarchist.

“But...” “Ele, siz; ‘tis dandy. That’s what moy Mojo said to moy. ‘Tis dandy, an’ there’s zippo to be scared of but scaredity itself.” “But...” But Elegy had just taken a knock to her orthodoxy.

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Viva!

We don’t do assignments, squibtub: We’s anarchists! “Now, Mel sweets; where do we’s find this block kickin’ Principal of ours?” Brightening of eyes, lessening of tears, rainbow-toothed grin. And a decisive point of the tug gloves. Towards the gloomy steps down into that unfinished mausoleum. “He must have gone down there.” ———————————————————————————————————

“Hey, what iz thiz pliz?” Well might Esuna ask. Melodi would’ve rolled her eyes, had they not been friends. Don’t you know anything? It was home.

The only place in the wide, wild world where the dead would walk just to be buried. If only they knew where it was. Because this place had been cut off from the rest of the arpeggio for quite some time. Since the war? Since as long as Melodi could remember. The plates around it burnt away, it had drifted off into the edges of reality forever. If only the dead could walk through fields of flame. Perhaps this would be where they’d end up. A blue, tranquil place full of ether-snow, tinkling chimes and blinking candles. If only the dead had found a hidden gateway to the naussaduct. Perhaps they’d be here to greet them. Perhaps this would be Heaven.

They wandered a little. That’s what you do in the garden of Eden. You relax, breathe out and take a look around. What harm is there in that?

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They wandered up the steps of the spiral dome where the naussapod had led them. Up and out into this peaceful, azure-tinted place. Out and across one of the glossy walkways which cross-crossed over pyro ponds. Connecting the sleet-scattered, low-lying domes of the necropolis. They wandered dome to dome. And what a pleasurable wander it was. It was as if time had no meaning here. It was as if they were wandering through paradise.

AKA Necropolis Shambhala; the city of the transcendent That’s what we’ll call it, I think. If you’re not dead, if you can find ways to walk through fields of flame and if you can find it, perhaps you can visit the Bardo Thodol. With its lavishly sculptured crematoriums, its calm, hypnotic pyro ponds and its majestic bridges and waterfalls. All nestled cosily in the soft, warm snow. It was dusk around here. The gloom held at bay by flickering night lights crowding every balcony, step and walkway, plus a fair few dozen scattered across the spartan wood floor. It would have been romantic if it wasn’t so... you know; spooky.

So get dolled up, drift into the ether and wash your snares away; let the timeless tinkles of this ancient place tease your ears and strum your psyche. It’s all very picturesque, isn’t it? The easeful breeze. The elegant waterfall. And the jagged pulse of life bounding around down there, in your boots, in your bones and in your very soul, just waiting to bloom and sparkle. So wander into one of the grand metri domes of the Holy Plateau and find yourself. Find yourself, and become yourself. Because this is a better place than any to transcend.

WHIRLWIND TOUR: Necropolis across Psytopia

AMANATI NECROPOLIS THE TAPESTRY THE ACADEMY The Lime Plateau The White Plateau The Emerald Plateau The Golden Plateau A moss-caked, muddy old A fancy temple complex where Previously located on the Charcoal Previously a repository of ancient graveyard where ancient people enlightened people dreamed their plate until some mischievous minx learning, this pyramid was later lives away made into a school buried their dead. Barbarians! moved it... 14-5-3-18-15-16-15-12-9 NEKROPOLEKTIKA TĒŌTL LA PAGODE LIBERDADE THE BARDO THODOL The Violet Plateau The Platinum Plateau The Vermilion Plateau The Hoy Plateau The largely underground village The long-forgotten catacombs I’m pretty sure this was on the You’re here, you mindless dupe; just look around you! where pyronettes lived in the peace which once served as a meeting Scarlet Plateau until some and quiet of silent numbers place for revolutionary thinkers malicious man-god moved it... GRUTO DE LA PARKITA VERDE

“This be a sparkly old pliz.” Esuna wandered happily as a cloud... or perhaps as a dead person.

“And you’se talkin’ funny.” Come to think of it Remedy, so are you.

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“The breeze is confusing around here.” So’s your speech Elegy. “Like it’s coming from every direction at once.” She didn’t say much, but when she did, Halo tended to be right.

Yes, sounds hit all at once here. Polyphonic. The whole place was in sync; how everything used to be. When Melodi felt different. When Melodi fitted. Before Melodi fucked it all up.

“He’s here. I can feel him.”

“Ha; Mel, you’se talkin’ normal.” Of course she was talking normal Remy; I just said she fitted. But that doesn’t mean she liked it here.

Melodi hadn’t been home since... Since... Well, since she’d fucked the place up. Since she’d messed with surrounding plates and stranded it, blazing in ether. Necropolis were sacred places. Actually, they were crypts. One for each of the six ancient ether dancers. And, of course, their parents. And by that, I mean their kids. Because ether dancers aged backwards... Well, it meant that this was where they were born. Melodi didn’t know whether she was ready to be born yet. Were the rest of them ready to die? STOMP!

ESUNA: “Do

STOMP!

ELEGY: “Like

STOMP!

you’se hear that?” a stomping sound.”

HALO: “I know that sound...” REMEDY: “Kitties;

snag them blades.”

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>SCHLINK!< That’s Zarathustra plucking La Sensoria out of a pretty pentagram in the wooden floor. >SCHLINKITY SCHLINK!< That’s four kitty claws drawing a multitude of blades. And this is the final showdown!

The all-encompassing ultimate showdown!

Principal Prime mover Practically god? A very bad man with a very bad attitude Standing in the central circle of the main hall A fence made of blades stabbed into the wood Only intermentists would do things like that Suicidals, in Pytopian speak Perhaps Zarathustra wanted to kill himself No such luck; Zarathustra only wanted to kill everybody else!

Pretty handy Pretty dandy Pretty much expelled? Remedy, Elegy, Esuna and Halo (with Melodi) A disorganised band of little girls a world away from where they belonged They belonged... Yes, you’ve guessed it; dead! So here’s a question for you. What wins; order or anarchy? Are we better off living life as we’ve been taught, lesson by regimented lesson, living by the book, whether or not it really happens like that? Are we better off living life in perpetual chaos, doing what we want when we want, never thinking of the consequences, never looking back and probably never getting anywhere? Or are we better off finding our own middle way through the mess?

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Inside the central dome of the Bardo Thodol A flat, circular hall with a lofty ceiling, a little like the roof of a planetarium The Hall of Sighs; where the transcendent came to... I dunno, transcend? Decorated with intricate geometric shapes and colourful, half-melted wire murals of... Hey; those murals looked like grown-up Melodis of various hues One with green skin and white hair, one with... Don’t look at them, kitz! Melodi said she didn’t want to be born yet!

Remedy ushered the Blitzblades further into the hall of sighs. Because somebody’s got to do it, haven’t they? It may as well be her. Though to be honest, her sword was pretty much pulling her there. “Remy,

he’s holding La Sensoria; Freia’s sword. That means he’s gonna.. ” “Fight scrawl; I know.”

Oh yeah, Remedy had learnt maths, thank you very much. Elegy backed her up. “We’s g’wan Z him this time, right?” Esuna not so sure, drifting in alongside Halo. A quick nudge of the wrist settled her down. “We’ll be dandy; an even four.” Melodi hovered in the background. Not because she was scared or anything... Not because she was scared of Zarathustra, at least. No, Melodi wasn’t scared of many things. Except perhaps the future.

REMEDY

Blessed Angel Holy Judgement

ELEGY

Twisted Epiphany La Renaissance

MELODI

Swords are for kids

ESUNA

Heaven’s Destiny The Inquisitor

HALO

La Faux Fatale A gigabyte

ZARATHUSTRA La Sensoria Memento Mori Burning Rage Shadow Splitter Prodigal’s Edge Raucous Whisper Crimson Harvest

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Zarathustra almost had the full set. But the full set opened the gates of chaos. And if Zarathustra remembered one thing, it was that people can go too far. People can get carried away.

Zarathustra remembered getting carried away; obsessed, even. And if heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d learnt one thing from being so close to Odine that she had his very breath wrapped around her anarchic little finger... It was that rather than asking for too much, you should hack chaos down fast before it flips you. Blitzy, blazey options: 1. Make it up as you go along Too scrawly 2. Dig your heels in and fight toe to toe Too groundy 3. Pucker up and trade, and rough and tumble Too brutal 4. Wait for him to attack and respond Too countery 5. Pick him off, shot by perfect shot Too techy 6. Charge Right up their street!

Zarathustra drew the Crimson Harvest as they charged. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re going to slice up kids you should at least do it with the best blade you have. Anything else would be... rude.

He squinted at they sped at him. All rage and fire and spinny, spin, spin. Reminded him of himself when he was young, if only a little. Six of the seven megablades placed in the floor like swords in stones. He could feel the gravmagtity of that eighth sword baring down on him. Now he was here, standing in its citidel. Only, which one was it?

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REMEDY

ESUNA

HALO

ELEGY

Blitzbreak chains Cross-faded! Overhand hoop Backhand swoop Roundhouse loop Charging whirl Spinning scoop Front step twirl Leaping swirl Overhead loop Cross-face curl Backhand scoop Charging swirl Roundhouse loop Front step curl Spinning scoop Leaping whirl Cross-face twirl

Overhand loop Backhand scoop Charging swirl Roundhouse hoop Front step curl Spinning swoop Overhead hoop Leaping whirl Backhand swoop Cross-face twirl Roundhouse hoop Charging whirl Spinning swoop Front step twirl Leaping swirl Cross-face curl

OK, that was anarchic. The breezers weaving in and out of each other like winds through passages. Knotting up the play. Oh, but did I miss something out? That’s alright, the blitzers missed it too. Zarathustra’s tendency to counter,

COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Lockdown! And the brash and breezy suddenly stopped in their tracks

IE Fabri portioning All students were taught to portion. To divide their minds into littler and littler triangles. It prevented the stuff inside them from getting rowdy and interacting. Nano-flecting. Dreamblur. Disobedience. Because that causes doubt, and the Academy wasn’t very good with that. You can’t build a system on doubt, can you? It’ll crumble. So they disrupted the randomness of reality and built systems on certainty instead. In any case, mental portioning regulated minds, whereas corporeal portioning regulated the world around you. By utilising that unholy trinity of gravity, magnetics and maths. So you concentrate and raise the ice walls. Or more accurately, you warp EM fields using the veritable army of souped-up nanos in your blood, throwing up fuzz walls. Undulating sheets of buzzing static, heavy with nanos. Angry things, packed so tight and pure that they locked all other fabris out. So pick your bricks and raise your wall. Like puppets on strings. Like zombies from graves. Like steam from kettles. Six walls raised, trapping the blitzers in separate triangular compartments.

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Like pieces of pie, from a bird’s eye view. The hall the plate and Zarathustra the cutting knife. Well unfortunately the blitzers didn’t have bird’s eye views. Unfortunately, they were about to get buried.

Zarathustra drew La Sensoria. And as if by magic, the first wall fell. Crumbling into scattering nanos. One portion of the pie ready to eat. One student in the mix with the master. Esuna versus Zarathustra.

Lights on for one portion of the hall. A dull smattering of green. The rest of the chamber hurled into shadows. Remedy stuck in one portion, her sword swishes meeting the fuzz wall with a furious fizz. Elegy trapped in another, the snap and sizzle of the nano showers giving her a head cold. Halo in her’s, pacing up and down, irritated. Melodi locked in another icy compartment... she hated nanos. Esuna and Zarathustra, face to face in the limelight. Esuna brushing her skirt, bouncing on her heels, puffing a little, intimidated. The blitzers egging her on. Well, what is it they say about going for broke?

ESUNA: Scribble Montage A very scrawly combo MISS! ZARATHUSTRA Back steps ESUNA: Scrabble montage A very scrawly combo with nifty steps MISS! ZARATHUSTRA sidesteps

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ESUNA: Scriptal montage A very scrawly combo with nifty steps and jumps MISS! ZARATHUSTRA front steps... GRAILBREAK! Scripty, scrabbly, scribbly montage! That’s a hypertek! HIT! ESUNA: It’d be easier to list where he didn’t hit her SIZZLE! Flies into the white fuzz wall Hell freezes over Esuna’s world pauses for a moment Knockdown In a heap of frost

Alright, so that was hot. Cold, in fact. And staring through the fuzz, Halo was not amused.

The blitzers pushing their hands into the fuzz sheets. An inch through before the jelly got solid again. You don’t have to be highbrow psyientists to work out why. Because the storm of the fuzz is repelling your nanos like magnets.

There weren’t many necropolis around. They were the building blocks of the wide,wild world, you know. They were how reality was danced into existence. They were the dreams of the transcendent given form. Because way back before pyronettes and pracks and people and plates, there was nothing. Well if you’ve got to have a creation myth, that’s the best place to start. There was nothing, and then there was a bang. Well who knows if it was a bang per se; there was nobody there to hear it. There was a noise, at least. And there were necropoli. One for each of the eight ether dancers. The cradles of their births and the places of their deaths. Their history went backwards remember? Our beginning; their end. The necropoli were ethereal things. The dreams of the ancient. The bones and the blood and the imaginations of angels. And as these dreams spread, they formed. Into elaborate complexes at first; all held up by ethereal scaffolding. All held up by dreams. But I’m getting metaphysical, and like humans before them, psytopians didn’t compute such things particularly well. Getting physical makes so much more sense.

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The blitzers retracting their hands as they began to freeze over. Angry nanos breaking their very cell structures down. Only merry Mel seemed to be able to unwind the static, thread by painstaking thread... Zarathustra drew the Memento Mori. And as if by magic, the second wall fell. The first reasserting itself.

The next portion of the pie, slapped onto the plate. One student in the ring with the master. Halo versus Zarathustra.

Lights on for one portion of the hall. A ghostly glow of white. The rest of the chamber consigned to the shadows. Remedy zapping the fields with a sword, to little effect. Elegy running through plan after ever-less likely plan. Esunaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes and lips glazed with ice, mumbling on the floor. Melodi suddenly wishing she had a gravmagtic baton like those swords. Halo and Zarathustra, face to face in the mist. Halo cracking her knuckles, rolling her neck, sneering; infuriated. The blitzers egging her on. What is it they say about revenge?

HALO: Powersnap Reverb Meant to break your breath MISS! ZARATHUSTRA holds it HALO: Powerwave Reverb Meant to break your blood MISS! ZARATHUSTRA tenses up HALO: Shattershock Reverb Meant to break your bones MISS! ZARATHUSTRAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s armour soaks it up

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GRAILBREAK! Wavesnap shattershocker! It sounds roughly as destructive as it really was HIT! HALO: That could well have broken everything SIZZLE! Thrown into the black fuzz wall Hell freezes over Halo’s world upside down and inside out for a moment Knockdown With a frosty gasp

Alright, so that was cold. Nasty, in fact. And staring through the fuzz, Esuna was bitterly dismayed.

The blitzers pressed their hands into the fuzz sheets. All angry static and thick, gloopy jelly. You don’t have to be a doctor to feel Halo’s pain. Because it wouldn’t take an x-ray to work out she was broken.

Psytopia’s necropoli hadn’t always been where they were today. That’s because people weren’t as respectful as the ancient ether dancers. People like to meddle with things. Because people thought they were über important. So people just couldn’t leave the dead to rest. The arcane art of necropoli raising was an anarchist trick. It was the most devastating weapon in the wide, wild world. Because you can’t have two reflections in a mirror. You raise a necropolis and wherever it was before, it falls. Along with everyone and everything in it. That was why there were gaps between the plates. Why things drifted around somewhat. The necropoli and the plates and even the ether below had been uprooted by majick. Or at least, by very, very fucked up science. ‘Psyience’, they called it, and it was the beginning of the end. Anarchist puppeteers raising the seven necropolis over and over, allowing the plates where they belonged to fall into ether. Constantly rewriting the map. By raising those necropolis, they quite literally raised hell. Because the wide, wild worlds were weaved out of the souls of dead ether dancers. Whole, sprawling dimensions full of landscapes, beasties and even people. This dimension, for example, is an unravelled ether dancer’s soul. And it’s still in the process of unravelling. That’s how time is still happening. That’s probably why nothing much happened on the Holy Plateau. The unravelling hadn’t even begun. But in any case, anarchist puppeteers raised hells. And from the hells they unearthed, they plucked all manner of gargantuan beastie. No wonder this world was so wide and wild!

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It’s a casserole of hells and heavens! Only Zarathustra could raise necropoli now. Not that he was an anarchist or anything, but he’d picked up a few useful tricks. Alright, so he’d only raised one thus far. He’d only just perfected the art. Übertek 2; that was what it was. Middle cog of a trilogy. He’d sunk La Pagode Liberdade and raised in again on the Vermilion Plateau. And with it he’d brought all manner of interesting freak shows. The story of his life... The blitzers studying their icy fingers as they withdrew them from the fuzz walls. The buzz and fizz easing somewhat on Melodi’s wall as she patiently unwound the storm. The crew back to their feet again, whatever new aches and creaks had befallen them. Zarathustra drew the Burning Rage. And lo and behold, all the fields fell. That’s the problem with brute school nanos. Difficult to maintain their balance.

The hall open up in all its dull chrome, lush mural-walled glory. Four students and one master, a thousand random night lights scattering their vagrant shadows every which way. The Blitzblades versus Zarathustra.

ESUNA Head of Steam Epitaph

ELEGY

Total Torment Epitaph

HALO REMEDY Mein Requiem Epitaph Electric Guillotine Epitaph

You want anarchy; you got it! COUNTERED! A good thing too; Halo for one was about to kill herself But if you want a job done properly... ZARATHUSTRA: GRAILBREAK! Total Steam Requiem Epitaph If you can imagine a megagimp leaping, charging and combusting nanos all in one If you want to imagine such things... HIT! ESUNA, ELEGY, HALO & REMEDY FLOOR QUAKE! Tears it up beneath them and...

CRASH! Thrown into various corners of the hall of sighs Knockdowns! And they’d dropped their swords Didn’t their tutors teach them anything?

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Melodi was not impressed. Melodi wasn’t even moved. Melodi wasn’t scared. She wasn’t even startled. Because Melodi had a few tricks of her own in those glossy chequered gloves of hers...

Stroppy, broody options:

Doloroso? Ethersash? Tug gloves? Banraku? Obakeraku? Ethertek? Or perhaps something even more fiendish than that?

ZARATHUSTRA: Lockdown! Up go the gravmagtic fields and the blitzers are separated again So much for fancy, dizruptivist tricks Zarathustra drew the Crimson Harvest. His favourite, if the truth be known, and that was because it was ordered. Ordered to the point of cold, cold callousness.

Remedy Vs. Zarathustra. Locked together between the fuzzfields. Alright gek head, let’s dance! REMEDY: Overhead loop (HJ) CLANG! Armour block ZARATHUSTRA: Sweeping Montage CLANG! Multiple hilt block (BA) REMEDY: Roundhouse whirl (BA) CLANG! Spooklet block ZARATHUSTRA: Front step Reverb CLANG! Uneasy hilt block (BA) REMEDY: 360 leaping hoop (HJ) CLANG! FIZZ! Sword block A pause. A moment of calm. A break in the track? Or the eye of the storm?

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Remedy and Zarathustra. Shoulder to shoulder. Eye to eye. Blade to blade. Crimson Harvest and Holy Judgement. Zarathustra with an accusing squint. Remedy with an anxious shiver. So she had the final supersword, did she?

Like the others, the soul-cage of an ether dancer. The EM fields they left behind; caught up, bound up, tied up and poised for puppetry. But this supersword was different from the rest. This sword was argumentative. This sword was disorderly. This sword was trouble. Because this sword was alive. The soul-cage of an ether dancer who wasn’t even dead yet.

Remedy and Zarathustra. Chaos and order. Face to face with her pulling away and he drawing near. Desperately gripping that blade. Tensing every muscle. Fists squeezing, boots scrunching, brow dripping. But still the swords stuck together like... like magnets.

REMEDY: Last gasp wrench YANK! Pulls the blades apart, into an unintentional spin ZARATHUSTRA: Nanotug HIT! THE HOLY JUDGEMENT “Yeek!” If the blitzblade won’t leave the classroom... Plug your stance Remedy, stand your ground. And grip your sword.

REMEDY: Desperate cling SQUEEZE! Pulls the hilt to her chest, kneeling away, making herself smaller ZARATHUSTRA: Nanocast HIT! REMEDY “Yeeps!” He was trying to push her away from the sword now. Well if the classroom won’t leave the blitzblade... Keep hold of your sword. But thank Zarathustra that there were greater tricks than push and pull. If you can’t physically shift them... Then play with their minds.

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A spot of untotemacht, perhaps. Let’s stand behind a funny mirror. So that when our huddled heroine realises the storm’s over and turns around... “Mojo?”

It really way Mojo this time. No contorted grin. No messed up hair. No nakedness.

“Mojo. I knews “Remy. ‘Tis dandy.”

you’se come back.”

“‘Tis all dandy now.” So they embraced. And the world was whole again. And safe. And warm. And vibrant. They embraced. Heads to shoulders. Hands around waists. All a wonderful, slow-spiralling whirlpool of smirks and giggles. It really was Mojo this time. Neat and lean and sparkly and smiley. It really was Mojo this time, right where she was meant to be. With her. So Remedy dropped her guard and kissed her.

Mojo.. I could wait ‘till the round before the last one I live as long as I get to spend that last spangly round with...”

“Moy

>SCRIPP!<

Silence.

In the eye of the storm. Eyes closed. Bodies pressed. Lips locked.

A drop of blood. A dribble, in fact. Out of the pair’s locked mouths.

A little dribble. It didn’t mean much. Nothing much, except the world. Except the world torn to shreds.

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Somewhere across the hall, a little blue girl felt a spine-tingling chill. Felt her body sigh. Felt her head spin. Felt her hopes dashed. Because she’d been shouting, but Remedy hadn’t heard. Because that wasn’t Mojo. And because you can’t stop fate, can you? Even if you can see the future. If you could’ve done something about it, it wouldn’t be the future, it’d be an illusion. And Melodi didn’t see illusions. If she could, she’d have told Remedy she was about to fall for one. Reality was a much more gruesome beast. An eye darting open. A terrifying one. A bold, blazing triple pupil. No, that really wasn’t Mojo, was it? Remedy looked through her as she shattered into dream dust. As the most precious thing passed through her fingers yet again. As her insides hurt. And not just her heart.

CRUNCH!

Remedy collapsed to a knee with a cough of blood and a ‘muddledy...‘ With a spooky gauntlet wedged messily in her stomach. Because she’d forgotten one important lesson:

Zarathustra snatched the Holy Judgement, and the fields fell. Let’s just keep that one sheathed, shall we? The best way to control anarchy; cage it. And while we’re at it, let’s make mincemeat of the last proponents of anarchy too. Three left. What an orderly number.

ZARATHUSTRA: Raging buzzdrill Epitaph MISS! ESUNA rolls backwards ZARATHUSTRA: Napalm superstorm Epitaph MISS! ESUNA scrabbles back on hands and knees this time ZARATHUSTRA: Psychotic marionette Epitaph MISS! ESUNA slams against the fancy mural-covered wall Cornered!

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With a shiver and a sob and a turning up of the bottom lip. He was making übertek up as he went along now. She wouldn’t last a sliver of a slice. Zarathustra stalking her. That great, metal-infused head hovering like a guillotine over her’s. So close his breath formed little icicles on her eyelashes. Esuna dragging herself across the glossy wooden floor. Desperate hands reaching at nothing. No... at Halo’s. Esuna tugged up onto her feet. Pychogimp; you’re gonna pay for that!

HALO: Leaping hoop HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head, unphased HALO: Spinning elbow HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Cheek, knocked to the side HIT! HALO: Elbow: Dislocated ZARATHUSTRA: Side swipe slap HIT! HALO: Cheek Thrown back across the woodwork Knockdown!

Meanwhile, Elegy sprinted for Remedy’s portion of the hall as she collapsed face first. And Melodi dashing for Elegy’s. Round and round, like hands on a clock face before...

SIZZLE!

Zarathustra raised the walls again. But you know what; the EM fields were faltering somewhat. As if something was messing with their magnetism; unbalancing them.

ZARATHUSTRA: Brute battering barrage Downward hack Overhead blast Bowling whack COVER! ESUNA: Protecting her face with her blades

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!

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A whimpering Blitzblade tucking her legs in. Crunching her arms together. Shutting her eyes. The world a scary blaze of sparks and splinters. But that fuzz wall behind her was feeling decidedly.. spoony? The fields drop. Elegy racing into Remedy’s portion of the hall. Melodi scampering into the one behind. Zarathustra frustratedly raising them again.

He sneered a little. Not that you could see under that gimpy latex, zipper and mask of splintered sword tips. Yes man-gott, you feel that ethery gap in your gravity, magnetics and maths? It’s called the Holy Judgement.

Halo standing next to him with an unzipped buzzjack in an open palm. Tick, tick, tick, tick... And what comes after that, metal mickey?

BOOM! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Drops to a knee Dazed, singed and confused

HALO: Arm Thrown into the fuzzfield Shaking a bloody hand but pleased with herself And all the fields drop

Elegy skidding to a halt beside Remedy. Cradling her drowsy head as she rolled her eyes, dribbled blood and babbled nonsense. Melodi sailing through the field behind... Before the walls went up again.

Halo vs. Zarathustra. Caught between the fuzz fields. No words, just violence. ZARATHUSTRA: Storm Talon Serenade MISS! HALO backward steps ZARATHUSTRA: Broken Heart Serenade MISS! HALO backward jumps ZARATHUSTRA: Dance of the Deity Serenade MISS! HALO back up against the faltering fuzz wall COUNTER! ESUNA: Dives onto ZARATHUSTRA’s back HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Sword across throat And that spooks him enough for the fields to drop again!

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Melodi in to help Remedy. Esuna hurled over Zarathustra’s shoulder with a bump. Halo back peddling with the metal maestro in cold, cold pursuit. As the fuzz walls rose up behind him. “Remy.. ” Elegy guiding her friend through her penultimate breaths. Through her final beats. Her last momories. Oh, move aside breeze belle; we’re not ready to get sentimental yet. Melodi pushing Elegy off. Propping Remedy up. Waggling her fingers at the wound. “Allow me.”

Not to be confused with that other, magno-clamping form of psychosurgery. I’m talking about nano patching, of course. What the Medizmeinungsschule taught. No, I’m talking about a far more ancient discipline than that. I’m talking about the power of positive thinking. Spiritual healing, if you will. One freezes nanos together, the other melts hope into the heart. No fancy computer-books or nano-plungers, lithoscreens or gravmatisers. Just a sheet of pyro placed on a wound, a will and a way. Don’t pretend to understand, just do. Afterall, I’m lost on this myelf. Twiddle your ethereal gloves as if you’re knitting stitches, sing a little song to guide the death out of the injury and you’re all sewed up. Before the ether of life escaped Remedy and made its way into higher heavens. Almost as if time was going back on itself.

“Mel. Ele.” That was Remedy, spoken with a gasp. Because the dead can’t gasp; that’s how you know. Leaving Elegy’s empirical mind to judge what had just happened: “. .freaky.”

HALO: Overhand curl CLANG!

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The fields were really fluctuating now. So much so that the blitzers could step between them without much bother. Unless you count a squeeze, a headflip and a chill. Zarathustra switching between portions as if fighting two simultaneous tugs of war. Melodi exhausted Remedy recovering. Elegy ducking through the gaps in the static, entering the fray. Her frazzled colleagues could have told her to get that sword back if theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d had it in them.

ESUNA: ELEGY: HALO: Leaping twirl Front step curl Leaping swirl CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! COUNTER! ZARATHUSTRA: Scribble Montage Head of Steam Epitaph Shattershock Reverb HIT! COVER! HIT! ESUNA: Arm, wrist, hand ELEGY: Covers up HALO: Broken wrist Drops her swords Drops her swords Well that made two of them unarmed. Zarathustra really should have hired these tykes a better tutor. Because swordstrils without swords arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even worth a fight, are they?

HIT! ESUNA: Shoulder Sliding over by Remedy

ZARATHUSTRA: Psy Mirror CLANG! ELEGY: Covers up

HIT! HALO: Midsection Rolling through night lights

Esuna holding her aching limbs. Halo patting the flames out of her clothes. Melodi tired and aggravated as usual. Remedy staggering onto her feet. Zarathustra raised the fluctuating fuzz fields. Sneered. Tossed the Holy Judgement aside and raised them again.

Ah-ha; now the mind and matter fall back into sync. And then there were two. Elegy Vs. Zarathustra.

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ZARATHUSTRA: Flashlight Serenade ELEGY: Covers up PING! That’s one blade swept away

Remedy snatched back her ultisword. Well if Zarathustra didn’t like anarchy, she’d have it. It was baring down on him anyway, so it’s time to accept it. Accept it or fall under it’s roaring tank tracks and taste the rust.

Remedy revved up a pirouette. Overhead whirl over backstroke curl over roundhouse twirl over... You know how it goes by now. 50, 100, 200 BPM... And Zarathustra thought he felt something coming. Looked over his shoulder; nothing there. Just the angry buzz of the fuzz fields.

ZARATHUSTRA: Rainbow Serenade ELEGY: Covers up PING! The other blade wrenched off its various straps

Remedy speeding up that pirouette. Round and round and round and round she went. Visible into invisible. Now let’s just she if she’d guessed this right...

Zarathustra could swear he felt something coming. Looked over his shoulder; all clear. All but the protective wall of static. So let’s turn back and finish the task in hand.

ZARATHUSTRA: Death’s Head sere... COUNTERED! REMEDY: Right through the fuzz field, back into visibility and... Devil’s Pirouette HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head, back, arm, chest, chest, arm, shoulder, face The fields drop And that last shot even lopped a chunk off his gimpy face mask

CRUNCH! Down to a knee

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Yep, Remedy was right. Stitched up, pissed off and right. That if she was invisible, that meant she was insubstantial. And spooks can pass through whatever the hell they want.

So here’s the scoop; Zarathustra wasn’t omnipotent. And not quite the man-god he imagined himself to be. He’s just a plain lickle man, and you know the thing about men? When they mess with you, you can hit them back. Elegy without her swords. Elegy the tech head. Elegy the thinker. Elegy the patient, rational, the fair and meek.

Well if the wide, wild world had taught her anything, it was what life wasn’t like that. That life wasn’t quite how it should have been. That life was a little dirty, if the truth be told. And that if you haven’t been taught something... give it a go anyway.

ELEGY: Overhand hook CLANG! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face That hurt her more than it hurt him But at least it made her feel better

Yeah, but...

The blitzers gathering their swords from their fallen places. Gathering themselves into an arc around their frazzled Principal. Gathering their senses and holding their ground. Melodi would have urged them to strike while the iron was blazing but... too late.

Stompy, psycho options:

Charge at them? Expel them? Execute them? Gravity? Magnetics? Maths? Or how about combine the trinity and give these troublesome tykes a field trip to hell?

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ZARATHUSTRA: Ultitek 2 Necropolis raising

Zarathustra wasn’t interested games anymore. Zarathustra wasn’t playing with toys. Zarathustra was ready to put on a puppet show!

Alright, so you’ve mastered ultitek one... What do you mean ‘yes’? Only gods master ultitek. The ones who step beyond reality as we know it. Last time I looked, god had abandoned us. But for argument’s sake, let’s say he’s come back. What next? I dunno, transcend? Sorry, but you’re still one verse away from that. You’re on step two of the proverbial three. OK, so you’ve mastered either übertek or hypertek... What do you mean ‘both’? Only a truly messed up deity could master both. It’s like being both a perfect preacher and a perfect serial killer. Able to switch between roles at will. Last time I looked, such... people were... well, were a little fucked up. But for argument’s sake, let’s say you really have mastered both über and hypertek What’s next? Now you’ve got free reign over the heavens and hells. Provided you have a hyperdoll in your possession. You have? Alright then; go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nekraku was the process which threw the wide, wild world into being. And also one of the arcane arts which brought it to its knees. So have you ever wondered why Psytopia’s plates differed so much? It was all because of Nekraku. Necropolis were where the dead went to sleep and dreamt this world into being. Each plate a different dream. I’m not talking about dead people, you gekky squib, I’m talking about ancients. And when they slept, they transcended. Leaving only their bones to balance this world. Their bones were things we might choose to call ‘swords’. And the vibes that made their individual imaginations seep up through the topsoil and into the air as they slept. Well, we might choose to call those levels of reality heavens and hells.

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There were eight necropoli scattered across Psytopia. The rest of the plates were just poor reflections which grew around them, a bit like weeds. A bit like daydreams. Echoes of the places where the ether dancers breathed their last. And that was when people started messing with things. By raising necropoli. And messing with the rhythm of nature.

But anyway, I digress. It takes a very special kind of person to raise a necropolis. There was a time when it took an ancient.

But back in the days of that god-awful war, the raising of necropolis were common. And ergo, the sinking of enemy encampments. Of the anarchist hordes, the dizruptivist clansmen and their beastie-baiting WMDs. And this is how you raise one.

Zarathustra held Orinoko aloft. As his eerie, tartan spooklets turned to ice and the night lights snuffed themselves out. What better instrument with which to grind his opponents into the shadowy mists of hell? He held her up and clasped those nasty spooklets round her dainty neck. That’s right; make the patchwork spookstorm breathe. The dolly bleeding gloopy cogs all over the chamber’s glossy wooden floor. Spookjuice, that was what it was. Slopping tunelessly on the broken wood. The noise concealing a palpable rumbling underfoot...

CREAAAK! “Hey, isn’t the floor swishin’ under moy foots?” “You’re imagining things Remedy; you So even Elegy was using that word now?

had a near death experience.”

CRRREEEAAKKK! “Look

kitz, I’s not been half deaded for at least a round an’ I’s sayin’ there’s some subtle spinni’ in moy toes.”

Esuna adding her two Pytopian cents. “We’re being dragged down to hell.”

And paranoid though it sounded, Halo was pretty much right. Grotty swordstrils and glum blue girls can both vouch for that. Because this particular swordtril and blue girl had been there before.

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CREAK! CRACK!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

The breezers almost off their feet now. As if being caught under fire on a 60’s Star Trek set. The Blitzblades turning...no, the hall turning... no, the world itself.

It didn’t really matter what was and wasn’t turning. What mattered was that they were going down. Conjoured into the bowels of the hells...

Hear the hydraulics. CLANKETY-CLANK! Feel the earth move. CRUNCHETY_CRUNCH! See the plate whirl.

SPINNITY-SPIN!

“Um... what the rusty hack’s happenin’?” Remedy feeling as if she was standing in a gigantic elevator. A swinging rope bridge. The deck of a sinking ship.

AKA this world Going down!

CREAK! CRACK!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

The breezers lost for words, lost for breath, lost for balance. As the plate sunk or the hells rose or something in the middle. As the dust and smog and clouds puffed up. As the ancient cogs of war dragged them into the gloomy depths of the underworld.

They weren’t alone, of course. Nekraku wouldn’t be a weapon of mass destruction if it just left opposing armies alone. Yeah, great; death by isolation. No, the destructive thing about raising hells was what was in them. Feel your bones quake. CLICKETY CLICK! Hear your heart race. THUMPETY THUMP! Watch the spooks gather.

CREEPERTY-CREEP!

Hells seeping up out of the ether.

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Melodi happened to know a few things about Makai. And by that I mean levels of hell. You see, hells aren’t physical things; neither are heavens. If they were, miners would bump into devils and airline pilots into gods. No, Makai weren’t physical places. They were corners of your mind. Where dirty, nasty, evil thingies formed. But like all good spooks, they existed in a public consciousness. Conjoured into reality with the expert application of gravity, magnetics and maths. The appliance of psyience! Melodi had been to different Makai before. And they were a headache, I’ll tell you that. The dreams of the dead. So she’d only choose to go there out of desperation. Psytopians didn’t believe in heavens and hells. Because psytopians had ordered minds. They did as far as Zarathustra had anything to do with it. Because the cogs of war had scarred him just like the rest. The wacky weapons of anarchism. The raising of grotesque, psychological worlds. The waking of dreams. And all the earth-wrenching beasties which lived in them. Oh, Melodi knew about raising necropoli alright. So let’s take a trip through the heavens and hells. And see which one is your nightmare. ORANGE HEAVEN A place that bathed you in an all encompassing warmth PURPLE HEAVEN A place so balanced it’d calm even the most ragey types YELLOW HEAVEN A place safe from the ravages of time BLACK HEAVEN Primal passion WHITE HEAVEN Sweet dreams GREEN HEAVEN Also known as this physical world GREEN HELL WHITE HELL Twisted dreams BLACK HELL Primal rage YELLOW HELL A place where time consumed itself PURPLE HELL A place so cold even your feelings froze ORANGE HELL A place that’d leave you spinning in your grave

And it’s quite possible there were another couple of hells and heaven if you mix or distill the lot Whether you see them as hells or heavens largely depends on your viewpoint.

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Melodi had been to various gaias. By that I mean heavens. To be honest, they didn’t impress her much. The squeaky clean, sickly-serene sensation of transience. No, it you want go hook a random bag of spooks, you go downtown. And whatever you do, you hold your breath. Because you don’t want to have some bizarre beastie grab it from you and trade lives forever, do you? So überbeasts didn’t really exist, they were simply horrific figments of the imagination. Transcendent people’s personal nightmares given form. They weren’t real until you made them real. By dragging their world up into your own and bridging the imagination gap!

“What are those things?” Elegy picking up shapes as the lift whirled down, clankety-clank. The lift, or the hall, or the plate, or her soul? If you think and feel and fear it’s real... Well, then it might just become so.

“They’re psycho storms.” Of course they were, Halo; but not just any kind. The White Hell was literally made of the things. Swirlin’ on up at you... And they were ragin’; no, I mean really. This gloomy mess was carved out of the stuff. Seeping over the edges of the grand wooden elevator and into their souls. Gloopy, grumpy, globular gunk. It’ll get everywhere, you know. So before it gets into your head and you start subconsciously forming it into random gargantuan monsters from the most horrendous corners of that fucked up mind of yours... Jam your boots into the crunching wood, drawn your swords and hold your breath. Because beasties don’t lurch long at you when they can’t sense what they’re swiping at.

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CLANKETY-CLANK!

PUFFETY-PUFF!

CREAKETY CREAK!

“There are loopy loco lurches all over thiz pliz.” No Esuna, there’s merely the movement of your mind. So how about Melodi steps in, reels them back towards the heavens and... And gather your dolly! Melodi could hardly see her gloves in front of her face in the rising dust. That’s the blurry mist of the dream world, you know? Melodi couldn’ t see because she ‘saw’ in moods, not forms and colours. If she could, she’d have noticed her own skin had turned white, her hues all a muddle. But mindless, souless spooks... well they just blinded her, didn’t they?

So the swirling world around the hall of sighs had come to a tumultuous... SLAM! With dream dust and floor quakes and all the fun of the fair.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Zarathustra had just raised a necropolis. A lavish complex of intricately carved marble courtyards and rain-soaked walkways hanging in the mist. Brought up through the idyllic surroundings of the Bardo Thodol like a speeding car through a crumpable fibreglass wall. That meant he’d sunk the ravani’s ancient hideaway unceremoniously into the ether. The greatest warriors in all the lands, probably slipping into the wastes of hell. And all to beat the blitzers? No, all because Zarathustra liked the wildlife around these parts. And by wildlife I mean wild; wild, freaky, fucked up and furious. Wouldn’t you be if you lived in hell?

BOOM! BOOM! … Psytopia: Adagio 3

CREAK!

Holy Judgement


“Well at least that noise has stopped.” Oh come on Elegy, haven’t you learned anything about the eyes of storms? Creak... scrunch... Remedy shrugged. “Hell ain’t so pangy.” Esuna grinned. “Just

a lil’ hazy is all.” Elegy breathed freely. “At least there aren’t any ghastly, ghoulish beasties to.. ”

Halo duly wedged a great, heavy sword messily into their complacencies. “Something’s above us.” Something indeed. Something big. Something bad. Something beastly.

CREAK!

CRACK! SCRUNCH! RIP!

Melodi not quite as startled as the rest. As the dust sprinkled on them from the crumpling ceiling. As the rainbow faces of the ether dancer murals on the shaking walls seeped goo; almost crying. As the diced wooden floor was struck with brain-looping magnetic waves. Because Melodi knew all she had to do was hold her breath. “What is thiz diz?” Remedy, swords drawn. “And

what’s spewin’ it?” Esuna, wide-eyed and curious. “Whatever it is, it’s big.” Elegy back stepping with an upward gaze and a gulp. And Halo with the answer to the million dollar question. “It’s an übersquib.”

WRENCH!

YANK! CLANK! TEAR!

The noise. The cold. The walls shuddering like tidal waves on a beach at night. The roof screwed off like the lid off a jar of peanut butter. The roof. The walls. The top of a boiled egg lopped off with a spoon. And suddenly, there was only darkness.

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CRACK!

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“Hey, that ain’t so stumpy.” Remedy relaxing her grip. “We’s

s’posed to be yeeped by darkness?” Esuna not only wide eyed, but bushy tailed. “I don’t get it. There’s nothing; what pulled the roof away?” Elegy thinking... But once again, it was Halo who cracked the conundrum. “Look closer.”

Shadows, that was what they were; all of a sudden the world was nothing but. A sky... no, an expanse... no, a universe of shadows. Nothing but shadows, all the way up. Like space without the stars.

There was something comforting about the bindless void. Stretching up beyond them and the necropolis like a plump old crow over a wounded field mouse. And then, just to flip the coco... the shadows began to form into what they really were. Fears. BLINK!

Think of the great, grand daddy of the übersuar, pumped full of steroids, superimposed on a miniaturised set, inflated with helium and in close zoom while the rest of the world remained screen size. Yes, the ultisaur was big. Tower block big. Mountain range big. Eastern seaboard big. That’s right, the ultisaur was big. Quite possibly bigger than the entire plate. It could well have spanned two or three. And it was as ugly as it was massive. Six triple jointed, birch bark coloured, carved steel textured, scaly legs. Multi-pincered, triple stomach drooping, spooky speckled torso which seemed to incorporate a million screeching faces trapped under the skin. Grotesque triangular head complete with ear and chin sabres, flip-top head and spinning trapteeth, primed to decimate whole cities in a single gulp. And the eyes, of course, because that was the part they noticed. You couldn’t not; this one eye had just replaced the whole roof of the chamber. Staring down at them with diabolical intent. They were specs of dust and nothing more. So I’d advise you to sheath your blades, girls. As Zarathustra stands in hover-prayer, his patchwork dollinoko being strangled nonchalantly in his spooklets, the misty breath exiting out of her eyes and ears spewing the smog which descended on the scene. Because these were Zarathustra’s memories weaved into life through the blitzer’s fears. Syphoning them like living conduits. The Principal’s mind channelled through the cogs of the dolly into the head of the beast. Time to give the kids the ultimate lesson!

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CLANKETY CLANK!

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Remedy, Elegy, Esuna and Halo And Melodi if she’s prepared to grimace and take part

It had three eyes on each side of its head. That’s three sets of three; it’s head was triangular. And just one mouth in the middle. That’s OK; the mouth’s pretty sizeable. And flip-topped, and dribbling gunk, and filled with buzzing chainteeth. It had six flaying limbs, big, stomping hooves and could have been a cross between an elephant and a praying mantis. If either species grew so large. Yes, the ultisaur was pretty ulti. A thousand stories high, a thousand metres wide. It’s covered with branded lines, dots and arrows. It was big and ugly and not too clever. Stapled together, seeping oily, ground-melting good and pissed off. I mean, wouldn’t you be? Somebody wrenches you out of your world and drags you by the tonsils. You’d just be itching for a fight. Well, the breezers were young, eager, hungry types. But not that hungry, if the truth be told. Come back zombo-squips and megagimps; all is forgiven!

The Amanati Necropolis Cluttered messily with the architecture of the Bardo Thodol The Second Hell Superimposed clumsily on top of the first It’s OK, the night lights are dim; you won’t see the mess unless you’ve brought... Ah, the blitzers had brought tapers Illuminating the hall of sighs, where the ancients came to pass on Or what was left of it, anyway

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DING!

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(Squinting by taperlight) “Oh-oh, I think that’s an übersaur.” (Squinting harder) ”That’s “An ultisaur.” ”Ultisaurus megamus.”

a super ‘saur.”

Elegy knew her psytopian species. Even mythical ones. Nightmare ones. To be honest, by this stage I’m pretty much resigned to realities and unrealities falling into each other and not making all that much sense.

”You know the bigger they are…” Remedy thought hard, “the trickier ‘tis to tumble ‘em.” “Remy, wait.” (Taper aloft) “It’s rearing up.” (Taper aloft and squinting) “It’s

lookin’ pretty vexed too.. ”

Rearing up. And up, and up... Big, chaintooth lined, flip-topped mouthie wide, and...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICEBALL! CRACKLE! SHATTER!

BUNDLE!

The blitzers scuttling every which way out of the blast radius. And I’m talking a blast of soul chilling, breath freezing, blood numbing ice. Casting everything in its path into a frost-caked silence. “Yeeps.”

“Yikes.” “Alright, I’s not likin’ thiz beastie.” “Even the breeze is frizzled.” And it was, too. Esuna prodding the edges of the ice sheet as it began to melt away. As the breath of life hit it. This abominable freaksaur could even solidify space.

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Zarathustra in the centre of the hall. Feet together, head back, eyes shut. Orinoko; tongue out, eyes bulging, strangled in his spooklets. Freezing over. And der Masterschwertfechter swiftly turning translucent. Interesting, thought our merry little blue girl. Watching from an eave in the architecture, apparently undaunted by the dark. Is that what people looked like when they swapped places with spookworlds? Not quite there, not quite touchable. By ordinary hands, at least...

Ether dancers didn’t have ordinary hands. Or ordinary brains, or ordinary souls, or ordinary legacies. They were just murals now; running all the way up to a lofty roof of the hall. What was left of it. A bit like the paintings in the Sistine chapel. The murals depicted events of the past or maybe the future; I really don’t recall. Or foresee; it’s hard to tell which is which. That’s because ether dancers don’t move as we do. They don’t see as we do, or think as we do, and they certainly don’t hear as we do. No, ether dancers are better than that. Or at least, more ancient. Who knows who drew these murals? The dancers depicted in different styles; scratchy, bold, angry, whatever. And each of the seven in different colours. Perhaps they were drawn by the spirits of the dead. Perhaps they were drawn by the folds of time. Perhaps they had drawn themselves. And if you looked closely, you could see they were moving. Dancing, of course; albeit very slowly. Just like time tends to. And always dancing backwards. Dancing between motion and stillness, life and death, order and chaos. Take your pick; all these pairs meet at the end of a Möbius strip! So what were ether dancers anyway? If you want to know that, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning. Which, coincidently, is also the end. The world began with a big, almighty noise. We all know that. A cavalcade of noise. Every noise that had ever, would ever and could ever sound. And all at once. You can see how such an impact might have shaped an entire world. And the noise was made by the death of the ether dancers. Which means their birth. Oh, ether dancers are confusing things; I’m not even going to talk about them. In any case, when the ether dancers died, they split into a billion sounds. And the rhythms of reality began. So ether dancers were ancient things. And at their deaths, the universe began. Because they aged backwards.

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“Alright kitties, we’ve got to form a plan.” Elegy gathering them together behind a hefty chunk of overturned timber. Clasping wrists and lighting new tapers as they huddled together in the cold. Hiding from the ice storm. “What sorta’ plan we’s gwan craftify against that?” Esuna holding her arms and legs in, rubbing chilly thighs and forearms. It was cold, alright. Cold as death and garnished with gloom.

“We’s gotta strategise, kitz. I’s fought one of these before, though not quite as gigantified.” Remedy covering her ears with her wrists, swords still forever in hand. It was loud too; it’s humongous stomps sending shudders through the earth and beyond. Shudders so huge that it was difficult to keep an eye on her friends. “Let’s fry it.” Halo sprinting out into the path of the beast; a little bobbing light in the dark. A microbe on a kitchen table, too small to see but not small enough to... What was that breezy belle thinking?

SUCK THERMO SHOCK! ICE BALL! FRAZZ!

CRACKLE!

CRUNCH!

“Halo!” It’s alright Esu; that last noise was her smashing through a skeletal wall. A ghost wall, poking through the wood; dragged here from the White Plateau with the rest of the necropolis. But hell raising tangs the coco; all that mattered was that she was alive. Albeit hurt. “Ele, what’s the diz with it’s dribblin’?” Well spotted Remedy; that’s the kind of observant attitude that may well save your lives. It was dribbling dream juice. Space-time warping raindrops, dripping in crazy stop-start motion from its maw.

“It’s surrounded by storms too. It’s presence here is muddling things.” That’s it Elegy; get that thinking cap on and illuminate the beasty thingie. It was swamped in storms as a matter of fact. Nano-flipping mists; creating anti-matter hazes around every joint of its mammoth frame.

Überbeasts kicked up storms. That was because they weren’t meant to be here. They unbalanced the weight of the world. Now, Melodi and Zarathustra knew this all too well. The others would have to learn the hard way. The ultisaur dripped time warps from its lips, kicked up spook storms with its limbs and billowed space-slicing smog from its ears. All in all, it wasn’t the kind of monster you’d want to get too close to. It pushed the pause button on the very rhythm of nature. So for hack’s sake, hold your breath!

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Remedy, Elegy and Esuna hunched behind a chunk of overturned timber. Halo picking herself up amid a bed of icy bricks. The Blitzblades versus the ultisaur. Well I hope you’ve packed a woolly coat because this one’s gonna be chilly!

Zarathustra in the centre of the hall. Still and silent, as if he was sleeping. Orinoko crunching up in his spooklets. Freezing over. Der Eisenfaust almost invisible, even to a gloom gazer like Melodi. Curious, thought our merry little mist-white girl. Clambering out of an eave in the architecture. If he was see through, he was probably tripping; at one with everything, aware of it all. Except transcendence itself...

Ether got into everything. And ether tends to dance. In the buildings, the air, the earth, the people. All those things had grown around ether dancers. Around where they fell; where they transcended. Little, subtle pin-pricks in the laws of time and space. Exceptions to the rules. The world had grown around necropolis like moss around graves. Like twisted echoes ad infinitum, weaving into each other. And the very first objects to grow from the tombs of the transcended? Oh come on, you don’t have to be a genius to work that out. The Soul Cages themselves, of course. The prime metris, the EM conduits to other worlds, the black holes in the fabric of reality. The instruments of the divine. I’m talking about superswords. So you’ll only escape the perils of life by weilding a supersword? Or being dead, of course. Because that’s how you hold your breath forever.

Halo hobbling out of the brickwork with a sore foot. Sprained or dislocated, bruised or broken; she was too numb to know. Shuffling past flickering night lights, dislodged by the newly raised marble walls. Just like her; thrown round and round, flipped upside down and almost extinguished. Wandering unknowingly into the gaze of the beast. “We’ve gotta pragmatise.” Elegy more together than most. “Check, but how pragmatic’s jivin’ with a squibtub like that?” Remedy less so. Sit back, hunch up, pragmatise... while Halo’s lurching into no girls’ land? Esuna had a different opinion; “Hack that!”

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ESUNA: Leaping 360 degree swirl (both swords) MISS! Come on kitz; that plodder’s head’s as high as a moon up there COUNTERED! ULTISAUR: Tail swipe MISS! About a metre away... HIT! That was the wind whip ESUNA: Back Hurled into Halo The pair toppling over a leaning ravani statue and into the muddled wood-marble floor Knockdowns! HIT! ESUNA: Back Hurled into Ha... hey! Esuna patted herself down. Her top, her arms her legs, her head. Feeling as if she had a second self, just a notch off the pace. Until Halo grabbed her wrists and steadied her. “I spied a mirror of moy.” She did, too. Right on her shoulder as she glanced back at the beast. Right in her blind spot.

Time is a curious beastie. Yes, it’s a beastie. What did you think it was; a process? No. Time is a huge, gargantuan beastie from another hell. The seventh hell, in fact. A hell of obsessive order. No wonder it ruins every inch of the fabric of this world. It doesn’t belong here! Time plucks random events out of the mishmash and reassembles them in some kind of tangible structure which our little brains can understand. We should probably be thankful to time, otherwise we’d be scrabbling around with the other animals, living in the now and never able to progress. Time shackles anarchy.

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But it also limits us. Of course it does; it knits in an expiry date. Otherwise life lasts forever, how it’s meant to. But just like any beastie, time can be trained. To leap forward or backwards, to sidestep, to mimic or to stay. Or we could just stop meddling with it and leave it to hurry up and happen. NOTE TO SCIENTISTS What’s the quickest way from point A to point B?

This is why the ancients wrote in lines, dots and arrows. Because they understood the moods of time. That the quickest way from point A to point B is to scribble point B on top of point A and you’re already there. Because as with every other monstrous ultibeastie in the menagerie... Think outside the box. Mess with their maths. And tame them with psychology.

“You’re here.” Halo could have been reaching at nothing. But she plucked Esuna out of the haze and centred her. Like being emphasised by a highlighter, a headline; big, bold text. Made her feel... special?

“The winds around it warp time and space.” “Freaksome, huh?” Remedy held a hilt in her teeth and searched her pockets for fuzzjacks. Because there’s an old adage, you know:

(Even if it’s so dark you’se gotta squint!)

Remedy and Elegy, scrambling around for long range weapons, backs to the wall. Halo and Esuna, regaining their bearings, backs to the... Ah; no wall. No chance?

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! Psytopia: Adagio 3

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PLUME!

FIZZ!

CRACKLE!

“Yipes!” Esuna and Halo blindly diving down a ramp way, frost at their feet. Landing in a clumsy heap of limbs and swords. Covered in frozen night lights and icy rubble. It would be cosy if it wasn’t so cold.

REMEDY: Overhand loop MISS! Nice leadin’ Remy, it’s gargantuan, you’re tinsy Plus you’d stand a better chance of hitting the target if you let the taper lead the sword I know you’re no good at such things, but do the maths!

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! Remedy’s spine back against the other face of the marble boulder. In the nick of time. As the rain began to bare down and the drips began to whirl around her ears and the chill began to bite her bones like piranha teeth on a hapless paddler. And as the panting beastie’s watery dribble fluctuated a little; running out of juice?

Zarathustra about to be crushed by one of its random stomps. Stoic still as the mammoth hoof crushed him. No, no; it passed right through. As if he was ether. Der Höheremacht essentially invincible? Strange, thought our stroppy little sprite. Approaching him gingerly in the centre of the hall. If he was invincible, he’d probably magno-warped his nanos. His soul off puppeteering the beastie. Which means he’d left his body all alone...

That’s right, deadhead; like the ether dancers had done. So how about we make him follow suit and disappear forever?

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HALO: REMEDY: Charging hack Charging buckler HIT! HIT! Ankles ULTISAUR: Back swipe claw slap HIT! HALO and REMEDY: Side and chest SPLOSH! Hurled over a sunken courtyard wall and into a water pool Knockdowns! “Urgh. Dreamblur.” The resurfacing Remedy was seeing things. Second selves all over the place. This supersquib’s mist fist was a head tripping instrument and no mistake. Made her inner rhythms go all spoony...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! “Yerk!” Remedy and Halo nipping back underwater as the ice breath hit. And CLUNK!, trying to break the surface again. Frozen pond; frozen out? “Ele.”

“Esu.” The pair of them propped up against a marble boulder. Zipping their fuzzjacks.

ELEGY & ESUNA: Fuzzjack tosses TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! TINK! TONK! An ugly great ultisaur feels feathers tickling its legs Wait for it... POP! BANG! POP! BANG! POP! BANG! POP! BANG! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Calf Thigh Foot Toe So you know what you can do, kitty claws...

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Halo and Remedy, banging on the underside of the ice, gasping for air. Banging and gurgling and crunching their heads against the frost. Enough to see their friends’ shadows rolling away, their boulder shattered to bits. Somebody needs to heat things up a bit.

Zarathustra levitating an inch off the ground. Eerie tartan spooklets puffing ghostly mists as they strangled poor Orinoko. As far as Melodi was concerned, strangling wasn’t nasty enough for her. Strangling its dreams out into reality. Der Mann-Gott could have belonged on either side of that equation. Freaky, thought our moody mite. As random ‘saur stomps passed right through her too. Right up close, staring into the Principal’s eyes. Blank they were; not quite there at all. So smirk away, show your teeth, hold your breath and deprive him of his!

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! Esuna and Elegy covering themselves up as best they could behind a sloping wall like mountaineers clinging to a tent in a blizzard, cradling their dribbling tapers. Icicles in their hair, frost on their lips, crackles in their ear drums. “Alright. We need to get Remy and Halo out of there.” “Check,

but.. that vexy psychosaur’s fumin’ like a prack in an empty rootbo.. ”

SMASH!

CRASH!

SHATTER!

Just to labour the point, the ultisaur pummelled the hall with its gargantuan frost fists. That’s like knocking on a door with a wood axe. Overkill. Let’s not say ‘kill’ though; it’s pessimistic and it’s kinda rude.

SMASH! The roof of a courtyard.

CRASH!

The splintered floorboards.

SHATTER!

Ah! Pieces of debris making potholes in the iced-over pond. That’ll buy them a breath or three.

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Melodi poked Zarathustra with a gaunt white finger. Did a double take, forgetting she wasn’t her usual colour down here. And another double take when her finger passed right through. A double double take; she wasn’t expecting that. But let’s not muck about. Let’s not play kid’s games. Melodi wasn’t a kid, I’ll have you know. So she’d learnt to take opportunities when they present themselves.

AKA The Carnival of unborn spooks You’ll be needing a hyperdolly Ah, Doloroso will more than do! Grip her tight in those tug gloves Not too tight- this is basic puppeteering; you don’t want to drain the poor vessel yet Get refracting Use your pineal gland; just shut your eyes and imagine Look into his eyes and split his id You know there ain’t much in there right now... Pull out all his possible future selves, spawned by every available decision, cut then down like paper soldiers and he’s got no future to... Hey, you’re stalling on step 4 I said there’s no id in there! Melodi let Doloroso go limp in her grasp with a sulk. How about nanotek? How about a fierce kick in the shin? Her platform trainer passed all the way through. This was why she hated the marginally undead.

SLIP! SNATCH! WRENCH!

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Elegy pulling her classmates out of the ice pool. Bedraggled felines irritatedly shaking their fur. It’s cruel to cold-bath kitties. But at least they still had a hold on their claws. “You’se don’t wanna take a dip in there, siz.” Remedy let her head loll. “Spook juice.” Halo was already swishing her blades, watching the circling monster. Around the hall after the petrified Esuna, scattered night lights revealing her plight. “They’re coming this way.” They were, too. STOMP after STOMP after all pervading STOMP! Buffeted by dreamy rain which sizzled as it hit the creature’s trailing spook cloud. SPLODGE after puddle-busting SPLODGE as they headed right for them and … “Get into the pool!” Remedy had changed her tune. Four of them now with a SPLISH, SPLASH, SPLOSH! And the racing hooves of the abomination halting as they stuck the surface of the water. Because pools of dream drops are solid to beings from imaginary worlds.

CLUNK!

SLIP!

FLIP!

And an almighty

CRASH!

As the ultisaur landed reaching, grasping and wailing on its back in the crumpling wood.

“Yay, we’s spiked that block.” “I dunno Esu, I hear it rollin’ back over.” “It’s so big half of it’s hanging “Bigger they are, harder they fall.”

off the plate; I smell it’s nanos sizzling.”

Halo out of the water and at it already. Probably not the greatest of ideas. Esuna straight after her. And the others conceding they’d better make it an even four.

“It hit the water, but couldn’t break the surface.”

“See, you’se gotta hold your breath, siz, and you’se nanos’.”

“How do I hold a nano’s breath?”

“Just hold it; the ‘saur only sees our shadows.” Halo had her head screwed on right. Beaten up, kicked about, battered and bruised perhaps, but screwed on right. This thing sensed their shadows; internal and external. And by internal shadows, I mean nanos.

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If you look hard enough, shadows are a tick off key. Behind the pace. In your blind spot. Your shadow is actually your own ghost. If the blitzers looked hard, they’d realise they had double shadows down here. Shadows of shadows. Because that’s what the hells are made of. Remedy doesn’t count, of course. She generally didn’t have a shadow so down here she had only one. Because when you transcend, you lose your shadow. Even if you have the audacity to come back. It’s all because the hells are teeming with nanos. And that’s the substance of shadows. Four blitzy belles against the megasaur. Swords at their sides, breeze in their hair, gulps in their throats. Four snazzy sprites facing off against a grisly abomination in the dead of night. Lurching and leaning, arching and baying like some kind of twisted... monster, really. Remedy with a bold stance, a kick of heels, a playful thumbs down. Elegy with a cautious stance, a furrowed brow, a thoughtful frown. Esuna with a bouncing stance, a swish of swords, a wide eyed grin. Halo with a pronounced sneer, a cross of blades, a bolt for the beast...

HALO: Leaping...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! The team whipping her back by trouser legs and boots. Into a four way backward roll down a set of rain soaked stairs and into a contorted muddle. Flamy-patterned arms and legs intertwined in a bed of random night lights. Did that girl have a death wish or what? “Alright. We need a plan.” Elegy. “We need a prayer.” Halo.

“We’s needin’ a fair shot.” Esuna. “We’s needin’ to draw it’s attention.” Remedy. Remedy wasn’t a master strategist, I’ll tell you that. Even if she managed to pull things off with that razor sharp instinct. No, Remedy was no mathematician I’ll have you know. But she did remember how she’d helped beat a thing like this before. Perhaps Elegy should have been the leader of this group. Perhaps the group would be slicker, more reserved, more professional. Perhaps the group would think first, swish swords second. Perhaps the group would survive.

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Or perhaps Melodi should have lead the group. Remedy: The irresponsible choice? Esuna: The naive choice? Elegy: The boring choice? Halo: The doomed choice? Melodi: The fucked up choice. But they’d all grown up, hadn’t they? Most of them. Some of them didn’t have to grow up. Some of them were growing backwards. Back to their roots. Because Melodi was about to do something she hadn’t done for quite some time. For many thousands of rounds, in fact. Except for a little slip up on the Emerald Plateau, but we’ll let her off that minor transgression. That’s right; I said thousands of rounds, for those of you who still haven’t clicked that Melodi was the oldest living thing in Psytopia. Yes, Melodi was about to do what she’d sworn never to do again. The thing that made orphons of people. That had made an orphon of her. The thing that reduced races to rubble. That decimated the wide, wild world. Melodi was about to make that age-old mistake. She was about to raise necropoli. Pale white feet together. Chequered tug gloves engulfed by fire. Little Doloroso hovering somewhat in an eerie new breeze. And egg yoke, Nike tick eyes tumbling into pits of doom. Let’s just see how low you can go.

So the blitzers were letting Remedy lead. Because she’d fought a big, hulking ‘saur before. That was the irresponsible choice. But at least it was fun.

HALO: Shattershock reverb HIT! ULTISAUR INFLICTS: Leg. Broken ULTISAUR: Overhead claw swipe MISS! HALO Ultisaur drops embarrassingly to one knee mid-attack

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ELEGY: Devil’s Pirouette HIT! ULTISAUR: Toe, ankle, foot, shin, calf, knee, heel MISS! Various other targets ULTISAUR: Big stomping überfoot…. COUNTERED! Remedy had seized the opportunity to leap unnoticed onto the beastie’s thigh Then onto it’s hips, it’s back, it’s neck... it was quite a walk as it goes, but she made it REMEDY: Double handed plunge HIT! ULTISAUR: Through nose The bigger they are, the harder they... Whirling spook clouds twirling out of the the creature’s gaping wound. Wheeling around Remedy’s embedded blade like rabid greyhounds around a track. Like signets around a mother swan. Like minisaur shapes starting to form. Signets around swans. Ghosts around blades. Weights around magnets. But a little worse than that. Scores of tinsy, tiny hypersaurs spewing forth from the creature’s broken womb. Yes that’s right, because messed up thingies have organs in strange places. Time to frown, withdraw your sword make a leap from it, methinks. But not much more time than that. “Aw, yeeps; that was a mummy saur...” One angry dino rearing its head. Blocking out the sky. Three startled blitzers. Out of their depth. A desperate sprint through the dark. A school of furious lickle thingies in hot pursuit. Swordtrils in their sights as they tumbled over random chunks of muddled architecture. If anyone has a miracle up her sleeves, now would be a good time... Doloroso raised up in the air. Melodi walking on ether. Ethereal slash tightening around the dolly’s stitched-up throat Concentrate, little girl and scream hard.

MIXAGE! MONTAGE! MUSIQUE! STORM CRACKLE!

GROUND QUAKE!

EYE SPARKLE!

So let’s take a creaky, clunky, quirky elevator trip.

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HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK!

Her feet raising off the floor. Rivets popping out of the walls. Steam pumping out of brand new fissures. Eyes then her skin turning black hole black. Rolling through the step cycle:

Stifle that dolly’s breath; the doors to the hells creaking open as she drifts near Draw the contents of those hells up to the brim Grasp them as if you’ve got a puppet by the strings Reel them up and watch the worlds clatter Let’s have an educated guess that this is gonna involve...

“Aw no, not again.” Elegy bracing herself as jutting spires poked through the floor with a splutter and shake. Gothic balconies, staircases and streetways, dragged out of the dark recesses of purgatory. Splintering the pristine marble courtyards of the Amanati necropolis like pikes driven through heads on medieval battlements. But let’s cross our fingers tight and pray that doesn’t happen to our heroines, hey?

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Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her arms stirring a huge, imaginary cooking pot. The hells zooming up to meet them, faster and faster. Black hole black. And CLAP! of the tug gloves!

CRASH! Necropoli piled on top of necropoli. Thrown into the eye of the stormcloud. A pretty common place to die! Welcome to the Tapestry. Population; 4 blitzers, one blue girl, one gimp and a load of diablos! Don’t stay here too long though, will you? Don’t want to attract more superspooks. Remedy helped the others regain their balance. Dusted herself off. Narrowly avoided a slanted railing as it burst like a corpse from a crypt at her feet. “I’s gwan have to have words with that sprite...”

ZARATHUSTRA

So she could raise necropoli too That means you’re... A nymph A muse Mimir

Eye to eye

MELODI

Oh yeah gimporama; ‘cos I’s speccy That means I’m... Ain’t no diablo, shaltz No, I’s a belle, bud Have a nice, round, fourth guess An ether dancer?

Yep, Melodi was an ether dancer. Oh come on; you must’ve guessed that one. It wasn’t as if she’d been hiding the fact. But the question remains; was this finally her day to die?

Melodi could raise necropolis too, but only when she had to. Afterall, it was by piling the dead upon the dead like this that life first came into being. And you don’t want to replicate that, do you? Because life’s such a tedious chore. A grotty collection of grime-caked factories and misty urban alleys rising to the surface. Contoured crazily as if flipped on their side. The deserted skyline of the Tapestry wrenched out of the ethereal scaffolding down there like the contents of an Egyptian tomb unearthed with primitive ropes and pulleys. Architectural ampocalypse, just to make a merry mess of the world.

BOOM!

What was that?

BOOM!

A pretty loud boom; pretty close

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BOOM!

I remember that particular boom, don’t I? Oh yes...

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL!

The blitzers leaping for cover as a scene-shattering factory was frozen solid. Sliding across its slanted roof as if they were playing in some demented playground. Off the roof and into a cluttered streetway, night lights guiding them on their way. The warped floors confusing which direction was which. “I’s really gwan have to have words.” At least they were safe from that misty, nano-jacking rain down here. They were safe from the rain, I said. Not the hypersaurs.

Essentially baby ultisaurs, popped out of mummy’s womb before they were quite ripe. And that made them angrier than your average abominano beastie. They were pinprick ‘saurs. No more than the size of your palm, but with heavy duty biting power. Because they were little more than great big gyro-teeth. Powered by spinning propeller blades. A cross between kitchen knifes and helicopters. With one evil eye apiece and very pissed off. They’d snag your neck and latch onto your nanos. Sucking them out and tearing them up. Making them grow big and strong like their mother. If you let them at least. And when you’re being persuaded by a good few dozen, there’s a fair chance. Note to self, Remedy: If you’re battling a dream beast, don’t stab it in the head. That’s where it’s ideas are born!

Melodi wasn’t worried about such things. Of course she wasn’t; she was holding her breath. Melodi wasn’t shocked by this twilight world. After all, she’d raised it once before. Only last time she hadn’t stuck around to take a tour.

Ether dancers raised necropolis as easily as people yank up daisies. Echoes of their forefathers; that’s what necropolis were. And by ‘forefathers’, I mean their kids. All that living backwards... At least Melodi had raised an uninhabited necropolis. But spare a thought for Zarathustra. Whether his soul was hovering between a metal shell and a supersaur or not, it certainly didn’t want to be here. That’s right; the scariest place on Earth. Home.

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SMASH!

Remedy and Esuna launching themselves off a slanted roof and onto a cast iron balcony as the rabid ‘saur levelled the building with a wild claw swipe. Esuna clutching Remedy’s wrist before she tumbled into the deadly spires below. Hauling her up in the dim glow of flickering night lights, hanging in the gloom. “Hack, that wasn’t much more than a click away.” Remedy’s boots slipping on the crooked metal of the balcony. Or was it she who was crooked; it was getting harder and harder to tell. “Check

Remy, and the brickhand’s zeroin’ in on us again!”

SUCK THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL! The breeze crackling chaotically with chilly time swirls. Esuna and Remedy leaping through fuzz doors and lavish balcony cribs. All the furniture stacked up on its sides against the walls. Their clunky blitz boots buckling on the slanted surface, sending them into painful slides. Out through the fuzz windows on the other side, hanging like raindrops on weeping fringes. Remedy hauling Esuna up this time. A buzzing in her ears as the crooked building swayed somewhat... An anarchic whistle in the wind... Oh-oh; the hypersaurs.

CREAK!

CLANK! WHIMPER! Zarathustra stared right through our cocky little blue girl. A miniature black hole; that was all she was. Ether sucking up ether. An irritant, that was what she was, muddling his realities. Irritating as he struggled to maintain the foundations of this grim dream world. To keep from slipping back to whence he came. What was that Zarathustra; a tear? Or was it a memory?

It isn’t easy being an ultisaur. Actually, its an insurmountable strain. It’s just as hard puppeteering an ultisaur. Putting yourself in its place. Makes you feel somewhat... absent. Zarathustra dreamed of ultisaurs. And other fucked up things.

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He painted pictures of them on his walls. Down there behind the bed where mother wouldn’t see them. Yes, Zarathustra was a lonely child. Locked away, safe in the silence. While mother and father argued; the fearsome fog of war. He didn’t like that father was always away. He didn’t want him to die when he’d only just met him. ‘Die’; that was such a chilling word. He tried not to use it. Father never died in the pictures, at least. In the pictures, he always came home. He’d tame even the most twisted überbeast. And he’d return without a scar. But children learn about life in the end. When they emerge from their shells. All it’s wildness and wonders. And it’s many ways of tearing you apart.

MELODI: Conjured memories HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Soul Drops to a knee Melodi and Zarathustra head to head, nose to nose, face to face. The shadow-skinned girl with a vicious smirk. A stir of the pot and a clap of the hands. So the metal man did feel things, did he? Let’s spice up this combo and make the next whack a shot to the head.

HISS!

RUMBLE! CLANKETY-CLANK! The scene shakes. The dust rises. The world whirls. The puppet strings quiver. And a great, golden pyramid crashes through the floor.

Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her snigger spreading wide. The souls of the plates collapsing down the pits in her eyes. Glimmering gold. Let’s see how you like this!

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CRASH!

Smashing through the floor, all crooked halls and broken windows. This is where you lived, ice man; this is where you’ll die!

“Yerk!” Elegy and Halo huddling up as a crumpled golden staircase bursts through the coiling streetway in which they stood. Like a beast surfacing from the depths. Like bulldozers crashing through the front door. Like... home? “The Academy.”

“The Academy’s a necropolis?” For the wise one, Elegy was alarmingly slow to catch on. “It was only ever an echo.”

All in all, necropolis weren’t much more than echoes of the divine. That’s what the world’s made of afterall. And just like echoes, once you’re hearing them, you can be pretty sure the sound itself has passed you by. The Academy complex had been sunken and raised time and time again. And used for all manner of things. History’s a muddle, so let’s leave it in the past. But Melodi liked a muddle, you see. Because Melodi was an agent of chaos. Necropolis upon necropolis; landscapes junked together like the contents of a removals van in a head-on collision. The breezers having to stagger through contorted halls and passages. All sense of direction lost. So school was quite clearly out, then. School was burnt to a crisp. The distant rumble of the Golden Plateau sinking into the ethereal sea beneath. Oh, this is gonna test the Principal’s patience...

MELODI: Derailed futures HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Head Drops to his knees

Flicker of eyes. Shiver of fingers. Rustle of nanos.

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Reverberating of blades. Gritting of oily black teeth. OK freak; enough.

Remedy and Esuna scampering over warped streetways and interlinking Academy halls. They almost remembered the layout, but not quite like this. Three intricate complexes thrown together. But in the dim light, they didn’t know where each step was taking them until they landed. “They’s gaining!” The hypersaurs buzzing so loud even a blind man couldn’t miss them. A dozen palm-sized assassins, hovering through the crooked landscape. Helicopter eyes with gnashing teeth, swooping in like bombers, plunging at their throats.

GRUFANGS Six-way swoop MISS! REMEDY

ESUNA Aimless leaps

SMASH!

CRASH!

Through a pyramid arch into what used to be Pyrotech

Over a staircase into what was once the squib pen

In another world, where such memories made sense

EAT THERMO SHOCK, ICE BALL!

That one was directed at Melodi. Silly ‘saur; the chill passed right through her. Puppeteers may as well be ghosts around here. In between hells and heavens. Well let’s give the golden girl a taste of her own.

Zarathustra’s translucent form rising onto his feet. Squeezing those frost-caked spooklets tight. Orinoko’s patchwork eyes widening to bursting point. This was a mind game. A psyche-out. A headlong battle between order and chaos, heaven and hell. So let’s take note of the real showdown taking place here. As the very earth quakes at the whim of their will. The main event; top billing, pay per view. In case you’re wondering...

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HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! The scene shakes. The dust rises. The world whirls. The night lights flicker. And a disappointed golden girl gulps. Smooth, violet-hued buildings smashing through the churned-up surface.

Four spooked blitzers holding on. To jelephant statues, cable cars, each other, whatever. As yet another necropolis rose through the rest.

CRASH!

Crunching through the floor, all speckled stone walkways and stained glass windows. Isn’t this where your precious pyronettes come from little girl? And doesn’t this mean they’ve just been sunk?

ZARATHUSTRA: Dashed hopes HIT! MELODI: Heart Drops to a knee “Mana...” She hadn’t forgotten him, you know. Blue girls never forget.

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Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her snigger dropping swiftly into a grimace. Those pit-like eyes of hers filling with purple tears. Violet skin, tangerine hair, yellow lips, yellow dress... Alright freakstorm, this means war! “This is getting’ pretty ‘fusey right here.”

“What exactly is happening?”

“Ignore it.” Easy for Halo to say; she and Elegy behind a newly raised wall, struggling to keep track of where in the hells they were standing.

HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! Oh-oh, the scene’s shaking again. The dust rising, the world all a-whirl. Let’s stomp that purple princess while she’s down. Ancient, intricate mosaic walls popping up through the confusing surface. Four desperate blitzers holding on. To golden bannisters, broken brickwork, each other, whatever. This was getting steadily out of hand.

CRASH!

Poking through the floor, all gloomy passages and candlelit catacombs. Feel the eerie old breeze down here. Isn’t this where you first met your match?

ZARATHUSTRA: Shattered dreams HIT! MELODI: Confidence And that puts her on both knees, down for the count?

Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her grimace giving way to a helpless sob. Those pit-like eyes of hers dribbling orange patches on the cold, frozen floor. Orange skin, red hair... feeling spoony. Perhaps she should have just shut up and kept herself to herself.

ZIP!

WHIZZ!

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HYPERSAURS Six-way fang-first dive MISS! MISS! ESUNA REMEDY LEAP! TRIP! Over a gothic spire and onto a walkway

Down a staircase and through a stained glass window

Picking themselves up. Dusting themselves off. Exchanging glances across parallel walkways, disgarding their tapers. Rivers of fire in between. So they‘d burst through the broken walls of the hall of sighs. Out into the real world, if you could call it that. The still, snowy walkways of the Bardo complex. But kitz, the hypersaurs are still whirring on after you!

HYPERSAURS 1-3 Swooping tooth stabs MISS! ESUNA: Backhand swat

HYPERSAURS 4-6 Swooping tooth swipes MISS! REMEDY: Backspin slash

“Esu, there’s a break in the track up ahead!”

“I spies it; they’s gwan cross then buckle.” Sure enough; the walkways had been wrenched from their moorings somewhere down the line, probably by a big, stomping ultifoot. Winding into each other like a double helix before trailing off into the flaming pits below.

HYPERSAURS 4-6 Swooping tooth snaps MISS! REMEDY: Sideways slash

HYPERSAURS 1-3 Swooping tooth spikes MISS! ESUNA: Strafing swat

100 feet... Their boots weaving in and out of the debris in their paths. 200 feet... The ever-present buzzing in their ears. 400 feet... The incline of the the walkways steadily gaining influence over their fluctuating pace. 800 feet... The hypersaurs at their necks now... Stomping blitz boots, up parrelel paths. Speeding fast enough to defy gravity? Sprinting blitzers up those half-loop-the-loops. Up and over, into the air and...

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ESUNA: Charging double-tuck flip

REMEDY: Leaping double-back somersault

Don’t forget to flash them blades as you go! Overhead whirl Backhand twirl Side swipe curl Overarm twirl HIT! HIT! HYPERSAURS 4-6 HYPERSAURS 1-3 All three sliced into two OUT OF PLAY WHUMP! SLAM! Landing on their feet in skilful crouches, on each other’s ends of the helix. Landing on parallel paths. But landing; that’s the point here. Alive rather than dead. Melodi wasn’t quiet sure if she was alive or dead. She didn’t even know if she was in the past or the future.

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Oh yes; Zarathustra standing over her. Welcome to the all-too painful present, then. “Hey Ele...” Sorry Remy, she’s just zipped past.

“Halo!”

Her too, Esuna. And there’s a reason why they’re running.

So altogether now and join the sprint. Ring around the necropolis, adrift in the darkness. The beastie STOMP, STOMP, STOMPing after them at a tenacious rate. Smashing catacombs and courtyards and cable cars and training halls to rubble as it thundered through them with it’s gargantuan space-splicing legs. “Kitties; flickswitch!” Remedy at the back of the precession, her recommendations not making much sense. Something lost in the misty warps of time? No you bricky shaltz; think about it... “Remy, it’s pinching our heels; it’s no time to turn round and fight it.” Elegy’s point apparently made as the hulking beastie swang an ulticlaw. And that was one ulti, ulti claw I’ll have you know. Sweeping though the parting buildings as it rolled into them like a bowling ball to a series of shell-shocked skittles.

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Halo, Elegy, Esuna, Remedy, ulticlaw, beast. That was the order of things. Careering across the jumbled architecture of the megacropolis like vegetables in a mixer. Though to be fair, it was only the first four ingredients on the list that were about to get diced. “Kitties, listen; flickswitch, on the run.” Remedy’s yell from the back getting lost in the shadows. In the crunching folds of time. That meant the ulticlaw was very, very close to swiping her into oblivion. “She’s right; flickswitch.” Halo at the head of the line. Round and round the not-quite-merry-go-round. Swiping shadowclaw so huge you could hold a brief conversation before it got around to hitting you. Just remember to say everything you’ve ever wanted to say to the person because you’re not likely to get another chance. “Why.. “ Esuna.

“But.. ” Elegy. “Just do it.” Halo So they did.

ULTISAUR: Humongous plateau-slicing, time bending hyperswipe HALO: Flickswitch Pirouette On the run! ELEGY: Flickswitch Pirouette 800RPM On the trot! ESUNA: Flickswitch Pirouette Invisible! 800RPM On the hop! REMEDY: Flickswitch Pirouette Invisible! 800RPM On the sprint! Invisible! 800RPM Invisible! Claw passes right through Claw passes right through Claw passes right through Claw passes through... Snags a button on Halo’s top Spins out Spins out Spins out Spins out

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“Mint!” Remedy almost jumped for joy. Her grin as wide as an ultisaur’s clawspan as it stomped on round the hall, chasing shadows. Slipping up...

Ultisaur skids Halts It’s own timeswirls catching up with it Was I stomping? Should I stamp? Or am I standing... urgh! HIT! Mindfuck! Knockdown!

SMAAAAAASSSSSSHHHHHHHH! Ground quakes. World shakes. Time shudders. And a fair portion of the cluttered spires, buildings and stairways are reduced to rubble. Alright, so the Blitzblades were craftier than ultisaurs. But remember this, breeze belles: Don’t bring ultisaurs to their knees. It’ll whip you off your feet too.

ULTISAUR STUMBLE HIT! HIT! ELEGY HALO Whipped off their feet Thrown over a liney, dotty, arrowy mural Tossed through the wall of etchings Knockdowns! HIT! HIT! REMEDY ESUNA Whipped off their feet Knocked over a neat mauve wall Skidding down a sloping walkway Knockdowns! The four of them rolling into a lopsided circular platform in the centre of town Well at least the band stuck together HIT! MELODI A tremor passing through her knees, up her ribs, into her bones

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HIT! ZARATHUSTRA

Now was Melodi’s chance. Now was Melodi’s time. Now was Melodi’s opportunity. The killer blow. The fatal moment. The... aw, she’d missed it.

That’d be the ultisaur again Different bodies, same mind Headfuck! Wobbles...

HISS!

RUMBLE!

CLANKETY-CLANK! Zarathustra’s eerie spooklets wrenching the hells out of place. Trundling up through the broken wood. Little Orinoko’s patchwork eyes bursting in globs of spookified goo under the gravmagtic pressure. Scene shakes. Dust rises. Doom descends. Stern, decorated pillars poke up through the archaic surface. Four floored blitzers holding on. To eerie gargoyle and angel statues, cracked stonework, each other, whatever. All lost in the clumsy arms of anarchy.

CRASH!

Jarring through the floor, all regimented pagodas and blocky altars. A mathematical masterpiece, it was. So many leagues below you could feel your blood freeze.

ZARATHUSTRA: Fractured futures HIT! MELODI: Hope Head down, burning arms cooling off; game over?

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Melodi’s skin changing hue. Her tears turning solid as they fell. Those pit-like eyes of hers closing up; icy shatters on the cold, broken floor. Red skin, blue hair... she didn’t like herself like this. Heartbeat slowing, close to death, her box of tricks all but empty.

Four bruised blitzers on the slanty oval platform in the middle of the hells.

“Whatever she’s doing, she’s drained.” Elegy. “She’s lost it.” Esuna. “She’s dead.” Halo. “Melodi; get up!”

That last voice was Remedy’s. Her... her... What was it again? Oh yeah; her friend. Red girl on her knees, picking up the pieces. Of her mottled dolly, cast lifelessly to the floor. If only she could summon one meagre measure of strength from within her. Otherwise she’d just fallen for the last trick in the tail. Elegy and Halo, flat on the floor, separated by random slabs of dismissed debris. Trying to stay low and small so the beastie couldn’t track their shadows. So do you see a psycho ‘saur on the sea shore? Maybe not, but one false move and it could certainly see them. But watch out kitz, there’s something pretty substantial behind you. Do you’se see a psycho ‘saur on the sea shore? Dinosaurs are extinct, not stupid. And this wasn’t exactly a dinosaur, it was a big, angry puppet. Creepy triple pupil blinking open as it began to gather itself up off the...

HALO: Overhand hook HIT! ULTISAUR: Eyeball SQUELCH! Now that probably hurt And it probably made the puppet master blink too. Enough to drop his dolly. Enough to lose his grip. Enough to wake Melodi up.

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Spent little red girl with a second wind. A sneaky grab for that patchwork dolly. Dragging her bruised knees across the splintered floorboards. Pulling what was left of her smouldering tug gloves up her arms. Perhaps the party wasn’t over yet.

Necropolis were curious things. Building blocks of the wide, wild world. But you know that already. Necropolis were freaky things. Echoes of your imagination; the deepest recesses of your psyche. But you know that too. Necropolis were unique places. Six levels, with our world on top and all manner of madness beneath. Six levels, give or take. Until you get to the totalities at either end. Emptiness and everything. Absolutes which human brains can’t really comprehend. Order and anarchy. So you can tour the underworlds all you like, but when are you going to come home? To a world of calm or of chaos? Reach out and take your pick! Four bruised blitzers huddled on the floor. One angry ultisaur rising to its feet. Two pained puppeteers reaching for their dollies. Melodi on hands and knees, grasping for the fallen Doloroso. Zarathustra doubling over, reaching for the bug-eyed Orinoko. Where’s the freak show stopping off next, psychos? Well that depends on who grabs their dolly first, doesn’t it? Eye to fucked up eye across the rusty soot and mangled debris. “Come on blue belle; snag it!”

GRASP! REACH! SNATCH!

Ah, Doloroso. The ether dancer wins!

Necropolis were essentially super-magnetic machines. Organic, though. Everything was organic once. Even robots. Actually, necropolis were anti-magnetic machines. But in any case, they balanced the world. Let the living live by keeping the dead dead.

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Because there’s only so much breath to go around, you know. Only so many riffs in a heartbeat. So sorry spooks, but some things have to die and others never get to live. Zarathustra would be wise to leave such absolutes out of his Academy teachings... Well why do you think; because if dead was dead... The old school house would be without a Principal. And altogether now; let’s reflect. The world is a chaotic amalgamation of things. A piping cooking pot of swirling meat and veg. You never know what the next spoonful is going to reveal until the broth’s scalding your taste buds. So it’d be fair to say that anarchy has it’s place. And so, as it happens, do the dead. Melodi’s feet an inch off the floor. Her hands spread like swooping wings, Christ on the cross, flowers by the graveside. Her dolly looping the loop in the air. Her eyes going green as the hells fell back into the pits where they belonged. And CLAP!

Necropolis grew out of the bodies of the ancients. And the wide, wild world followed suit. Perhaps without ether dancers, our world wouldn’t be such a random mish-mash. And perhaps it would be mind numbingly boring. So thank the ether dancers for necropolis. Thank ether dancers for dying for our sins, our pleasure and our entertainment. But don’t expect an encore now, will you? The necropolis were the dreams of the seven ancient ether dancers given form. And one who’s still got a little fight left in her yet.

MELODI: Nekraku Quickstep world tour! Eyes burn with an orange glaze CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR... CLA NKETY CLA NK! CRASH!

Going up!

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The blitzers wobble. The ultisaur shakes. The necropoli cave in on themselves. And the wind rips the swords out of Remedy’s hands. Spinning around her as the chamber whips up a freakstorm. Watch it kittyclaw or you might just get shish-kebabed!

Eyes flash purple CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

The breeze belles wobble. The man-gott shakes. The necropoli fall into ether.

Going up!

And the wind whips the swords out of Halo’s hands. Whirling around her as the freakstorm picks up speed. Death wish or not, you might be wanting to be running for cover!

Eyes blaze yellow CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK... WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK!

CRASH!

Going up!

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The catch kids wobble. The whole scene shakes. The necropoli wrenched off their hinges. And the wind tears the swords out of Esuna’s hands. Hurtling around her as the freakstorm goes haywire. Like standing in the middle of that speeding merry-go-round; cleavers chained to the horses’ hooves, ducking as best she could as the blades span maniacally her way.

Eyes turn black CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

Going up! The spooked swordstrils wobble. The hells and heavens shake. The necropoli begin to smoulder. The wind wrenching the swords out of... Um, Elegy; that sword of yours is strapped on, sister blitzer. A hapless delinquent sucked into the cyclonic breeze.

Eyes become white CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK! CRASH!

One more stop!

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“Ele!” Remedy grabs her wrist through the storm, her sleeve slashed by her own flying blade. The necropoli stripped bare layer by flame-swept layer. And the EM fields at bursting point; fire ripping through the ultisaur’s ghostly flesh. Reducing the beast to ash and ember, tearing its master’s psyche up like cheap thread. Falling through the floor of the rotating chamber as if a stone to water.

Eyes go green CLAP!

CREEEAAAKK...

WHIIIRRRRR... CLANKETY-CLANK!

CRASH!

DING! CRUNCH!

CLUNK! SPLUTTER! Where the extreme elevator ride finally shuddered to a halt And the universe could see again!

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An iceman thaws out. Three erstwhile anarchists are thrown off their feet. And a fourth wound around in the dissipating whirlwind like a ball-bearing on a catapult. Around, around and... up. Up, up and... Up, up and... Up, up and a lot more up in actual fact. Elegy whacked into space. Out of Remedy’s grasp. Out of the hall. Out of the Bardo realm. Through the fuzz field, into the deep blue sky and far, far away.

Oops. “El!” She can’t hear you now Remedy; she’s half a world away. A misty shadow arcing out into space like a shooting star after taking a wrong turn. Up and up and... had she started dipping yet? Sorrow in the storm. Knives in the wind. Round and round, slowing down. Falling past her eyes like blue tailed, red tailed, orange tailed whirlijigs...

WHIRL! TWIRL!

SNATCH! The sound of Halo grabbing Elegy’s fumbled sword woke Remedy from her trance. She hadn’t seen Elegy frazzle in the ether anyway. She could imagine she’d survived being twacked off the plate. But finders keepers, after all.

CLANKETY...CLANKETY … CLANKETY … GROAN..

CLANK.

CREAK... Round and round, soot and dust. Round and round, wind and debris. Round and round, grinding to a relieving full stop.

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Esuna Hunched up behind a newly raised mausoleum, jamming her eyes shut Remedy Clinging onto a freshly unearthed gravestone, gritting her teeth tight Halo Sipping pyro, swishing swords, furrowing her brow The ultisaur Oh, abominano beastie, what big eyes you had All the better to spy your shadow with Oh, abominano beastie, what big legs you had All the better to stomp your shadow with Oh, abominano beastie, what a big head you had All the more mindfuck when the little blue girl yanks your mind away And leaves you falling through the gaps in realities

SUCK SWEET NOTHINGNESS, FIRE BALL! OUT OF PLAY

You can’t kill ultibeasts per se. You can only un-imagine them. By confusing their conjurers. By tossing them back from whence they came. The deepest darkest hells? Or the heads of weirdos?

And talking of weirdos... Zarathustra woke with a start. I mean he thought he was Zarathustra. Or was he an ultisaur? Falling through the hells. Nothing but space. Frazzled by the the eth... urgh.

“Oh, ergi.” Melodi had awoken too. With a hic and a tick and a disorienting feeling as if she wasn’t quite there. Blue skin, red dress, egg yoke, Nike tick eyes, just how she liked them. Back in the real world.

“Freaky.” “Loopy.” “Loco.” All three remaining blitzers were right as it goes.

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Gathering their swords. Gathering their senses. Gathering their footing. Gathering their bearings?

“Ain’t we’s been in thiz pliz before?”

“The necropolis on the Lime Plateau.” “So that’s what all them ghouly gravestones were for...”

But the mossy headstones poking through the upturned floorboards weren’t so interesting. The meaty mausoleums messing up the charred mosaics were neither here nor there. The broken remnants of the sunken necropolis collapsing dramatically into the shattered floor was nothing to write home about. No, the interesting thing was that the Principal was spooked. “Uuugh...”

“Yuuurrk.. ” That was Zarathustra and Melodi. You can probably tell from the freaky fonts. Dropping to their knees in unison as the hells vacated their heads. Over-gravitised. Over-magnefied. Over-mathmatised. Out of sync with the world around them. And just plain spent.

MELODI

ZARATHUSTRA

Ether-chilled

Nano-fried And that means exhausted They couldn’t quite work out where they ended and the wide, wild world began now Total ether trip-out Total nano shut-down So her head lolled and her eyes rolled So his head drooped and his eyes glazed Doloroso frozen into shattered pieces Orinoko burnt to an ashy crisp Two little hyperdollies dead on arrival Their fragmented portions scattered down through the hells like severed petals Pulled back into the corporeal world Plonked back into his own head And it phased them, if the truth be known Enough to let her breath out Enough to drop his swords And SHATTER And PUFF! Gloves reduced to icy fragments Spooklets reduced to smoldering bits And your arms too, freaketeers Because there’d never been under there anyway, had there? That’s what happens to metal men when the magnets suddenly use their stick Just like what happens to a blue girl when something flusters the rhythms of her heartbeat Thd staples and stitches come undone. And you feel everything is... falling,

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CLANG!

La Sensoria

CLANG!

Memento Mori

CLANG!

Burning Rage CLANG! Shadow Splitter

CLANG!

Prodigal’s Edge

CLA NG!

Raucous Whisper

CLANG!

Crimson Harvest

They stared at each other across the cluttered floor of the hall of sighs. Less like stares, more like agonised squints. Across the mauled surface of the real world; the pair suddenly solid once more. Removing all the frights and the fears and the spookiness and the transcendence. Finally seeing each other. “You are an ether dancer.” “And you are a shaltz.” And that meant just one thing. The master’s wide open, kittyclaws! So get them breeze boots hot steppin’... And lose him!

REMEDY ESUNA HALO Triple boot HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Face Rolls him backwards through the last, collapsing wall of the hall of sighs And out onto the snow-garnished, night light-lit, chime-tinkling, flame-framed gangway With a CRASH!

_______________________________________________

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And CRASH! There’s another. Elegy this time. Crashing through a handily placed fruit shed a plate or so across the ethery divide.

Her tumultuous fall broken by shelves of tasty papatoe, blucumber and neeproot. Well, that’s better than it being broken by her shattering bones, at least. She wiped blood from her lip, patted herself down, thanked Zarathustra she was still alive. No; let’s not thank him, hey? Let’s just frown at the fact that she’d been dumped out of the dance. ___________________________________________

One scant wooden gangway, decorated with lines, dots and arrows Leading from the remnants of the hall of sighs to a little courtyard at the end of the world And by that I mean an island in the ether Bathed in the flickering glare of a million scattered night lights Backed by billowing lakes packed with a million translucent blue flames Serenaded by the tinkling tune of a million metri chimes, hanging in ether like puppets It may not have been millions Who knows, mathematics had just gone out the window Along with gravity and magnetics All that remained were the players and the dance

Über Teufel (The Great Devil) Vs. Der Valkyries von der brise Halo, Esuna, Remedy and if she’s got it in her, we can count Melodi Vs Zarathustra

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Zarathustra was a broken man. No, really; I mean it. Though of course, he wasn’t really a man at all. He was... something it’s not really worth trying to fathom. On his knees. All in a daze. Studying his spooklets. He didn’t have spooklets anymore. He had nothing more but vagrant memories, wisping free in the breeze. Forming into a familiar mist as they walked away from him. Drifting across the walkway and into the flames. Drifting across the ether and into space. Drifting out of reality and into his dreams. “Odine!” Zarathustra didn’t talk much. Gods don’t have to. Don’t speak, just do. Perhaps Zarathustra was realising he wasn’t a god afterall. Perhaps he was realising he was savagely mortal. Or perhaps he had just taken a knock on the head and had to shake himself clear. Watching Odine as she crumbled into nothing. A soul he’d bound and tied, trapped and tortured, finally set free. Looking back at Odine and then at himself. At the dying embers of the spooklets in which he had contained her... Spooklets... or cogs? Zarathustra had forgotten what he looked like underneath it all. Under the metal, the ice and the goo. Winding cogs, clunking away. Revealed by that accursed ether dancer...

There were only ever eight ether dancers. They were the images of which all eight elements of the wide, wild world were reflections. Echoes of totality. Ether dancers were curious things. They were born backwards, each generation made from components of their children... Who were born first. It’s confusing to us mortals who believe in linear time and all that inconvenient nonsense. Who like to make life harder for ourselves. Ether dancers gave birth to their parents, but only when they finally became children. Pure enough to transcend. So there were six ether dancers in the beginning. Who passed away, their last breaths knitted into dolls and their souls solidifying into metri. They were Melodi’s grandchildren as it goes, which was probably why she was always so disinterested in meeting them. They made her feel old.

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Family; urgh. Then there was that red girl; the angry stormfest named Doloroso. Her daughter. Melodi didn’t like her one bit. Except in doll form, where she behaved herself. Actually, Melodi had a love-hate relationship with Doloroso. That’s what happens with wayward kids. Especially ones who pass away before differences have been dealt with. So guilty, glad, bitter or not, she’d keep the memories close at hand. They were all pieces of her. And so were the necropolis. Maps of her minds. If you want to be really macabre, you could say that Melodi’s family were buried inside her. Parts of them, at least. Because at death, ether dancers split into trinities. Bodies, hearts and minds. Even the ancient symbol of Psytopia was based on that forgotten fact. The valknut. The body which sunk underground, the heart which kept playing its rhythms across this world and the mind which watched over it all. Oh, and the point of transcendence itself, where all three came together again. The necropolis, the swords and the sprites. Fabri, metri and psyche. The three pillars of reality. Just don’t remind Melodi of all this, will you. Because if you happen to bring holy trinities together... Well, something’s gonna burn.

Melodi wasn’t worried about all that. Destiny; pah, she’d do what she felt like. All she was worried about was sobbing over little Doloroso. Just a shadow now, frozen to the floor. Side by side with the soot-stain that was once Orinoko.

“Hey, the cracklestab’s breathin’ hard.” “Spluttering, even.” “You know what they say: everything “Can die! Come on siz!”

that breaths.. ”

Remedy leading the charge. Down the pristine wooden gangway with the scatter of snow, the twinkle of night lights and the fanfare of wind chimes urging them on all the way. Down the walkway, three blitz belles flashing six whipping blades. Feeling awake and alive and relatively positive that they might just win!

Melodi wasn’t feeling alive. Melodi was feeling somewhat glum. Because Melodi was seeing echoes.

Rainbow Melodis shadowing her every way she moved. So she didn’t move much, just tensed up, keeping them inside where they belonged. And of course, she didn’t move much because she was frazzled.

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On her knees at the edge of the wooden gangway. Her tug gloves shattered into icy shards, spread in black and white blocks across the stonework. Her arms beneath... well, they weren’t arms, they were ether plumes. At least she was blue again. Yeah, but she was dying.

ESUNA REMEDY HALO Blitz break chains Overhead loop Backhand whirl Overhand hoop Backstroke hoop Roundhouse curl Turn-around loop Rolling scoop Leaping twirl Cross-face swoop Jumping swoop 360 spinning swirl Cross-body scoop HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! Every inch of his armour Driven back stomp by stomp down the gangway Random, gloop-caked chunks chipping off

Melodi held herself together, trying not to sink. Trying not to become a necropolis. Because that’s what happens to ether dancers at death. When the orchestra splits up and becomes echoes. She shut her eyes. Grit her teeth. Struggling to thaw out the icy cobwebs. Trying to re-start her heartbeat.

ESUNA REMEDY HALO Blitz break chains Overhead whirl Backhand loop Overhand curl Backstroke curl Roundhouse hoop Turn-around whirl Rolling twirl Leaping scoop Cross-face swirl Jumping swirl 360 spinning swoop Cross-body twirl HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT!

HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT!

HIT! HIT! HIT! COUNTER!

You can chip away forever at the armour of a god; it’s pretty much infinite You can push a god back all the way to the courtyard at the end of the gangway... Until such time as said god flips!

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ZARATHUSTRA Nanolock HIT! HALO: Her nanos, of course Oh-oh, that was a pretty hostile magno-mudra he threw right there. Dropping Halo to her knees like a block of ice into the wall of an igloo. Frozen to the spot. Her flesh, her bones, her blood, her heart. Even her sense of time. And if you’re stuck in time, you’re really quite vulnerable.

STOMP!

Zarathustra finding his sense of self at last. One forward step and a decisive finish.

ZARATHUSTRA: Beheading swipe That’s a big, coggy arm you’re swiping with, Mr. Wolf All the better to... COUNTER! ESUNA bundles HALO out of harm’s way Esuna and Halo inadvertently straddling each other for a moment. Just a moment; not intended I might add. A moment of Halo’s insides tensing up and her breath cut short and her eyes all gooey. A quiet moment as they stayed still, a sinister shadow passing overhead. Just a moment and it’d be gone; her blood would ease and it’d all be back to normal. Yep; normal. Esuna sneaking a stroke of Halo’s hair, placing it behind an ear; a playful smirk behind the frost sheet... That wasn’t normal was it?

ZARATHUSTRA Nanolock HIT! ESUNA: Her nanos Rooting Esuna to the spot. The pair of them lined up for a scalping. All chilled out and nowhere to go but...

STOMP!

Zarathustra back on track. Let’s not muck about now, shall we?

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ZARATHUSTRA: Double-handed beheading swipe Those are hefty, coggy arms you’re swiping with, Mr. Wolf All the better to... COUNTER! REMEDY bundles HALO and ESUNA out of harm’s way

One on one. Mano-et-girlo. Heretic facing God. Well, you can’t win them all, can you? Even if you are the heroine in the pack. You can’t win them all. But at least if you try, you can look good being dead.

REMEDY: Devil’s Pir... ow! COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA: Nanolock HIT! REMEDY: Had she been hit? She didn’t know Had time passed? And who was she anyway? One on none. The play well and truly over. So let’s watch him raise those coggy arms, shut the book, go home and sulk about it. About how tough reality can be. His Academy sunken. His plans in tatters. His brave new world cast into anarchy. But you know what; Zarathustra had bigger mites to fry. Alright, so she was a smaller mite, but looks can be deceiving. Even dying ether dancers have tricks up their flame-wisp sleeves. So if in doubt, freeze them out!

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STOMP!

Melodi battling with her alters. Slithering around in her like snakes in a jar. Desperate to break the surface and get out. What; were they running from something?

STOMP!

Melodi struggling with her inner family. Herselves, if you want to get technical. Desperate to conduct all the instruments in the band to fall back into sync. What, were they freaked by something?

STOMP!

Melodi tensing the echoes of the ether dancers in her blood. Skin bulging here and there, different colours trying to break free. Desperate to sneak into the shadows and go away, go away, go away! What, were they scared of something... Ah.

Merry Mel not so merry right now. Even less so than usual. With a big, clunky man-god standing over her, all jagged cogs and gimpy armour. Picking up a sword...

So they said if you unite the necropolis, you can guide the rhythms of the wide, wild world. They said you could choose between psychics and science, nature and nurture, chaos and order if you brought the ESP fields under your control. If you just brought the eight necropolis together. You could play the song of the ether dancers or silence it forever. Well, letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s test that myth, shall we? Big old Zarathustra. Little unmerry Mel. So you want an optimistic finale, do you? Sorry to disappoint you all, but...

>SCRIPP!< ZARATHUSTRA Hooking plunge HIT! MELODI: In one ear, through her brain and out the other side OUT OF PLAY

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A splutter of rainbow blood. A sizzle on the wood below. A moment for time to fluster in the blue girl’s wake. Lazy eyes. Lost words. Broken heartbeat. You could almost hear the friction of the plates. The disapproval of the elements. The world’s wide-eyed wildness crumbling into order.

Melodi knew from the moment she stepped onto this plate that it was to be her grave. Afterall, it was her home... And ether dancers see time backwards. Subconsciously, at least. So she knew, in her heart of hearts (and she had eight) that this was to be her end. But the thing is, even if you see time backwards you can’t stop it. You can’t blame her for being glum about that. So the eighth necropolis was finally christened. The earth burnt away by the touch of her blood. As she shut her eyes, embraced her future and transcended. Into history. Who cares if the world ascends into heaven or falls into hell after that? Melodi was back with her family again.

CRACK! “Melodi!” That was Remedy, in case you were wondering. The icy sheet which glued her nanos to her bones breaking up. Time taking place again. Just a moment too late.

CRACK! CRACK! Halo and Esuna. Raising their swords above their heads. You can’t deflect shots that were thrown an age ago, kitty claws. So look around and draw your breath. Because your hope’s just been diced to shreds and even the earth is falling in at your feet!

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You shouldn’t mix necropolis. They tend to unbalance the world. That’s why originally, they were lined up nice and neat along the base of the plates. They held the jigsaw together. So you really shouldn’t cocktail necropolis. Unless you want to fall flat on your face. Unless you’ve got a death wish. They’ll weigh you down and freak you out. Because you know what’ll happen; they’ll cancel each other out and drop into silence. You’ll come to a calamitous cross fading of gravity, magnetics and maths. And the whole plate will sink into shadows. “Mel! Is you’se alright, lickle sprite?” Of course she’s not alright, Remedy; she’s just had a blade plunged through her head. The swordstril sliding to a stop by the blue girl’s side, cradling her, blood eating through her clothes, unwinding the threads, turning them into ether. Of course she’s not alright, breeze belle; and you’re not alright either. Scooping the dribbling blue corpse off the floor, blade and all. Still in the grip of the reaper. Because Zarathustra had just tripped the dancers. Put a stop to the wild-waving rhythms of the world. And a chill was beginning to creep across the plates.

>SLINK!< That was Zarathustra pulling the Crimson Harvest out of Melodi’s crumpling skull.

RUMBLE!

And that was the shudder of the ethereal scaffolding below the plate beginning to buckle. Or was it the shiver of Remedy’s heart? Realising she was kneeling, swords cast aside, at the feet of the Principal. Screwing up her face as a fateswirl came in to claim her.

ZARATHUSTRA Overhead... COUNTER! ESUNA HALO Shudderwave pirouettes HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA: Back Tossed over Remedy and Melodi and into a heap “Remy!” Esuna, defrosted and ready. “Get up.” Halo, fired up and angry.

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Remedy clutching her precious blue girl close to her chest. As the rhythmic tinkle-twinkle of the blood drips ate through her hair, clothes and boots. As the melodic tink-tonk of the hanging wind chimes fell out of sync. As the globular puddles of rainbow dream juice dropping from Melodi’s ears formed ghostly pinprick ether dancers of various hues before shattering into ice shards across the woodwork. “Remy!” Esuna, tugging her shoulder. “Get up.” Halo, gripping her swords. Zarathustra back up and at them. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP, making the blitzers scramble down the gangway. How about we finish things off by this jive into order? Let’s start with La Sensoria.

ZARATHUSTRA Scribble Montage Scrabble Montage HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Various Pushed down the gangway towards the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy still cradling Melodi. As her flesh flushed green. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers going from rainbow to mono. Grasping for something with her final breath.

The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Putting Zarathustra off?

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

ESUNA HALO Leaping swirl Whirling coil HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Arm cog Sword Weakens grip Throws La Sensoria across the gangway Through a wind chime and into the pyro sea DING! Disarmed!

OK, let’s draw the Memento Mori.

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ZARATHUSTRA Powersnap Reverb Powerwave Reverb HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Breath Blood Pushed down the gangway towards the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy wiping away Melodi’s blood and tears, burning her fingers. As her flesh flushed white. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers appearing to fill with skulls. Grasping at her, even though her; like holding onto a ghost.

The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Pissing Zarathustra off?

ESUNA HALO Charging whirl Backspin curl HIT! HIT! ZARATHUSTRA Arm cog Sword Weakens grip Throws Memento Mori across the gangway Through a wind chime and into the pyro sea DING! Disarmed!

STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!

Alright freakstrils, let’s try the Burning Rage.

ZARATHUSTRA Head of Steam Epitaph Total Torment Epitaph HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Rolled across the floor Bowled into the ground Pushed down the gangway towards the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world Remedy stroking Melodi’s unkempt hair. As her flesh flushed black. Those freaky pit-like eyes of hers squeezing shut. She’s grasping for something Remy!

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The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. Gradually helping the blitzers whip his blades away...

DING! The Burning Rage Sinks into the drink! Out of reach “Mel, you’se can hear moy, right?” Of course she can’t hear you Remedy, she’s had a sword plunged between her ears. Perhaps she could hear through her eyes. Or perhaps she didn’t need to. Perhaps she just knew. The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. DING! That’s the Shadow Splitter gone too. “You’se loved, you’se knows...” Of course she knows, Remedy. Why do you think she’s so glum? Because she’s always known she’s going to lose it. The only thing in the wide, wild world that matters; friends. But she’s been grasping for an age now siz, so be a friend and follow her lead. Yes, that’s right; that’s what she’s reaching for. Your sword. The Holy Judgement. Her own, personal, purpose-built funeral urn.

When ether dancers transcend, they don’t take much with them. Only ether, in fact. The rest sinks into the hells or the heavens. That depends on your perspective. Is the world half empty or half full? One thing remains in this world. Where heavens and hells meet in the middle. That’d be the ether dancers’ hearts. So you’d better have crafted a well distilled, firmly contoured instrument to house it. One of the two instruments of the renaissance and the apocalypse, no less. Come on Remedy, break a habit of a lifetime and hand it over! The world around a-rumbling. Chilling the flame pits. Puffing out night lights. DING! Zarathustra had just lost the Prodigal’s Edge.

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And the world really was rumbling, too. The plate ebbing noisily away. As the snow fell thicker and the ground lurched. The necropolis weaving itself into being. Sinking into the pyro sea. “You’se... you’se want this?” Yes Remedy, she wants that; now pick it up and hand it to her. It might be the last thing you ever do... If only Melodi had hands... DING! The Raucous Whisper consigned to the ether. Because Zarathustra has just drawn the Crimson Harvest, and that’s a primordial blade. That contains the heartl of Melodi’s daughter, you know- essentially heartless. Or her mother, if time works for you that way. It packed the biggest punch in the wide, wild world, so...

ZARATHUSTRA Cross-face wave HIT! HIT! HALO ESUNA Slice across the midsection Slice across the neck Knockdowns! In the centre of the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world CLANG! And they dropped their swords

Friends can flicker away as swiftly as night lights in the breeze. So you’d better make sure you’re supporting them right. Right? Remedy passes the Holy Judgement into Melodi’s ethery arms.

FIZZZZ!!! Alright, that one made even Zarathustra shiver. That one caught the attention of the wide, wild world. That one flipped every nano on the plate. Because that was what happened when the last living ether dancer passed her essence on. Into an ultisword.

The scene shakes. The chimes chortle. The night lights flare up double-high. The flame fields buck and whirl, sizzle and flourish.

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She is the Third Heaven, you fool! And all the others in between. And then she was gone. Remedy wasn’t quite sure how long she’d been holding nothing. I dunno; a click, a flicker, a sliver, an age? It didn’t really matter around these parts, did it? Where time and space and all that hazy hokum tumbled into a muddled rage. No, it didn’t matter how long Remedy had been clinging to nothing. How long her tears had been passing through the burn holes left in the floor. How long sounds had been bouncing in her ears, all over each other like a... like a... tune. What mattered was that the world was bright and she was awake, bathed in a lively blue. And that she was still holding her sword.

The bestest, breeziest sword in the wide, wild world. It had learnt a lot, that sword. A lot more than the others. Because it had lived in the wide, wild world. It had seen hells and heavens and felt pain and joy like you can’t imagine. Well, you probably can imagine, because you’re a person too. It had fear, pleasure, joy and attachment. It had humour, hardship, hope and loss. And it had friends; that was the defining thing. It had friends and it had family. It had life and death it it like everything does, even if it learnt them backwards.

So what have we learned about swords? We’ve learned what they neglected to teach us. The most important things of all. That swords are made of memories. That swords are people too.

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Those swords which housed the ashes of ether dancers, at least. And by that, I mean they were just like you. Creative, destructive, angry, happy, sad. So move over Zarathustra; you’re not a deity yet. Oh, and what’s the other thing we should always remember about swords? That despite the muddledy metaphysics, at the end of the day, they’re for hitting people.

Zarathustra stomping into the rainbow courtyard at the end of the world. Two bloodied blitzers lined up ready to be knocked down. Like boiled eggs poised for a spooning.

ZARATHUSTRA: Beheading... Tap-tap. That was curious. A reverberating pat on his shoulder. And his arm, and his chest, and his legs, and his head. A reverberating pat which passed right through him like a... like a... rhythm? “Hey

squib pie.”

That was Remedy, standing calmly behind him. Slipping so stealthily into his sphere that he was startled enough to drop his guard, turn and face her. Well that might just be the last thing you do, hilt head. The plate’s sinking into the afterworld; no time to waste!

s

“Let‘s quickify thi jive!”

HALO

REMEDY Letting the blade guide her Charging clef ESUNA

Devil’s Pirouette Revving up across the court

HIT! Devil’s Pirouette ZARATHUSTRA Kicking off across the yard Shoulder Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

25BPM The chimes tink-tonking faster. The flames rip-roaring harder. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. As the fuzz fields at the edges of the plate sunk into the ether. Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs revealed under his shoulder plating, dribbling goo into the ice. Melting under his backtracking boots.

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REMEDY Throwing out techniques she’d never been taught HALO Spinning slur ESUNA Devil’s Pirouette HIT! Devil’s Pirouette Speeding up across the court ZARATHUSTRA Tearing it up across the yard Shoulder Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

50BPM The flames rip-roaring harder. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. The chimes tink-tonking faster. As the spiral domes in the distance sunk into the ether. Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs revealed under the other shoulder plate, dribbling goo into the ice. Mushing under his backtracking boots.

REMEDY Swifter than ever before HALO Leaping drone ESUNA Devil’s Pirouette HIT! Devil’s Pirouette Charging across the court ZARATHUSTRA Zooming across the yard Waist Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

100BPM The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. The chimes tink-tonking faster. The flames rip-roaring harder. As the network of walkways sunk into the ether. Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs revealed around his midsection, dribbling goo into the ice. Blackened under his backtracking boots.

REMEDY Oh, she was hitting that tuneage now! HALO Cross-body coda ESUNA Devil‘s Pirouette HIT! Devil’s Pirouette Whirling around across the court ZARATHUSTRA Spinning about across the yard Leg Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

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200BPM The flames rip-roaring harder. The chimes tink-tonking faster. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. As the hall of sighs sunk into the ether.

Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs revealed under his leg plating, dribbling goo into the ice. Gunky under his backtracking boots.

REMEDY Being spurned on by voices, senses, memories; who knows? HALO Cross-body cantabile ESUNA Devil’s Pirouette HIT! Devil’s Pirouette Wisping about across the court ZARATHUSTRA Weaving around across the yard Leg Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

400BPM The chimes tink-tonking faster. The sleet wisp-weaving thicker. The flames rip-roaring harder. As the gangway sunk into the ether. Zarathustra’s armoured feet trudging through untouched snow. Oily cogs stomping across the courtyard, dribbling goo into the ice. Turning to shadows under his backtracking boots.

REMEDY Her blade cut through his armour like ether HALO Arcing allegro ESUNA Devil’s Pirouette HIT! Devil’s Pirouette Swirling across the court ZARATHUSTRA Twirling across the yard Chest Lops off a chunk of armour Pushes him back across the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world

800BPM And the whole place was buzzing now. The rip-roaring of the flames, the wisp-weaving of the sleet and the tink-tonking of the chimes indiscernible. Collapsing into one. Along with the zip-zap or the blitzer’s blades, the swish-stomp of their steps and the thump-bump of their heartbeats.

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That meant they were tripping now. And the Holy Plateau was tripping with them. Reel in the funeral parade, sizter blitzers. Because the dead are here to dance tonight!

As the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world begins to sink into the ether

HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! HIT! CLANG! ZARATHUSTRA COVER! The Crimson Harvest

Sorry to break it to you breeze belles, but you’re back in the land of the living. Sorry to break it to you catch clique, but the land of the living’s falling to bits. Sorry to break it to you kitty claws, but you haven’t killed god just yet. And sorry to break it to you adolescents, but the revolution ends here!

BOOM!

The shudder of thunder

ZAP!

Flames wince. Times stops. Snow falls like showers of feathers.

And there’s the flash

No more scenery to destroy. No more tricks to tease. No more moments to waste.

A man of ice and metal, stripped bare His facial armour the only thing left that wasn’t oily cogs and puffing dream steam On both knees, the Crimson Harvest above his head The ultimate clash of ultiswords

THE CRIMSON HARVEST

THE HOLY JUDGEMENT

ORDER?

CHAOS?

Glows red Glows blue All that was left of the ether dancers in this world So what’s gonna win?

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Holy Judgement


Here we are on the edge of the rainbow courtyard at the edge of the world. Three swordstrils and the Principal. Three anarchists and a megalomaniac. As the flame pits around them raged so hard they sparked and froze. As the snow fell so thick over them that it iced up and friction burned. As the chimes clunked so frantically that they appeared and disappeared like ghosts. As the sinking platform on which they stood threatened to make spooks of the lot of them.

Remedy clutched her blade. Standing over him. Her friends around her. Awake and alive and seeing clearly at last. I mean really clearly now. I mean triptastically so. I mean the way the rhythms of the world rose and fell, threaded and frolicked. I mean awake enough to know that anarchy was often your best bet. And that she was only a simple sword slice away from letting it flow.

REMEDY Shrugs her shoulders REMEDY Raises her swords REMEDY Finds time for a swift smirk...

Hold it a click, blitz belle; you’ve got a mouthful of rainbow teeth. That’s a souped-up ultisword you’ve got there Remy; it has a contagious personality... She grimaced for a moment. Felt somewhat blue. Eeer... oops?

ZARATHUSTRA: Overhand whack (hilt) HIT! REMEDY: Jaw Knockdown! And what’s more, she dropped her sword. Watching it clutter to a dismal halt at his stomping, cloggy feet. Studying a chunky blue tooth that had fallen from her mouth. Shouldn’t you be saving your supersword?

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HALO Blitzbreak chain Overhand whirl Backhand curl Spinning twirl COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! DISARM! CRACK! Broken nose Knockback! Across the sinking courtyard, clinging to the woodwork ESUNA Blitzbreak chain Rolling hoop Backhand loop Leaping swoop COUNTERED! ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! DISARM! WHACK!

Bruised skull Knockback! Across the sinking courtyard, clinging to the woodwork Three blitzers, one sword. Do the maths, students. Add up and weep.

REMEDY: Charging curl (BA) ZARATHUSTRA Three-step sweep DISARM! SMACK! Grazed cheek Slice knee Knockdown! Alright, so now the maths looked even worse

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Blades rolling into the surrounding frost pits. The courtyard sinking into ethereal mist. The battered blitzers having to scramble closer to the Principal just to stay afloat. Caught between an iceberg and a cold place. So now the victor stood tall. Zarathustra on a sinking raft of wood in an increasingly chilly sea. The flames becoming icy mists. You see the funny thing about life is this: And remember it’d be cruel to laugh, now. The funny thing about life is this: It has nasty twists in the tale.

So we’ve reached the end of our twisted trilogy. The Blitzblades crawling on hands and knees. On their knees at his feet where they belonged; on their knees and swordless. Let’s scalp these pesky kids and rub salt into the wounds. Just for the cold, contorted fun of it. Let’s really end with a chill. Let’s use their own ultisword on them.

“Yeeps!”

ZARATHUSTRA Ethertug SNATCH! THE HOLY JUDGEMENT Up off the floor REMEDY Nanotug SNATCH! THE CRIMSON HARVEST Out of his grasp

She didn’t know she could do that. She didn’t really know what she did. The blades hovering between them.

ETHERCAST NANOCAST Holy Judgement Crimson Harvest Flipping over in the air Pointing at their would-be victims “Yike!” The tink-tonk of chimes. The flow of sleet. The roar of flame beds. Speeding into silence at the end of the world.

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ZARATHUSTRA NANOCAST Crimson Harvest Hovers towards her head

REMEDY ETHERCAST Holy Judgement Hovers towards his chest

The clashing of EM fields. The buzzing of dueling blades. The breezing of ether and the fuzzing of nanos. The eye of the storm.

CRIMSON HARVEST

HOLY JUDGEMENT

Order versus anarchy

So what have we learned about the forces of the wide, wild world? That they’re wide and wild and that if you’re really special you can freak them. What have we learned about people? That they’re pretty much reflections of the world. And what have we learned about learning? Whether we use our eyes or ears, fears or imaginations. What have we learned about learning? That it carries on until the end. And even then, there’s still stuff left to flip you. Zarathustra’s evil eyes. Stitched on to a cog-covered skeleton, they were. Given that Remedy now had the questionable benefit of close inspection. Remedy on the floor. Zarathustra on his feet. The ultiswords making arrows at them in the eye of the storm. Remedy’s eager eyes. Flickering somewhat, not quite herself. Feeling stroppier somehow; as if she was being puppeteered. Gasping at those swords. Blood bulging, breath buckling. 800, 400, 200BPM... Remedy and Zarathustra on the edge of a sinking world. Just enough space for them and two floored blitzers. And just enough time for one decisive strike. Remedy. Zarathustra. Which one would it be? Sword to sword. Soul to soul. The fizz of the blades shattering the silence.

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FZZZZ!

ZAP!

WHIRRR!

Eye to eye. Remedy and Zarathustra. Her’s their usual sprightly tangerine. His... one red, one black. “Mojo?”

And that’s how Remedy lost the last tug of war on the final sprig of land at the edge of the world. Because she missed someone. Fool you once; dandy, fool you twice; fine, fool you three times; you fool. Remedy losing her grip on the EM fields. The plateau freezing over. Esuna’s boots eaten by ice.

Remedy feeling the Crimson Harvest poking at her skin. Her blood freezing over. Halo’s boots nipped by frost.

The blitzers feeling the rhythms of the world falling into order. Still and static, bland and resigned. Icing the world to sleep again.

Because that was what Zarathustra had been looking for. Not power, not conquest, not riches, not even control. Zarathustra was looking for only one thing. For living life and losing love and the waking world to finally be over.

Forever, I mean, and for everyone. Because life’s better when it’s over. Life’s better when it’s risk-free. Life’s better when it’s just a dream.

So that’s how the world was lost. Oh, come on kitty claw, isn’t that eating away at your boots waking you up? It had woken Halo up, that was for sure. So what do you want; a world ruled by overt order or clumsy chaos? We haven’t got forever, you know!

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Holy Judgement


HALO Forward roll over Remedy’s back >SCRIPP!< SNATCH! The Crimson Harvest The Holy Judgement HIT!

...

Through Halo’s heart Flips her head back Flips her hair back Eye to evil eye Only not the way you might think

... … ... ... ...

She kept it covered for a reason, you know. Because it reminded her she didn’t belong here. Triple pupil, it was. Just like a mirror. Some people just don’t belong in this world. There’s nothing you can really do for them. Just let them find their way... “Back to the grave, falso deus!”

BLINK!

Now Halo’s eye was like an egg yoke, Nike tick... Wait, time had missed something back there. Snuck in through the cracks...

SNATCH! The Holy Judgement Plunge! HIT! Through Zarathustra’s eye >SCRIPP!<

There are two ways the world can end. Melodi knew; she’d seen it end once already. And worst luck, she’d survived it. There are two ways the world can end. Just don’t get caught too close to the mushroom cloud. There are two ways the world can end. In annihilation or emancipation. But it ain’t ending today, metal mickey. Because ether dancers lived their lives backwards. They gave birth to their parents. They saw the future. They lived when they died. And this is the day the world begins!

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Holy Judgement


The Octet were the souls of ether dancers, crafted into swords. You can see them everywhere, in the traits of human beings. But you need all the pieces of the orchestra to play the tune. It’s all about gravity, magnetics and maths. Plus a pinch of mythology. Echoes of heaven. The sounds which set all that mere matter into motion. So here we have all the EM fields super-colliding together. EM becoming ESP; matter of fact to matter of opinion. Which way does Halo want the wind to blow? The hand which wields the ultisword rocks the world. Riff 8, kittyclaw.

EM mash!

Seems suicidal? C’est seppaku? Nein, il est …. The chimes smash The snow burns The flames flare The blast of truth engulfing their eardrums Destroying everything.

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But it’d be wrong to end it there. It wouldn’t be fun and it wouldn’t be fair. Because we’re living in a world of freaky mirrors, aren’t we? When something happens, so does it’s opposite.

Because another blast from the blue and the world was there again. Only better than before. An ether dancing family reunited. The rhythm of their heartbeats raining down on the world. EM fields folding back on themselves. Big crunch, big bang.

Which leaves the blitzblades in a slight conundrum. As Zarathustra’s eye was pierced, his nanos scattered by the snag in the track and his ordered little world fell to pieces, sunken back into the Rhine. It doesn’t leave them in the best of places, does it? The blast zone. Halo with a grin. Remedy with a frown. Esuna with a grimace.

A magnetic surge passing through them. Stripping away Zarathustra’s cogs and Halo’s skin. Swords engulfed by rainbows of colours. Every hue turning blue. And after that, all Remedy and Esuna remembered was the breeze.

Well, its hard to say, isn’t it? I suppose the dead ones didn’t win. That means there was only Elegy left. But this didn’t feel like a victory. Elegy and... Elegy and... Two dots flying across the ether., hazy through the fuzzfield. Elegy clambered out of the crumpled fruit shed and dusted herself off. Keeping an eye on those dipping specs. An eye and an ear. The Holy Plateau in the distance; the Bardo Thodol. Fluctuating anarchically. Off and on like a roving searchlight. Appearing and disappearing. Here then gone.

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Two falling specs on the horizon. Becoming blobs. Becoming people. Becoming friends... CRASH!

Two flying Blitzblades into the other fruit sheds with a whoosh and a smash. An uneven three! All tied in knots, caped in fractured noises, but whole again. And better still, together.

“Hey, Remy.” “W . t?” “Hey, Esu.” “.ha.?” “You’re alive!” “You’se alive.” “We’s alive!” Remedy with a tentative point of the finger. Scrambling up from the broken balsa and mashed popatoe juice.

“Eeer, kitties; the doomcloud.” Ah yes, the doomcloud. Seen in negative through the fuzz field, of course. A momentous rush of ice, careering towards them; clattering across the flame sea between the plates. Solidifying the ether seas. Frazzling the fuzz fields. Tink-tonking the earth as if playing piano keys.

RUMBLE!

RUMBLE!

RUMBLE!

“Muddledy.. ” FIZZ!

They felt it in their bones first. Then their blood. Then their feet. Then all their senses at once. Ah, the waterfall! Cascading over the wide, wild world. ESP ultiwave! Popping their ears. Spanglifying their heartbeats. Filling their world with colour.

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Holy Judgement


Right through them... and gone. They pulled at their ears and reasserted their balance. Squinted hard and looked at themselves. At each other. At the wide, wild world as the etherwave sped through it as it had them. Breaking barriers. Burning nanos. Freeing people. “Woah, do you’se hear that?” The chatter of jojibirds. The echoes of the earth. The skip of their heartbeats. The breeze in the trees. All at once.

Polyphonic!

Yep; rhythm. Because music makes the world go round! And at last the swordtrils heard it.

Altogether now; hallelujah. Remedy giggled to herself. Felt fresh and new and light and... Breezy.

“Ooh, I’s feelin spoony.” “Like the pyro on a pyre.” “Does that mean we’s dead?” “Nah kitz, we’s awake! The world’s awake; look at it!” “Just like Freia meant it, see? She was teachin’ us totality all the time.” “Teaching us reality.” “Without all that stompy, vexy order.” “The lickle blue girl did us all proud!” (Sighs) “And Halo too?” “But wait, what’s that noise, kitz?” (Goes to draw a sword... doesn’t have one) “There’s beasties in thiz pliz.” “No, no. Those are just birds.” “Birds? What are they doing if they’s not attackin’?” “I think they’re.. singing.”

They dusted themselves off and checked their blades. A mixture of smiles and frowns. Because they didn’t have any. Well, maybe none of them would ever need swords again. They were only ever echoes of death anyway.

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“I

feel spangly.” “I feel light.” “You’se feel tuney kitz.”

Remedy was right of course. The whole wide, wild world had gone tuney. Sweety cool cocoa sapphire tuney, I’ll have you know. Because as the twittering jojibirds, the humming earth, the beating hearts and the rhythmic breeze would testify, there’s melody in everything. All you need do is let out a breath, look around and experience it. The music of nature.

And if that’s anarchic... Well then lock me in the squib pen and alert an übergimp because chaos can be cool. Reality as it’s meant to be.

“So what do we do now?” “I dunno. Find some people to share it with?” “This is the part where it’s all ‘sposed to fade out, right?” “Well, shall we fade out side, edge or tip?” “I dunno kittyclaw, how about this; we go wherever the breeze takes us.”

So they started walking. Not because they had anywhere to go. Just because they could. What’s the point of going anywhere if you fool yourself there’s any other point than that?

Psytopia had woken up. That’s quite a result, as it happens. Big gold stars all round. People could hear music again. The world had officially started. So we have a happy-ish ending, don’t we? And three heroines to explore a brave new age. Fingers crossed they’ll use their experiences in the wide,wild world to do a little better than their predecessors. A wide wild world based on chaos? A wide wild world based on order? Now that our heads are clear, let’s base the wide, wild world on something better than that. Let’s base the wide, wild world on a bit of both.

So what would they do now? Three blitzers and a wide, wild world. Three blitzers with panoramic hearing, tuneful heartbeats and normal shadows. Where would they go and what would they do? Well, what do you think they’ll do? Whatever those choose. We can‘t be taught what to do without tutors. So we learn from the wide, wild world. And what we learn is to work it all out for ourselves.

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Psytopia Adagio 3: Holy Judgement, 4th Verse