Chapter 1: Messages
Hundreds of feet below the land, a dark stone covered room was slowly lit by flames. Dew dripped from the ceiling in slow flow, yet the flames were not hindered. The place was big enough to hold a few hundred people but only a few stood in this room, around an altar covered in strange symbols. The altar was trenched heavily in the ground as if it seemed to go far beyond the room’s floor.
The place was quiet save for the whispers of the cloaked figures. On the chest of their cloaks a symbol of an oak tree, decaying brown and with star-shaped leaves weathered and blackened, falling into place.
It was unclear what race these figures herald from only that all were short in height, all except one. The leader stood taller than all of them. With a large knife in hand, he walked to the center. There a woman with a horse-shaped face and a thin layer of gray fur covering most of her body. Her hair, much like a mane was blonde and tied in a bun to prevent extra movement. She laid nearly naked in her sparse attire, bound and gagged to the altar.
Stopping inches from the altar, the lead cultist threw his free hand out and sprinkles of liquid flew from his hand over the altar and victim’s face. With his other hand, he gently placed down the knife upon her chest, laying its handle perfectly between her breast and aiming the point toward her womb. Taking a deep breath he pulled back his hands and laid them on the rim of the altar.
Green flames spit from his sleeves around the very same rim, covering every side, yet never once touch the woman. The others gasped in joy to his seemingly impossible actions. After which he raised his hands up and prayed some words in silence. The only noise that could be heard in this was the struggles of the woman. More shock gathered on the watchers’ faces as the large knife levitated upward. Once it got high enough the point turned downward and dropped swiftly.
The struggling slowed to a quick halt and blood poured forth over the green flames slowly dowsing each spark. In fact, all the light in the room quickly followed as the last thing to be seen as the symbol on the cultists’ cloaks before darkness consumed everything.
There was nothing but pitch blackness as far as one could possibly ever see, when out of seemingly nowhere a long string of light shot outward cutting through the black void. A train covered in green gears and smoke traced along the lace floating with no ground below it at all. The machine punched with loud sounds as it traveled quite far until it came right up next to a floating mass of land so huge and it almost stretched on with no end, yet the train moved just fast enough to get past it without any problems.
Inside the train, many people sat, each unique in their own way from colors to contrast, but the most obvious part was that they were of multiple species.
Soon a voice spoke from the intercom, “We are currently passing under the Kentrikós Wall, home of the great Athánatos Citadel. Next stop, Dílosi Abbey.” On that, they all looked to the ceiling window to see a grand fortress floating at the center of it all, surrounded by a massive wall. Not sealed within a skydome or on a form of landmass it was instead surrounded by black and purple clouds. It was peppered with clear crystals and very ancient gears far older than the ones from the lands below. Most of all great light shone from it, providing all the light of every landmass.
Suddenly the train stopped and a concentrated light shot out of the citadel. Many of the travelers gasped. The voice on the intercom spoke again, this time with so much more joy. “This is a treat, it seems one of the legendary kanonikós wants to join us.”
On that, the light phased through the ceiling and a woman of a basic color with bold blue wings in a leathery armor and a letter in her hand dropped down. She slowly looked to them all as they quickly bowed to her. She waved her hands over them, but they kept to the honor and worship. Annoyed she walked over to a chair and sat down. “You can continue with your work, conductor.”
“Of course, miss…?”
“Alqamar… now can we get moving already?!” Her first words were soft which is what they all expected of the Kanonikós, yet her second words were quite the opposite. Least to say, her rage was a bit off-putting. The kanonikós were known to be pure beings, void of dark emotions with wise words far beyond mortal knowledge, however, this kanonikós was far different than one ever expected.
The train returned to its standard movement. It shook with the first few seconds before going to a softer motion. She was very glad about this as she kept the letter tight to herself, not even letting the nearest children getting the sight of it.
Once everyone had turned away from her, Alqamar looked out the window and gave a small smile. Another landmass passed by her view and then another. Eventually, several landmasses could be seen of varying sizes. Each one having their own climates systems, oceans, valleys, caves, and even deserts.
“The Stádia have not changed much over the years. Their gears still work as strong as ever.” Alqamar noted each one with care.
Soon enough the train reached its stop. Touching the edge of a landmass, the sky of it shook like a bubble. Inside, a coloring of light flowed over everyone. The train continued to a building before stopping.
“We have arrived at Dílosi Abbey,” the intercom echoed.
The doors opened and many different species of anthropomorphic proportions exited. There was the brilliant Katzenartig race that stood taller than most and was cat-like in form, then the bold Manu race with their feathery limbs, next the fast-moving Câinesc race with their aerodynamic wolf-like bodies, slowly behind them was the Tokki race always strong and swift with their tough bodies were not to be judged so lightly by their bunny ears alone and finally the last to exit was the Ghoda race with there short stubby bodies with long horse-like faces being their best feature.
After the train emptied the Alqamar finally exited, “Great… great freakin great,” she huffed. “I finally return after five thousand years only to get on the wrong damn train?!” She waved her head back and forth and left to find another train.
Outside was smoky but far brighter than outside the bubble’s safety. The buildings were pumping out steam and were strained a brown-blackish hue. Everyone was in a cold like attire and had almost mini takes on the gears on them as either fashion or used as tech.
She pulled back from the smell before yanking her hood up and quickly scanned over the train stop. Once she spotted the proper train she made her way to it. “Finally, the quicker I get this done, the quicker I can go see…” Her words slowed and her harshness faded. “I just want to see them… Brother please, don’t be lying to--”
She was stopped by crashing into a katzenartig man in a fine suit. “Sorry,” the man apologized without looking at her.
“Sorry? Do you know who I am--” She stopped upon noticing he had already left. Her eyes widened and she reached for her pockets and the letter. She gave a sigh of relief once she knew everything was in place. “Good, now where was I?”
“The train for Bhoomi is about to leave.”
“Shit!” She ran off, not noticing that the man actually watched her leave before finally going on his own way.
The man watched for one very important reason and it was emblazoned on his ring, it was the same symbol of the letter. The symbol of a very lively yellow oak tree covered with green star-shaped leaves.
“Huh, Could that letter had been for…” He stopped his thoughts at the sound of a loud gonging. He turned to the clocktower and frowned. “Oh, it looks like it’s almost time.”
Underground, a loud bang knocked down the wall unveiling light to the altar and the now rotting corpse of the ghoda. Long abandoned, large anthropomorphic bug-like beings were feasting on it.
Out of the light, a small barrel covered in small gears reached through and blasted the head off of one of the bugs, making the other rush away in fear. The barrel fired again hitting the coward in the leg. A hand raised up and the weapon lowered.
A white male katzenartig with brown tipped ears in bold armor with bladed tips rushed forward. With a quick movement, he sliced the bug’s head clean off.
“Wow, I’m not sure if that was called for. The hmyz were simply doing what they did best.” A female light blue katzenartig with pink tipped ears in a purple lab coat slowly approached the corpse of the ghoda. She looked it over carefully before looking to the hmyz lying dead and closed her eyes to give a small prayer before stepping over it to get a better look at the corpse of greater importance.
“Really, Lily. It’s my duty to put down any creature that dares bring disrespect to--”
“Disrespect?!” Lily questioned. From her lab coat, she pulled out a magnifying glass, a pen, and a notepad. “Centaurea, you and I both know you have no respect for any species outside of our own. It matters to you not whether this body was being eaten by the hmyz or being treated with care by another ghoda, you would kill them all the same. Now shew, I need to work.” She waved him away. “Get your soldiers out of here before you ruin the scene even more.”
“Fine,” He huffed and kicked at the hmyz. “Damn bug--”
“Actually, an insect is at least a kinder term,” she quickly corrected him.
“Nevermind,” he walked off finally.
Once they were all gone Lily took in a deep breath and pulled out a strange stick. “I need better light.” She waved it around like a wand yet nothing happened. “Huh, not working like the old legends say. Not much of an early birthday present, godfather.” She smiled and looked over the small carving of a crescent before placing it back in her pocket. “Proper science it is then.” She picked up the magnifying glass and looked over the body. With her other hand, while placing the notepad on her knee she took note of everything she saw.
“Hmm, the tint of her skin and the smell postmortem put her two days ago. Also, due to signs of malnourishment, she was clearly kept alive before sacrifice.” She looked over to the hmyz bodies. “Yet, they would have noticed the smell far sooner than two days. Really this body should have been picked clean before we got here.” She leaned down to the hmyz and poked it’s gut twice in certain spots before pulling back and writing more down. “Well, that explains a lot, these two were starving. Must have taken them much longer to find it, but why?”
Lily pulled back completely and looked at the altar. “Maybe…” She walked around it slowly noting every detail. In particular, she took note of the burn marks and the traces they flowed over the trenches both on top of the altar and below. She stopped at the front as something caught her attention. She peered over down to the sight of a cloth. She pulled at it, only to find that it stuck to the altar. Looking closer she could see strange lines. “That is interesting.” She narrowed her eyes on the lines before moving back up to the top of the altar. Her eyes widened at the fact the lines traced through the burn marks. She wiped her finger over the ash and brought it right up to her eyes before taking a good sniff of it. “I see.” She finished her notes and called Centaurea back in.
“So what did you find?”
“More questions than answers.”
“That’s not helping.”
“Yes, but I know what will? Or should I say who?”
“What do you mean by who?”
Lily leaned back down and lifted the cloth, “Look at these lines,”
“What about them?”
“This is tech.”
Centaurea looked closer before looking to Lily puzzled. “Sis, I’m not a tech expert at all so just looking isn’t helping.”
“I know that. But there is only one company on this Stádia that makes tech like this.” She instantly frowned at that last part.
“Which company--” Centaurea’s questioning finally stopped once he realized who she was meaning. “Wait, you mean, you want to get help from that mutt?”
“Of course not, after he broke my best friend’s heart.” She complained back. “But this is the fourth murder this month. Each murder has been with each species except…” Her eyes widened, She quickly handed Centaurea her notepad. “Hurry, get this to him now. I know he will see the same thing I do and hopefully get the message in time.” She rushed to the exit.
“Wait, stop!” Centaurea yelled to her. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to set a trap.” She smiled.
“You’ll see. I need that jackass to have something done by the end of tomorrow at the latest.” She ran off even faster into the light outside.
Hidden deep in a maze of books on languages and dumbbells of varying sizes a slapping sound repeated over and over. The hits were strong and brash but very powerful as they knocked the punching bag back and forth. A tanned arm with blue feathers punched and elbowed before following with a kick and a knee jab. The limbs had plenty of sweat and certainly toned, but not overly tough like a beefcake would be.
“Kahi, time for lunch!” a young boyish voice cut through the noise.
The hitting stopped and the feathery arm reached over to a towel and placed over the head of a twenty-two-year-old tomgirl manu woman of thin build in a blue tank top and cargo pants. “Okay, Patariyaan, tell Aunty Low that I will up in a minute.”
Kahi threw down the towel onto an old safe. She grabbed a book laying on the safe and opened to a marked page. “Hmm, kya aap ek kriya ke saath sab kuchh badal sakate hain?” She stopped reading for a moment and looked toward an old faded picture of a gray manu man with blue feathers on his head. “Hmm, what do you think it means, father?” She let loose a little laugh and finally translated. “Can you change everything with a single action?” Closing the book she decided to answer the question with a smirk. “Not sure what you would say, but I would gladly say... no.”
“Come on, cuz, I told her now let’s go!” The boyish voice returned.
“Damn he’s fast.” Kahi placed the book down and grabbed a good shirt to put on and walked off to the door. She exited up through three flights of stairs and jumped at the last few steps.
“Cool, I wish mom let me do that!” A short pepper red-haired ghoda boy ran around Kahi as they made their way to the kitchen.
“Your mom would never forgive me if you got hurt and neither would your friend, Mutthee.”
“I could care less,” another ghoda kid walked by with a juice box in her hand. “Really, Dash would be the one most pissed off.”
“Yeah, sissy Dash would probably give you a black eye again.”
Kahi laughed, “What are you talking about? I was the one who gave her the black eye after she attempted to break my arm.”
“I thought she did break your arm.” Patariyaan pulled at the arm hoping for a reaction.
“Ahhh,” Kahi faked a scream of agony. “No, stop that hurts.”
Patariyaan retracted his move only to struggle away when Kahi snuck her other arm around and picked the small one up. The two laughed until they reached the kitchen. There a red manu woman of middle age with brown feathers was setting the table.
“Oh, boy, Toúvlo!”
The food was a grouping of vegetables around a small brick of food mush cut and cook to perfection. Though the blend was always unknown to all of them, it was the best they could afford, being barely three bronze coins at the shop. It all sat in the center of a long table with fifty chairs, each with their own plate.
“About time you get here.” Aunty Low stopped for a moment as the two got to their chairs. “Which slice do you want Kahi?”
“Hmm, the front end, of course. A small slice please.” Kahi took a seat at the far end.
“And what does my little one want.” Low rubbed Patariyaan’s head.
“Mom, I’m not so little anymore. I’m ten years old now.”
“Of course you are, Pata?” She kissed her son’s forehead. He frowned in annoyance and looked away.
“I told you, my full name sounds much better.” He leaned away and smiled.
“That’s true, but you’re not old enough to hold your father’s full name yet.”
“Kahi thinks I am!”
Hearing mentions of Patariyaan’s father brought such joy to Kahi as she watched them talk. She remembered back when her father would pick on her about such small things.
“So, Patariyaan. Which piece do you want?”
“The--” He was stopped as a rush of other ghoda kids ran into the room and rushed to their chairs. Much to his annoyance Mutthee was sitting right beside him now. “Oh, I’ll just go for what’s left.”
“Don’t worry, I have extra in the back.” Low handed Kahi a slice before moving to the others, one at a time, finally ending with Patariyaan and Mutthee being last.
“Really, you got paid extra today?” Kahi questioned.
“Actually, no… the shop snuck an extra one out for us.” Low looked away at her words. Kahi stopped her questioning at that. She didn’t want to push on how her aunt really got the extra piece. They’ve always had it tough and having such a large orphanage didn’t help the problem. Kahi and Dash could only get so much work done, leaving much of the rest up to Low. Wherever her aunt was getting this extra money she wasn’t going to press it.
They were eating with a mix of fashions. Low ate slow with a fork and mostly made sure everyone else got their slice down, Kahi held the slice in her hand while Patariyaan and FIst raced to see who would finish first.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. “Huh, I thought, Dash said she would be arriving back from the Gear Factory tomorrow,” Patariyaan remarked. He quickly regretted asking as Mutthee loudly announced her victory halfway through his words.
“I thought that as well.” Low placed down her fork and was about to leave the table when Kahi waved her hand up.
“Don’t worry, I’ll check on it.” Kahi got up and walked over to the door while munching down her slice in a few final bits. The knock was repeated, this time louder. “Wow, not that patient are you--” Kahi opened it but stopped her annoyance. “Hello… a Kanonikós.”
Standing on the other side was Alqamar with the letter in her hand. “Oh, you look different from your picture,” she remarked while looking back to a letter.
As far as Kahi could tell there was no picture in the Kanonikós’s hand at all, just the envelope. One thing did catch Kahi’s eye, a strange symbol that looked very familiar. “A very lively yellow oak tree covered with green star-shaped leaves. The symbol from my father’s old safe?” She whispered to herself.
“Are you Hoʻokumu Koa?”
“No, I am Kahi Koa. His daughter.”
“Fine." She huffed to Kahi's answer but handed the letter forward nonetheless. "I have a letter for you.”
Deep under the roads of Dílosi Abbey lights flashed back and forth as many câinesc jumped and twisted to the fast beats of music. They danced through a large cave with a stand in the center where a makeshift stage laid. Many of them were filled with joy, while a select few getting a little too close.
Slowly crawling through the crowd a singular purple câinesc with blue-tipped curly hair going around his face. He wore a fancy burgundy blazer with blue gloves. He leaned back and forth, sniffing the scent of the women, especially the ones enjoying the party too much. Behind him, a white katzenartig in a gray soldier’s uniform with a red trim line followed with slight disappointment.
The purple câinesc grabbed a drink and gulped it down really fast before grabbing a sexy câinesc woman from another kissing her boldly. This action pissed off the câinesc man she was dancing with. The purple câinesc was quickly punched right in the face. “Don’t you touch my woman.”
“Oh, your woman?” The purple câinesc man pulled back and smiled nonetheless. “Because I could have sworn I was fucking this bitch last night.” The woman quickly slapped him for his words.
The white katzenartig stepped forward, but the purple câinesc waved at him.
“Calm down, Verfolger. I was just having fun. It is my party.”
On that the attacker pulled back in shock and quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, Lupan Noapte. I didn’t realize it was you.”
“It’s okay,” Lupan pulled out a few silver coins. “Let’s just forget it happened. I was clearly mistaken.”
The câinesc man and woman smiled at the money before apologizing again and turning back to the party. Lupan gave a small wink to the woman before turning away. Verfolger looked to these actions with surprise, before slowly breaking into laughter. “Now I see, you knew she was a hooker the moment you saw her.”
“Of course. I know the scent of nearly every hooker on this landmass.” Lupan turned toward the center of the party and kept walking. “Thought I might help her score big with that câinesc man in return for the lovely moment she treated me ‘three weeks ago’.”
“So, not last night?”
“Of course not. I was dreaming of your sister.” Lupan snickered before taking another drink. “Speaking of which, do you think your sister will show up this time?”
“I think she is still pissed at you.”
“Damn, sweetest woman I’ve been with. I don’t think I will ever find a replacement.”
“You could go visit Lily.”
“You know that bitch would never touch me.”
“True, just saying it’s her birthday tomorrow as well.”
“Don’t remind me.” Lupan waved his hand around. “Look all I want to do right now is to have fun with these câinesc.”
“Riiight? Sometimes, I don’t think you want to any other woman than my sister.” Verfolger stopped at the stairway to the center stage, while Lupan continued onward. “Either way, knock them dead.”
“What kind of freakin genius would I be if I didn’t?” Lupan placed the drink down and raised up his gloves. On the gloves were the same type of tech from the altar. He pressed his fingers at the center of his gloves, the music slowed and the volume lowered. “Hello, incredible people in this lovely fucking stádia.” His voice traveled far despite him not yelling. The crowd cheered back. “I am Lupan Noapte! And tomorrow it’s my birthday! Twenty-five and finally at proper drinking age!” He lowered his voice with some laughter, “Though, that legal stuff has always been a bit of a suggestive term to me. I’ve been drinking since I gained the legal right to fuck.” The crowds cheered louder. “And to that notion, let make this party so epic that you will be telling your grandchildren about it for years.”
They all lifted their hands and cheered to their loudest volumes. Lupan smirked and turned to Verfolger, “Come on, let’s have some fun.”
“I think I’ll stay down here.”
“Suit yourself!” With that final word, Lupan jumped backward and laid in the arms of the crowds. He closed his eyes and just listen to the music and the feeling of all the hands pushing him higher and higher. This was truly a blissful moment, a rarity for him lately and one he would rather enjoy to the best of his abilities.
He even let his mind wander at one moment. Traces of a certain shape became clear in his mind. A girl with big goofy glasses and an overly thick sweater--
Without warning the music stopped. Lupan found his thoughts fading and himself falling to the ground. The bang to the head snapped his eyes open. He looked to his gloves with confusion, pressing the nodes over and over.
“Well, well. Lupan. Why am I not surprised to find a mutt like you among criminals?” A voice spoke up through the silence.
“Wait?” Lupan’s eyes raced up to a white katzenartig, “Huh, hello Centaurea.”
“It’s Captain now,” Centaurea spoke up with a bit of snarkiness in his voice before reaching his hand out.
“Really? You got a promotion since I left the Corps.” Lupan slowly took the hand. “What’s the great captain want then?”
“There has been a murder…”
Lupan’s face fell and his teeth gritted. “And you’re here why? I would have thought someone upstanding and rather sexy like your adopted sister would love a case like this.”
“Actually, she wants us to handle the case. All three of us,” Centaurea got tired of holding his hand and pulled him up. “We’ve got until the end of tomorrow. She apparently has a plan.”
“Great…” Lupan deadpanned but waved Verfolger over all the same. Once they were together, Centaurea waved his own hand and the soldiers behind him placed down their weapons and arrested the rest.
The Athánatos Citadel lowered it’s height and the great light and heat it brought fade over the many stádia. Soon it was so far down that it was beyond what the eye could see. The species of all took this time to rest. Some of them slept, others broke free of work and few even settled down for the darkness was coming.
Inside a small room were many beds lying right next to each other Kahi laid down in silence.
“Why do you think it descends, Kahi?” Patariyaan questioned as he looked outside with a soft smile.
“From what I read of my father’s note, the Athánatos Citadel leaves the Kentrikós Wall to give light to the prisons of Niflheim. It’s a kindness for those less fortunate.” Kahi kept looking at the letter.
“Where is Niflheim again?”
“At the very bottom of it all. Beyond the darkness of the dead zone and spiraling of the great matter reefs...” Kahi started to mumble the rest. Really, her mind was on the letter in her hand.
“Can you two stop?” Mutthee complained. “I would like to get some sleep.”
“No, I want to hear more,” Patariyaan snapped back.
“You always do.”
“No, she’s right,” Kahi finally answered. “You all need to get some sleep for tomorrow’s chores.”
“Fine,” Patariyaan huffed before turning away from the window and lying back down. He turned to Kahi and saw her still looking at the letter. He scooted closer and whispered, “Are you going to ever read that?”
“Shush,” Mutthee snapped again.
Kahi laughed a little before putting the letter down. Actually, she was tempted many times to open the letter, but she was simply too afraid. So many things were left unsaid when her father left. He left so long ago that she could barely even remember his voice let alone know what he was thinking when he left her in the orphanage. Kahi’s mind raced on so many possible answers, but she dare not open the letter. What if he was hurt? What if he was dead? What if he found a new family? That last thought had crossed her mind once or twice over the years, but this was the first time it brought a tear to her eye.
She couldn’t take the chance. If anything she needed to ignore the letter and continue to live on this landmass, this family needed her after all. Watching over and teaching these young souls to grow into good adults brought her happiness. It felt good, but it also… felt like it wasn’t her calling.
Finally taking a deep breath, she pulled over the letter and closed her eyes. The sounds of ripping first brought forth more fear than ever before, but soon calmness poured over as she slowly opened her eyes.
Inside was a train ticket and a note. She was quite confused by this and sat up quietly. She brought the note closer and read. The more she read, the more her eyes widened. She dare not speak the words of the letter aloud, but it was very clear this needed to be answered.
She got out of her bed, then stopped and looked back over the kids as they all slept. Slight doubt clouded her mind at that moment.
“What are you doing?” Patariyaan whispered once more.
Kahi turned around and spoke softly, “I’m just going for a walk.”
“No,” Patariyaan could always see when Kahi was lying.
“...Yeah, I’m going to go do something important. Tell Low I’ll stay out of trouble and come home soon.”
“Hmm, okay.” On that Patariyaan opened the window and smiled, “Go now. And have fun.”
“Of course,” On that Kahi’s fears faded and she rushed over to the closet. She was now in such a hyper mood suddenly that she started to flip over some of the beds to prevent crashing into them. She grabbed some clothes and flip back finally reaching the window. She opened the window and padded Patariyaan on the head. “Thanks,”
“No problem.” Patariyaan quickly hugged her. “Just give that uncle of mine a big hug for me.”
“I will.” With that final word she hopped through the window and ran off to the train station. The closer she got the more a single thought crossed her mind more than ever. It made the fears fade and her hope grow even stronger. “I won’t fail you father.”
Back on Dílosi Abbey, a group of hooded figures gathered down an alley. They quickly surrounded a katzenartig with knives and chains ready.