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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [Chapter 6.2] On the Horizon

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Time Frame: September though October

As things in Congo heated up and unfolded into full war, the children of Teras picked out one of the isles in the pacific that Puck was willing to sell, and began to move their entire body of nova's there, youngest to oldest, with Bounty being heavily involved. Much like the club in Ibiza, however, they had decided that the entire Isle would be open to nova's only, no baselines allowed, and already Surge had created a electromagnetic barrier around the isle. Now, they had a number of building projects in progress, including a new dance/nightclub that was intended to be even more remarkable then the one in Ibiza..

Their building projects were carefully designed not to interfere with much of the Isle's beache, and as much as they went up, they also went down into the water around the isle and deep under the earth as well.. but they also were not that far from the Isle that the Anisvasi had taken, so that members could easily move between the two places, and it was a different isle then the one Puck was moving Exalt too.. but that one was also not far away.

In fact, the isle's were rabiding drawing further attention from the world due to the shear number of Nova's that were begining to move in this area, enough that it could be considered a super power in it's own right.

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Darrik didn't work with art frequently, but he figured some more practice in this instance couldn't hurt. That instance being the crafting of some baby cribs. It was about time to do so, what with Agatha and Gwen's stomachs reaching the expanse associated with the final trimester. He still felt quietly embarrassed deep inside about the whole matter. He never intended to impregnate them yet, but it had happened, and perhaps inside, he glowed at the thought of his kids.

He cleaned the section of wood cleanly to ensure no splinters or injurious protrusions of any sort would be present- though with nova children- even the parenting classes taken could go out the window. Certainly the to be borns would be kept in their cribs close at hand during the night, for parental oversight.

And names? Though Gwen's girls would be first, ironically, he had one more in mind for Agatha's boy. Darrik had gotten the girlfriends' agreement on that one- more discussion raged on the girl names. Darrik stared at the cleaned nameplate of wood, and began engraving on the last third of it. Salvatore.

Somehow, Darrik just knew he'd be naming his son that, tears coming to his eyes. He wondered if little Sal would turn out looking like his grandfather.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chang sat upon a chair in a room darkened save for a single directed lamp which threw illumination onto an alcove set into the back wall. A glistening black pedestal was erected there, and atop it was a flawless black oval. The pedestal and oval both were formed of the same morphic latex that once made up Lucrezia’s body.

Now she would be gone, of course. Within the chrysalis a Nova broke down into raw quantum patterns. Consciousness splintered, the subconscious led the way. At least it had been that way for Chang. She knew what transpired around her, but her awareness was dulled and ability to respond nil.

That was why Chang sometimes said she spent much of her days here in this silent room below even the growing Court of Shadows. In truth she missed her wife and could be no closer to her than this.

Chang sat on a chair modelled very much like Lucrezia’s body-pedastal, watching. Her hair was in the shape of a rather simple hooded jumper emblazoned on the back with an image of Lucrezia’s chrysalis, along with ripped jeans and boots with more buckles than could ever be needed. Nostalgia lay in the clothes. She used to dress this way often before her return to the Teragen, before she embraced the sensual side of her nature.

She did not feel as beautiful as usual. There was no mystery to this. Lucrezia was like most beautiful and desirable women in that they made the object of their affections feel a good degree more attractive than they might otherwise be.

There were lovers lining up to take Chang’s cock or pleasure her in other ways if they could not. She had been careful to cultivate adherents that could. Sex was a boiling hunger in her, and never hotter than when she felt tired. Of late she felt tired more than ever. At the same time, sex had lost much of its usual appeal. It was food, something needed for proper functioning.

Chang stretched her arm out across the room, and caressed Lucrezia’s chrysalis. Her wife might feel that, or be aware of it, or be aware of nothing at all. Under her touch the latex shimmered and shifted, as if a pool disturbed by a dropped rock. It was smooth, almost frictionless, cool to the touch.

Longing, love, desire, deception… they were all within that small oval. That’s what you are, isn’t it my love? And when you emerge you will be so much more that than you were before.

She rose, reabsorbing her chair as she did. It was unseemly to spend too long here, her own wishes be damned. There were things to be done, and at the very least Chang needed to be sure there was a world waiting for her wife when the chrysalis hatched.

Chang stuffed her hands into her pockets as she left the chamber and then stretched her torso up a winding flight of stairs. At the top she slammed her head into the ground, liquified, snapped back and reformed standing at the top of the stairwell, mid-stride.

The Court of Mirrors awaited.


The Anavasi were not being lazy on the Kiribati islands. Puck’s gift was being put through its paces while the veritable army of artists, geniuses and beauties waited for Mad Lab’s slush fund to gather enough zeroes to support their projects.

Sin-Eater’s Anavasi had burrowed deep into the bedrock, carving out a cavern system that formed the basis for the Court of Shadows, while the displaced stone was being taken and used to shape the Court of Mirrors above. As yet it was unfinished, a mansion-sized structure with a hundred chambers and rooms. Many of them were wildly impractical, the result of fits of artistic pique that created stairwells of raging fire or rooms with non-euclidean geometry or which were only debatably real due to experiments with the so-called ‘laws’ of physics.

Few of the Anavasi viewed the Court of Mirrors as a place to live. It was more than anything a place to show off, an altar to their united vision. Most of them teleported or warped in during the day and went back home in the evening. Chang’s inner circle had erected a few smaller dwellings to live in while they waited for the infrastructure needed to make the two Courts self-sufficient, or else did nothing but work. Meh’Lindi had not taken a moment’s rest since coming to the islands.

Media interest was growing. So many artists leaving the very public Pantheon Productions did not go unnoticed, and even casual investigation showed that Chang herself was the centrepiece of this grand exodus.

The cats were growing curious.

As yet none of them had bothered to speak with the press, but more and more they were discussing whether or not to do so, and what to say. Chang’s next duty as Mirror Queen would be to speak for her Anavasi to the N! Report. Oh, nobody had said that yet, but Chang knew it was going that way.

The more practical members of the Anavasi, like Sylph and The Alchemist, considered it a necessary step. The less human, the more isolated, just wanted to be left alone. Either approach or any step inbetween required some sort of statement, interview or opinion piece to be generated. The question was what form it would take.

Chang was keeping far out of that discussion. She would do what they wanted of her, and as little as possible to direct them.

For her own part she was at work on her new album. Just as the first time Lucrezia entered chrysalis, her feelings of longing and loneliness were fertile ground for writing. Music and lyrics came out of nowhere, and the far less stable world climate provided ample material to give colour and context to her emotions.

Puck, The Alchemist and Darrik were busy at work on their Teras in Wonderland project, and she was producing some concept art for that, too. The Alchemist insisted she write the musical score, and Chang was willing to do that. It had been many years since she worked on a movie or with anything like a full orchestra. Really, it was too easy to work with so many tools. Some of her scribblings in that direction were too lazy for her own standards, though. The project mattered, it was the first collaborative work The Anavasi would produce. It needed to be reflective.

Chang walked in through the Court’s open front archway into the grounds. Eventually there would be a wall and gardens of spectacular proportion grown, but those were still in the planning stage. Several novas were pouring over maps and charts, altering, adjusting. They waved to Chang as she passed.

She headed into the building proper.

“My queen.” It was Shiv.

The woman seemed far less strange here than she did in Ibiza. Within the Court of Mirrors with its walls of ice or glass or plasma, a woman whose hands were tied, whose eyes were covered and whose breasts were always bulging, warping and reshaping seemed quite fitting. Reality here was not what it was elsewhere.

“Shiv,” Chang said, leaning in to kiss her on the upper swell of one breast. It dimpled and the flesh formed into a pair of lips that kissed her back, and a fleshy tongue touched hers. “How are things?”

“Busy as always. You should walk the corridors. One of them has been twisted into an Escher paradox. It doesn’t work on me, much to Sclader’s disappointment. It seems his spatial manipulation powers work greatly on the visual cortex. There’s another which seems to never end.”

Chang nodded. “Interesting. How is that effect achieved?”

“I’m told that it appears to stretch out forever. It seems to be only thirty feet long, yet when you reach the fifteenth foot it extends. When you walk fifteen feet more, again it extends. So on and so forth, forever. Yet if you should turn around, why there is the exit, fifteen feet away.”

A smile creased Shiv’s ruby lips. Chang felt a savage urge to stretch that mouth around her shaft. Shiv had been in her bed often of late. She liked being used. As do I, in truth, Chang mused. You won’t find many other members of the Pantheon jonesing for being driven around by someone else.

She did miss being driven. It was nice being a motorcycle, racing through the night. Submission and domination, equality in pleasure. There was a lot in common between her and Shiv, really. Only Shiv wore her truth on the outside, Chang’s was hidden deep inside, confused by overt appearance and covert desire. Shiv’s very appearance was a metaphor. Chang’s appearance was…

Well, she was a shapeshifter. She was what she chose to be. Right now she chose to dress like a punk off the street. At that thought she formed several piercings in her lip and nose and eyebrow.

“I think I will wander, then,” she said, and headed off to explore the latest wonders created by the Anavasi.

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It was an irony that even though Darrik was not the one pregnant, his mood had changed drastically with the speed normally caused by hormones. At this moment, continually pacing forward through Sclader's Escher-transformed hallway, his face was quiet but screwed up in difficult and painful thought. His last visit with his 'family' had the appearance of very much being his literal last.

Butch and Maia had been outright hostile to him, Marina and Cora seemed to gingerly step around that issue whenever Darrik brought it up, and Alex? Well, she was distant in that busy and quiet way, so no real change there. But inherently, it felt as if two of his siblings had written off Darrik as not only no longer kin, but made into a foe, and to be worse, Marina and Cora did not seem predisposed to challenge or at least acknowledge there was a matter. Rather tacit approval in a way.

So that left Alex, who Darrik had more and more come to see as the most sensible member of the family at times, but somehow he suspected that her opinions would be disregarded by the rest. In effective terms, he'd been disowned. Which was utterly painful and insulting, when he cared to think about it.

Being a Terat? Cora was the lover of Norman Holden, the leader of the Children of Teras, and no one bothered to call her out on it. The black sun? Aside from the fact that it was HIS accomplishment, what negative harm really came of it? Fear? The sun had been removed within a few hours by Utopia. Death or harm? If anyone had been idiotic enough to cause death or destruction over the sun, well, more baselines died daily from starvation, and that was far more preventable than the actions of neurotics. Holding Darrik responsible was like blaming the builder of a wall for that fact that one man chose to pulverize another's brains on the edifice.

It was wretched treatment. He'd been with them through thick and think for years, and now... this. But, Darrik let it go. After all, when he kept thinking on it, he knew he would subconsciously head to Sclader's Escher piece of artwork. Because after all, he could keep pacing the hall ahead endlessly on the matter, or he could turn around, as right now, and look to all of the in-progress Court of Mirrors, and know that the Teragen and Exalt! was his family now, and a far better one.

A smile returned to his face, growing wider as his mentor appeared. "Chang! Good to see you. Came to see Sclader's work?"

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Puck found himself actually nearly overbooked for things and people that needed attention for the first time in his life. He was starting to understand the baseline sayings about needing more hours in a day, and he didn't sleep! There was simply so much to be done: putting out the small neighborhood fires that were flickering in and out across the islands as the three groups settle in to their new homes, fielding world scrutiny and a massive media campaign to handle the announcement of the Exalt! Nation that had gone out several months ago, helping the Exalt! members that he had erupted through the transition from baseline to nova and formalizing the general outline of an Exalt! member's move from applicant all the way to novahood, spending time with the mothers of his children, spending time with his children that had already been born....the list simply kept going. He wasn't exhausted, but he found himself relying more and more on the link and the membership as a whole to help him with the sheer enormity that he and they had become. It was exhilarating, frightening, and above all, transformative.

He'd set aside time at the moment to check in with the Anavasi to see how the Courts were coming along and to see how Chang was doing. Lucrezia's Chrysalis was an accomplishment to be celebrated, but Puck found that he missed the manipulative shapeshifter far more than he thought he would; not nearly as much as Chang did, but he could empathize with his mentor to a degree. He followed the trail of her quantum signature, a trick he was learning to hone since the debacle at Forbidden Fruits in the summer, through the maze of construction and smiled when he happened on both his quarry and his shadow-lover.

"I would love to," He'd slipped up behind Chang, knowing full well that she'd have heard his every step on the island, and slipped an arm around her waist. He kissed her cheek with his trademark impishness, teasing, "That is, if you can suffer me for a little while, your Majesty."

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Chang knew that becoming The Mirror Queen had changed her forever. For Novas, such changes were more significant than mere shifts of temperament or ideology, their powers and their natures adjusted to circumstance. They grew in ways unexpected, unlocking more of their true nature.

In the time since that fateful meeting of the Teragen, when she spoke so stridently and shocked the vast majority of the Terats with her words, Chang had begun to hear the future.

She was hearing the whispers even then, but afterwards, specifically after her wife pinned her down and captured her in an orgy which lasted two weeks, Chang’s mind… broke, for lack of a better word.

The future, that tantalizing barrier to understanding and perception, came undone. Now she could hear the whispers of unspoken conversations, of things which could and might not be. It was then, in those first hours, that she realized Lucrezia would enter chrysalis. She heard the two of them talking about it.

As she once said to Coraline Boehm, being observant to the future changed things forever. Her new knowledge convinced her more than ever of the child’s foolishness, not that the average conversation did not provide ample evidence and little hope.

How little I understood then. How little I understand now. There was so much to learn about this new world that her ears could hear. The swirl and eddy of future words possessed its own character, one both secretive and manipulative by turns. From time to time she heard earnest conversations involving those closest to her and detailed plans for her demise. Yet listen harder, just a little harder, and she could make out another conversation overlaid on that one, in which those same participants were speaking of the global wheat market and how it affected the sales of Anavasi produce.

That was the nature of the thing. Chang could hear snatches from entire worlds which would never be, yet… if she listened right, and applied the correct knowledge, she could discern the future of her own.

She did not yet have that down to a science. Anything but. Nonetheless she practiced often, noting down her observations and discoveries for posterity and future review. She had attempted to engage Pedro Santiago in discussion of the matter of future-sight.

Yet hers was of a different character, was it not? They saw the future, or felt it, or in one case she knew of, smelled it. She heard it. Who knew what difference that made.

It was exciting. Thrilling, even. And terrifying at times, because her wife was in chrysalis, and Chang did not know who to turn to for comfort in her times of confusion and doubt. Admittedly, Shiv’s pillowy, silk-soft and ever swelling breasts made for a decent stand-in. I need someone to confide in, Chang knew. But who? Perhaps Cyndi. Cyndi, who still yearns for my love. She had known that before, but only in the simple empathic way. Now she knew it by hearing things which might not be, among them a thousand iterations of The Alchemist making a marriage proposal, to join herself to Chang and Lucrezia. Or have I again become confused by what I think is coming in the future?

These were the thoughts which occupied her mind as she strode the glistening corridors and halls of The Court of Mirrors, marvelling at the incredible artistry visible around her. Statues of cold flame danced with blue shadows on pedastals of shifting rock. Subtle harmonics turned simple footsteps into music of melancholy or exuberant or thoughtful tone. The floors were polished to a mirror shine, and these were used as the board for incredible tricks of ambient lighting. Otherwise the carpets beneath her feet were woven of stone or steel or other impossible materials.

The Court had no one character, then. It was as anticipated: a melting pot of artistic madness, of Terats who felt cooped and restricted by others now cutting loose in the company of their peers. Who can imagine what they will produce once we have the enclaves set up and there are projects rolling, or what they will do when they have access to the funds needed for even further extravagance.

She was eager to find out.

Chang was not surprised when she came to Sclader’s Escher nightmare and saw Darrik on a stair above her, though from her perspective it seemed he was walking almost in the opposite direction as opposed to toward the end of the corridor. She knew because she had heard his precise greeting over a week ago.

Déjà vu, she thought. My life will be déjà vu forever now. The longer I remain in any one place, the more absolute will be my perception of that which comes. Ten thousand hells… is this why you never speak, Pedro? Have you already seen it all and grown bored ten times over?

She did not wish to become the Mathematician. She liked to believe she could not. She was Chang Zha-Yang, driven by passion as much and perhaps more than logic and wisdom, though she thought of those things as critical to herself nonetheless. And yet… already it was there, the soft scrape at the edge of her being, the beginning of that endless erosion of the bonds between Pedro Santiago and even his fellow Novas.

Darrik’s greeting was warm, and so was Puck’s. But they had little impact, because Chang had heard them both a hundred times already.

On the bright side, she could not hear smiles, and Puck’s smile could light up the darkest hell. She could hear his footsteps, though, and his heartbeat, and the little giggle as he no doubt thought of some private jest, even though they were miles away when first she heard them.

“Hello, Puck,” she said, offering her cheek for his kiss. “We are dressed with a similar ethos for once. I feel quite ashamed.”

“Reduced to my level, eh?” Puck smiled, looking over the hallway before them. “You suit piercings, Chang. You should keep them.”

“Perhaps I shall. Nipple piercings take on a rather different dimension when you have three of them. There are all kinds of interesting visual composition tricks you can accomplish with the third breast.”

Darrik beckoned at them. “Come on up. Or down. Or left. I’m not sure where I am exactly.”

Chang listened. “Stamp your foot, Darrik.”

He did. She listened to the reverberations and closed her eyes. Shiv had provided her with the key to Sclader’s little puzzle, though most Novas would be no better off for having it. It just so happened that her senses were so magnified to compensate.

There was more to this than sound. She felt his position through the floor, through that queer spider-like tremorsense that was once her speciality. Her skin picked up on the tiny breath of air caused by his moving foot. It took the application of a half-dozen of her enhanced senses and abilities, but Chang opened her eyes a second or two later and smiled up at Darrik.

“We’ll be right there.”

She led Puck up one flight of stairs, emerged onto a balcony which led onto another stairway that was, to visual perception, on its side from the first, to a balcony and then onto the back of another set of stairs, before finally reaching Darrik’s position.

Puck looked around. “This is making my eyes hurt.”

“Even Sclader refers to spatial manipulation as ‘cheating on a universal scale’. Actually the word he used was ‘trolling’ but I loathe that word and insist on substituting my own. Infer what you like from the original text.”

“Oh, I will,” Puck said, grin growing ever wider. Darrik, likewise, seemed to get the joke.

The place was a headache. Sclader had applied a Nova’s ingenuity and a Terat’s lack of restraint on this comparatively minor work. It being inspired by M. C. Escher, the actual lines and parameters of the corridor were mathematically precise. In part that perfection was what hurt her – and she suspected also Puck’s – eyes. As he once told Chang, mathematics are invisible to the eye for a reason. At her and Puck’s level of perception, though, they were close on seeing what was actually here, not what appeared to be.

They existed now inside a perfect mathematical construction. Most likely Meh’Lindi had a hand in its planning, as Sclader loved and appreciated Mathematics but his ability to perceive and imagine it was only a little post-human. A genius like Meh’Lindi left him speechless in her understanding, and – of course – provided him with endless inspiration.

Chang did wonder what might happen if they were able to properly perceive their surroundings. Perhaps they could navigate the corridor easily. Or perhaps they would no longer be able to move at all. This was artistry, all right, but it was artistry played out on the level of raw existence.

“This will, I think, be an interesting experience for all of us,” Chang said, observing that there was no visible ending to the stairways and balconies and archways. Following them was following the letters of an equation whose conclusion was to begin the process over again. Who knew what would happen if you walked the stairs long enough.

“Puck, Darrik, might I enquire as to what you see around you?”

hope the description helps some, and since Puck has even higher M-Per, Mala, feel free to come up with what he can see around him

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Darrik gave only the slightest hint of rechecking his surroundings, but he picked up on what Chang meant, that she was seeing something more present, but his only slightly superhuman senses clearly did not get more than the impressive spatial tangle of artifice. A shame, it was really impressive. Sometimes he did wish he had the sensory acuity of Puck or Chang... but somehow he supposed it did not fit.

Shadows and darkness, after all, and certain of his powers, inhibited sight and clarity. Beyond the enhanced taste and touch, and being capable of perceiving quantum energies, nothing significantly else of note there. It made sense in a manner. Regretfully, he responded, "If there's another layer to the work, Your Majesty, I'm too blind or ignorant to pick up on it." A self-deprecating comment, but not serious, just a hint of disappointment at missing out.

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Puck laced his hands behind his head and looked around. "I see art."

At the arched brow from his mentor, he shrugged and gave an unrepentant grin. "Hey, I spend most of my time right now using every bit of myself just to keep up. This room is cool and the effect is amazing. I don't feel like picking it apart and finding where the 'cheat' is. I see art, and I'm going to enjoy it right now." He laughed, "Besides, being dizzy is kinda fun. Haven't you ever wanted to hang upside down off a staircase?"

He disappeared in a flare of light and reappeared in the middle of the room. He fell, hard. Sideways. And laughed as he stood up, his hair still falling down even though he looked like he was hanging impossibly at some over 90 degrees to the ground. "You guys should just run around in here. Like little kids. A lot." He pursed his lips, "Hmn, I should ask Sclader if he'd let the kids come here for an afternoon to play."

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“But we are not little kids,” Chang said in a soft, cutting voice, “are we?” She was not quite angry, but his grin pushed her from mild annoyance to a feeling of genuine indignation that required a voice.

Puck could switch his moods on the fly at times. Most of the time he affected his casual carefree attitude but if the situation demanded it he snapped to attention at post-human speeds. He performed one of those changes now, straightening up as if earthing a lightning bolt through his spine.

“Is that the level of insight you intend to bring to the Anavasi, Puck?” Chang said, her form stretching, warping as she lengthened out and observed the unintentional changes which occurred as she moved through unseen spatial planes. “The room is ‘cool’ and the effect is ‘amazing’.” She filled the words with utmost contempt.

Chang liquefied, flowed, and reformed standing on another stairway at a horizontal angle to Puck’s. “You know the purpose of the Anavasi. Critique is part of that. The artistic history of all cultures is built on criticism, analysis, on the sharing of insights so that creators can improve on their creations. How are we ever to build if those with the eyes to see refuse to use them?”

Puck looked abashed, a little. He never liked it when Chang angered at him, in part because it happened so rarely. “I just meant that I’ve been busy, Chang.”

“By your own action,” Chang said, unrelenting. “You brought these responsibilities upon yourself. They earn you no sympathy, Puck. These are not burdens inflicted unfairly on innocent shoulders. You decided to declare yourself the leader of your own nation. Your own foolishness made you the patriarch of a future Nova dynasty. And you made yourself a member of the Anavasi, too,” she said. “It is not a mere word, Puck. Just as ‘Terat’ is not a word. It means something to be one of us, just as it means something to be of the Casablancas or Cult of Mal or Vigilance or any other faction. You are permitted responsibility or a childhood. Nobody can have both at once.”

His eyes were on her now, in that nowhere-place between defence and acceptance where Puck listened. After his chrysalis, though, his mind had undergone such growth as to be unknowable. But Chang was never intimidated by superior minds. Idealism gave her voice strength, and absolute certainty gave her a presence belied by her soft features and diminutive frame.

“You are not some punter who gawks at the creation of others and walks away befuddled. You are Anavasi. You are an artist, a creator, and you possess perceptions that dwarf even my own. It is offensive that you so blithely decline to apply your talents. Sclader is not assisted by being informed he has created ‘art’. He knows that already. What he needs to hear are details, analysis, critical and constructive opinion. Let Count Orzais marvel. Let Shrapnel smile, if she is capable of that expression any longer. We have a larger responsibility here.”

She let her voice soften at the end, indicating that the tirade had drawn to an end. Puck was busy, true enough. But he needed to be reminded of his responsibilities here as well. Self-absorption affected most Terats to some degree. It was easy to become lost in whatever business filled their days.

Chang opened her ears to the future. It came in whispers first, like always, a complex sound as fascinating as the wind. With concentration she could pick sounds out from the mass, lift them like shining jewels and examine their character. The laughter of children featured prominently.

“Hmm. Your suggestion of bringing your children here is a solid one. They will like it.” She spoke with what might be termed her ‘new’ voice. It was one flavoured with foreknowledge, the voice possessed only by those rare Novas whose minds and perceptions could pierce the veil between here and there.

She turned to Darrik, then, and her countenance softened further. “Darrik, have you not considered how you might explore this work with what abilities you possess?”

He looked between them, no doubt wondering how Puck would respond, but he faced Chang now. Maybe he expected a dressing down as well. “No?” he ventured, voice full of uncertainty, as if this might bring down the wrath of heaven on his head.

Chang smiled. “I do not know what relationship there is between you and your shadows. However, Sclader has twisted the spatial relationships between… well, everything. You could perhaps use your powers to interact with what he has made. Will they behave as you expect? Who knows?” She nodded at him. “Why not find out? Perhaps your shadows will give you an insight that neither I nor Puck can fathom. It’s not about raw perceptual power, Darrik. It’s about bringing what you have and applying it to the best of your ability and, if you lack them, developing the necessary critical skills to give a worthwhile critique. I warn you now; you’ll find your fellow Anavasi quite contemptuous if you show yourself unable to give them meaningful insights.”

Her tone turned dire at the end. Chang laughed at herself inside. I would make a fantastic doomsayer. The advice was well-meant, though. Puck and Darrik both were her students. The last thing Chang wanted was to hear their names spoken with disdain. Raw power would impress nobody once Puck or Darrik entered into one of the Communes, once they were up and running and the Anavasi began their grand projects. In that environment they would need to show their artistic talents and share them, offer critique and advice, contribute as equals.

That was – if it could be called such – the downside of being a Terat of any stripe. Being a Nova earned you a level of basic regard and fellowship. Everything after that required work and effort. It was the best way to make Novas reach their potential.

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Gah, she was right, Darrik realized. Just because the tone and smile and words were less harsh than what Puck had gotten didn't mean that he had gotten off lighter. And she was right. Already he could pick out a number of ways to test the room, one didn't even involve shadows. Well, time to start working on earning that respect.

"One thing it occurs to me to ask, since this may be quite relevant. What did Shiv say about her experience here?"

"She said it had no effect on her." Chang commented with a hint of disappointment. "It seems Schlader's work here is linked to the visual cortex and perception."

"Ahh." Darrik commented, turning a sudden speculative- and wicked grin towards Puck, sitting sideways above Chang. Puck got a little nervous suddenly, the look similar to some of the unexpected tricks Darrik might pull in bed after giving them. "Sorry in advance." Before Puck or Chang could ask what he meant, he started manipulating the darkness level in Puck's immediate vicinity, and thus engulfed Puck in a sphere of perfect darkness.

Almost immediately, Puck gave a yelp and was involuntarily pitched out of the black sphere, downward to the same causeway where Chang stood. Naturally he landed on his feet, visually unruffled. He did briefly scowl at Darrik, whom held a similar unrepentant grin now. "I didn't say being dizzy was that fun, Darrik."

"Oh? So how did the blackout and fall feel from your perspective?" Darrik half-teased, half-inquired.

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Puck stood up slowly and ran a hand through his hair, letting out a breath to wash away the dregs of negative emotions from his - admittedly mild - remonstration from Chang. Sometime, life can just be enjoyed, Chang... He didn't say it out loud because he knew that she was acting as both his personal mentor and the person given the responsibility for shaping the Anavasi from 'a neat idea' into 'something worthy of Teras'.

"Kind of like teleporting past the visible barrier of the universe, honestly," he answered Darrik. "You can't even see yourself out there - unless you're making your own light - and either way it's just....disorienting. Ups and downs don't really matter in outer space, but they are still points of reference. In shadows in here? Nothing, really. Or at least too many contradictory points of reference, with gravity moving around with the Escher-esque landscape."

He let his senses expand, finding the planes and pathways through the room until he could walk his way back to the other two. "It's an interesting sculpture piece, and passively interactive. The left side is about twice as complex as the right, though most people won't be able to tell just by looking at it. I don't know if that was an intentional commentary by Sclader or not, but given his amusement with the historical and religious implications of left and right in European languages and mythologies, I'd guess it was intentional. As a walkable sculpture it is beautiful, technically proficient, and a memorable experience." He turned around to look back on the room once he'd reached them, hands on his hips. "But only memorable, not....transforming. Walking the room for anyone without high levels of nova perception will be disorienting and possibly frustrating, but ultimately they will find a way out, marvel at the experience for a day or even a few weeks, remember it for most of their lives, but be ultimately untouched by it. It's fun. Which is fine, except that I know Sclader desires more than fun from this."

He shrugged and leaned on Chang, taking his revenge for being lectured at out by invading her personal space for a impudent hug. "My suggestion would be to add actual motion to the room, instead of merely perceptual confusion. Have the physical materials slowly move and shift, and the gravitational pulls do so as well, though not necessarily together. In this way, each time the room is experienced, it is different. I don't know if Sclader is capable of that, but if he likes the idea I'm sure collaboration between him and other Anavasi could make it possible. A labyrinthine feel to the room, that changes each time a person finds their way through it, would make the art dynamic and intensely personal for each participant." He gave her one of his Cheshire grins and added, "Perhaps we should move this to the front hall? A sort of rite of passage to enter the Court of Mirrors."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chang graced her student with one of the many contortions she was renowned for, contorting and squeezing inward then slithering out from between his arms. She snapped back to proper proportion once free of Puck’s embrace.

They looked like a fitting pair right now, him in his goth-esque get up and she in her hoodie. Darrik made a good third part, too. She continued to perceive the room – no, corridor – with all her varied senses. It was maddening in some ways, because the effect did not fool all of her perceptions. Her tremorsense was the most telling, because she could feel Shiv moving about in the entrance hall, and those tremors betrayed the flat plane on which they were really standing.

Yet her visual senses – by no means weaker than the rest – were within an inch of seeing the mathematical functions underpinning the visual effect. She actually rubbed her eyes. It hurt a little. Darrik’s shadow experiment was revealing, too. While Puck appeared to fall, again, her tremorsense betrayed that he had not in fact moved an inch.

She struggled to perceive what was actually happening around them instead of what her eyes told her she was seeing. Giving up on that was hard. It went against her nature.

Finally she shook her head.

“Are you okay, Chang?” There was a hint of worry in Puck’s voice.

Chang realized she was swaying. She felt a little dizzy. “I am… just a little dizzy.” She leaned her head back. Her hood fell away, revealing the strands of her normally long dark hair. Instead they flowed back from her head like cables and melted away into the inside of the hood.

“You take this way too seriously,” he said, in that soft, innocent and yet playful voice that he very rarely used. He respected her, and she knew it. Her constant sobriety chafed on him at times, and she knew that, too. It chafed on everyone. Except Lucrezia.

She felt quite depressed again.

“That was a good effort from both of you. I do not have either of your more esoteric approaches, which was why I asked you to use them. I suppose my approach is more brute force, raw perceptual acuity across many spectrums. The problem is that this room only partially distorts perceptual data, so I have competing data in my head that is mutually exclusive. If I am not mistaken, my brain is blue-screening, to use a somewhat dated term.”

Chang closed her eyes and tapped her foot. That one tremor was enough for her to get her bearings and walk out of the corridor.

Puck and Darrik followed her. The other side of Sclader’s little project was a far more ordinary chamber with many alcoves, all filled with statuary or artwork in dozens of mediums.

Chang moved out of sight of the corridor and then shaped a stool for herself to sit down upon. She still felt a little unsettled. “I daresay that this effect was unintentional. You offer some good suggestions there, Puck. I think it may be intended more as a technical showcase than as a genuine work of art, though. I shall enquire with him. That’s what this place will be. A little monument to simple technical ability, a taster of what the Anavasi are capable of creating when we put in some genuine effort. There’s a special chamber just for me, on the boundary between the two courts. I’ve designed a mirror maze set into a cube formation to shape out of my own body. For when I want to think. If anyone wants to bother me they’ll have to find their way through first.”

Darrik laughed. “Sorry. That does sound a bit typical.”

Chang smiled. “I never claimed I was unpredictable. You both did well. Keep working at it, Darrik. Explore how you can apply your shadows to further your appreciation of your own and other’s creations.”

“And me?” Puck said, grinning.

Chang looked up at him, her smile fading to the barest shadow of one. “You’ve become someone difficult to advise, but easy to chide. Everything comes to you so easily that you never seem to have to work for anything. Unfortunately that goes for things good and bad. It is a rather… alien way of living for me, I’m afraid. It could be that you’re flying from my nest sooner rather than later.” Her smile grew again, though she forced it a little. “You did a good job, Puck. Like you always do when you apply yourself. Like you always will. After all, look at your brood. If that isn’t the result of ‘application’ I don’t know what is.”

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Puck actually managed to blush. Sex was one thing, but he hadn't intended to end up as the patriarch of a small nation of children. In truth, he was finding that as disorienting as he knew most people would find Sclader's chamber. Children were just so... unpredictable. As were pregnant women. Women in general, usually in very fun ways, but pregnant women to the nth degree.

He adroitly side-stepped the issue of their mentor-student relationship for the moment and remarked, "N! is still clamoring for an interview with a Mad Lab representative. Apparently our little leak about the company has the entire art world in a feeding frenzy and Loiuse Santien is determined to be the first reporter to get an exclusive. He's started camping out the Exalt! office in Australia, trying to bribe his way over here. Cyndi's said she'll take do an interview 'when she has the time', which will probably be several days after never, and all the attention will be nice when we release of Underland, but an official statement from you could take some of the pressure off of her." He sat down next to her, purposefully setting himself on the ground instead of waiting for her to fashion a chair or couch as was her usual wont when talking with others; the symbolism would not be lost on his mentor and the precocious not-child wasn't quite ready to give up the shelter of her patronage just yet. "People are scrambling to get the scoop on Mad Lab, but you are still the most famous and reclusive artist of the Anavasi."

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Chang studied Puck for a long time, in silence. He was not ‘trying’ to hide his feelings right now. Which meant he was projecting what he wanted her to read. And because he wanted her to read it, read it she did. He still wanted to call himself her student.

Fair enough, she thought, though she doubted he would seek her for advice often, either in Teras or anything else. Until you are ready, then.

“N!, hmm?” Chang murmured, her voices echoing the way they did at times. “Cyndi is getting more in touch with her Terat side of late,” Chang said. This was a shorthand for saying ‘The Alchemist has dived into another depression’, and when she was in that sort of mood she never spoke to anybody but Chang and her closest friends. She had managed to get herself drunk on her own transformed blood and tearfully confessed her love to Chang just a month ago. It ended in a passionate sexual encounter – Chang saw no need not to take advantage of the situation when her own body hungered so much and was denied so often – but it did little to improve Cyndi’s mood in the long term. Her confession came as no surprise. Chang had heard her making it six days before she did.

Puck said, “Ah.”

He could put a lot across with little words. This one expressed complete understanding, a little upset, and perhaps a touch of worry. He liked Cyndi and as one of Underland’s principal players its success mattered to him. He always worried a little when she became depressed, the way all of her friends did, and professionally he was a touch concerned that she might not complete the production of Underland on time.

While she pondered what to do about the larger concern with The Alchemist, Chang thought she owed her at least that much. “I suppose I can do another interview. My last exclusive was on behalf of Count Orzais. There could be a little loss of impact in doing another so soon afterward.”

Puck looked at her as if he feared she had taken leave of her senses.

Chang nodded. “It did not sound convincing to my ear, either. Very well, Puck. If you can set up the interview and provide me a little information about what they’re after, I will give an interview on behalf of Mad Lab productions and the Anavasi. That’s what I’m for, after all.”

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