Chapter 2: Conjecture
The white nothingness of teleportation vanishes in a flash, and I am met with the sight of the unit I share with Klaer: a large white room with floor-to-ceiling windows on both the left and right walls, and long floating tables that double as workstations by the windows. Behind me is the proper exit door, below me is the permanent teleportation circle, and in front, further down the room, is a glass monitor that we use for both entertainment and work.
The teleportation ring reverts back to its small size, and I grab it to return it to my shadows. With that done, I lift my hand to my face and take off my mask. At the same time, I remove the rest of my stabilization suit—the white pieces of armor that, together with the core piece on my chest, regulate my input and output of iether so that I don’t lose myself to the madness of my own magic.
I direct the pieces to the levitation mount, not even sparing it a glance. Without it, I feel so much lighter. I feel my arms stretch out, claws lengthening, and my feet becoming simple points on the ground as opposed to anything like the foot of a human form. I let my robe lose its solidity, becoming the same smoky shadows as the rest of my body.
“Syne?” I call out.
Immediately, a light materializes into the room, taking the shape of a vertical eye opening before shifting to the shape of slowly rotating rings around a point of light.
“Yes?” comes Syne’s voice, a soft thing with a digitized tinge to it.
“Did you get the data from just now?”
I pause, and then ask: “Did you hear what Kiun said?”
“Indeed. It is curious.”
“Hmm. It seemed like he knew something,” I say, lifting up my palms. Syne’s fragment settles there easily, floating above my hands.
“That is not unlikely,” Syne concedes. “But he is beyond my dominion. He has chosen to abandon Civilization; as such, he is not an easy individual to track.”
“I know.” A sigh escapes me. “Well, oh well.” I shadow-step, a quick displacement of my form, to the teleporter table. I wave my hand over it, activating the interface. “What do they have today?”
And of course, the interface says: ERROR. Coordinates corrupted. Data cannot be retrieved.
I give the holographic screen the best glare I can muster. “What’s wrong with it now?”
“There appears to be an error in the calibration matrix,” Syne says. “I can have it fixed by dinner, but perhaps you should go to the dining hall for lunch.”
I put a hand over my face. “Is this another attempt of yours to get me to socialize?”
“Not entirely. The error was not deliberate, but I am making the most of it.”
“Ugh.” I look to the ceiling. “Fine,” I say, and shadow-step to my suit. I forgo most of it, as it isn’t necessary when I’m not going to be using my magic in combat, but I still take my mask and slide it over my face.
It takes only a moment for the technology to synchronize with the core on my chest, and I open my eyes with the artificial skin. “I’m off, then,” I say, giving Syne’s fragment a wave.
Not that it matters, since they’ll be with me wherever I go.
The walk to the dining room is, as always, filled with the murmurs and whispers of the passerby, largely students of Ascera Academy. Given that I hardly ever make an appearance in common areas, I suppose it’s no surprise that they’re surprised to see me.
This is why I never come here.
I ignore them as best I can and enter the dining hall. It is a large cylindrical room, with glass panes occupying the entirety of the walls. The area offers a lovely view of the Ascera skyline.
The center of the room is a fountain with a floating light art structure; a few people sit on the edge to eat their lunch. Many of the others in the room are sitting at the tables—one side of the room has long bench tables perpendicular to the curve of the wall, while the other has round tables of various sizes. On the other side of the room is my destination: the self-serve center, consisting of an enclosed room where the food is prepared, and a counter with holographic screens for us to make our selection.
I shadow-step there instantaneously—becoming a shadow and moving quickly to my destination. Those already at the counter make exclamations of surprise as I seem to appear out of nowhere to them. I pay them no mind, waving my hand to activate the screen.
There is a wide selection available, including ready-to-eat meals and things that can be taken to-go. With stasis and teleportation magic technology available, it is trivial to provide all sorts of options. Unfortunately, this comes with the downside of having too much to choose from.
After a few minutes of browsing the menu, I hear: “Um, excuse me…?”
I glance to the side, catching sight of a fairly young individual. They have brown hair, slightly curly and quite long, tied back into a ponytail. Their eyes are purple, as is the very comfortable-looking turtleneck they are wearing. Their pants are black and loose-fitting.
“You’re Praetor Eirien Ward, right?” they ask.
Syne pings me mentally with their identifying information:
Remas Ifler, age 19, student of Ascera Academy. No gender provided. Pronouns: he/they/she.
I thank Syne internally. Externally, I give a hum. “Yes, that is me.”
Remas gives an awkward smile. “Hi! I’m uh, Remas. Remas Ifler. I’m a research student at the Academy here.”
I nod. “I gathered, from your bio.” Everyone in Ascera is required to have one, though some only share certain parts of their bio to others. Though, since I am a Praetor, I am allowed to ask Syne for further details.
“Oh.” Remas chuckles. “A lot of people don’t actually check that…” they clear their throat. “I, um, I’ve read about your studies on monsters, and my thesis is on them.”
Thesis? How far are they into their studies? I ask Syne.
Remas is on an accelerated academic path, they explain.
Ah, fair enough.
“I was hoping I could ask you a few things,” Remas continues, “considering that you’re probably one of the most knowledgeable people in Ascera when it comes to monsters.”
I raise an eyebrow. Not a lot of civilians know me for my research. “Fair enough,” I say, turning back to the menu. I let silence reign long enough for Remas to start fidgeting before I say, “Sure. Let me grab my food and we can find a place to sit. You can ask your questions then.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Remas give a relieved breath. “Okay, great! I already got my food—I’ll find an empty table and you can meet me there?”
I nod, and then they dash off.
Well. That was certainly interesting. I linger on the menu for a bit longer before settling on a salad with blue beadberries. The plate appears before in a flash of light, and I pick it up before seeking out Remas.
They ended up picking a small round table by the window. They straighten as I approach and sit down in front of them.
“So,” I say as I settle down, “what do you want to know? Biology? Iethology? Psychology?”
“Oh! Uh.” Remas folds their hands together. “How much do you know about monster biology? Doesn’t khimaerization always change a bunch of things?”
“It does,” I confirm, nodding. I stab one of the berries with my fork, lifting it up. “Most monsters and khimaera tend to live longer and require less sustenance. We get much of our energy from iether, which is all around us.”
“Ahh,” Remas says, glancing down at my plate. “Is that why that’s all you’re eating?”
I chuckle lightly. “Ah, well, I need even less compared to plenty of others. I don’t have much mass to sustain—I’m mostly shadow.”
“Huh. Cool,” Remas says, mouth full of their own food—most likely some fried synthmeat and fries, judging by the appearance.
I hum, leaning on one of my hands. “One thing I’ve noticed is that khimaerization, especially monsterfication, causes numerous changes that all seem to make the subject a…” I pause, pushing some berries around with my fork, “more efficient hunter. Fewer needs, greater power, claws and teeth and talons. And, of course, the instinct to drive it all.”
I stab another berry and wave it in the air. “We’re practically made to fight and kill, and yet—we don’t have any natural predators or significant threats to defend ourselves from. And no ‘prey,’ so to speak, that would require the use of such force.”
“Hmm.” Remas lifts a hand to their chin. “I never thought of it that way. So you’re saying that we’re powerful but have no need to be?”
“Something like that. And yet, I can’t help but think…”
“That there is a cause?” Remas finishes for me.
I watch them for a moment. “Yes,” I say eventually.
Remas stands, pushing their floating seat back. “Do you know anything more about that? I—I’m specifically studying the history and evolution of monsters! If you know anything…?”
I startle at their sudden enthusiasm, the edges of my shadowy form swirling with instability. “I’m… not sure. Conjecture at best,” I admit. I look off to the side, lifting a hand to my chin. “If it’s beyond Syne’s knowledge, you may have to seek your knowledge in the Wilderness. Perhaps the fossil record could reveal something…”
“The wilderness?” Remas echoes. “But that’s… I don’t know if I can…” they sit down.
“Hmm?” I look over to them, seeing a troubled expression on their face. “Ah, right. It’s not terribly unusual to form expedition teams with researchers and escorts. Ask Syne about it.”
Remas blinks in surprise. “Oh. Huh.”
“Praetors tend to be recruited as escorts, so I’ve heard about it from my colleagues,” I add. “There are some other independent folks who might be licensed, and technically there are no restrictions on magic usage in the Wilderness so anyone can use what magic they want, but since the Praetors are the only magic experts licensed and specialized in magic combat, they’re probably your safest bet.”
Remas nods before looking at me curiously. “Have you? Been recruited for an expedition, I mean.”
I pause for a long moment. “No,” I say, a wry smile on my face. “I’m not allowed to leave.”
Remas grimaces. “Ah, right… sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say, waving him off. “It’s much for my own sake.” Here, Syne can keep an eye on me, after all.
But do you want to leave?
A murmur, one I can barely hear. I blink, looking up. “Did you say something just now?” I ask Remas.
“No…?” they tilt their head.
“I should go.” I stand up. “It was nice meeting you, Remas,” I say, surprised that it’s the truth. “If there’s anything more you want to talk about, you can drop a message through Syne.”
“Oh, yeah—I will. Thank you, Praetor Ward,” they say, smiling.
“Gods, that sounds stiff.” I make a face. “Call me Eirien. Please.” Without waiting for a response, I turn and walk away.
“Ah, sure, bye…” I hear behind me.
As I depart from the area, I catch a few more voices.
“Was that the Shadow Beast…?”
I close my eyes, and leave in a shadow-step.
Remas Ifler[REE-mas IF-lr]
A student in Ascera Academy, working towards a vocation in research on monsters.
Chroma: Amethyst-Purple Mineral
Orientation: panromantic, asexual