Chapter 4: Facet

Syne’s chamber is at the heart of Ascera, the center of the city. It is a diamond-shaped floating glass structure, accessible only through hovering cube-shaped constructs acting as platforms that Syne sends out to receive guests. Those who might attempt to fly to them would be gently pushed away by an unseen force.

I stand at the edge of a platform, one attached to one of Ascera’s spires. The sun is just setting—was it really just today that I saw Kiun again?

One of Syne’s constructs approaches. The light of the construct reshapes, forming a staircase guiding me to the top of it. I ascend, and the staircase deconstructs as a railing forms, boxing me in.

With the soft hum of magic, the construct begins to move. Syne’s chamber towers over me as I draw near, and when I am right next to it, a square-shaped section forms in the glass to allow me inside.

Syne’s chamber is always a marvel to behold. The walls are windows in some sense, in that I can see the outside through them, but they also seem to contain thousands of shifting facets, offering glimpses to wherever Syne is connected, all across the world. They are much too dynamic for me to glean any information out of, though.

The construct carrying me sets me down on a floating glass platform forming a square around the center of the chamber. And of course, there in the center is Syne themself.

They are several times taller than me, with something of a serpentine form. A sharp face of glowing white, a long neck expanding into something like the bell of a jellyfish, though shaped more like a cloak. Underneath are four glowing white arms, each pair of hands clasped together, as well as ribbons of light and several tendrils that extend to the walls, blending with the glass.

They turn their face towards me, and I see the large eye on their forehead blink at me slowly. The two smaller symmetrical eyes follow.

“Hello, Eirien,” they say, with a voice that sounds like thousands at once, reverberating in both my ears and my mind.

“Syndetri,” I say, bowing my head slightly.

“Come, let us see you.”

I walk closer, my steps echoing in the chamber. As I approach, they form more tendrils that reach for me. I slow and stop as the soft, warm points brush against my face, and close my eyes as I feel Syne’s magic washing over me.

Their survey of my essence is gentle, as strange as it is to feel something else rooting around in my mind and soul. Yet—I’ve known Syne all my life, as anyone in Civilization does, and their presence is almost familiar.

Their magic seems to touch something in me, and I stiffen as something else swells within my mind.

“There you are,” Syne says. “Tell us, who are you?”

—...

“What?” I murmur. I can’t help but feel I’ve missed something, even though I didn’t exactly hear anything.

“You cannot hear them properly yet, we see.” Syne leans down so that their eye is level with my face. “Your espira is beginning to develop. We believe it would be especially helpful for you to learn how to connect with them, to learn the true shape of your soul.”

Syne pulls back, tendrils sliding away with their movement. “We find ourself surprised that you have begun to develop one, given your nature when you first khimaerized. It would be interesting to see if espiration is possible for you.”

I look off to the side. “Don’t you think it’s more likely it’ll stay as just a voice in my head? The number of khimaera who eventually become an espira are few and far in between, and we’re talking about someone that was once classified as a monster.”

“Indeed,” Syne says, tilting their head. “And if you were able to transition from a state of madness to stability, who is to say that you would be unable to actualize into your true self as well?”

“Stable?” I scoff. “I’m only ‘stable,’ and only just, because of this thing,” I say, pointing to the core on my chest. “Isn’t that why you won’t let me go gallivanting off?”

“It is meant to be a tool. Training wheels, if you will. We have told you—when you are ready, you can remove it. If you are able to retain your faculties, then you are free to travel among Civilization as you please. Perhaps you are stronger than you know.”

I curl my claws around the device. I haven’t been parted from it since it was placed on me all those years ago. “I know how strong I am. You gave me that S-class designation, after all.”

“You know very well what I mean.” Syne hums softly. “If you wish to live your life without moving forward, then that is your choice. If you wished to abandon Civilization and live in the Boundary or even the Wilderness, that would be your choice as well.”

They turn their face to the facets of the chamber. “It was through our efforts that Civilization was unified. We needed a strong order for that; a precision blade to cut out the danger and weakness, to organize the natural entropy of chaos. We were successful, but we do not claim perfection, nor do we claim that our order is what is best for all individuals. It is simply the best we can come up with for the majority.”

Syne turns back to me. “You know, yes? Before us, before the Unification, only forty percent of khimaerizations resulted in monsters. That is, of course, a misleading statistic—after all, ninety percent of individuals experienced khimaerization. So in the end, thirty-six of one hundred individuals would become monsters.”

“I’m aware,” I say, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. I research monsters. Syne knows this. I know Syne knows this. I know Syne also probably knows I know they know this, except I also know that they love to go on long-winded explanations to anyone that directly talks to them, as opposed to just a fragment of them.

“Is it better or worse, that ninety percent of khimaerizations result in monsters now, despite the fact that the total number is smaller? Humans are able to pursue activities meaningful to them without basis on their magic ability. Social hierarchy is not defined by strength. Individuals are free to pursue a mundane happiness.” Syne pauses. “Some do not believe this is the way life should be lived, and we do not believe our way is best for all. That is why the Boundary exists, and why we still offer some of our assistance to them. That is why some leave; because the world of Civilization is not the world they want.” They lean closer, setting their arms on the glass railing of the platform. “Tell us, Eirien Ward, what do you want?”

“What do I want?” I look at my hands. “I… I’m here because I want to help monsters. If I can be saved, why can’t they?”

But are you truly saved?

I flinch. Syne’s gaze bores into me. When I say nothing, they continue. “Some argue that favoring the human existence prevents individuals from discovering their true self. That the natural progression of a khimaerian is the confusion and discovery of humanity, followed by the transformation into the pursuant existence of a khimaerian, an existence to shape one’s identity with their power. Then, the espira forms, reflecting the truest form of the soul you have shaped yourself into. Finally, espiration. The death of the mortal form, the exuviation of the cocoon, the shedding and consumption of the molted shell.”

“I’m sure that’s all great for you since you’re the one on the consuming end, but I’m not sure how I feel about dying and getting eaten.”

“Death comes for all mortals… but even ‘you’ are not the shell. We are the human we once were, and the khimaera, and the nascent espira. We are the final integration of all our selves, no less than who we were. More, perhaps.”

“I hardly even know what kind of self I am,” I mutter, tapping the device on my chest. “Am I me as I am right now, or is that ‘self’ actually this thing? Or am ‘I’ that monster Klaer caught all those years ago?”

“A self can be complex. Faceted. The device helps to stabilize you, but it does not present a consciousness beyond you. Perhaps you are one or the other, or both, or neither.” Syne tilts their head, reaching a tendril towards me. “Shall we remove it and find out?”

I jerk back from them, heart hammering. “No,” I say. “No, let’s… not.”

Syne blinks slowly. “Truth will come out, one way or another. You can only flee for so long, once you have set yourself on the journey of a khimaerian.”

“It’s not like I had a choice,” I snap. “If I didn’t, then I’d be dead. And so would…” I trail off, looking away.

“Perhaps so,” Syne agrees smoothly.

“Anyways,” I mutter, crossing my arms, “like I said, it’s not likely for me of all people to fully develop my espira by the time I keel over.”

“Yet you already are in the process of it.” Syne pats my head with a tendril, and I grumble and allow it for just a bit before I bat it away. “We ask that you attempt some exercises in internal communication.”

“What, the… meditation stuff?”

“That is one option. We will send a few guides to your fragment.”

“Right. Sure, okay,” I say. “Is that everything? Confirm that I have a developing espira, wax on order and chaos and identity, prod me into another existential crisis…”

“Well, when you put it like that,” Syne says, though their voice is colored with mirth. “Yes, we believe that is sufficient.” Their gaze becomes heavy with… something. “There are many possibilities. An infinity of them, truly. Do not fear change, and be open to the future.”

“I’ll try,” I say, since that’s all I can promise.

I run into Byrak on my way back to my housing unit—another khimaera Praetor, one that I might call a friend. Maybe.

He’s a tall one, tall enough to tower over me and most others. His neck, arms, and legs look to be made of wood, and he has three fingers on each hand, two and a thumb.

His face is pale green, and he has only one eye, his right one—forest green iris, yellow sclera, bright green slitted pupil. The other side of his face consists of three outgrowths of wood resembling horns; out of his right temple he has a large wooden horn, and another smaller horn lower down, at his cheek. His hair is a darker but pale green, brushed back and pulled into a low ponytail going down to his waist.

He’s wearing his Praetor outfit, as usual—black polymer-alloy like Klaer’s covering his forearms, shoulders, and neck, along with a black undersuit and a gray robe.

He smiles when he spots me, but I have no doubt he sensed me first. Folks that lose eyes in khimaerization often train their extrasensory abilities to compensate.

“Eirien,” he greets. “How are you?”

“Fine enough,” I say. “I met with Syne.”

“Ah,” Byrak nods understandingly. “They must have gotten you with their speeches.”

“As they do.”

“As they do,” Byrak agrees. “Were you heading back to the housing area? I was as well, shall we walk together?”

I shrug. “Sure.”

So we do. For much of the way, we don’t speak. The click of my shoes and the tap of the wooden points of Byrak’s feet reverberate in the halls. This place really is too spacious for the Praeta’s size; we don’t see anyone else as we walk.

“How have you been, Byrak?” I ask, eventually.

“Well enough,” he says, corner of his mouth twitching up slightly. “I was busy along with all the others here—there’s never been so many monster attacks in a single day before. I was able to capture one. Ah, though…” he grimaces slightly. “Oekar killed one and chased one off.”

Oekar… another Praetor, one with a chroma of orange fire. And also Byrak’s flatmate and Praetor partner. Sometimes I worry he’ll set Byrak on fire, but apparently that has happened a few times and Byrak is fine since he ‘Stays Hydrated.’

“I’m not much better,” I admit. “I—well. Kiun made an appearance today. He killed someone I was about to capture, and Klaer chased one away.”

Byrak blinks, and then stares at me. “It’s been about a year since his last appearance, right?”

“Yes,” I say. “And the way he was acting, it seemed like he knew something about why the monster attacks are increasing in frequency.” I glance over to Byrak. “How many were there today?”

Byrak frowns. “Two between you and Klaer. Three between me and Oekar. With other pairs… I’d guess around ten today.”

“There were only three yesterday,” I mutter. “I hope this isn’t exponential growth, because if it is, Catharia help us all.”

“There have been six before,” Byrak says. “It seems to fluctuate. But if there is actually a root cause… well…”

“We should hunt down Kiun and make him spit out whatever he knows,” I say bluntly.

Byrak huffs. “Wasn’t he your childhood friend?”

Childhood friend. After—” I pause. “After my khimaerization, I was a bit preoccupied. At some point he went missing, and at some point after I… got things sorted, he shows up as a khimaera, hunting down monsters and being some sort of public menace. So, yes. ‘Was.’”

Byrak hums. “We could get Mekah on it. They’re one of our best trackers.”

“I… guess that could work.” Given that I still can’t go gallivanting off on my own.

But you can.

I can’t, I mentally snap back, and I feel—an echo of surprise.

“Eirien?” Byrak waves a hand in front of me. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, um… fine.” At Byrak’s dubious eyebrow, I sigh. “Syne thought—well, I guess they confirmed that I have a developing espira. I hear a voice sometimes, and I guess that’s… them.”

Byrak’s eyebrow lifts even higher. “You’re starting to develop an espira?”

“So it seems.” I sigh. “My magic has always been too strong. I really didn’t think it was possible. I’m not exactly the person that’s most in touch with my identity.”

“That’s only one theory as to why they form,” Byrak points out. “The other most popular ones being the magic power theory and the blessing theory.”

“The Catharia don’t bless folks willy-nilly,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Some people don’t even believe they exist.”

“Do you?”

“I believe in the thought that espira scatter into some sort of collective state. Whether that state is conscious or not and whether it has godly power or not is another question. I mean, espira are practically gods already. Syne runs the entirety of Civilization. There are espira who build, deconstruct, and reconstruct cities in a matter of hours. I’m sure there are plenty guarding the sanctity of the Wilderness; Faeval is a historic one, keeping humanity’s grubby hands off vast reaches of forests in the first age of industrialization.”

“Fair enough,” Byrak says. “I have to say that I’m curious about what it’d be like. I don’t have an espira right now and I don’t know if I ever will, though.”

I hum. “Would you want to espirate, if you do form one someday?”

“I wonder,” Byrak says. “Some say it is like a death. That is a bit intimidating. Still, shedding the mortal coil and becoming my true self sounds nice.”

I hum in agreement. By now, we’ve reached my unit—Byrak’s is further down. “What are your plans from now?” I ask.

“I will be having a checkup with Arrin, and then I will return to my plants,” he says, smiling slightly.

“Right, of course. Should have known.” He researches the plants of Khimaer, and how iether affects them.

“And you?” he asks.

“I’ll probably try some of Syne’s exercises, and then…” I give a wry sigh. “Back to research for me as well, until there are too many monsters for all of you to handle again.”

Byrak hums. “There are so many rules you follow, some of which I feel are unnecessarily put on yourself. Might I suggest going out on a walk tomorrow? Doing nothing can be helpful for the mind as well.”

I open my mouth. I close it, pause, and then sigh. “Maybe, I’ll think about it. There’s just always more to be done.”

“Yes,” Byrak agrees. “It is endless, so be sure to rest when you need it.” He gives a nod. “I shall leave you to it, then. It was a pleasure to speak with you.”

“Likewise,” I say. “Good night, Byrak.”

“Good night.”

He leaves and I enter my unit, catching Klaer watching something on our large display. She glances up and waves, and I wave back. I say nothing, though, as I retreat to my own room.

I sit on the floor, taking out my fragment of Syne. “Alright,” I say. “What have you got for me?”

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Bonus

Syndetri | "Syne"

[sin-DEH-tree | SINE]

The founder and Head Administrator of the supergovernment, Iriae. Their efforts led to the Unification of Civilization approximately 200 years ago. Their magic and fragments are at the core of all data technology and information exchange in Civilization; they are able to fragment their consciousness into countless parallel processes.

Affiliation: Iriae

Age: 783

Species: Espira

Chroma: Sky Data

Class: E-S


Gender: multigender

Pronouns: any


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Byrak Sael

[BEER-ak SAYL]

A khimaera who is a member of the Praeta. He lives in the Ascera Academy, partnered with another khimaera, Oekar. When he is not defending Ascera from monster attacks, he is conducting research on the plants of Khimaer - their biology, iethology, etc.

Affiliation: The Praeta

Age: 36

Species: Khimaer

Chroma: Jade (Green) Wood

Class: A


Gender: masculine

Pronouns: he/him


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