Chive und Artemisia, Part 1
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Last time on Nexus:
A Good Girl, Part 3

Once upon a time, there lived in a cave a she-bear and a tigress. Day in and day out, they observed the humans and envied them. They ardently wished to be human beings as well. With this desire, they sought out the god Hwanung, son of heaven and ruler of the human race. Hwanung granted their request, but the procedure to fulfill it was not easy. In their cave, the bear and tigress had to avoid sunlight for a hundred days and were forbidden from eating anything but chives and artemisia. Both rose to the task, but soon the tigress got tired of it, because she couldn't hunt and the artemisia was too bitter and the chives too spicy for her. And so, she gave up.

The she-bear, however, determined to get through the hundred days, turned into a beautiful woman on the twenty-first day. But without the tigress she was lonely and therefore looked for a husband. Hwanung, who took a great liking to her, seized this opportunity, married her and begat the demigod Dangun with her. And it is said of Dangun, that in 2333 B.C., he founded Go-Joseon, the first kingdom of Korea.

Mrs. Pfirsich had been a teacher for fifteen years and been through everything at this secondary school. Student pranks, bullying from classmates, expulsions. Lately, however, something else had been troubling her. The new girl, Ms. Jäger.

Sure, she did her job absolutely perfectly, as if she had done nothing else in her life, and within the first weeks, she had already collected enough grades from everyone to only have to concentrate on exams1. And even from those, the first ones were already done…
None of the students complained, even though she constantly wrote pop quizzes and generally tried to make herself as unpopular as possible with them.

But Mrs. Pirsich was suspicious of this woman. First of all, she always reeked of alcohol. Constantly, as if she was drinking at school. But no one had caught her yet. Also, no one had ever seen her leave or enter the school. She just appeared every morning and disappeared in the afternoon. And then the way she looked…

The principal admittedly let it all slide, since the average grade in the abnormal number of subjects she taught had improved dramatically, but the faculty couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong.

In the teachers' lounge, she found Ms. Jäger creating a math exam on a laptop. She was always seen doing work while eating her lunch or preparing something for class. No one had ever observed her correcting this barrage of performance assessments with which she trolled her students.

Mrs. Pfirsich looked curiously over her shoulder.

"Power functions," she commented thoughtfully. "This is for one of the higher grades, right?"

"Nope, seventh," was the short answer.

Mrs. Jäger didn't even look up.

"Wait, what?" gasped Mrs. Pfirsich.

Hastily, she rushed to a filing cabinet and pulled out the current syllabus.

"Uh, what you're doing is supposed to be thought in grade ten, though, according to the syllabus…"

"Oh," Ms. Jäger made in moderate surprise. "Good thing nobody told the seventh graders that2."

"That has nothing to do with knowledge!" exclaimed Mrs. Pfirsich. "You can't just use the syllabus-"

"The syllabus is baloney, everyone here agrees on that," Ms. Jäger interrupted her, noticeably annoyed. "Why should I spend three years on nonsense that I can cover in a month?"

"But they can't just-"

Ms. Jäger slapped a folder labeled "Math 6" on the table in front of her. It contained a whole bundle of corrected exams. With a wide variety of math problems, geometry, probability, functional equations, everything was there. Mrs. Pfirsich was dizzy from how complex some of the tasks were. And all the students had scored no worse than three….

Mrs. Pfirsich looked at Mrs. Jäger, pale as a sheet. She just shrugged and turned back to her work.

Elli groaned in annoyance as she returned to her home in the Nexus. Chloe, who had been taken along by her together with Dean, took the precaution of standing a meter away, because she feared an explosion. Elli, however, extinguished the metaphorical fuse by extensive use of her flask.
Her subsequent sigh was accompanied by sparks from her mouth.

"Every day the same, all the time "Frau Jäger, but the curriculum, yadda yadda yadda." I would love to shove the document down their throats. And down those of the people in charge at the Ministry of Education, too…"

Annoyed, she unscrewed on her flask again and drank.

"What do you have planned today?" asked Dean, trying to dissuade Elli from her rant.
Elli was immediately like another person.

"Oh, today we're going to watch a natural spectacle. Happens only every few hundred years. I've even got the exact spot mapped out. Hope you're hungry, Chloe, there's street food galore."

"So, where are we going?" Chloe asked, slightly confused.

"South Korea. You'll be surprised."

Chloe was indeed surprised. Because of the dense fog everywhere…

She saw, or rather heard, that she was in a port city when she stepped out of the Nexus, but nothing more. At the moment, they were in the abandoned part of a port facility. The sun had apparently just set.

"Where are we, Elli?"

"Mujin City, the fogged town," Elli explained.

"And there's supposed to be a natural spectacle here? We can't see it like this, can we?"

"Uh, yes we do."

Elli rummaged through her purse and pulled out three pairs of horn-rimmed glasses.

"Water filter glasses, try them on."

Chloe frowned her brow and put on the glasses. And suddenly the view was clear. No patches of fog. No clouds in the sky, either.

And no sea in the harbor….

Chloe looked in confusion at the empty dock, the particles of dirt billowing in it, and the ships seemingly floating in the air.

"These goggles block out anything made of water," Elli explained.

She herself had also put on a pair of glasses, making her appear like a woman who tried to look smart without much success.

"Oh no, sea air, you're wearing the wrong clothes, Elli," Dean tutted.

Elli looked down at herself. Chloe thought she was dressed normally. She herself was glad to be wearing a long skirt.

"What about it?" asked Elli.

"Only with great effort I will be able to wash this properly again…"

"Dean, in all friendship," Elli retorted, annoyed. "You're already getting upset when I'm sweating in thirty-degree clothes in forty-degree sunshine. I'll be fine with clothes that aren't extra fluffy…. All right, except for my special underwear…. Which I'm not wearing right now… Because Chloe's there… Right…"

Dean sighed in resignation.

Mujin City turned out to be quite the lively city with huge houses, even if most of it was covered in fog. But in the canyons of houses it was bearable. Especially in the colorfully lit alleys, where food was offered. Elli bought a bungeoppang for herself and Chloe, a pastry in the shape of a stylized fish, but containing red bean paste rather than fish. Chloe would have liked to try some other things, but when she even pointed to what she wanted, barely noticeable disgust spread across Dean's face. She left it at an egg toast and an ojingeo twigim, which was basically marinated squid, kind of like calamari. Chloe had never eaten squid before, so it seemed to her like she had a piece of meat gum in her mouth. Dean ate nothing, as usual, and tried not to get too close to the dirtier looking street food stores.

"Is there a reason it's this town in particular and not one with, well, a wider view?" Dean asked.

"The phenomenon we are going to witness comes from another dimension and the reality in Mujin City has a noticeably lower density than the average place. As an additional result, I can easily get here with the Nexus."

Elli bit into her own squid.

Chloe thought she remembered hearing the term reality density before3, however, they had been in an extreme situation then, so Chloe had not been able to inquire further. Now, however, the opportunity was right.

"Elli, what do you actually mean when you talk about "reality density"?"

Elli pondered for a moment.

"You have to imagine that our universe is anchored, so to speak, to remain stable, so that the laws of nature work as they do and the boundaries of the universe remain stable. This anchoring is called reality. Now, the anchoring is weaker in some places and stronger in others. Think of it best as mountains and valleys. Because of that, more supernatural things happen in the valleys than on the mountains, just because the reality is not strong enough. That's also how the Nexus works, by the way."

"So supernatural stuff happens here?" asked Chloe. "And no one notices?"

"Oh, there are some guys here that prevent people from noticing. To prevent panic and exploitation. Fortunately, reality is still strong enough here, because in very unreal areas, even you and I can shape the world with the power of our minds. That would be pure chaos."

Elli took a sip from her flask.

"Now what does this have to do with the natural phenomenon?" continued Chloe.

"As explained earlier, the phenomenon comes to us from another dimension, much like we do from the Nexus. But it can partially manifest even at high reality density and then looks like a mirage. Here, though, we're probably getting the most tangible sighting that will ever be."

She looked at her watch.

"We've got to get a move on, it's going to start in fifteen minutes."

The three quickened their steps.

Unnoticed by them, three shadows appeared nearby. They looked like blurs, but within seconds, they gained focus. They were a man and two women, all three black-haired Koreans. Two of them wore ordinary everyday clothes with long trench coats, he short-robed, she with shoulder-length hair and scar on her right temple. The third one in the group wore a balloon cap and a blue board jacket of the German Navy with brown pants. A thin, waist-length ponytail dangled over her back.

"They're here for the Shin-dan-su, chief," the man remarked.

The one he addressed, the woman in the balloon cap, sucked on a cigarette in a cigarette holder.

"I know, Ginam," she replied, "Daheui, your perception was spot on. But who would have thought that The Atoner would show up here, of all places."

"What are we going to do?" asked Daheui.

"First, we'll go after her," the leader explained. "It could be that she is here to renew the seal."
The three of them faded away again.

Mujin City has a fairly large, paved square in front of its city hall, surrounded by stores, restaurants, and cafes. Chloe, Elli, and Dean were sitting outside a pub, Elli with a glass of soju in her hand. All had their water filters on. From their location, they had a good view of the mountains behind Mujin City.

"What exactly are we waiting for?" asked Chloe.

"For the beginning," it came tersely from Elli. "We have a good view of the action from here."

"And what is it, exactly?

"Now, don't spoil the surprise," Elli laughed. "It's about to start."

She sipped cheerfully from her glass.

Before Chloe could ask further, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.

Something was angry. Hateful.

Confused, Chloe looked around, but neither Dean, Elli, nor any passersby showed any alarm.

Chloe concluded that it must be Ku sensing something and relaying it to her.

Before she could think about it further, a loud crack sounded. A crack as if the Creator had decided to break the largest walnut in the multiverse with an appropriately sized nutcracker.

On the square, something appeared as a shadow, but quickly gained substance until Chloe recognized it as a massive golden tree root as large as an apartment block. Chloe's jaw dropped as her eyes trailed it. The accompanying tree rose like a mountain above them into the starry sky, and its crown seemed to fuse with it. Long strips of cloth with tiger stripe patterns fluttered on its numerous branches.

The people around them began to panic slightly. Excited shouts were raised over this plant that had strategically positioned its golden trunk just outside the city on the flank of a mountain so as not to crush any buildings. Not that it could have, it was apparently a mirage, for several people tried in vain to touch the bark. It was probably better that way, because its roots would otherwise have blocked entire streets. The sight animated many residents to behave in a way typical of today's society: They took out their smartphones and took photos and videos.

"Elli, what's that?" Chloe asked, startled.

Elli smiled.

"That, Chloe, is the Shin-dan-su, the tree between heaven and earth. It forms a connection to the divine sphere, much like you did back in Ukraine4. Only this one is much more expertly made and stable. For the Koreans, this tree is something similar to Yggdrasil for the Vikings."

Chloe was only more confused.

"But what is it doing here?"

"Nobody knows," Elli replied with a shrug. "He shows up somewhere in Korea every few hundred years. Usually just as a shadow, but this is the best manifestation ever."

Chloe looked again speechlessly at this tree, which radiated a kind of serene majesty. Strips of fabric fluttered idly in the wind.

Was Chloe mistaken, or were they slightly on fire? On closer inspection, she noticed that the edges of the cloth were smoldering.

An earthquake shook Mujin. It wasn't Chloe's first earthquake by now, but after the first rumble, she had decided that she didn't like this natural disaster. Although it wasn't too strong, Elli had to regain balance, probably due to her alcohol level.

"But that wasn't supposed to happen," she remarked in surprise.

Surprised shouts were heard around her until the earthquake died down again.
Then they changed to growling…

Something changed in the whole atmosphere. There was suddenly nothing left of the dreamy city in the fog, suddenly the surroundings appeared wild, dark and dangerous…

"Elli? Was this planned?" Dean asked abruptly while looking at the passers-by. Many of them had lowered themselves to all fours and were growling and hissing at those who were still standing upright. The latter, of course, tried to bring the victims of this phenomenon back to their senses, talking at them, trying to touch them, but nothing helped.

Then came the first scream, when a mother abruptly lunged at her child and tried to bite it to death. Helping hands immediately pulled the woman away, who was acting like a madman, but the aggression took hold.

"What is this?" wondered Elli.

She sounded unsettled, but also intrigued.

"Dean, knock one out for me."

Dean didn't need to be asked twice, and pounced on three of the crazies at once, who were all over an old man. Whatever it was that made people such animals, it did not strengthen them in any way, quite the contrary. Dean had an easy time putting down the attackers, as they seemed to react on instinct alone. He lured each of them with his left until they snapped at it, thereby not seeing his right coming, which made contact with their temple with elemental force.

The old man hurried to escape while Elli and Chloe stepped up to Dean. Elli pulled a flashlight from her purse, while Dean pulled Chloe close to himself and surveyed the surroundings intently. The initial wave of violence seemed under control as the number of normal people far outnumbered those involved.

"Hmm, reflexes are normal…" Elli murmured, as she shone the lamp between her teeth into the eyes of her research subject.

She opened its mouth and looked at the dentition.

"No external mutations. Probably purely psychological in nature. Interesting…"

Chloe wanted to say something, but somehow she suddenly couldn't. She couldn't do anything. Something spread through her mind and took control.

Her eyes went black.

Next time on Nexus:
Chive und Artemisia, Part 2

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