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Hakurei Shrine - 19th of April, 19:15
One of the many skills that I have acquired throughout all these years of brutal training, is to let my instincts do the thinking whenever my mind can’t keep up. And right now, when my mind has all but succumb to the enticing grasp of sleep, my guts have started to voice their opinion, and it’s telling me to accept her offer. I can’t tell if it’s my instinct as a warrior telling me to stand at the top, or my simple instinct to be as useful as I can to the shrine.
Not that that’s such a bad idea. I mean, if I stand as unbeatable, the shrine is bound to prosper. Or become a target by those seeking to take my spot at the top, if they can even find this place. It’s rather well hidden, everything considered.
“Then let’s see just how far I can go.” I tell her. “Show me the way to the top.”
The sage closes her eyes and smiles.
Doc, too, has taught me a lot of things throughout the years. Aside from introducing me to magic in the first place, he also passed on the knowledge every fox needs to know. Now, I don’t have the natural charisma a fox does, but I am equally able to read people.
Why is this relevant? Because right now the sage has one of the most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen. So far she’s just been wearing that formal smile you can expect of nobles. But this one is different, even if she still carries herself with that mighty attitude.
“I knew you’d make the right choice.” She says. “First we’ll have to correct the flaws in your current methods. But before that, you have something you still need to do, don’t you?” She asks giving me a knowing smirk. “I’ll come back the day after tomorrow and pick you up. Be ready around midday.”
“Of course.” I respond.
She gives me a final smiling nod before one of her signature gaps swallows her up.
Right then, Renko.
With a quick stride I reach Doc’s office and let the door swing open.
And that’s when I see something I could never even imagine.
Doc lies with his arms and legs tugged underneath him, as he gets a lap pillow from Renko. His eyes are locked on me as I enter, and it only takes a second before his face turns red.
Renko on the other hand is calmly stroking his hair, or was until I came, at which point she lifts her head.
“Ryuko? You’re back?” She asks.
“No, I’m on a plane on my way to Greece.” A stupid question considering I just walked through the door. “But since you know me, I assume your memories are back.”
“Yeah, although the two people you left me with are gone.” She says.
Right. With her memory back, she’s bound by logic again. She won’t be able to see the supernatural anymore without aid. And even if I keep forgetting it, Doc will look like a normal fox to anyone not able to see spiritual power.
I’m actually debating telling her that that’s Doc, though I don’t imagine she’d react well to knowing she’s been stroking an old man’s hair for who knows how long.
“So no one has told you.” I note. “Renko, what date is it today?”
She quickly glance up before looking back down, muttering “Oh, right.” and fishing out her phone from her breast pocket.
All color quickly vanishes from her face as her eyes widen. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” She exclaims, each harder than the previous. “My attendance record is going to crash.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” I ask her. “What about your family? Or that foreign friend of yours?”
“I’m living alone in Tokyo, so family is no problem. And Mary will understand if I just explain it to her.” She explains to me. “But do you have any idea how expensive an education is today? How can I face my family if I fail because of bad attendance? Fuck, this is going to take a lot of extra classes to fix.”
She’s about to storm past me but I grab her shoulder to stop her.
“Before you leave, let me tell you this. This shrine’s location is a secret. You’re not allowed to tell anyone of it’s location, or even it’s existence. I will hunt you down if you do.” I tighten my grip on her shoulder to make sure the message gets through. “You’re not free to come here as you please. In fact, unless you’re invited, you’ll not be welcome here, so don’t bother returning. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yeah.” She nods firmly. “I understand.”
“Good. Now second off,” I let go of her, “if you go down those stairs you’ll see a small empty village. Follow the main road until you see asphalt. Turn right and follow the road and you’ll reach the closest station.”
She looks out the open door, then back at me. “Thanks.” She says before running out of the door. “Hey, Mary.” I hear her on the phone just before she gets too far away.
“And so she’s gone.” The old fox walks up next to me.
“Did Shinki leave already?” I ask him.
“Didn’t think you were into older women.” He says, letting a smug smile onto his face.
“Didn’t think you were into such young women.” I retort with the same level of smugness.
“Touché.” He lets out a chuckle. “But yeah, she left soon after we completed the memory transfer. We did have a quick chat, though, and that goddess is an interesting character, from what I gathered.”
“Yeah.” I agree. “Actually wanted to continue talking to her. But considering how much time passed here in the short while we were there, I can understand why she wouldn’t want to stay for too long.”
“Mm. Now, get inside the back room.” He commands. “We’re going to treat that wound. It stinks.”
Yakumo Residence - 21st of April, 13:06
I barely manage to dodge her attack, getting away with her claws grazing my cheek.
The fox quickly takes advantage of my stagger and sweeps my knee, forcing me on my back.
Predicting her next move, I slam my hand in the ground, placing my spell before kicking my feet in the air and getting out of the way.
The spell activates and a cylindrical barrier shoots out of the ground, knocking her back and creates some breathing room for me.
“Seems like I was right.” The sage comments from the sideline.
I told her I wanted to get started immediately, to avoid any kind of rust settling, and she threw me straight into a spar with Ran. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can beat her, even without restrictions imposed on me. The sage herself has just been meticulously observing our fight from the sideline.
The fox charges at me and with deadly precision strikes out for my chest.
I spin on my heel, dodging the attack but she quickly follows through with another attack, plunging her claws in just under my ribs, avoiding anything vital.
Given her size, she can easily sneak past my defense, by using my own body to escape my sight.
Not being allowed to lay a finger on her really makes attacking difficult. All I have is barriers, but they’re not suited for offense.
I draw a quick wall between us, forcing her to pull out to avoid getting cut by the barrier. But to my surprise, she instead rides it up, bypassing the wall entirely.
She jumps off it, charging down at me.
That type of attack being easy to handle, I dodge backwards and immediately create a small barrier trapping her.
The fox flicks her wrist and a spell tagged dagger flies out into her hand, with which she proceeds to stab the barrier, breaking it apart before sheathing the dagger back into her sleeve.
Now, I have a few things up my sleeves as well, but I’ve never been able to do that. What’s even holding it in place in there?
“Have you figured it out yet?” The sage asks.
“I have a hunch.” I yell back, spinning around on my heels dodging Ran’s calculated strikes. “But I don’t think it’s what you’re talking about.”
Seizing the moment of distraction, the vixen moves in faster than I can react and deliver a palm-strike to my chin, with the force only a youkai could do, lifting me off the ground.
Immediately following up on that move, she strikes me down with her elbow, forcing me on the ground once more.
And she stops.
“That’s it for today.” The sage stops our spar.
“That’s it?” I sit. “I can easily go on. I’m not that frail.”
“Our goal here isn’t to test your upper level, but to raise your bottom level.” She asserts. “And our first step in doing so is to get you to understand your own shortcomings.”
“Right. Sorry.” I apologize to her. I got carried away. It’s been awhile since I’ve spared with a youkai I can actually hit. Because lord knows Coach is an impenetrable wall of dodge.
“For now, meditate on that hunch of yours and see where it leads you.” She turns around so her back faces us. “I’ll trust you to take care of him, Ran.”
“Of course.” she responds vigorously, completely unfazed by our spar. “Are you alright?” She offers me a hand to get up.
“I’ve had worse.” I take her hand and let her pull me up.
“Let me see.” She asks.
Without waiting for a reply, she lifts up my shirt, exposing the wound. I can feel her trace a finger across it as she examines it.
“We should sanitize this, just to be safe.” She says, pulling my shirt back down. “Come with me inside, if you would.”
“But the scar tissue has already formed. Isn’t it too late to sanitize it?” I ask, following her inside the living room.
“I’d just like to be on the safe side. Now, please take off your shirt and sit down.” She says before leaving the room.
I comply and take my seat, letting my arm rest on the table.
As I wait for Ran to come back, I let my eyes wander across the room.
I easily memorized the rooms and the layout of the building when I first came here, which is actually a surprisingly simply design. The center of the grounds is the garden, which the building is forming a, what would you call it, a square half circle. Like all but one side of the garden is covered by the house.
The house itself is pretty linear from there, with the bedrooms in one end and the living area in the other end, with basic facilities such as the toilet and the bath in between.
The living room where I’m currently situated shares the room with the kitchen, separated only by half a wall. It’s a somewhat strange sight as all the furniture is modern and western looking, while the architecture itself is traditional, down all the way to the floor mats. And while they’re pleasant to walk on, they don’t blend well with the table and chairs, which I can only really describe as standard, as there’s nothing really outstanding about them.
The door into the hallway swings open, breaking my line of thought, and Ran enters with what looks like a first aid kit.
Then without saying anything, she prepares a rag with a liquid that smells strongly like alcohol.
“Are you ready?” She asks.
“Yeah.” It’s obvious what she intends to do.
I brace myself and she applied the rag to my wound. I inhale hard, trying to choke any expression of pain, as the alcohol burns and stings at what I thought was already a scar.
“See? I told you it was a good idea.” She removes the rag again.
I hold my hand over the scar, instinctively trying to subdue the pain. “Strange. It ought to have healed already.”
“Would disinfection extend the time it takes?” The fox asks, putting the remaining articles back into the box, seeing as we wouldn’t need them anymore.
“I imagine it would, thought I can’t say I’ve ever tested it.” I answer.
“In that case, this might be why.” She shows me the hand she stabbed me with.
And it’s only now I notice she’s coated her nails with a polish. It’s of a similar golden color like her eyes, but the tone is more in line with her fair skin, so it doesn’t stand out too much. Despite that, it’s easy to see the polish having been roughed up a bit across her nails. Most likely left some traces inside me.
“Maybe. That might be it.” I’m not certain. Frankly, I’ve never tried to measure the time it takes to heal, I just tend to go by how bad my body claims it to be. Something like this, which was practically painless, wouldn’t stay more than a few minutes, an hour at worst. “By the way, would you mind helping me get my shirt back on?”
She raise an eyebrow and look at me for a second before answering. “I won’t really mind, but if you don’t mind me asking, why?”
Instead of answering, I just lift up my numb limb and let it drop on the table with a flat ‘duck.’
“Oh.” She says, eyes darting around me, looking for anything besides my arm to look at. “I didn’t realize that was why you carried it like that.”
“You weren’t told?” I ask her.
“No, I haven’t heard anything about your,” she trails off for a second, “about your disability.” she says reluctantly.
“It’s temporary. Soon it’ll be back to normal.” I assure her. “But if you weren’t told this, then what were you told?”
“Not much, actually.” She admits. “When I visited your shrine earlier this year, it was the first time I learned anything of you, beyond just your name.” She closes the first aid box. “That, and then lady Yukari ensured me this was how you would best learn. And speaking of that; sorry I let myself get a little carried away back there.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I assure her. “I told you, I’ve had worse.”
“That’s not very assuring you know.” The vixen gives me what can roughly be summarized as a sad smile. “Come, let’s get your shirt on.”
After getting my shirt back on, I thank her for our spar and excuse myself to my room. Well, the room I’ve been assigned as I stay here.
The bedroom is entirely of traditional design, the same way it is back at the shrine, so at least it’ll feel somewhat familiar to sleep here. With the partly western design, I almost expected her to have those raised beds used in houses nowadays.
Doing as I was told, I pull out a block of paper and recreate the spar on paper, using my own little set of symbols and lines. Once drawn I fill in the thoughts I had at the time as well as my thoughts on the fight now that I’ve had time to look back on it.
It’s been awhile since I last used this method of self reflection. Coach was usually able to direct me towards the answer without making it obvious. I actually think the last time I used it, was when I was developing Spell Break. Since it’s an original of mine, none of the guys back home could teach me how to do it.
After having filled out about a dozen pages I deem it finished and start reading it back from the start. And then I read it once more. And once more after that, until I can see the fight play back in front of me in vivid details.
Now I can start analyzing the fight properly.
Yakumo Residence - 22nd of April, 08:16
“Young Hakurei. Are you awake?”
A loud knocking breaks me out of sleep. It takes a second for my senses to adjust to the sudden awakening.
Oh, Ran. “Yeah, more or less.” Probably less, actually.
“Breakfast will be ready soon.” I see her silhouette through the door, bending over to pick something up from in front of the door. “You shouldn’t skip meals. It’s bad for your health.”
Before I can even get a chance to process what she said, she’s walked away.
Although now that she mentions it, I did forget to eat dinner yesterday. I became too engrossed in working.
I run my hand through my hair, brushing back the strands of hair that came loose from the ribbon.
The floor is covered in papers, all filled out with notes, theories and ideas. I’d like to give it all another read over just to refresh everything, but I should probably go clean myself up first.
Yakumo Residence - 10:21
“Did you manage to figure out what your flaw is?” The sage asks. “Or was that night of work wasted?”
“I figured out a few things.” I tell her. “That I’m too reliant on a select few type of barriers. And that as a result ,my efficiency with other types are down, lower performance with a higher cost and casting time.”
“Those are the symptoms, not the problem itself.” She closes her eyes and goes silent for about a minute. “Ryuko. What exactly is spiritual energy?”
Where did that question come from? “Well, normally I’d answer that question as, the waste energy produced by the soul.” I answer her. “But since you’re the one asking, I doubt that’s the answer you’re looking for.”
“The waste energy of a soul.” She repeats me. “That’s an interesting way to put it.”
“Well, spiritual energy is produced by the soul. And the energy we can normally access is energy not needed by the soul to function. So it’s a waste production.” I explain my reasoning. “But to actually answer your question.”
“Spiritual energy is a force created by the soul, staying on a different plane of existence.” I continue. “Using catalysts such as spell circles we’re able to control it. Whether it’s making it manifest on the physical plane, or temporarily alter the properties of living matter.”
“Correct. Spiritual power is essentially your will altering the physical world.” She summaries. “And once you’ve come to understand what exactly that means, being able to manipulate it at your leisure will become child’s play.”
To demonstrate her point, she holds out her hand.
It barely takes a second before her spiritual energy gathers in her palm, condensing to the point where it becomes visible to the naked eye, and eventually takes the shape of a parasol, similar to the one she’s leaning against.
From there it folds open on its own, and she starts using it like she would her own. Although it doesn’t provide any shade due to its transparent nature.
Being able to create objects using pure spiritual energy is no easy task. It’s one of the highest level techniques I know of, though not one I can use. Yet she’s able to do it without invoking magic of any sort. No circle, no incantation, nothing. The more I learn about Yukari, the bigger the gap between us appears to be.
“So, do you think you understand?” As she puts her hand back on her parasol, the pole vanishes like hot air.
“Evidently, I don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be here right now.” I answer her.
“I see.” She lets out a sigh. “The only option left is to spell it out for you, which I know you’d rather avoid me doing. But you’re a smart young man, so I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out, if you just put your mind to it.”
“I probably can.” I answer, a bit reluctantly. I can’t answer with much confidence. “I just don’t have much of a clue on where to start.” I explain. “You told me to analyze my fight, and I did, coming up with what amounted to nothing. If you ask me to go study again, I can already tell you I’ll come out empty handed.”
“I see.” She closes her eyes and falls silent for another minute. “Practice using spiritual techniques without the use of spell circles. No,” she quickly corrects herself, “do it without using any spell casting system at all.”
“But,” I cut myself off. I was about to call it impossible, even though I just saw her do it herself. When she conjured that parasol, she didn’t invoke any form of magic, nothing that I could trace anyway. “Where do I start?”
“Where you’re most comfortable; with barriers.” She answers. “Think about all the ones you have at your disposal. Are there any you can use without invoking a casting system? If not, then find the easiest one to cast and find a way to do it without a system.”
A barrier without invoking a casting system?
“Feel free to use Ran for practicing, if you feel the need.” She adds. “And should you need to get in touch with me, just tell her and she’ll let me know at the earliest opportunity.”
“I got it.” I tell her.
She nods and starts walking back into the house, leaving me to my own business.
Now then. The simplest barrier I can do is activated by drawing a line through the air, at which point the same line will appear on the ground emitting a light straight up, preventing anything from passing through it.
It doesn’t require a catalyst like majority of spells. Or maybe the hand gesture serves as the catalyst? It would for certain if this was mana, but it’s generally uncharacteristic of spiritual power to function like that.
The gesture is simply making a finger gun with both the index and middle finger while holding the thumb on the ring finger. From there you just focus your energy into the tip of your fingers and draw the line.
It’s very simple, but very draining too. Not that that really poses as a negative in my case, because of my practically unlimited spiritual energy. That really was the only good thing I got out of that one incident.
But anyway, teaching myself how to use this barrier again from the beginning might be the best way to start understanding what Yukari said.
Yakumo Residence - 29th of April, 18:20
“I take it you still haven’t figured it out.” The sage has approached me from behind.
“I don’t think so.” I answer her. “I’ve managed to optimize some of the most basic spells, reducing the casting time and cost by approximately ten percent, though.”
“Hmm.” She mulls over my words for a second. “I’m going to have to think of a different way to try and show you, then.” She straightens her posture again. “And while I do that, it’s time for work.”
“A new breach?” I stand up and face her.
“It’s in the Kochi prefecture.” She informs me. “Do you want me to just take you straight there?”
Right, that’s an option now. “I would actually prefer to go there myself.” I tell her. “To take the time to clear my head. So if you could just drop me off at the bottom of the stairs to the shrine, that would be great.”
“Oh? Are you sure?” She asks.
“Yeah.” I nod.
Kochi Prefecture, Higashiyama Forest - 30th of April, 02:03
As reality reassembles itself around me, it marks another job successfully completed.
Thanks to Yukari’s early warning, I was able to arrive with plenty of time to spare, time which I used to fortify the barrier and set up preparations to optimize my defense. I even had time to counteract that annoying identity interference effect, so I didn’t have to divide my attention like usual.
I only got some scratches on my arm, but I’ll blame that on the unusual way he used the wind element. It’s rare you see anyone actually use it to cut, despite how theoretically easy it is to make it sharp. Regardless, they’re magic induced wounds, so they didn’t manage to cut deep thanks to my resistance. They’ll heal in no time.
“Ryuko?” A familiar voice rings out from behind.
“Oh look, it’s the tiny professor.” I remark after seeing the redheaded girl, followed by her assistant.
“Hey, I’m not that tiny.” She overacts a pout.
“Everyone is tiny to me.” I pick up my bag and walk up to meet her. “Anyway, what are you doing all the way out here? And this late, at that.”
“I could ask you the same question.” She tries to change the subject.
Her blonde friend walks past us without saying a word, bringing their equipment with her. They don’t carry that big box this time.
“Just disposing of a body.” I jest. “Gotta get rid of the evidence after all.”
She lets out a choked laugh. “It would be pretty hard to find it out here. No, but seriously.”
“Just an odd-job I picked up because I was in the area.” I tell her. “I'm supposed to patrol the forest for a few hours.” I lie. “So, what are you doing out here? Don't you have a class or something to teach tomorrow?”
“How did you know I'm a teacher?” She asks, sounding genuinely confused.
“Well, your friend keeps calling you professor, and can use rooms at a university.” I tell her. “So what does a professor do at a university, besides teaching?”
“Oh, good point, actually.” She admits. “But no, I don’t have any classes on Saturdays.”
“I see.” Since she keeps dancing around the question, I think it’d be safe to say it’s their research. I mean, it was pretty obvious from the start, considering the time and location, and their equipment.
“Hey, prof. You might want to take a look at this.” The blonde assistant calls out. “I’m getting an increased reading over here.”
“Oooh.” The redhead immediately perks up, betraying the faint bags under her eyes. “I’ll be right-”
A bright flash with a loud crack cuts her sentence short and blinds us.
I instinctively focus all my attention on my spiritual energy to survey the source.
That’s- The youkai I just drove back still managed to force his way through?
 Fight. No time to lose, I have to keep the girls safe.
- Use magic.
- Rely on physical attacks only.
 Take the girls and flee.
-[Optional] Call the local Watcher for help.
5 weeks later than intended, it's finally here. Enjoy.