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“Why can’t you just take a break from work like a normal kid would?” Doc asks as he pokes and prods at my arm. “Is it so boring to just sit down and relax once in a while?”
“That was my plan, actually. To just go and have a chat with the chronicler.” I correct him. “A friend just asked for a favor, which ended up spiraling out of control.”
He pauses for a second to look up at me. “Friend?”
“Friendly acquaintance to be more precise.”
“Oh, and here I thought you’d finally started to become a little social.” He goes back to examining my arm.
“Oh, the irony.”
He sighs, doing an overexaggerated eye-roll. “I’m not a good role model, okay? Addicted to caffeine and secluded to my office. I know.” He starts pouring his mana into my arm, doing a deep examination. “But once you’ve raised a kid with way too much energy, try and see how well you fare.”
“Yeah, about that.” I quickly go through the various ways to say this. “I’ve been meaning to say; thank you, for the last twenty years.”
The flow of mana stops.
“I’m not complaining.” He corrects himself.
“I know. But you’ve raised me, a stranger’s child.” I explain. “It’s just, thank you.”
He runs a hand through his hair, taking a deep breath to set his own thoughts in order. “There’s nothing wrong with the arm. Seems like everything is as it’s supposed to be.” He changes the topic. “Go lie on the bed, face down.”
Knowing what he wants to do, I strip off my tank-top and go lie on the bed.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to come here at first.” He starts talking again. “The only reason we met was because Inari ordered me to help out the Hakurei shrine.” He traces my spine with a finger. “But coming here has been the best time in my life.
“Going from being a lifelong bachelor to a parent is quite a leap. But I think it’s something everyone should experience. Becoming a parent, that is. It just changes you.” His hand stops and hovers over my lower back. “That’s why I keep getting so mad when you come back all ragged, by the way.”
“I know. Your healing has a price.” I agree. “But it’s not like I want to get hit. Getting hit hurts. There’s no way around that. But if all my opponents are too low skill to even hit me, then there’s no fun in the fight.”
“I don’t think you really understand, to be honest. You only have so much life force to burn on healing.” He removes his hand again. “If you retired today, I might just be able to make the remaining life force last you into your thirties. But if you continue at this pace, I’ll barely give you two full years.”
“I know. I’m on borrowed time, I know.” I repeat
“But you still won’t do me the favor of retiring.” He states more than asks.
“No. I owe my everything to this shrine. I’m the only one of us who can freely move outside the sanctuary zones.” Those zones being locations with enough concentrated spiritual power to feed several youkai. “So even if I’m the weakest here, it makes the most sense for me to be the field worker.”
“I get that, but,” he’s cut off by the sound of the front door opening.
“I noticed the lights where on, so I decided to drop by.” A feminine voice announces.
The snow-woman peeks in through the door to the backroom, seeing the two of us here.
“Yukiko. Hi.” I greet her without getting up. “Would you mind knocking next time?”
“Ryuko? How long have you been back?” She leans against the door frame. “I thought you’d left to study with Yakumo.”
“A lot of stuff happened, now I’ll be back here for a few days.” I answer.
“As you can see, we’re a little busy.” Doc interrupts us. “If it’s important, please get it out, otherwise I’d prefer if you could wait outside.”
“Sure thing.” She agrees instantly. “I don’t want to interrupt now that little Ryu is home again.” She pushes herself out from the frame again. “I’ll be waiting outside for when you have time, Akame.”
“Don’t wait too long. This might take a bit.” Doc replies, turning back to me.
Once we hear the outer door shut again, Doc snaps his finger, triggering a spell. A faint pulse is emitted from him, expanding out to all the walls in the room where it lingers for a second before fading.
“Gotta keep this room sterile.” He says. There’s a reason I don’t use it outside of work.”
“So, the lifelong bachelor has started flirting with women?” I flash him a sarcastic smile.
“Face down.” He states, holding out his hand again. “And no. Her relationship to me is as one-sided as it has always been.”
“Even though I’ve seen you together?”
“Like I said, it’s one-sided. She just doesn’t take no for an answer, annoying as it is.” He taps my shoulder blade. “Can you feel this?”
“No.” Strangely enough. I can follow what he’s doing thanks to my spiritual sense, but I couldn’t feel that.
“Alright then.” He leans back into his chair, giving me room to sit up again. “I think it’s time I admitted something to you.” He folds his hands, staying silent for a minute, thinking about his words. “We have been lying to you.” He says after a bit. “A lie by omission, but a lie nonetheless. You see, we’ve all known you were part dragon since the day you came here.”
I stop halfway through the motion of sitting up as I register what the old fox just said. After taking a deep breath and collecting myself again, I sit up proper and face him.
Doc stays silent for a while longer, looking into my eyes without breaking away for even a moment.
“You aren’t angry?” He breaks the silence. “Well, it wouldn’t be like you to get angry at moments like this, but it’s still a little surprising.”
“No, I would have been furious right now, if not because I trust you, the whole village, with my life.” I state, resting myself against my knees. “I can’t imagine a reason for keeping this a secret, though, so more than anything, I’m confused. Perplexed, rather.”
“Because it’s never been done before.” He admits. “You’re a human-dragon hybrid. There are no known records of that having been tried before.”
Which makes sense if you know even the first thing about east Asian dragons. They are the closest thing to Gods over here, since Kami are just super charged youkai that have been tamed and made benevolent by shrine attendants. That’s over-simplifying it a great deal, though, and it’s a tad more complicated than that. But dragons have always stood as the pinnacle of the pecking order, where even youkai show their respect to them. They’re not exactly easy to approach, much less to mate with and get a human hybrid.
“To be specific,” he continues after chugging a mouthful of coffee, “you’re artificially created. At least that’s how,” he trails off for a moment before continuing, “at least that’s how your mother explained it when she delivered you here.”
Mother? Yeah, guess it makes sense I would have one of those too.
“Artificially created?” I ask.
“Magic.” He answers. “Honestly, I’m not too sure of how they managed to do it, even after all these years of examining you. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
“And this was kept a secret, because?”
“By request of your mother.” He answers. “Since you’re a unique existence right now, no one could know how your body, or your soul for that matter, would react to a sudden surge of power.” He leans forward. “Honestly, after your spiritual power spiked like it did, things only got more complicated. Because with so much energy around the soul, adding anything more might have destroyed it. After that we really couldn’t introduce you to this new side of yourself like we wanted to.”
I lean back against the wall, crossing my arms and closing my eyes, trying to focus on processing this information.
“My mother.” I speak up. “Who was she?”
“I can’t tell you.” His answer is stiff and robotic. “She asked us to keep your draconic side a secret until you were ready. But she was very strict when she said we weren’t allowed to tell you who she is.”
‘Is.’ So she’s alive. Not that it matters, though. Aside from a biological connection, there’s nothing binding me to her.
There’s a lot of information here I need to take in. I’ll get nowhere if I just sit around and think all day, so it might be better to just keep it in the back of my head and process it on my own time, properly.
“Now,” he speaks up again. “The reason I mention this, is because your draconic aspects are starting to build up. And at this point, I can only delay it, not stop it.”
The old fox kicks off from the bed and rolls his chair back to the other end of the room where he stops before a small drawer. After fishing around for something, he pulls out a beige-colored sack. With the item in hand, he rolls his way back over to me.
“Let me show you want I mean.” He opens the sack, revealing a bunch of sand.
Responding to a silent spell he casts, the sand starts floating out of the sack, forming two flat surfaces that harden before turning perfectly clear and creating a reflection, ending up as two mirrors.
Using his magic, he positions them so they reflect off each other and allow me to visually see my own back.
There’s a large patch of white scales covering most of my upper back, with the skin directly surrounding it having an unusual green tint.
“From what I can see, there’s more mana in your system than what your pool should be able to handle.” He explains. “I believe it’s stimulating this latent side of you and causing an aggressive reaction.” He leans back in his chair. “From what I can see, though, your body is responding well to this. At least as well as you’d expect, everything considered.”
“What does it mean that this latent side is waking up?” I ask, trying to trace these scales with my spiritual sense.
“Dunno.” He finished his mug and places it on the table next to us. “I just believe it’s caused by an excess supply of energy in your system. Whether it’s mana, spiritual energy or qi shouldn’t matter. We can slow it down by extracting your excess mana right now, then have you wear silver accessories to disperse your supply before it builds up again.”
“But?” I urge him to go on.
“Given how your body and soul are responding to this change, I think now is the right time to let the effects play out. Well, not now exactly. Give it some time and think about it. Best case scenario, you unlock your draconic aspect and everything it entails. But in the worst-case scenario, your soul is destroyed, and I can’t do anything to save you.”
“That’s a pretty big gradient.” I point out.
“It is.” He agrees, pulling the mirrors towards him. “And I’m not too thrilled about suggesting it either, since I don’t want to be responsible for your death, if the worst should happen. But at the very least, I owe you some honesty, for having lied for so many years.” The mirrors disintegrate back into grit and funnel into the sack. “On the other side, you would likely gain the lifespan of a dragon, allowing you to live many more years to come. Which is something I would prefer, though it’s not my choice to make.”
“Yeah, I’m going to need time to think that over.” I agree. “That’s a lot of information to think about.”
“There’s no rush, so take your time thinking it through thoroughly.” He places a hand on my shoulder. “But make sure to remember that I, we, will support whichever decision you make.”
“I know.” Jumping off the bed, I start getting dressed again. “By the way, do we have any charged mana?”
“Should have about three in the shed.” He makes his way out of the room, locating his coffee maker. “Why, if I might ask?”
“Like I said, I’m stuck out here for the next few days before Yukari can take me back to Gensokyo.” I explain. “So, I plan on spending that time taking care of some unfinished business.”
Mt. Takao, Hachioji – 26th of May, 19:20
“I can’t.” The brunette pants. “I can’t go on anymore.”
“Is this as far as your conviction can take you, Renko?” I yell out. “Do you think some youkai is gonna care that you’re out of breath? If you stop running, you’re dead. It’s that simple.”
She crosses the starting point once again. She’s improved. Not much, but the muscle is starting to build.
“You’re only allowed to stop when your legs give out.” I yell out as she makes her way around me one more time.
Of course, I haven’t told her that the ground is softer this time, more like sand. Having a space like this where reality can be altered slightly really comes in handy. Would have saved us hours from digging up the back of the shrine.
And that’s when she stops. Or rather, she’s unable to lift her legs to continue running and ends up tripping over. Exhausted as she is, she doesn’t even try to get back up, but just lies there gasping for air.
“And you’re dead.” I shove my hands into my pockets and walk over to her. Using my foot, I flip her over so she’s lying on her back. “So, are you satisfied with that, Renko? Are you ready to give up and go home?”
“N” She tries to talk, but nothing more than a chocked groan comes out. Instead she just shakes her head.
“Good.” I fish out a bottle of water from my pockets and place it next to her. “Your mind holds incredible power over your body, Renko. The moment you give up, your body gives up.”
“Drink.” I instruct her. “Enjoy your break while it lasts. While your body is resting, let’s give your mind something to work with.”
“Before that.” She interrupts me, putting the now empty bottle aside. I swear she just inhaled that water. “When you finally called me again, I thought--”
“That we were going to talk about taking you in as a disciple?” I finish her question. The disappointment when I told her to come in her training clothes was clear, even over the phone. “Yeah, I’m retracting that invitation. Honestly, it was irresponsible to even suggest it.”
“But I want to learn.” She argues, looking at her hands. “I mean, you saw what I did right? That’s not something a normal person could do.”
“Magic Missile. It used to be a beginner level spell a couple of decades ago.” I explain. “It’s so simple even you, without any training, could use it. The downside is that it costs too much mana for any practical application.” Taking advantage of the magic in this space, I create a seat for myself. “And just to be clear. I only extended my invitation due to a lapse in judgement. Finding someone with potential like yourself, which hasn’t been trained in any form of magic yet, is a rarity.” I explain. “The idea of being able to mold a mage just got me too excited.”
“I’m rare?” She asks.
“Somewhat. Someone in your lineage used to have spellcasting ability, but for some reason stopped passing on the knowledge.” I explain. “At least, that’s the best explanation I have based on what I know.”
“Isn’t that all the more reason to teach me?” She hits the ground with both hands at once. “To restore my lineage? Aren’t mages rare? Wouldn’t it be better to have more of us around?”
“Sure, more mages would be better, because it would lessen the burden on all of us.” I agree. “But when you hand a personal nuke to someone, you have to be sure they will use it responsibly. Because that’s the power a capable mage holds.”
You can see the realization hitting her as her expression changes.
Referring to magic as a literal nuke is exaggerating, though. It’ll take a school of mages to pull off something on that level of pure destruction. But what’s to stop a summoner from opening a rift to another world they can’t close again? Or a necromancer from raising an army of undead? Or what about a geomancer from setting up a mana array large enough to cause a disaster level earthquake? And let’s not forget that hemomancy is a thing, despite being a taboo.
“Let me give you a quick introductory course, however.” I lean forward. “Just like how there’s noble gasses, so are there noble metals. These have special properties related to mana. Like silver.”
“Silver? Like silver bullets against werewolves? Or like the old silver mirrors not reflecting vampires?” She asks, perking up at the chance to show her knowledge.
“Exactly. Though the vampire thing is a tad more complicated, noble metals have two properties.” I hold up a finder. “First is their ability to suck out mana from their surroundings.” I raise a second finger. “Second is their ability to deactivate mana. Activated mana is some that has been processed and can be used for spells. Deactivated is the natural state it exists in outside of the body.”
I reach down inside my bag and pull out a ball of solid gold, dropping it on the ground in front of me with a heavy thunk.
“Every type of these metals has a unique combination of strength on these two properties.” I continue. “Silver has a higher dispersion rate than absorption, both of which are among the highest we’ve found. This makes it an effective weapon against anything relying on mana, such as mages.” I point to the sphere to draw her attention back down to it. “Gold on the other hand, has a negligible dispersion rate, but is capable of absorbing it quite rapidly, which makes them excellent mana batteries.”
“But gold is expensive? How is a college student supposed to earn enough to buy gold?” She asks. “Moreover, how much is that?”
“Ten kilos. And I’m not telling you because I’m expecting you to go out and buy anything.” I place my foot over the sphere, opening my magic circuit to tap into it. “But it just so happens I don’t have much, if any mana to spare on spells, so gold is the only way for me to cast any real spells.”
She looks back up at me, puzzled, though going by the expression, she’s thinking before asking, trying to figure out the answer to her question.
“I can guess what you’re about to ask, so let me save you the time. No, I haven’t cast any magic around you. What you saw was spiritual energy.” I explain to her, creating a perfect cube just to demonstrate it for her. “And that’s the second lesson I wanted to pass on. Depending on who you ask, there are either four or five types of magic. Mana, Spirit, Qi, Chakra and True Magic.
“Qi and Chakra both draw from the same pool of energy, so there are people arguing they’re the same, but their applications directly contradict each other.” I continue. “The short version is that Qi modifies the body internally, while Chakra can modify the world around you.
“Spiritual energy, what I specialize in using, thanks to my inhumanly large pool, is also referred to as Soul Energy because it has a similar signature and can in some capacity replace life force. It’s all about interacting with another plane of existence where the spirits reside, and with effort, it’s possible to create objects there and move them into our plane, like that box.” I point to the cube sitting on the ground.
“Mana is the most versatile of the bunch, which is why it’s the ubiquitous image of magic in the eyes of the public. Mana is about enforcing your will on nature, allowing you to control the elements. On paper, that’s all there is to it, but the sheer amount of ways it can be applied allows for a great deal of diversity.
“And lastly there’s True Magic. And let me assure you, if actual mages capable of casting spells you’ve only ever read about in novels call something ‘true magic’ then it’s truly something unknown.” I shrug. “Even after millennia of trying to understand it, we as a community still can’t find any rhyme or reason as to who can use it, why or what the limits of this magic is. All we know is that there are beings, humans and animals alike, capable of using it.
“True Magic specifically is worth talking about, because to an extent, normal humans are capable of casting this type of magic without even knowing. These come in the form of curses.” I start drawing from the golden sphere. “And Renko, I’d like to demonstrate just how dangerous it is for you to join the world of magic.” I stand up. “Stand.”
Without complaint she stands up. Though it looks like her legs really don’t want to. “What?” She asks, looking down at herself.
“Jump” I command. To which she follows, only to fall back down on her back, lacking any strength to remain standing. “Do you see what’s happening?”
“That’s a curse?” She asks.
“One form of a curse.” I explain. “Do you know the concept of a true name?”
“Wait.” It dawns on her. “I’ve never seen this before. How can your average person do this?”
“I didn’t say they could do this exact curse.” I correct her. “But this one is common knowledge among the magic community. Curses in general are common. It’s the one thing everyone has access to on some level. Has made it a lot easier to study.” Also, the fact I’m getting a boost from mana, not available to the average joe.
“Names are powerful, Renko. They’re both a gift and a curse. They can be a great source of power, if whoever gave you the name had power, but it’s also a curse because you’re forever bound to that person. And if you let your real name slip, then people like me can abuse it to hold power over you, like I’m doing right now.” I pick up the orb.
“Then I guess Ryuko is not your real name.” She states. “Knowing about curses, I can’t see you just giving away your real name.”
“Bingo. In fact, I don’t know my true name. One less person to let it slip out.” I throw the ball in the air and catch it with my other hand. “So not only are you weaker than anyone else in the world of magic right now, but your biggest weakness is clearly exposed. Do you still insist on forcing your way into my world?”
“Yeah.” She sits up. “Like I said, I have my reasons.”
“And do I need to use this compelling argument to get you to talk?” I spin the golden ball in my palm. “Or would you rather talk of your own free will? Because either way, you’re gonna talk.”
“If you’re going to force me anyway.” She crosses her legs to sit comfortably. “Everyone in my family, on my dad’s side anyway, has small but unnatural skills.” She points to her eye. “For example, I can tell the exact time and place by looking into the night sky. It’s not especially useful, but it’s definitely not normal.”
“And you want to know why?” I ask.
“Well, yes, but that’s not the reason.” She corrects me. “It’s Mary, actually. She has an unusual ability too, which I still don’t understand. At first, we just explored the limits of these skills, but with every trip we made, we just had more and more questions.” She looks up at me. “If nothing else, I owe her some answers to those questions. Because it’s my fault we stuck our noses into the whole thing in the first place.”
“So, it’s basically two overgrown kids poking a beehive to see what will happen.” I summarize. “I had assumed you’d at least have a good reason.”
“It might not be a good reason to you but try to see it from our perspective.” She stands up. “You’ve grown up with all this magic stuff all around you. You’re used to it. But to us, it’s a whole new world opening. It’s like the first time you’re allowed to venture outside on your own and explore.”
“Like I said. Two kids poking a bee hive.” I throw the gold ball back to where my stuff is lying. “Let me show you something, Renko.” I remove my eyepatch. “Take a guess. How did I get a glass eye?”
“I get it. It’s dangerous.” She argues. “But getting these answers is more important to us.”
“So, you’re willing to abandon your families to get some answers?” I ask. “Because if you’re not ready to die, you’re not ready for the world of magic.”
She doesn’t answer. If anything, she looks angry that I brought up her mortality. But frankly, that’s the risk you’re taking with getting involved in magic. Gensokyo might be different, since it’s more normal there, but out here, it’s the wild west.
I extend my spiritual energy into the surroundings, changing the environment entirely. Trees start sprouting densely, forming a forest.
“Behind you.” I nod.
The brunette turns around, then looks down to see what caught her eye. Even with her back turned towards me, I can see the color drain from her.
I’ve recreated the scene where I lost my eyes. What she just saw was my sorry excuse of a half dead corpse.
“What happened?” She finally asks.
“This happened.” I point to my glass eye. “Now I got lucky. Someone was there to save me.”
Never mind the fact I still had my extra life at the time, and that I brought it upon myself, thanks to my tendency for overconfidence.
“Now, Renko. I won’t be there to save you, to come to your rescue or to solve any problem you might have. You can’t rely on me. Are you still willing to risk your life to get your answers?” I ask her.
“Yeah.” She answers firmly, though unable to take her eyes of the half-dead image of me lying there. To be honest, though, that was a lot of blood. “We had already resolved ourselves before you showed up.”
“I see.” I release my hold on the environment, allowing it to turn back into its normal state. “Then I’m not going to stop you. But like I said, don’t rely on me. All favors from here on out are gonna cost you, just like everyone else.”
“That’s what I expected.” She admits.
“Though, if you don’t mind, I would like to try something.” I put my eyepatch back on, so I don’t have to carry it. “Come here for a second.”
“What are you going to do?” She approaches me.
“I wanna take a look at your ability.” I extend me hand. “Your eye might start to itch at worst.”
“Sure.” She agrees, cautiously.
“Then excuse me.”
I place my hand right next to her face, keeping the fingers close to the eye. I wordlessly activate Spell Break and it starts dumping information directly into my mind, examining anything resembling mana.
And she’s right. There does seem to be an ability sitting around in her system. It’s related to the moon rather than the night, though. Sadly, that’s all the information I can glance without doing a more intrusive search.
“Gold suits you more.” The brunette speaks up.
Having seen what I wanted, I pull away.
“Sorry if it’s a little out of nowhere.” She rubs her eye. “I just didn’t have anywhere else to look, so it kinda stood out to me.”
“My eye?” I bring my hand up to it. “Gold is my natural eye color, it just stands out too much, so we mask it.”
“Why? It’s rarer to see people with blue eyes than some other strange color, today.” She says. “Mary has purple eyes, for example, and mine have a red tint. They’re mostly brown, though.”
“Yeah, but aside from me, how many people have you seen with golden eyes?” I argue. “Compare that to how many blue eyes you’ve seen.”
“Yeah, guess you have a point there.”
“But that aside.” I shove my hands back into my pockets. “Seems like you have enough energy to keep running.”
“Oh no.” She slumps over.
“Get running, Silverbird.” I shoo her on her way.
“Empidornis. My favorite bird.” I explain.” If you insist on moving into the world of magic, then you better start hiding your name. Until you come up with a better name, that’s what I’ll call you.”
“Got it.” She nods.
“Now get running. But save enough energy to stretch out afterwards.”