Chapter 1 – ‘A Piece of History’
There were seven waist high statues of animals placed in a circle towards the center of the domed room. Along the stone walls were bookshelves filled with thick, spined books that held an ominous air about them. The room was dimly lit by small, floating balls of blue fire. Upon closer inspection, one could find that the shadows from the statues and bookshelves were perfectly still from the small flames that were randomly spread through the air.
“Hah… Hah…” The man sat up and breathed weakly, his voice shaking with each gasp. “At last, I’ve fulfilled my oath to her…” A single tear fell from his right eye, traveling down his face before being caught by his unkempt beard.
At that, his eyes lost their light and his struggled breathing stopped. His heart had beat its last and he collapsed face up on the ground—
—in the center of an incredibly intricate magic formation.
The moment his body touched the floor the blue flames dissolved into particles, leaving the room in darkness, and they rushed towards the man. As though each piece knew where to go, they covered the man for an instant before spreading out along the formation. His body had vanished, leaving behind the room with just the bookshelves, statues, and the formation that now glowed with the color deep sapphire.
Although none were left to perceive it, hair thin cracks began to appear on the surface of the statues. Bit by bit, the fractures spread. From one of the statues, a low whimper could be heard.
Fourteen years later.
“Yo, Aden! Did you hear about it?” The brown haired youth called out, holding up what looked like one of those fliers that get posted on noticeboards.
Aden looked up from the book on his desk with a questioning look. Even though their class had an exam coming today, he was midway into a book on logic puzzles.
“Come on, you still have your face in that book? You’re probably going to ace this class anyways. Here, here, check this out!” He walked over to Aden and closed the book, placing the flier on top of it. “See here!? An idol is going to host an event nearby and our academy’s students get in for free! It’s definitely a sign from the gods, the date is just after exams!” He pumped his fist up and down, striking a victory pose.
“David, I thought the only person you had eyes for was Kimi, that pink one?”
“That was last week! Starting from now on, I am devoted to Ariel! She is my goddess!” He clapped his two hands together and pretended to pray in a loud voice.
Looking at the scene develop, Aden smiled wryly at these two friends of his. He noticed their teacher, Miss Bells, walk in and he tried to quiet David down. However, she had already set her sights on him.
“David. I trust you know this school’s policy on eccentric behaviors during examinations?” Like a pinprick to the back of his neck, David abandoned the subject and bolted to his seat nearby Aden.
Miss Bells wore square framed glasses and a standard office outfit. She wore her blonde hair in a bun and carried a refined aura. Although rumor had it she was getting on in her years, her face betrayed no signs of age. She held her students to a high standard of etiquette when she gave her exam, but was otherwise relatively forgiving during the rest of the school year.
Their school, the Haven Academy, was one of the best in the region. Primarily known for its advanced architecture and state of the art equipment, its curriculum was multiple steps above others in all fields, leading to its students being well above others their age. Haven Academy enrolled children from a young age and raised them through to the graduate level of education, even hiring its more promising graduates on as researchers. The academy held annual examinations at the end of each school year, taking a week in total, in order to keep up its standard of learning.
“Sorry, Miss Bells!” He held up a hand in apology. David knew very well the repercussions of upsetting her during exam week. He had to wash the boys’ locker rooms for a month last time; not something he particularly wanted to do again.
“Alright then, class,” she addressed everyone present to settle the rest down. “As you all know, today is the first day of exam week. First will be mathematics, so all that should be on your desks is a piece of scratch paper and a pencil.”
All of the students complied. When Aden leaned over to open his satchel and put away his book in order to take out the items, his body suddenly numbed for an instant. The book fell out of his hand and fell into the opening, and there was a small cracking noise. Putting aside the numbness as a side effect of lack of sleep, Aden reached into his satchel to find his pencil and expected the worst. It had snapped cleanly in two. He sighed inwardly, “Maybe two hours of sleep was pushing it… huh.”
From birth, Aden was placed in an orphanage for abandoned children. He was left at the doorstep to the building naked and asleep. As he grew he came to love books and the knowledge they possessed, viewing them as windows to the outside world and the minds of others. He loved many different types, from things such as scientific studies, to lengthy fantasy novels, to famous poems. Even though fiction was not based on facts, he found they could still give insights into the world, and so valued them highly.
As a side effect of being so absorbed in reading, he would often isolate himself from the world and lose track of time. Days like this weren’t too uncommon for him.
He sat upright to ask David for an extra, but froze with a start.
“… W, what?” A small voice leaked from his mouth.
Everyone was frozen mid-action. The world colored in nothing but black and white. On the desk in front of him sat a small fox with two tails that swayed back and forth, staring at him intently.
“‘What’, you say? I’ve waited for so many years, and that’s the first thing you say after Awakening?”
Chapter 2 – ‘A Piece of Confusion‘
“What in the… d, did I fall asleep?” Aden wondered to himself out loud, half unbelieving of the situation before him.
The others in the classroom had all stopped mid-motion. No, to be precise, they were literally frozen in time. They didn’t so much as breathe!
Suddenly, Aden’s heart thrummed, his blood pulsating through his veins in a molten fury. They felt on fire, and at the same time his body became extremely cold. The room, although lacking color, seemed extremely clear to him as the hidden war waged on within him.
“Well, at any rate that’s about what I expected…” Somehow or another, the fox seemed to be laughing with a ‘ka ka ka’. She—at least, Aden assumed the fox was a she from its feminine voice—noticed his eyes darting around the room. She was obviously aware of what was going on.
Although students of Haven Academy were prided on being advanced for their age, he was still just fourteen years old. It shouldn’t be a wonder that he was quite unsettled by what was happening.
“Wha, what… no, who are you?” His voice started with a tremble, but grew more consistent as he continued. “What did you do to everyone!?”
“Me? Oh, I’ve done nothing but wait for you to Awaken for years now. All of this,” the fox gestured towards the rest of the classroom with her muzzle, “was done by none other than you.” She ignored his first question.
At a loss of what to say, all Aden could do was shake his head and shout, “It wasn’t me!”
The fox seemed to find something amusing about his response.
“Are you sure about that? Well, I thought you would react something like this.” Her body swayed slightly as she glanced around at the ones frozen in time. “Though this part… was unexpected.”
“What happened? What’s going on!?” Though not quite as violent as before, his pulse still raged on. He was having trouble thinking clearly.
“Your Awakening of course. It was supposed to happen when you were asleep, but it looks like you ignored the urge to sleep last night and woke up despite it. For so many to be roped in to this is truly unexpected.”
Aden was all but lost at this point, listening to the white fox’s words. “Th, then,“ He tried to follow what was going on, but just as he began the fox resumed.
“It’s almost time for this dream of yours comes to an end…” She turned around and leapt on to the floor. As she touched it, she began to disappear, leaving him behind with an addition. “… I’ll see you again soon, Master.”
After the mysterious talking fox vanished, the war inside of him began to end with both the heat and cold merging together. He felt as though he’d just soaked in a warm bath, feeling extremely at ease despite the extreme sensations from a moment ago. His vision had also mostly returned to normal.
Color returned to the world and everything resumed all at once. The sounds of the nineteen other classmates pulling out their pencils and scratch paper could be heard as everyone hastened to be ready.
“Just… what was that? That white fox could speak, and what was up with everyone…” Aden thought to himself, dazed from the occurrence.
When Miss Bells was about to hand out the exam to the students, she noticed Aden with his bag still open at his side and nothing on his desk.
“Aden?” He didn’t respond, and after a few moments she tried again with a slight emphasis, “Aden?”
He returned to his senses, remembering where he was.
Forcing a smile, he responded, “M, Miss Bells! It’s nothing, nothing!”
He hurriedly took out a scratch paper and the broken pencil.
Next to him, David noticed the half-pencil and held an extra out for him, nudging Aden’s shoulder with it. “Psst… here.”
The look on Aden’s face slightly concerned David, but ultimately put it aside. He knew that Aden tended to be weird about tests.
“… Thanks.” He accepted the pencil and quietly resumed waiting to receive the exam papers from Miss Bells.
Most of the room had quieted by now as everyone waited for Miss Bells’ instruction to begin. Most of the students dreaded mathematics and were either anxious or silently going over simple things, like ‘standard form’ or ‘point-slope form’ in hopes that the questions wouldn’t be too hard.
Aden on the other hand had blanked. If someone were to peak into his mind right now they would find a black abyss, devoid of anything the image of that strange fox from earlier. He couldn’t think of anything else, and almost didn’t hear the teacher’s instruction to start the exam.
Tearing off the side that sealed the packet closed, he found everything to be completely… simple. Extraordinarily so.
The height of water in a cylindrical glass jar of a ten centimeter radius was four centimeters tall; after gently adding a small stone to the jar the height of the water increased by two centimeters… There is a square whose corners all touch a single circle; the area of the square is three hundred square centimeters… Every question seemed to him like someone asked what color grass was; it was obviously green, right? The ease he had with conceptualizing these problems would have astounded everyone if they knew how he was going about answering the problems.
The moment he saw the words, shapes and numerical symbols solidified in his vision on the page and reconstructed the problem with exact values calculated and displayed along its sides like a computer program would. He had always been good with logic-based work, but never like this.
The person in question did not notice in the slightest that this was out of the ordinary for him, however. He continued to think of nothing but that fox. Her words, ‘Almost time for your dream to come to an end…’ and something about calling him ‘Master’ unsettled him.
Before he noticed, fifteen minutes had passed and he had entirely completed the exam that should have taken nearly two hours. One should know that the sheer amount of proof work for each question alone should have taken at least forty minutes. His hand had not stopped writing since the moment he began, and his hand was slightly cramped.
He stood up to turn in the exam and leave for lunch, not knowing the speed at which he completed the exam was more than six times faster than the average. The teacher, along with a few of the less studious students, glanced up at him with a confused look.
“Here, Miss Bells.” Aden held out the packet and blank scratch paper to her.
“… Aden, are you giving up on the exam? You know that you can’t make it up in the future.” She looked at him seriously, slowly raising her hand to take the packet.
“Huh?” This threw Aden off slightly, and only now did he look up at the clock and notice the time. His eyes opened wide. After a moment of hesitation, “N, no, I finished.”
Miss Bells raised an eyebrow. “Really now?” She clearly had her doubts.
He handed it to her and bolted out of the door.
As he left the room, she opened up the packet and her expression changed to one of astonishment. The problems weren’t merely completely filled out, but his strokes also lacked hesitation on the pages and—above all—were entirely correct! Let alone writing down entirely correct answers, she had never seen someone finish an end of year exam this quickly! She turned to call out to him, but he was already gone.
Now in the hallway, Aden’s mind was entirely immersed in chaos.
The time stop.
The war in his body.
Everything whirled through his mind like a tempest.
“What happened to me!?”
Chapter 3 – ‘A Piece of Normality‘
A little while later, around eleven in the morning.
Aden sat on a bench in the bleachers of the academy’s track field, thinking over the day so far. He generally thought of himself as level headed, the kind of person that could cope with any situation. However, how could he have expected something like that?
He picked apart his memories as he walked through the past day.
Midnight. He’d found an interesting book on logic puzzles for beginners. It contained a few things he hadn’t seen before, along with some he had learned as a hobby when he lived in the orphanage as a young child.
Two in the morning. He remembered it wasn’t the weekend and he had an exam set to begin a few hours later. He decided to read just a little more. This was a common theme in his decision making process, books were important!
Another two hours passed. He realized that he forgot about stopping after looking at the clock. He sat down the book in a rush and went to lay down.
He instantly fell into a deep sleep, without even drawing the covers over himself. Thinking back on it now, he felt like a force was exerted on him getting out of bed… more than usual, that is. His legs were like cement bricks.
Then, around an hour later at seven in the morning, there was that moment of numbness that caused him to break his pencil. At the time, he’d just put it off as a lack of sleep, but now he began to suspect it.
“It happened just after that, didn’t it…?” He talked to himself in a low voice, resting his head on his palm. “It was like I’d lost control of my body for a moment.”
He sighed. “I’m thinking too hard about this. Either I’m going crazy and a talking white fox with two tails appeared out of nowhere, stopped time, and set my blood on fire… or I am incredibly tired and need to sleep.” Nodding at his last statement, he stood up and slapped his cheeks to clear away his confused thoughts.
“All right! I’ll put it aside and continue as normal!”
Passing students looked at him, before returning to their business. Most students were busy with exams and end of term projects at this point in the year.
Walking down the steps of the bleachers, he noticed numbers appear near objects like the outside ring of the track and distance between the two points of the oval shape.
“Nothing, I see nothing. I’m just tired, yeah. That’s definitely all that is happening. I am tired and need to sleep! Everything is normal and I am definitely not going crazy.”
At this point, he began ignoring the numbers and calculations that showed up along anything he focused on and headed to the cafeteria.
“Phew.” He let out a breath of relief. After calming down and drinking some tea that was brewed for the older students, the numbers finally went away.
As for the tea, he’d taken a liking to its taste after visiting the tea club back when he first joined the academy and was thinking about extracurricular clubs.
He didn’t join because it took too much time away from binge reading, however.
“I knew it, it must have been from a mix of stress and lack of sleep.” He took another sip of the earl grey from the cup. Interestingly, he wasn’t hungry at all despite skipping breakfast. He was wholeheartedly focused on relaxing.
If it weren’t for David’s Taekwondo practice for the academy’s inter-club end of year tournament that was set to start in a few days, he would have returned to the dorm already. He sighed inwardly, “I only had one class today because of the exam and I’m staying late anyways.”
He mused to himself idly, attempting to take his mind away from the day, “I wonder how the academy gets around the safety laws… David just turned fifteen last month and he regularly gets beaten to the ground in that room.”
He knew David relied on helping to bring him to the dorm after extra practices like today’s session. Although he seemed so carefree the rest of the time, he took Taekwondo seriously and would go all out in it. Sometimes going a bit too far, he would need help to the dorm and assigned Aden to help him.
As he knew little to nothing about law and government, he quickly gave up.
One day, when he’d asked why David joined the club, he replied with something about ‘powerful kicks being a man’s romance’. Seeing the look on his face, he resigned himself to helping his close friend in his passion—much the same way that David helped Aden remember that things outside of books existed.
That is, constantly berate each other. That’s what friends do, right?
“Well, it’s not like I need to sleep or anything,” he added out loud, sarcastically.
“Hmm? What about sleep?” A light voice rang from behind him.
Slightly surprised at someone hearing what he said, he sat down his cup and looked around. It was Levy, one of the girls in his class that sat in the front row, far away from his place at back corner near the windows. Her head was tilted to the side and she was leaning forward slightly with her arms crossed behind her back.
From what Aden could tell from sharing a classroom with her for the past few years, she prided herself in medicine and traditional healing arts. As something like the teacher’s pet, she could often be heard discussing with faculty about how the world was slowly bouncing away from the usage of pills and back to herbal remedies.
To further one-on-one communication between teachers and students, most classrooms would keep the same set of students until they finished high school level courses and chose their specializations officially. It should be known that almost every student at Haven Academy excelled in at least one field, with its alumni becoming well distinguished in that field after graduation. Most would donate to the academy to fund its cutting edge research and equipment for education.
Not that Aden paid much attention to things like that. He merely enjoyed the environment that focused so much on learning.
“Ah, yeah. I didn’t sleep much last night.” He didn’t mention his reading habit to most people, it usually just lead to misunderstandings. “It was the exam.”
Coming to her own conclusions, Levy nodded. “I know, right?”
She pulled a chair up to the table and sat across from him, leaning forward.
“… Hey, about that exam earlier. Did you really finish it that fast? I had barely worked in to the second problem! Some of the later ones we learned just two weeks ago!” At that, she held up two fingers and reached them out towards Aden. Her voice had gradually increased to a low shout.
Frankly, Aden did not want to recall that period of time. It was too close to… No, he wouldn’t think about ‘that’. “It definitely, definitely didn’t happen,” he shook his head as he consoled himself inwardly.
“So… you didn’t finish?” She looked at him with a quizzical expression.
“N, no. I mean, yes. I did. Well, I just happened to have reviewed those particular problems the most, you know?” He left it at that.
“Oh, I see.” She knew about his fondness of reading textbooks as if they were the most important things in the world, not that she’d ever say it.
After weeks of being at a bottleneck in her personal studies, just before the exam earlier she had a ‘eureka moment’ and somehow understood how to advance. As a result, she was in a good mood today.
Standing up suddenly, she slapped the table with a decisive bang. “I know just the thing!”
Probably due to the day’s occurrences, his ability to keep up with people was at an all-time low.
She walked around to his side of the table and took his arm, pulling him up. “Let’s go! The best thing for an overworked mind is delicious food! And lots of sweets!” She added that last part more for herself than anything. Breakthroughs required rewards after all.
“B, but I’m waiting for David—“
Levy interrupted him, “He definitely won’t mind! Besides, we’ll still be in here so it’s fine!”
For some reason, she felt really good today.
Chapter Four – ‘A Piece of Panic’
Despite his protests, Levy succeeded in getting him to eat with her. He decided on a simple hamburger, while she picked up a sandwich and some candies that were being sold. Judging by her gaze focused on the candy, it looked like she wanted to eat them all right then but was holding herself back.
“Hmm? What’s wrong?” Her black hair, worn in a braid that continued down to her waist, shifted slightly along her shoulder as she looked at him with her green eyes. “Is something wrong with the hamburger?”
He’d heard something coming from the road next to the cafeteria. It sounded like a lot of students shouting at each other.
He thought to himself, “A commotion this early? That’s unusual…”
“No, I’m fine with them.”
He deliberately took a bite to placate her; after all, he still didn’t feel that hungry. The hamburger tasted good, though the lettuce had definitely already wilted. She smiled, popping a round green candy into her mouth. She ignored the sandwich.
“That exam earlier really was hard, though! I’ll be happy with even a B grade on it.” She sucked on the candy furiously. “I don’t know how you did it,” she began, but after a moment of silence, “… Well, whatever!” Her expression changed as though putting it aside entirely, her lips forming a smile.
All Aden could do was laugh slightly, he was still trying to avoid that subject.
Just then the shouts increased. He heard a scream as well.
This time, Levy noticed it as well, “What’s going on? I wonder if something happened?”
“HELP! Call the medics, quick!”
Someone ran by cafeteria since on his way to the closest staff building.
He realized just then, “He came from the martial arts building!”
Given the day’s events, how could he not expect the worst?
Standing up, he hurriedly apologized, “Sorry, Levy! I’ll be back in a moment!”
He got up from the table and ran towards where David was at full speed.
“H, hey! Wait up for me!”
She grabbed the hard candies she’d bought and got up, following him at a run as well. Although she wasn’t out of shape by any means, for some reason she couldn’t keep up to him at all. It was as if he was a bullet. He was still accelerating before reaching the building.
If he were being timed by someone right now, they would faint from his speed. He ran the approximately two hundred meters in less than fifteen seconds.
She was shocked, “So fast!”
Dashing into the building, he pushed his way through the crowd that formed in the hall to see what happened. After weaving through quite a few students, he finally arrived and saw what everyone gathered for.
In the center of the large practice hall filled with training equipment, in the sparring ring.
It was David.
“Huh? What the…”
His dobok, the traditional outfit for Taekwondo practitioners, was torn from the knees down. That wasn’t the surprising part, though. Aden saw his legs.
They were pitch black and glossy, like obsidian!
David was panting heavily with a shocked look on his face and was otherwise unmoving, as though he stopped in place the moment he realized what had happened.
In front of David was what seemed to be his sparring partner, a young boy one or two years their senior, on the floor clutching his chest. A rib could be seen poking through the skin near his heart and the surrounding area collapsed towards the lung. He was having extreme difficulty breathing, with blood covering his dobok and pooling on the floor. Amongst the panic, a few students had apparently rushed to get emergency supplies from nearby until help came. Others were shouting incomprehensible words towards David and his legs.
The student on the ground suddenly stopped gripping his side, his arms collapsed to the side, and he stopped moving altogether.
David was still standing there, his legs gradually returning to a more human coloring.
Aden didn’t know what to do. This scene shattered his carefully constructed barricade against the events from earlier. He stumbled forward, grabbing David’s shoulder to get his attention while he did all he could to remain calm.
Shocked out of his daze, David slowly turned his head. His eyes were unfocused, his voice cracking, “A, Aden… I… I… d, didn’t…” Tears had welled up in his eyes.
While David stuttered out those words, Aden heard a small gasp from behind. At some point, Levy had arrived and stood next to him, lightly gripping the edge of his shirt as she saw the gruesome scene in the middle of the ring. He ignored her.
Rather, he didn’t have a chance to react to her.
His heart beat loudly in his chest, his pulse beating faster and more intensely than last time. Every time it thumped, the world around him slowed down more and more.
Unbeknownst to him, the fox from before stood nearby watching him with her golden eyes focused on him; becoming increasingly less ethereal as Aden’s heart beat on.
Fire hot enough to melt rock. Ice cold enough to shatter iron. The same sensation from this morning engulfed Aden’s entire existence. He knew nothing outside of the war raging inside his body.
The agony spread from his chest.
First his legs, then his arms. When it reached his head—
His consciousness flew away.
Hellfire, frozen wastes.
An eternity of torture.
Suddenly, it stopped. All at once, everything shattered.
He saw a man. Raggedly dressed, an unkempt beard, struggled breathing and reciting a name to himself over and over. The hood of his blackened, torn cloak covered his face.
“Elena… Elena… Elena… My dear Elena…”
Droplets—tears?—fell from his face towards the ground. He was on his knees, holding two fingers against the stone floor as blue streaks were left where they passed over.
The man looked towards where Aden was. At least, where Aden was viewing from.
His eyes were clouded, almost entirely white. He tried to smile at Aden, but it seemed as though seeing Aden’s face threw his heart further into despair.
“You have her eyes…”
Blue light surrounded him, and his body seemed to fill the room. He felt warm. Somehow, impossibly, he felt himself become many balls of fire.
His voice shook weakly.
“At last, I’ve fulfilled my oath to her…”
The man collapsed.
With this, Aden blacked out.
He felt people holding his hands. While his body felt like it had just rested for days, his mind was on the verge of collapsing from stress. Opening his eyes weakly, he saw the ashen-faced David and teared up Levy hovering above him.
Looking around slightly, he saw trees. He was laying on thick grass. He tried to sit up, but something stopped him.
It was the voice of someone that shouldn’t exist.
“Welcome back, Master.”
Chapter 5 – ‘A Piece of Urgency’
David and Levy were on Aden’s left and right side respectively, with David sitting on the ground directly and Levy sitting with her legs folded under her.
Roughly two meters away from the three was the two-tailed fox. She was sitting on the ground, her tails were swaying back and forth gently. Aden hadn’t paid much attention last time, thinking it a hallucination, but the fox seemed to be abnormally small. She would barely reach his knees while standing on two legs. Along with the difference in size, she had some distinctive markings on her fur. The tips of her ears and tails were golden like her eyes, like expensive furniture or jewelry. On her forehead was a small fireball shaped marking, like the ones he saw in his dream from earlier.
“To think that your Awakening would advance so quickly,” her eyes seemed to sparkle as she stared at Aden.
David had been looking between him and the fox during this time. He was opening and closing his mouth, trying to say something but unable. Levy on the other hand, stared fixedly at Aden as tears continued to well up in her eyes and gripped Aden’s hand tighter.
Overcoming his mental fatigue, Aden forced himself to accept the fox as reality; at least temporarily. For now, he decided to get up off the grass. When he attempted to move his hands out of Levy and David’s grips, Levy wouldn’t let go. Instead, she helped him up.
“And to be able to bring so many just from proximity! With this, the Asteri line just might…” Her voice trailed off and her ears twitched when Aden sat upright. “Master, I don’t think it’s wise to be moving around so soon after the transfer. It must have taken a large toll on your body.”
Just like the fox said, when he was helped to his feet by Levy his body suddenly felt like a limp noodle and legs buckled underneath him, falling onto his bottom. Levy let out a small cry of alarm, “Ah!” Thankfully, the grass was thick in this area and his fall was cushioned.
The wave of exhaustion was sharply contrasting how relaxed his body felt even now.
Quite bothered by this point, Aden looked at the fox, “Why do you keep calling me master? Who are you? Where are we?” His barrage of questions didn’t end there, “What is an Awakening? And why can you talk!?”
As though the fox just thought of something, she bowed her head. “This fox’s name is Skye. I will answer Master’s other questions soon. However, I must first confirm our location and safety. You two,” she pointed her muzzle towards the two classmates, “do not leave Master’s side.”
With that, she stood up and turned around before leaping away. Her speed was so fast they could only make out a blur the moment she moved.
“… Aden. What’s going on…?” David, who was finally able to speak after the fox left, was staring at the spot where it had been sitting.
He could only shake his head, “I have no idea, but for now I think we should do what the fo… Skye said and stay here. From what it said, it could be dangerous for us to move from here.” He had the strange feeling that the fox wouldn’t harm them and could be trusted.
The next few minutes were passed with relatively little happening. Levy was just barely able to cope with the situation and put on a smiling face to try and lighten the mood after wiping the tears from her eyes. To take charge and act sensible in this outrageous situation, she separated from Aden and suggested that they should all three go through what was brought with them.
“Until we know more we should treat this like a survival situation. It’ll help to know what we have to use!” She started laying things out from the main section of her satchel.
David nodded silently but didn’t move. Levy and Aden had their satchels, but he had nothing with him other than the ripped dobok he was wearing. The others didn’t see that his face was clouded by depression. The scene in the practice hall and the feeling of his partner’s ribs cracking was playing in his mind over and over.
With everything laid out from their satchels, other than the clothes they wore, the group had altogether seven books, three notebooks, a dozen pencils and pens, and a box of a few dozen carefully wrapped glass vials.
Picking up one of the glass vials, Aden asked, “Vials? Why these?” He was confused as to why Levy would be carrying around a box of tiny vials.
“It’s my hobby,” she replied. Seeing his questioning face she stuck out her tongue and continued, “Not carrying around vials, but what I use them for. The reason I was accepted into Haven Academy was because of my aptitude in medicine—specifically natural remedies.”
Every student of Haven Academy was selected for their prowess in at least one field. Though not all could be considered geniuses, they were at the very least incredibly skilled and could both learn and apply knowledge easier than ordinary children. This was one of the reasons why their academy had been able to become so reputable and have such successful alumni. Some of the more dedicated students, like Levy, would even self-study as a hobby.
For Aden, he was accepted into the academy for his spatial reasoning in relation to mathematic functions. Bluntly, he can easily relate math to reality. David preferred rocks and metals in geology, but generally slacked on his studies for his true passion—kicking things really hard.
“Oh,” Aden had known that she focused in the medical field from their years of sharing a classroom, but since he mostly kept to himself he didn’t know more than that. “So… you prefer using herbs and things like that? What does that have to do with these vials though?”
She raised a finger triumphantly, “They have everything to do with it of course! Seeping various herbs or roots in water for some amount of time can produce amazing effects on the human body and can improve your health or ease pain or speed up healing along with many other things! Being able to drink it helps affect the body faster.”
Hearing her speak so excitedly, David looked towards the two with a rueful grin and almost forgot about the situation. This kind of talk truly didn’t fit the atmosphere at all.
Aden couldn’t help himself, “So… herbal teas? That’s a relaxing way to take medication.”
At that, Levy deflated slightly and blushed. How could she say that the reason she thought of focusing on that was because she saw him contentedly drinking tea during lunch every day?
“Y, yeah, something like that… it’s better than getting needles poked at you any day at least. These were put together with materials from the garden at the academy just after the exam this morning! I’m practicing with traditional things like ginseng and lavender to start with. They’re something I’ve been working on for a while now, close to being like an energy drink. “
Something seemed to occur to her and she asked, “Hey, Aden… w, would you… like to try one?” She looked down at the grass as she asked.
“W, well, lavender is good for fatigue and ginseng is known for being good at restoring vitality, so from what that fox said I thought it could help you…” Her voice trailed slightly at the end as she fidgeted, continuing to look at the grass.
“Oh. Okay then,” he looked towards David. “How about you? She says they’ll help with fatigue.”
Shaking his head, “I’ll pass for now. I’m not… tired. Don’t worry about me.”
Aden looked at him with inquisitive eyes but accepted it with a shrug. “Alright, then I’ll gladly have some of your herb tea.”
She pursed her lips at the last part of the sentence. “It’s not a tea,” she grumbled under her breath. She took the cork stopper out of the vial still in Aden’s hand and motioned for him to drink it.
Just as Aden drank the liquid from the vial, they heard an explosive sound.
A moment before and some distance away.
Skye stood on the branch of a large tree, having just finished confirming the immediate area is safe.
“To think that the embed transfer formation would be thrown this far off by Master’s Awakening. It may not have been constructed with moving twenty other people in mind, but for this to happen? We are quite a distance away from the target location…”
She was not the most familiar with the Grun continent, but after looking through the thick forest for landmarks she ascertained that the transfer was off by approximately a thousand kilometers to the southwest of the Anchor.
“Apart from the question of where the other eighteen are, at least everything else seems to be fine. This area of Grun shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If they have any luck they won’t be too fa—”
She stopped mid-sentence. Far away in the sky were several shapes heading towards somewhere in the distance past her. Judging from their approaching figures, they would pass directly overhead. She saw the pure white uniforms the group wore and became startled.
“Zealots!” She shouted to herself inwardly, realizing what the figures were, “I can’t let them notice Master!”
She leapt from the branch at full speed, shattering it with the force from her hind legs.
In an instant, she traversed the two hundred meter distance between her and the group of classmates. She stopped after hitting the ground, but a blast of wind pelted the three.
She saw them sitting next to assorted items from two satchels with Aden drinking something from a vial. He’d nearly dropped it from his hand because of Skye’s explosive entrance.
“I know Master has questions and is fatigued, but forgive this action!”
Golden tendrils of light shot out from her figure aimed towards Aden and surrounded him. Following the light, she leapt towards him. Just as they were about to collide, she slowed midair and breathed in deeply. Blue light began to leak from Aden’s skin and be absorbed by the golden light, causing it to glow more brilliantly.
However, Aden was visibly weakening. His eyes drooped and he slumped down towards the ground. David and Levy quickly motioned to help him but were driven back by the light, exerting a repulsing force on them. Unable to help, they looked worried.
“What are you doing to him!?” David demanded from Skye.
“Please do not be alarmed. As I have yet to form a proper contract with Master, this is all I can do to hide him.”
She breathed in deeply again, with more of the blue tinged light being emitted from Aden before being absorbed by the golden light.
“All I can say for now,” she began, ”is that there are people that don’t want Master here and I am stopping them from being able to see him!”
However, contrary to her expectation the blue light emanating from Aden doubled, then doubled again. Skye couldn’t understand how someone that had just Awakened could still have so much mana left over.
She noticed the empty vial in his hand and the scent coming from it.
“You there, girl!” She hurriedly called out towards Levy. “Quickly, tell me what Master just drank!”
“N, nothing! Just something I made for school!” Among other things, she was flustered from hearing Aden be referred to as ‘Master’ and stuttered her response.
Surprised, she gasped to herself, “This girl, could she possibly be… a Sage?” She flicked her eyes towards the box of vials for a moment before breathing in deeply yet again.
This time, there was a visible change in her appearance. Along with the two tails, a third appeared that were identical to the others.
“Master should be low enough on mana now,” she thought to herself.
The blue light surrounding Aden abruptly ran out and the connection between the two was severed. The golden light retreated back into Skye and she slowly descended from floating midair in front of Aden. The third tail that had appeared flashed out of existence.
She spoke out loud, “Conceal!”
A golden dome rose up from the ground and covered the group. It shimmered faintly as it finished forming above their heads. It looked like golden stained glass from the inside, but if one were to be viewing them from the outside it would look like there was nothing but grass there.
Barely able to keep his eyes open, Aden was staring at her with a tired expression.
David and Levy called out his name, but his hearing was muffled, like his ears were stuffed with cotton. His mind grew fuzzy and he could feel himself drifting into darkness.
“I am deeply sorry for my actions, Master.” She laid down and bowed her head regretfully.
A terrifyingly loud sonic boom resounding through the sky overhead.
Immediately after, Aden lost consciousness yet again.
Chapter 6 – ‘A Piece of Explanation’
The source of the sound, the Zealots, passed overhead seemingly without noticing their group and continued onward towards the direction of the setting sun in the horizon. The golden tinted dome around them had started to break apart like a slowly shattering piece of glass.
“Wh, what… just happened…?” Although David finally worked up the courage to speak, he stuttered.
A few minutes had passed since Skye reappeared and set their situation into disarray. Both Levy and David were filled with concern for Aden and confusion in general. By now, Aden was sleeping peacefully on the ground.
“Zealots, religious mercenaries. Judging from their attire, they are part of the Purist Sect.”
She was panting and filled that last part of the sentence with a venomous tone.
David didn’t pay attention to that and responded incredulously, “Zealots? The cause of that sound? It was like a bomb!”
“A display of their continued arrogance. Purposefully sending out uncontrolled blasts of mana to alert whoever may be below them that they are passing through.”
“A person caused that…?” Levy had a thoughtful look on her face.
Neither she nor David were able to discern the cause of that sound as it all happened too fast, but never would they have thought that something other than an airplane or bomb would be able to make a sound like that.
Skye continued, “I am sure that, like Master, you both have questions. Suffice it to say that for now, if we are found by those Zealots or others like them, they will stop at nothing to make sure that none of us see the light of tomorrow.”
“We must find a place to rest unnoticed until Master recovers,” she cut David’s question off before casting her gaze towards Levy. “Girl, under no circumstances should you carelessly give someone those Elixirs.”
“There is an empty alcove in a hill I came across earlier not too far from where we are now. We’ll talk more when we get there.” Motioning towards David, “Boy, carry Master and follow.”
Seeing her turn to leave, Levy quickly gathered up the items strewn across the ground into the satchels and David shouldered Aden. His years of martial arts tempered his body to be stronger than the average fourteen year old and he was able to carry him with little trouble.
After setting out, the two children had suppressed their questions for now and were thinking to themselves.
Levy broke the silence when they saw their destination appear up ahead.
“So! Magic, right?”
“Huh?” David was caught off guard by her abrupt question.
“Magic! Fantasy stuff! Have you ever seen anything like what happened today in anything but movies?”
“No, but how could…?”
“People flew overhead, that golden thing that appeared around us, and that colored light around Aden and Skye. And Skye! A fox! Talking!” As she talked, her voice grew louder to the point of nearly shouting.
A small distance in front of them, one of Skye’s ears twitched.
“It does… seem like that.” David was starting to strain himself a little to stay upright and talk. After all, even with his strong body, he had been carrying someone for a while now. Not to mention his Taekwondo practice from before. “Earlier, my legs-“
David recalled the horrible scene from that morning. Practitioners were aware of the dangers of their craft, but he never expected a situation like that to happen.
He winced, took a breath and continued, “They didn’t feel normal. I mean, nothing today has been normal. However, for an instant, it was like…” It was like their defense didn’t exist at all as his leg crashed through their ribs as if they were tofu.
“Structural Self Augmentation.”
Hearing something incomprehensible, David didn’t understand what Skye meant.
“Structural Self Augmentation. An ability focused on manipulating the materials that make up your body. The ability primarily manifests in those of the Dwarf race, but has been known to appear in humans from time to time.”
“Dwarfs?” This time, it was Levy’s turn to be the one confused.
Skye sighed. “Let us first prepare an area to wait out the night. Although this area is mostly safe, it would be unwise to stay out without a means of defense.”
At this, they agreed. It was still light out but that wouldn’t last long.
When they walked into the alcove, they saw that it was closed on all sides save for the side they entered in from. Expanding from the sizable entrance into a small oval shape, the alcove was around four and a half meters at its widest.
“Girl, do you have anything else prepared in those vials of yours?”
“My name isn’t ‘girl’, it’s Levy.” She was starting to get annoyed at being referred to like that.
Sending her a glance, “Fine—Levy, do you have anything else prepared?”
“… No.” She admitted.
“Alright then, give Master half of one of the Elixirs and he’ll wake up as normal in the morning. The entire vial would be much too potent for him. I will be back in a moment.”
Levy nodded, taking out a vial as David sat him down on the ground. Skye leapt out of the cave.
“Just where are we…?”
The one to talk first was David, who was currently lifting up Aden’s torso to help get him to drink the liquid. Levy poured exactly half of the vial into his mouth and tilted back his head before motioning for David to lay him back down.
“I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t Earth, at least.”
“How did we get here? After I… after Aden arrived in the practice hall all I remember is a bright flash and the weird sensation of heat spreading through me.”
David did his best to bury that scene in his mind.
Closing her eyes, Levy recalled what happened. “When I caught up to Aden, after seeing what happened… yeah. That beautiful light and warm sensation, then we were here as soon as it was gone. So much happened today.”
Remembering that she had put some candies in her pocket and popped one into her mouth after quickly unwrapping it.
“Speaking of that… why were you with Aden? You’ve never really talked with either of us for years now… No way.” His face paled and looked towards his unconscious friend, “A secret relationship? Aden, behind my back, you–!!”
“No! It’s nothing like that!” She was blushing fiercely. “We were just eating together at—“
Realizing what it sounded like, she stopped trying to explain and blushed even more.
“Guh-!” His fists hit the ground as he leaned forward on his knees. “The world is too cruel! For the bookworm to have a date before me! Alas, Ariel, my goddess! I’ll never glimpse upon your perfect face again!”
Cracks even began to form on the ground where his fists struck.
“… Is this some sort of comedy play?”
Skye’s voice came from the entrance. Her tone was one of amusement.
“No matter, Aden’s Awakening affected you two as well. It’s only natural that your psyche is having trouble keeping up while trying to cope with your abilities. It can sometimes even cause permanent personality shifts.”
“That! You keep mentioning that ‘Awakening’ thing. What are you talking about!? What does that have to do with Aden and us?”
She looked towards David, who was sitting back down in a more befitting manner, “An Awakening is just as it sounds, when one wakes up from the dream that their mind constructs from birth. One in ten thousand may undergo an Awakening if they have enough compatibility with mana. Some bloodlines, like Master’s, carry so much compatibility that their Awakenings can easily affect others.”
“That light from before,” Levy began after realizing, “the light that appeared around you and Aden before that sound. Is that the mana you were talking about?”
“A form of it, yes. Normally it shouldn’t have been visible to that extent, but as I said earlier the Elixir you gave him was far too potent for him to take at his current capacity. Although not the reason why I rushed back, it was a good thing I did. Exceeding your capacity can be fatal.”
At her grim words, Levy was taken aback. She looked at the half-empty vial still in her hand.
“But… how could these do anything like that? They’re just things I’ve been practicing for my studies.”
“It’s simple. Your ability is most likely Sage. Along with the medicinal properties of natural herbs, it amplifies their properties and expands on them. Yet another rare trait for a human to have. The chances of you two having Structural Self Augmentation as well as Sage is ridiculous.”
“What do you mean? Why would it be uncommon for humans?”
“Your ability isn’t set in stone until the moment you go through an Awakening. What ability you receive depends on your own knowledge and preferences. Humans, with the shortest life span among all eight races, also undergo their Awakening the quickest after birth. With the least amount of time to increase their own knowledge, it should be of little surprise that some abilities are out of a human’s reach.”
At this point David was lost, confusion evident on his face. He spoke up.
“Wait a sec. Let’s rewind a bit here. Most importantly, what happened? Why are we not at the school anymore?”
Skye looked towards Aden, still unconscious, “I would prefer to wait for Master to wake up before—“
Some mana began leaking from Aden’s body, interrupting her sentence. His arms shifted slightly and he opened his eyes. The light immediately stopped and dissipated.
“Aden? You okay man?”
Aden tried to sit up, and was able to after a moment with David’s help. He was still slightly tired, but overall he felt alright.
Skye was surprised that he recovered so fast.
Seeing Skye, Aden felt a rush of emotions overtake him; mainly confusion. “You… what, why?”
She exhaled slightly, preparing herself. “Master, allow me to formally introduce myself. My full name is Skyrael Inari Asteri, a guardian of the noble Asteri spirit family. I have sworn to forever serve the family’s head, and as such am here now to serve you.” She bowed deeply.
The three stared at Skye, unmoving.
“Spirit? As in Ghosts?” David asked.
“No, as in myself. “ She responded and looked directly into Aden’s eyes before adding, “And Master, the new head of the Asteri family. Aden Asteri.”