These stories use a lot of Japanese names. To help, you can tap on any word with a colored underline to show the proper English pronunciation.
If you find the feature distracting, you can turn it off by clicking on the icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. Happy reading!
Note: This week, I took a break from Chiyoko’s story to try out a different style of writing. Next week, I’ll return with part 3!
Gasp! It worked!
Look at all these colors! Where is this? A farm? The detail is unbelievable.
And if the resonance is right… Yes! So many memories. Incredible! Ooph, I did not get a happy one.
And Manabu said it wouldn’t work. Well who’s laughing now, eh brother? Me! I’m laughing! Ha! From now on it’s two against one! No more embarrassing–.
Huh? Wait, stop screaming. Hey! Shut up. Listen.
No seriously, stop freaking out. You’re not going crazy. I just - cough, cough, splutter.
Did you just throw water in your face? I felt it! I’m a GENIUS. The bond is even stronger than I expected. I wonder if I can…
Hey! Slap yourself in the face.
Shoot. I guess senses are the limit.
At least you stopped screaming, though. Nobody enjoyed that. I’m going to have to figure out some kind of filter for people who startle easily. It’s like, what’s the big deal? So a second consciousness spontaneously sprouted in your mind. You don’t have to freak out about it.
Hey! Would you mind looking around? I want to see if there are any distinguishing substances I could use to filter out people like you when I try this again.
What’s that? Don’t worry about it. It turns out you are going crazy. No wait, I’ve got a better one.
I’m a ghoooost. Oooooh. Now pick up that rock and tell me if it tastes like it has a higher than normal zinc concentration or I’ll eat your soulllll.
Ugh, this is taking so long. I have things to do! Manabu will be back soon with a location for the beast. I’ll just have to figure something out for the filter on my own.
Thanks for letting me share your head for a bit! Sorry you’re all wet now. And for the screaming.
Your life seems interesting. Super sad though. Hang in there, buddy. You keep on farming. Anyways, bye!
Phew! Mother’s scales that guy was dull. Good thing it wasn’t permanent like Manabu said it would be. Ha! Manabu, overcautious as always. That’s why I’ll be the last one standing in the end.
I pull the metal band off my head and take a look at the cloudy white void stone inlaid at its center. The stone is badly cracked and it’s color quickly fades to grey in my hands. Guess it’s a single use per connection.
I lay the headband on the heavy wooden table next to me. It’s littered with half finished, badly broken, partially exploded mechanisms. Manabu won’t notice one more amidst the pile.
I should probably put something together for the mission before Manabu gets back, otherwise he’ll wonder what I was up to. I brush back my thick red robe and pull another void stone from my belt. This one flashes blue occasionally. A miniature thunderstorm crackles within the cloudy white depths.
I feel a sudden rush of alarm and resist the urge to throw the stone away from me. Why is it crackling like that?
That’s a stupid question. It’s holding my new seismic resonance, obviously.
I guess the upgrade was pretty recent. Still getting used to it.
I focus on the stone, letting my heart rate rise, stoking my impatience. Frenetic. The hairs all over my body stand on end for a minute as the harmonics reestablish themselves. The thunderstorm disappears from the stone in my hands.
I stow the now-empty void stone and walk to the large furnace across the room. I pull open the thick iron door, one hand blocking the searing heat from my face. A few ingots lay amongst the coals, ready in case the inspiration for something fun strikes me unexpectedly.
Right, time to whip up something quick for the mission.
Confusion springs from nowhere, washing over me. Mission? What mission? What am I talking about?
We’re hunting down Aratani’s source. Sheesh, what’s wrong with me? I feel like some of that farmer’s dumb rubbed off while I was in his head. I need to pull it together before Manabu gets back or he’ll suspect something.
More confusion. Manabu. I keep saying that name. Who is that?
My twin brother! Honestly, how could the effects be this extreme this long after– oh.
You’re still here, aren’t you?
Don’t just say yes like some kind of idiot! Do you have any idea what this means? Of course you don’t. You’re a farmer.
It means Manabu was RIGHT. Ughhh. He’s going to be so frosting smug. I can just imagine that stupid, imperious face of his. First he’ll be like ‘I told you the link could be permanent.’ Then he’ll be all ‘We don’t know how void stones react with sentient resonances. You should have waited until we understood more.’
Hey! Could you try to be a little less confused? It’s seeping over the bond and it feels… weird. Is this how people usually feel?
Wait a minute. You’re here with me! The link can go two ways? That’s fascinating. We didn’t expect that. Maybe you’ve got some sort of– seriously! Knock it off with the panic and the questions! How am I supposed to think?
Fine! If I explain things to you, will you be quiet? Alright, shut up for a minute and let me check your memories to see how much you already know.
Gasp. You don’t know anything. I can’t believe this. You were supposed to be my secret weapon!
Yikes. Where do I even start with a slate this blank?
OK, so you know the Grand Tournament? All those powerful people running around Yosai, fighting to be the next Champion? First things first, I’m one of those people. My brother and I were just chosen by Amaterasu as her favored warriors. Yeah, chosen by a god. We’re kind of a big deal. If you’d ever left your farm you’d probably have heard of us.
Anyways, have you ever wondered where we all get our crazy powers? Ugh. Of course you haven’t.
Look, I get it OK? You live a hard life with more important things to worry about than Tournament gossip. You’re so frosting rustic. But could you at least pretend like there’s a bone of intellectual curiosity in your body?
People have powers. They can do incredible things. This is now relevant to you.
Our abilities come from something called resonance. People with powers, we call them ‘anchors’. They draw their power from a source of energy that exists somewhere in the world. Like a raging river or an fault line with a lot of seismic activity. We call those sources of energy ‘surges’. An anchor can pull energy out of their surge and manifest that energy in the world around them.
With me so far? Nod if you understand. Ha! See, I can control your body.
OK, so an anchor transfers energy from a surge across a resonant bond. To create the bond, you have to share some sort of ideal with the surge. For a river you could be ‘relentless’. Or you might be ‘chaotic’ like the fault line. It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty abstract, so long as there’s a strong similarity.
Most people maintain the sort of extremely lopsided personality needed to create a resonance. And even people who do usually only do it subconsciously. They’re not really aware of the resonant structure. They can only pull power from their source in a fixed way.
But some people, like my brother and I, are able to exert conscious control over our bonds. We’re called ‘adepts’ and we’re very rare. We can alter the energy as it’s coming across, creating a wider range of effects.
Here, let me try an analogy. Imagine the strings on a violin. Wait… OK, phew. At least you’ve heard of music.
Don’t sound so offended! I’m not taking any level of knowledge for granted anymore.
OK, So imagine the strings on a violin. Most people, all they can do is pluck a string. Well, no. Most people don’t even own a violin. Those are the people who can’t resonate at all. But ignore them.
People who can only resonate subconsciously. For those people it’s like all they can do is pluck a string. They only get one sound. That means when they draw energy from their surge it comes out the same every time. If they can throw fire, that’s all they can do. And the amount of heat energy that comes across is always the same. As their body gets used to channeling the energy, they’ll get better at focusing the energy. But that’s about the only change you’ll see.
Being an adept is like being able to make chords with your other hand while you pluck the strings. We can create new notes with different sounds and feelings to them.
Hey - this is a pretty good analogy isn’t it? I should tell Manabu about it. He’ll wanna write it down.
Where was I? Right, adepts can make more notes. We call those different notes ‘harmonics’. At first, an adept can only change the sound in very basic ways. But as we get stronger, we learn to play increasingly complicated things. Ultimately, there are six harmonics that can be applied to a bond.
Well, six seems like it should be the hard theoretical limit, at least.
You can’t just do anything with a harmonic, though. Each one has a very specific way that it changes the energy you draw. The first harmonic, for example, is ‘shape’. It makes the energy more malleable as you manifest it. Instead of throwing a big ball of fire, you could use the first harmonic make it into a whip, or bend it around your friends.
The most important harmonic is the third harmonic. Well, it’s certainly the most important one for this conversation. But it’s also the most interesting harmonic, in my opinion. It’s called ‘polarity’.
You see, the bond between surge and anchor usually has two end points. Those endpoints are usually just the surge and the anchor. And energy can only flow in one direction between those endpoints. And, usually, the direction of flow is from the surge to the anchor.
Without the third harmonic, energy only flows one way, and when you manifest that energy, it has to appear in your immediate vicinity. Sure, you can throw it like you throw a rock or something. But it would have to originate from you.
What do you mean ‘get to the point’? This is all interesting stuff!
Whatever. With the polarity harmonic, you can alter the endpoints of a bond. For example, you could reverse the directionality, letting you absorb energy around you and transfer it back to your surge. Or you could shift the endpoint out of your body temporarily, allowing you to create an effect that doesn’t originate directly from you.
And that’s it. Happy? No over-explaining.
Oh? You don’t get how that leads to us living inside each others’ heads? Wow. It’s like this stuff is complicated and requires a pretty thorough explanation, huh?
So in simple terms, I used two polarity harmonics at the same time. The first harmonic let me add a third endpoint to the chain.
I look across the room to the thick wooden table where I set the metal headpiece before.
That thing over there acted as an amplifier so I could throw the new endpoint really far away from myself. But it’s tough to aim at that kind of distance, so I just sort of connected to something at random.
I look back down, returning to my work. A long, serrated blade lays in my lap. An opalescent void stone rests in the hilt, surrounded by a series of gears running along the spine of the blade. One of the gears is stuck so I remove it and start rooting through the surrounding scraps for a smaller one.
What do you mean ‘where did this come from?’ I’ve been making it while we talked! You think I have enough time to just sit here and lecture farmers all day? Sheesh. Somebody’s got an ego.
Anyways, I used that amplifier over there to create and project a third endpoint into your head. Then I used the third harmonic again to reverse the directionality. Originally, the energy went from surge, to me, to you. But I changed it so things pointed from you, to me, to the surge. The idea was that once I dropped the surge endpoint, I’d be left with a two-endpoint connection directed from you to me. Sound familiar?
Wait, seriously? No?
It sounds like a normal resonance bond! You’re the surge, I’m the anchor. If it worked, the process would allow me to create artificial resonance bonds quickly and at huge distances.
The only problem is that resonating with an intelligent surge - and I use the term ‘intelligent’ loosely in your case - is tricky. Both sides can change and mess with the bond. Usually, the only intelligent surges are gods or Champions. They’re strong enough to dominate the bond and cancel out any subconscious fidgeting from a new anchor.
So remember how I said resonance requires some sort of ideological symmetry? When I connected the two of us out-of-the-blue, we both started reflexively trying to adapt to the bond. Like how you catch your balance without thinking when you stumble. We both tried to adjust the bond to match our own ideology while also compromising and shifting our own personality a bit.
Manabu worried that the process for artificial resonance might create a permanent unstable bond. Basically, his fear was that we’d both just continue chasing each other in circles trying to stabilize on a single ideal. And the bond can’t be ended until it stabilizes.
I thought that we might be able to break the endless cycle by transferring my half of the bond into a void stone.
I tap the hilt of the sword in my hands.
These crystals are completely blank when it comes to resonance. They can hold a bond with anything. Manabu and I invented them.
Which - ugh - it’s a pretty big deal! Basically, Manabu and I can use the third harmonic to transfer our half of a resonant bond into these stones. They latch on and we’re free to resonate with a different surge while still pulling energy out of the old surge using the void stone.
Admittedly, we can’t pull the energy out at full strength. A void stone can’t use harmonics. But we’re the only people in the world who can access the power of multiple surges! That’s why Amaterasu is so interested in us.
Anyways, I thought I could use a void stone as an interface between us so we wouldn’t have to resonate directly.
And look. I’m just gonna give it to you straight. I was wrong. The void stone shattered trying to hold both our ideals at once. We got stuck in an unstable resonance loop. Manabu was right. Nobody is happy about it.
Now, do you want the good news, or the bad news first?
Ugh. A pessimist. Figures.
The bad news is that our minds are stuck linked. Probably forever. But because both of us are maintaining the bond at the same time, it’s not that physically taxing. So I can still resonate with other things.
Yeah, I know that only applies to me! I’m just saying.
There is some benefit for you, though. Good news time. The bond isn’t fully formed, but it’s still circulating energy between us. Probably not enough for you to do any cool magic. But it’s probably enough to sustain your body like it does mine. You don’t need to eat anymore! And you’re probably immortal. Very long-lived at the least.
Pretty sweet deal, right? Think of all the farming you’ll be able to do!
Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little?
Hey! I can hear your thoughts you know. Sheesh, if it bugs you so much just try not to think about it. So long as neither of us focuses on the other, the bond should fade into the background. Our emotional states will still bleed across, but conscious thoughts won’t.
I think. That’s how normal resonance works, at least. The bond is always sort of there, but you’re not shooting fireballs out of your hand every second.
Let’s give it a shot.
See that worked pretty well! You were worried for nothing. Oops, sorry. OK, OK. Carry on.
What do you think would happen if we were in the same place and looked at each other? Do you think it’d be like putting two mirrors face to face, but in our minds?
Woah, no need to yell! I’m literally right here. Yeah, I can see you dropped what you were carrying. It’s not my fault you startle so easily!
And how exactly am I supposed to warn you before I start talking? That would require talking. Fascinating. Maybe I could try to send a pulse of some kind of emotion? Gasp! We could develop a language built entirely from the manipulation of our emotions. Imagine how society would change if that’s how everyone talked.
Quick, can you feel this? My heart lurches, beating fast. The back of my throat stings. Sorrow, loss. Then it’s gone.
You felt it? Nice! I’ll use that in the future.
Relax, I won’t use that exact feeling. I just wanted to start with something strong to see if it worked. Shifting resonances all the time makes me pretty good at jumping into a new mindset - I’ll make a pulse that’s more subtle in the future.
Hm…? Where was that feeling from? Oh you know, same old story. Nothing interesting.
I’m standing on a hill. In the valley below, a village burns. Manabu and I are holding hands, our small frames shivering in the cold.
Hey! Stop that. I don’t go rooting around in your… OK, OK. Point taken.
Let’s say no more exploring each other’s memories without the other’s permission? Great.
I’m sorry I went digging around in your head before. And I’m sorry I made you drop all the taro you were carrying just now.
Wanna see something cool?
I’m standing on a steep, rocky incline overlooking a small cove. The boat we came in is moored against a stone outcropping several hundred feet below, rocking gently. Beyond the cove, the sea is turbulent, the water deep and dark. White crests are blown by the wind. On the horizon, there’s a faint outline of the main island of Yosai.
A few chunks of stone skitter past my feet, bouncing down the hillside. I look up. Manabu is near the top. His long robes, a mix of muted brown and crimson, flap about his lanky form. After more than an hour of scrambling up the slope, his robes are still immaculate. His long, delicate fingers are unstained by the dirt and moss that fills the cracks between rocks. The jagged sword I made earlier is strapped across his back, the gears silent for now.
The last ten feet are nearly straight up, but Manabu doesn’t bother looking for handholds. There’s a faint whoomph and my hair is blown back by a flash of hot air. Manabu floats delicately upwards, rising to the top of the cliff and stepping down onto solid earth again. He turns towards me, extending a hand.
“Care for a lift, brother?” He’s smiling. Levitation is a new trick he learned. Show-off.
I hold up my hands, covered in grime. My trousers are scuffed. There’s a tear along one of the knees. “Not much good it’ll do me, eh?” I lean forward, planting my hands on the rock and begin to scramble up the last few feet.
As I near the top, a stone turns under my foot. My weight shifts suddenly. There’s a crackle of sparks all around me as I reach for my new surge. Energy floods my body, heightening my strength and reflexes. My hand darts forward as I topple backwards, aiming for a large crack in the rock that I can hold on to.
My hand moves faster than I expect, my muscles at least 30% stronger than I anticipated. This new surge is strong. My hand punches through the rock I was aiming for. A cloud of dust and debris hits my face and I continue to fall, my handhold now non-existent. Whoops.
Before I have a chance to do anything else, my body lurches to a halt. Manabu lifts me slowly through the air. My limbs flail a bit as I try to balance. So embarrassing! How does he stand so gracefully? He must be using extra energy to hold himself upright.
I look down the cliffside, wondering if throwing myself off will be less painful than Manabu’s smugness at the top.
Manabu deposits me in front of him, a look of concern on his face. “You need to be more careful, brother. You didn’t account for the increased draw from the new surge.” There’s a flash of heat across my face as Manabu burns away the dust and dirt. “You should use–”
”–the second harmonic to modulate intensity.” I scratch at my face, getting dirt on my cheeks again. It always itches when he does that. We have superhuman abilities and he finds a way to use them for cleaning? Honestly. “I know, I know! You’ve only told me 38 times in the last three weeks, Man.”
“43 times, I think.”
Would you judge me if I threw my brother off the cliff right now?
No he doesn’t have a point! I would have been fine. He’s always worrying, jumping in before I need his help. If you’re going to live in my head, you can’t pick his side!
Besides, he only looks like he has more control because he’s wasting energy modulating the bond. He’d be having the same problems as me otherwise.
Oh, right. I keep forgetting you need more context. So, remember how I said that the energy from your surge comes in a fixed size? Well, the more powerful your surge, the bigger that fixed size is. Manabu and I both just bonded with larger surges from Amaterasu’s domain. But we’re still getting used to the strength. We’ve never had to focus so much energy at once. That’s why you see bursts of electricity and heat around us as we’re using our powers. As we get better, we’ll be able to harness more of the energy without having to vent so much as waste.
In the meantime, the second harmonic allows for modulating the intensity of the energy that comes across. But using harmonics takes a lot of effort. Even more than regular resonance. So right now Manabu is trading off stamina for control. I’d rather just get better at focusing.
I turn away from my brother, inspecting the woods around us. The trees are huge. Almost ten feet wide, with trunks over 100 feet high. Thick, sinewy roots spread from the base, covered in green moss. The forest floor is almost entirely covered. I wonder what kind of trees these are.
What do you mean, Camphor? Camphor what? Oh! The trees are Camphor trees. Hey, watch this.
“Man, look at these Camphor trees. Pretty amazing, right?”
“I didn’t realize they were Camphor trees. Have you read of them before?”
“Sorry, I thought you already knew about them. I can lend you some of my books if you’d like?”
“Oh… yes. If you wouldn’t mind. It’s not often you’re the one lending me a book, is it brother? Ha!” Manabu laughs about two times louder than he should.
This will bother him for weeks! Amazing.
Remind me to find a book on trees somewhere.
A thick fog swirls around the base of the Camphor trees. I take a moment to spin around. Taking in the forest, the cliffside, the churning sea, Yosai’s main island in the distance. When you were a kid, did you ever think you’d see something like this?
“Brother! Focus. We need to find the beast and get out of here as quickly as possible. Aratani won’t be gone for long.”
Oh, I forgot to tell you! We’re on a mission for Amaterasu. There’s a powerful shifter named Aratani that’s been interfering with a lot of the Dawnforge’s plans. We found the forest that Aratani resonates with and we’re here to weaken it; thereby weakening Aratani.
We actually used to travel with Aratani a while back. But she aligned herself with the Woodheart and we went our separate ways. My brother and I aren’t really champions of nature, you know?
I mean yeah, we’re not happy to be fighting against an old friend and teammate but that’s just how the Tournament works. There’s only one winner at the end. Everyone knows what they’re signing up for if they team up with someone. Someday Manabu and I will have to fight, too.
We spend about 20 minutes searching through the woods. Aratani’s favored form is a giant snake, so we know there’s got to be one of those creatures living in the woods here. That’s what she channels when she transforms herself. If we can find the snake, we’ll have found Aratani’s forest.
But like I said: Manabu and I, not big campers. We spend more time in the workshop and the library. We’re struggling to find our way through the forest. What do snake tracks even look like?
Look for standing water? How would you know?
I think a giant, building-smashing snake is going to behave a little differently than the little guys slithering around your farm.
We keep searching. As we move in from the windy cliffs, it gets a bit warmer. The ground is softer, more verdant. Everything is damp. I see a faint shimmer between the trees in the distance. It’s hard to tell through the fog, but it looks like - maybe a lake reflecting the sun?
Standing water, you said?
“Hey! Manabu! I think I read somewhere that snakes like standing water. Maybe we should check near that lake up ahead?”
“Why by the Mother’s Scales were you reading about snakes?”
“Oh, you know… I figured it was Aratani’s favored form, so it might be good to research a bit.”
Manabu looks surprised for a moment. Eventually he nods approvingly. “That was a strange amount of foresight, brother. Well done.”
I swear to the Dawnforge he looks proud right now. He’s only three seconds older than me!
The trees go all the way up to the edge of the lake, their roots twisting and plunging into the water. The water is a murky green, with man-sized spherical chunks of moss bobbing on the surface occasionally.
Most of the roots and tree trunks have been scored in a twisting, swirling pattern. It looks like someone grabbed the bark of the trees and pushed it together, giving the appearance of a wrinkled cloth.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess. Snake tracks?
Alright, look. You were right. Nobody likes someone who gloats.
On the far side of the lake, there’s a break in the tree line that reveals a large clearing adjacent to the water. The trees surrounding the clearing have grown so dense you can’t see through them. Trunks and limbs bend in strange directions, weaving together into a wooden grotto. Manabu points to the wooden cave and we make our way towards it.
I reach the edge of the tree-woven wall and peer around the corner. Manabu is tense behind me, ready to strike if anything jumps at my presence.
The cave is massive. Branches weave together 30 or 40 feet overhead, blocking light from most of the area. The back of the space is shrouded in shadow.
The ground here is blanketed in green moss so thick it feels like we’re walking on the hide of some furry creature. All around, the ground is– wait a minute.
I pull a dagger from my belt and crouch close to the ground. I stab the bright green moss, getting ready to run. Nothing happens. One more stab. Still nothing.
OK, just moss. Not actually the hide of some giant creature. Can you imagine?
Anyways, where was I? Right. All around, the ground is littered with bones. Maybe 20 feet further in, a coiled mass of translucent, scaly skin lays discarded against the wall. The snake skin is taller than me. Gross.
The cave is filled with a faint pattering as water drips from the branches overhead onto the mossy floor.
Just to be safe, I reach for my surge and pull on the fourth harmonic. I hold both my hands close together. Sparks begin to jump between them. I can’t focus the energy into such a small area yet, but I didn’t want to anyways. I pull my hands apart, letting the lighting spread. It leaps forward hungrily. A wave of crackling blue energy rolls across the interior of the cave, searching out the far walls hidden in shadow. Wherever the energy travels, I get a brief sense of the area.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything living inside. No traps. A low level magical aura, but I think that’s from whatever shaped the tree walls.” The energy hits the far side and I gasp. I grab Manabu’s forearm to steady myself.
“Brother, what’s wrong?”
My breathing is shallow. My hands begin to sweat. I’ve never seen anything like it. “So. Many. Toys”.
I sprint inside. At the back of the cave, roots have been formed into what can only be described as a trophy case. Gems sit atop gnarled pillars of wood, the bark slowly growing around them. Swords and shields swing from vines. Clockwork mechanisms ranging from hand-sized to larger than a cart sit in organic wooden cages.
Aratani has been waging war against civilization and the five races’ desire to create for almost ten years. And we just found the stash of things even she thought were too impressive to destroy.
I squirm my way between the rough-barked bars of one of the larger cages. Inside is a metal wheel three feet wide and taller than myself. On both of its circular faces, gems are set into the metal near the edges.
“Man! Look! What do you think it does?”
Manabu approaches more cautiously, picking his way between exposed roots and dangling vines. His loss - I got first pick of the loot. “Brother, careful! We don’t know if any of this is trapped. You could be sending an alarm back to Aratani.”
“Gasp! Do you see these gems? There’s six of them on each side. Do you think it has something to do with harmonics? What do you think would happen if I–.” I reach a hand forward, using the fourth harmonic again, and energy flares outward. I use the first harmonic to arc the lightning, having it hop from one gem to the next. Nothing happens until it reaches a ruby towards the bottom of the wheel. The ruby flares with inner light.
“Do you see this? The wheel is reacting!” In my excitement, I lose focus and the first harmonic drops. Lightning begins to shoot out in every direction. This new surge really is overwhelming. I pull on the second harmonic to modulate the intenisty downwards. As the electricity wanes, an emerald next to the ruby lights as well. “I knew it! It’s responding to harmonics.” I use the third harmonic, inverting my bond. Electricity leaps towards my hand and vanishes. A sapphire glows next in line.
“Brother! Stay focused.” Manabu reaches between the wooden bars and grabs my shoulder.
“Man, relax! We’re here to weaken Aratani, right? Don’t you think nabbing some of her most powerful treasures will help with that? Besides - there’s a shelf of books over there that has your name all over it.” I flick my hand towards the far wall and a dust mote of electricity swirls forward, lighting the area. Manabu yelps and pulls his hand back as some of the waste energy shocks him. Whoops.
Rubbing his hand, Manabu looks in the direction I pointed. His eyes widen. “Well, I suppose it can’t hurt just to take a quick look. The books in particular might contain valuable intelligence against the Woodheart.” Manabu walks slowly towards the shelves, his head and shoulders held in a dignified manner. When he thinks I’m not looking, he starts ravenously snatching up tomes and stuffing them into his robe.
I turn back to the wheel, wondering how it works.
Oh! Right. I almost forgot you were there. Sorry. I’m guessing you’ve never seen artifacts like this, huh? They’re pretty rare, which is why finding so many in one place is so unbelievable.
Why are they rare? Look at you! three days connected to a powerful magical being and now you’re thinking ‘why isn’t magic just everywhere?’. Not so rustic anymore, eh?
Artifacts like this are rare because you have to form them using the fourth harmonic. It takes a very skilled adept to reach that level - Manabu and I just reached it a few months ago.
The fourth harmonic is ‘construction’. Hmm. This one might be hard to explain. OK, so you know how energy gets pulled from the surge and then manifested around the anchor? Well, it doesn’t actually move from point A to point B. When Manabu pulls some fire from Amaterasu’s Eternal Flame, that fire doesn’t go bouncing along the countryside like a homing pigeon. The energy at the surge is deconstructed into a more flexible form, transferred across the bond, and then reconstructed at the anchor.
How does the deconstructed energy travel? That is a very interesting question. Man and I don’t know yet, but he’s working on figuring it out. We do know that the further you are from your surge, the longer it takes to manifest the energy. Not by a lot, mind you. Only fractions of a second longer. But that suggests there is some sort of travel happening.
Anyways, the fourth harmonic allows you to control when and how the energy is reconstructed when it gets to you. For example, you saw how Manabu lifted himself up the cliff earlier? He didn’t do that by lighting himself on fire. He used the fourth harmonic to prevent the heat energy from reconstructing itself. In it’s deconstructed form, you can use the energy from a bond to affect the speed and direction of objects around you.
Or at least, Manabu can because he’s an external anchor. I’m an internal anchor, so I can use the energy to do things like heal faster.
Internal versus external? Sheesh, conversations with you are so recursive. Let’s just keep it simple - there are two kinds of anchors: those who can manifest energy in the world around them and those who are able to manifest energy inside of objects, including themselves. Well, you can actually use the fourth harmonic to manifest energy in your off type for a brief period of time by changing how it reconstructs. But for the most part, you’ll see people throwing fireballs or moving super fast, but not both. If you do - they are very powerful and you should run.
So, back to these artifacts. Basically, you can use the fourth harmonic to slow down the reconstruction process. If you have a suitable material with a regular crystalline structure - like gems or metals - an internal-type adept can essentially stitch energy into the matrix of the material. The more slowly and meticulously that you weave the energy in, the longer the object will be imbued with the power. These artifacts here look like they were–.
As I’m talking, a dark mass, even wider than the trunks of the camphor trees, appears at the edge of my vision. It hangs from the roof by the entrance to the cave. Two poisonous yellow circles, slashed through with vertical black slits, are set inside the mass. A long tongue darts out, tasting the air.
–really some kind of master craftsman must have made these. I can’t see any kind of decay to the energy matrix. My attention is absorbed by the metallic inlays around the gemstones.
The snake blinks and begins to slide into the cave. It’s dark black scales are soundless as it moves upside down amongst the branches of the roof. The beast is massive, it’s length continuing out of the cave. It must be over a hundred feet long.
A brief pulse of fear catches my attention, pulling me away from the artifacts.
Hey, no need to be afraid! Artifacts are powerful, but they’re not dangerous if you know how to handle them.
Hold on, were you practicing our new emotional communication? How rude! Here I am trying to explain some very difficult concepts for your benefit and you’re just goofing off and looking around the cave!
Wait a minute, looking around the cave? were you splitting our focus? We can do that?
The snake? OH RIGHT THE SNAKE.
“Man! Incoming!” I drop into a crouch and crank my body to 160%. Time slows. My muscles flex as they’re hyper-stimulated. I don’t have the body to sustain super strength, but the bump in speed and reflex time are useful. Electricity arcs around me as I vent the overflow. The gems on the wheel next to me flash.
The snake lunges towards Manabu, it’s mouth opening in slow motion. There’s a shimmer along it’s fangs. A faint mist of poison fills the space in it’s mouth. Manabu is still turning, a book in each hand.
I reach to my belt, pulling off two metal spheres and hurling them at inhuman speed. One strikes at the base of the snake’s jaw. The other hits the snake’s body where it hangs from the ceiling. There’s a satisfying zzt as both projectiles deliver their charge.
The snake’s muscles tense involuntarily, snapping it’s jaw shut and causing it to veer off course from my brother. It crashes heavily into the ground ten feet away from Manabu, leaving a long gouge in the trees along the wall.
The books in Manabu’s hands erupt into flames as he focuses a blast of fire in front of him. The flame jet slams into the snake’s side, burning away some of the its scales. All around Manabu, the wood is blackened and scorched. He looks to the charred remains of the bookshelf, momentarily crestfallen before he focuses his attention back on our enemy.
See? I told you he had just as much trouble focusing!
The beast rights itself on the ground and lunges towards Manabu again, it’s mouth spreading wide. Mother’s scales! Those stunners usually leave a person locked up for an entire day. This snake shrugged them off in an instant!
Before I can get another stunner in the air, my brother leaps over the creature’s head, using the deconstructed energy from his bond to propel himself into a flip 20 feet in the air. While he twists, he pulls the sword I made earlier from his back.
Oh nice! Watch this.
The white void stone set into the pommel flashes a searing white and the gears along the back of the blade whir, striking the flint stones I fastened underneath them. Sparks fly and the blade erupts into flame. Pretty sweet, right?
But Manabu doesn’t stop there. The flames surrounding the blade shrink as he focuses the heat. The fire disappears entirely, leaving the blade glowing white-blue. It’s so bright I can barely look at it as he slashes across the back of the snake’s neck. The blade leaves a deep wound that sizzles as it’s instantly cauterized.
Manabu lands in a crouch behind the snake, one hand planted on the ground and the glowing sword held behind him. He rises from his crouch and spins, swinging the sword in front of him. The heat of the blade ignites the air, sending an arc of flame racing forward. Another sizzle as the heat impacts the snake’s scales. The creature recoils, hissing angrily as it twists it’s body away from Manabu’s blade.
Ugh, I shouldn’t have given him the sword. Show-off.
I’m so focused on my brother, I don’t see the tail whipping towards me from behind. There’s a crunching sound as the back half of the creature comes crashing through the wooden cage I’m still standing in.
Another pulse of fear catches my attention.
Huh? Oh! Good catch. Thanks for watching my back.
It’s too late to dodge. The tail is so big it’s going to hit everywhere in the cage at once. I brace one hand against the artifact disc to my left and focus electrical energy into my right arm. I reach for the first harmonic to help me shape the energy, hoping to increase the percentage of the draw that I can focus.
As I pull on the first harmonic, there’s a flash of red next to my face. The ruby in the artifact is glowing brightly. I can feel the gem reinforcing my first harmonic. Energy surges into me as usual, but this time theres no wasted discharge. 100% focus.
The muscles on my right arm bulge. The tension is so strong I feel one of the bones in my forearm fracture. Like I said, my body’s not really built for the super strength part.
I throw my arm in a backhanded fist. It connects, stopping the tail in its tracks. The scales beneath my strike shatter. Before the tail is knocked away, I use the shaping to push the energy out of my arm and into the beast. My arm deflates visibly as a large portion of the snake tenses violently from the shock. I see a few spurts of blood from popped vessels as the tail is flung away.
Did you see that? I mean, ow, my arm! But that was incredible! This device is some sort of harmonic amplifier.
I turn back towards the front of the snake as it’s trying to wrap itself around my brother. The blade I made him has been knocked aside. Manabu is projecting a sphere of fire around himself trying to hold the snake back, but its scales are thick and the creature is pressing against the flaming sphere relentlessly. The flames contract as Manabu’s power wanes. All those harmonics he’s been using are catching up to him.
I doubt my stunners will do much to help. Even after a full blast I can see the snake’s tail slowly coiling back into position to strike me. I look back to the artifact beside me.
This thing amplifies harmonics. If it can help me focus while I draw a heightened blast, I might be able to control it.
My brother groans in exertion. The flames flicker for a moment and the snake’s body jumps closer.
Well, only one way to find out.
I reach for my surge, pulling on three harmonics at once. Fourth harmonic let’s me rebuild the energy outside my body. Second harmonic amplifies the draw, pulling over even more than usual. First harmonic helps me focus so the waste energy doesn’t rip me apart.
Three harmonics at once is a lot. You should be impressed.
Also, I’m gonna feel this in the morning.
As I draw the energy, there’s a flare from the gems corresponding to the harmonics that I used. I feel a massive pulse of energy coming. It’s staggering. Unbelievable.
And then the ruby goes dark.
Huh, I guess you only get as much out as you put in. That makes sense.
I can feel the tidal wave of force careening towards me, ripping across the bond. Too late to stop it now.
OK so look. Do you want to hear the good news first, or the bad news?
Bad news. Of course.
The energy rips through me, shooting out of my right hand. I can feel the flesh on my palm burning, peeling away, as lighting leaps forward. Not like a normal, wiggly beam of static. There’s so much energy it just punches through the air in a perfectly straight beam. One second the snake’s head is there, the next second I’ve redecorated the interior of this grotto in a nice shade of crimson.
There’s too much energy for me to focus without the ruby. Vicious arcs of electricity are leaping off my arm, grounding on everything nearby. The energy consumes my hand, then my wrist, then forearm, vaporizing them into a fine red mist.
It’s really interesting what an electrical charge does to drops of blood. It would be beautiful if it wasn’t, you know, my arm.
The good news is that it looks like you won’t have to deal with me bugging you anymore. It was fun while it lasted, eh?
My grip on the energy coursing through me suddenly strengthens.
Huh? The ruby is still dull, dormant. How am I…?
With two minds I grab hold of the energy as it reaches my shoulder. It’s clumsy. Not the best shaping I’ve ever done. In one last desperate effort I shunt the electricity off in a wild arc. It slams into the headless body of the snake.
Kick it while it’s down. Nice.
I think I’m going to black out now.
I wake up slowly. The world around me rocks and sways. I can feel bandages covering my chest. Manabu sits next to me, looking tired. We’re in the cabin of our ship.
I try to sit up, but my right arm doesn’t respond. I look down.
I guess it would be pretty hard for the arm to do much seeing as how it’s not there anymore.
Concern washes over me.
Hah! Look at that. You’re worried about me. You big softie. Hey, don’t worry. My body heals quickly. The wound should close without too much blood loss. Besides, I’m a lefty.
Manabu lifts his face from his hands and notices that I’m awake. Relief fills his face. The two of you should start a fan club for me or something.
“Don’t try to move. Rest now, brother.” There’s a long pause. “You saved my life. But it cost you so much.” He looks down at my arm. Or lack thereof.
Oh, this is too good. Look at his face! Hey, watch this.
I place my left hand on his shoulder and look at him solemnly. “It was worth it, brother.”
Look at that! Tears in his eyes!
What? I did save his life. I think I deserve to feel a bit superior for once.
Speaking of life saving. That was you, wasn’t it? Who helped strengthen my focus. That wasn’t too shabby for a first timer.
I guess you did have a pretty great teacher, though.
Well, thanks. You had my back a couple times. Looks like you’re a pretty good secret weapon after all.
Hey! I just realized. I never asked your name. Yeah, I could just look inside your head. But we’re supposed to ask from now on, right?
Hm. I like it. I’m Hideki.
Nice to meet you.
The End. Now that you're done reading...
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