Chapter 3: A Hunter Must Hunt
“A shame you chose tonight to begin your first hunt. It looks to be a long one.”
Those were the words of the strangely dressed woman with a beaked mask that called herself Eileen the Crow. They were sitting in front of a hand lantern that she tossed incense into in order to give him a reprieve from the beasts that lurked about. Bell was grateful for that much tonight as he regaled her of how he shamefully stumbled across her.
His tale started simple enough. He told her of how he ended up in the Dream, met the friend of hunters called Gehrman, took his advice to pray to the gravestone, and was taken to what looked to be a medical room of some kind, albeit it disheveled and partially ransacked.
Confusion and the sense of unease that came from being in an unfamiliar place lingered until he heard the tearing of flesh and the wet sound of meat being chew coming from ahead. The sound was sickening, sending a chill up his spine and tightening his grasp on the handle of his cleaver. Yet it drew him towards it out of a morbid sense of curiosity.
That was when he saw his first beast. It was large enough to rival Bell while huddled down, a broad frame wrapped in torn cloth and mangy, untamed and coarse hair. And it was in the midst of feasting on one poor soul, tearing chunks of bloodied meat out of the corpse.
He couldn’t help but back away for a pause in revulsion at the sight that was before him so suddenly, but the floorboards splinted under his weight. He fell backwards with a loud thump and the beast’s head snapped up to lay eyes on him. He got back onto his feet just in time for it to lunge for fresh meat with claws that were longer than his fingers and yellowed fangs dyed the color of blood.
It was sluggish though, looking somewhat ill or sickly. He managed to elude it and swung his weapon around like he had been taught. The fangs of his saw bit into the thin flesh and then tore it asunder, releasing a spray of crimson that painted the aged wood beneath them and caused the beast to step back.
But it was undeterred from trying again. The beast snarled as it circled around and then swiped at what looked to be a table meant to lay a person. When he backed into the room he came from to let the frame of the door catch it, the beast closed the distance and swiped at him with more success this time.
The claws slid down the chest-piece and opened a gash in the cloth beneath it that felt like a hot brand, earning a pained sound. Blood cascaded down his stomach and stained his shirt. The pain forced a reaction and Bell swung his cleaver in a panic before it could do so again.
Back and forth, uncaring of where he cut so long as it did, blood sprayed from the beast. It painted Bell’s front as he cut and cut and cut until the beast let loose a pained shriek. That gave way to a dying breath as it collapsed in front of him and went still.
Panting, Bell stepped away from the corpse and the remaining blood that slowly flowed in streamlets from it. A hazy crimson mist wafted off of the growing puddle and slithered in the air until it sank into his body. The creeping sensation of it slipping through his pores and trickling into a void within him that he never knew existed was terrifying, with a hint of jubilation in the back of his mind.
He shuddered at it before looking around and seeing movement behind the glass of a door at the top of the stairs. The fighting had been noisy enough to draw attention from the doctor there, enough for her to inquire what he was doing. She wouldn’t let him in since it was the night of the hunt, but she was kind of enough to give him a vial of her blood.
Outside of the clinic was little better. Three crazed men with elongated arms forced him to climb a ladder to escape, and even then they gave chase until they were partway up the ladder and suddenly raised their heads, as if sniffing the air. Whatever scent they caught drove them to go back down, but he couldn’t go back that way.
Moving away from the ledge, Bell spotted an uncanny lamp that seemed out of place in the middle of the road. It gave off a strange vibe, similar to that of the Dream, and when he pressed his hand against it a pale flame suddenly sprung to life within it. Already on edge after the crazed men, Bell ended up let out a startled sound of surprise.
It caught the attention of a man resting behind a nearby window that was thick with the pungent scent of burning incense nearby. The sickly man, Gilbert, had never heard of the Dream. But he was kind of enough to tell him that his best chance to learn how to end the scourge of beasts would be to talk to the Healing Church across the great bridge, as they were the ones that led the charge against beasts and handled ministrations of blood.
With nowhere else to go, desperate to find an escape, he made his way towards it and met more of the same. More crazed people that wouldn’t talk and yelled accusations of beasthood as they stood around a pyre with a crucified beast. More feral dogs that were rabid and gave chase as he leapt down an opening in a fence to escape what looked to be a small giant. And more beasts that chased him with a ravenous thirst that made escaping hard.
It was too different from the dungeon. A different sort of madness that couldn’t be found in the heroic tales his grandpa told him of. He couldn’t stand it.
So he ran as far as he could, until somehow he stumbled upon Eileen. The woman had been alarmed when he came rushing out, stumbling as he tried to put as much distance from the others that gave chase a while ago. Her blades were ready to go until he stopped and held up his marginally clean cleaver in defense and just stood there, panting and afraid.
The scent of the moon that apparently wafted freshly off him broke the tension, leading to her asking if he was a Hunter and the subsequent talk.
“Even though you’re scared enough to tremble in your boots, you have no other choice,” she told him with a sigh. “A hunter must hunt, even one so young.”
“But these aren’t monsters or beasts I’m hunting. They’re people.” He could rationalize killing monsters; it was the job of an adventurer after all. But people were a different story.
She shook her head and laid a hand on his shoulder. “No child, those that wander the streets during the night of the hunt are no more than flesh-hungry beasts. The people are like that sickly fellow you mentioned, locked away inside and burning incense to ward them away, waiting for the night to end. And that is the duty of the Hunter connected to the Hunter’s Dream, else the night will go on and the innocent will slowly be devoured until none remain.”
Which meant it was up to him to end it. That meant going up the bridge to the Cathedral Ward to see if they knew anything about ending the scourge of the beasts, cutting through everything trying to kill him. There was no way around it… and that thought depressed him more than anything.
“Take a look here.” Eileen presented an aged parchment that had a drawing written on it in faded ink. “Do you see something in the back of your mind becoming clearer as you stare at it?”
He nodded. “What is it?”
“That is the Hunter’s Mark, a rune that shows you are dreaming, proof of the contract.” She pressed it into his hand. “By wishing to return to the dream with it in mind, you can be pulled back to it from wherever you are. For one who still dreams, having a reminder of it to look at keeps it clear in the mind. Take it to use when you need to—from one hunter to another.”
“But don’t you need it?”
“I haven’t had any use for it now for quite some time.” She looked up into the distance for a spell. “No more dreams for me now. Better you use it when you need to.”
“You needn’t mention it.” She rose to her feet and shook off the bottom of her crow-feather cape. “Well then, I must be off. I have my own hunt to attend to, but you’ll be safe here as long as the incense burns.”
“What about your lantern?”
“I’ve got a spare, so you keep it.” She turned to leave. “And take this old woman’s advice: do what needs to be done to get home and then put it all behind you like a bad dream. But don’t let the blood get to you. It’s all too easy for the hunter to become the hunted.”
His hand rose as if to bade her to stop, but fell. Even if he wanted to avoid being alone in this place, he didn’t have the right to ask her when she had something to be done. Left behind with only the flame and lingering scent of the burning incense, Bell simply gathered his thoughts.
This place was a nightmare in itself, ripped out of the pages from a horror story. It was riddled with corpses and madness and coffins strewn about, a far cry from Orario and the life he’d live before it as a country boy. It only served to make him more determined to get back to Orario.
But that likely meant killing people that were slowly turning to beasts. While Bell had reconciled that he couldn’t be like the heroes in the tales his Grandfather told him some time ago, he never imagined that he would have to do that. Yet, to get back home, he had to find a way to end the scourge of the beasts and that meant getting past them.
He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but if he didn’t go back then what would happen? Would someone find his corpse? What about his goddess and Miss Eina? How would they react to his death?
When he thought about them, he didn’t really have a choice in the end. He had to get back to where he belonged. He had to do what he had to get through it as quickly as possible, so he could pass it all off one day as a bad dream. He had to be a hunter.
And a hunter had to hunt.
Chapter 2: Hunter’s Dream
Bell felt heavy as he slowly regained awareness. He was resting on the cold ground, lying in a bed of flowers that were silver and luminous, like moonlight sprouting from the earth. As he regained strength in his frail body, he lifted himself up slowly to take in the world that surrounded him—an isolated speck of land made of hillside and flowers, stones and graves worn by time, with the sole building being the one perched at the top of the slope ahead of him.
Confusion floated within Bell’s mind as he struggled to recall how he had gotten there. Then the vivid memory of the Minotaur striking him down flashed into his mind. He staggered backwards a few steps, grasping where the fist had stricken to find that the pain was gone and his head was whole.
“I… died,” he said in a soft whisper. Looking around at the tranquil surroundings that couldn’t be the Dungeon, a cold weight fell from his chest to his stomach. If he had died, was this was the afterlife that awaited him? He fell to his knees and started to silently sob amidst the flowers.
Miss Eina told him ‘Adventurers shouldn’t go on adventures’ so many times, by which she meant he shouldn’t go further than his level and without preparation. And then there was his goddess. Hestia had taken him into her Familia when others had refused and bestowed upon him her blessing, while he had vowed to support her. He took light of Miss Eina’s words and put his fantasies of meeting cute girls over supporting his goddess.
This was the end result of those less than pure thoughts, in a place where many died every day. Yet he could only regret it now, when it was too late.
“I’m sorry, Goddess. I’m sorry, Miss Eina.” Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes and dripped down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry!”
He sat there weeping for who knows how long, until the squeaking of metal wheels being pushed forward reached his ears. He lifted his head upwards towards it. There was an old man there that had seen many nights, looking down at him.
“Ah… the new Hunter, are you?” the older man said. “A bit young, I suppose, but welcome to the Hunter’s Dream. It will be your home, for now.”
“The Hunter’s Dream?” He wiped the tears from his face with his sleeve. “Then this isn’t Heaven?”
“I doubt such a dream could be called such.” He gestured for Bell to rise. “I am Gehrman, friend to you hunters. And you are?”
“Bell… Bell Cranel.”
“Well then, Bell. Do you remember how you arrived here?”
“I died… fighting a monster.” The boy could only imagine how his goddess would take his death once she felt the connection to his Falna vanish. “I died before I managed to do anything I set out to do and left someone behind. Now I can’t even apologize to her, or thank her for all she did for me.”
“…Do not give up hope so easily, young hunter.” Gehrman said with some hesitation. “There must a purpose that brought you here, a purpose that drove you to sign a contract. Many hunters have come and gone through this dreadful dream in exchange for something to be gained. Perhaps you too will gain what you seek by fulfilling your end.”
A fleeting hope welled up in his chest at that. If this wasn’t Heaven then maybe this was his second chance? He didn’t remember signing any contract, but if there was a chance to go back he’d take it. “How do I do that?”
“You must halt the scourge of beasts and end the night of the hunt, if you wish to leave this dream,” he said, turning the wheelchair around. “Come now. The night may be long, but there is much for you to learn.”
Bell followed the elderly man to the workshop at the top of the slope, past the doll that laid still. It was there that he was made to choose a longer weapon and a tool called a firearm, as the dagger he had at present was unsuitable for the prey that he was to hunt. The old hunter revealed how to unfurl the Saw Cleaver with a flick of the wrist, fire the pistol for a speedy response, and dye bullets with a Hunter’s blood to harm beasts.
Then he told him the value of blood, of how it could heal and strengthen both body and steel, and mentioned that while the blood that flowed through Bell’s veins was weak at the moment, it would become more potent a weapon in time. Then he sent him off to pray at the headstone and find some beasts to kill.
Bell didn’t think anything special of being told to go kill some beasts. In the last two weeks he’d been in the dungeon, facing off against monsters like Goblins and Kobolds. If beasts were just monsters, he didn’t think he’d have any trouble with learning how to deal with them.
He would learn that the Hunt was quite different than the Dungeon.
Chapter 1: An Answered Prayer
“Someone help!” Bell Cranel screamed as he stared death in the face. He had run as far as his legs could take him and resorted to crawling backwards, constantly moving out of desperation to escape, until his back was literally against the wall. “Help!”
His screams only served to further spur the monster chasing him. Towering over his small frame like an imposing giant, the mass of muscle and the head of a bull that was known as the Minotaur advanced slowly. What it was doing on the upper floors Bell had no idea, but it had given chase to Bell the moment it saw him and he had been running ever since.
“H-Help…” Bell said in a whimpering voice as he cowered. It was all he could do now that he was backed into a corner and unable to escape.
The bull-headed humanoid’s red eyes glowed with rage. It frothed at the mouth after having chased him for so long. Stomping forward, it let loose a bestial roar loud enough to make Bell’s bones rattle until the shadow of death it cast washed over him.
“Anyone…” he called again futilely. There would be no help. The savior that would spare him from death’s cold embrace was a minute away. The dungeon itself hindered her advance in an attempt to claim the life of a young adventurer this day and would not be denied.
“I...” Time slowed in front of Bell as the chambered fist of the monster began to rocket forward. “I don’t want to die.”
There was a flash of pain for a moment as the mighty fist of the Minotaur met his arms, raised in a desperate attempt to defend himself. Frail human bones snapped like hardy twigs. Flesh tore like paper. Last was a flash of pain as the blow connected to his head and his awareness ended…
I don’t want to die.
The next thing he knew, he was floating. His consciousness was in a daze and his body felt like it was being cradled by a gentle pressure. It was as though he was within the murky depths of the deep sea.
Someone, help me.
There was a distant light that seemed to start filtering in from above. Was it the Heavens? Was this it? Would he leave behind the goddess that took him in, the lone goddess that cared for him since he arrived? Would he disappear without accomplishing anything?
Not yet. I’m not ready to go yet.
He didn’t want that. But no matter how hard he struggled to move, he couldn’t. The strength just wasn’t there. All he could do was float there towards the inevitable end, praying silently for someone to give him a second chance.
Can anyone hear my prayer?
There was no God or Goddess that would overturn the cycle of life and death. It was an irrefutable law of nature that even they couldn’t easily interfere with. However, there was a being that was sympathetic to his plea.
It could not be defined as by the terms of the Heavens or the Earth. But rather it existed outside of them both and dwelled within the Cosmos itself. It reached for the colorless soul, cradling it tenderly against its bosom. Such a frail thing that it was… so fragile that it could likely be shattered with a hard touch. Yet, it held the potential to be tempered into an adequate Hunter that would bring the night of the Hunt to an end.
Thus it proposed a contract: An escape from death for as long as it served the will of this ‘Great One’ and a respite to the waking world for every great feat befitting a ‘Hunter’ chosen by it, until the night of the Hunt is brought to an end.
The colorless soul quivered in acceptance to escape death, yearning to return to life no matter what. So the Great One dyed the colorless soul the hue of paleblood and the contract was established, bringing the Moon-Haired Hunter to the Dream…
My Fanfics :
Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated:
A Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic
Summary: Cissnei wanted to save Zack that night, only to find that it was too late. Though she couldn’t bring him back to life, she could keep his legacy alive. That was why she refused to abandon Cloud on his journey, despite going against her former friends and colleagues.
A Naruto Fanfic
Summary: A/U: Leaves spiral in the soft eddy as Naruto meets Karin in the Forest of Death. From that moment on, the two bearing the Clan name carried with them the fate of the Uzumaki and would be forever entwined.
A Pokemon Fanfic
Summary: Time travel, based on the Anime. So, the world ended. That’s bad news. Who best to get to fix it? Well, there is this guy with a track record in world saving… Not entirely serious. T rating may be overdoing it.
A Naruto Fanfic
Summary: After rescuing Kakashi, Team Seven thought things would be looking up. But life’s never quite that simple, and lines in the sand don’t hold for long when a squall comes along. The world rushing over the precipice of sanity, vigorously at that, doesn’t make it any easier. [Sequel to Blood Wings]
A FSN Fanfic
Summary: Emiya Kiritsugu was happy living the rest of his short days. He had put his past behind him… until he began to dream of futures that had yet to be. Let it be known that the Magus Killer was not dangerous simply because he was dying and had no plans to fight.
A FSN Fanfic
Summary: Shirou Kotomine was found by his adopted father the day of the Fuyuki City Fire, and trained under the priest for 10 years to follow in his footsteps as an Executor. Still, Shirou never really trusts the man, and the bleakness of the hidden world of magic does little to help is worldview. When the Holy Grail Chose him for the next war, Fire will beget more Fire.
A Pokemon Fanfiction
Summary: We were so blind. Now in our end of days, it’s like seeing for the first time. Now everybody’s true self comes out. We see how far we’re willing to go to live. Worse is what we didn’t wanna see: what was there all along. The creatures we thought we had conquered are gone, and what’s left in our pockets are monsters.
A Worm Fanfiction
Summary: In the wake of the Locker Incident, Taylor goes comatose. Wracked with guilt, Emma and Madison trigger. Things spiral from there as they quickly go different routes, both seeking redemption in a different way.
A Worm / Supreme Commander Fanfiction
Summary: Frustrated with her school life, Taylor Hebert dons an unfinished costume and goes off into the night to fight crime as a superhero. She stumbles across an infamous crime lord, Lung, talking about killing some kids. Taylor decides she has no choice but to act……and Lung kicks her ass.Not because she’s weak. Far from it. Taylor Hebert is hamstrung by being a moral person with an exceptionally lethal power set, one with horrifying and even potentially global implications.
A Worm Fanfiction
Summary: Quarrel was allergic to bee stings, and now Taylor is the Butcher – but the Administrator shard is strong enough to hold off the voices in her head, for now. What will Taylor do, when circumstances conspire to keep her on the wrong side of the law?
A Worm Fanfiction
Summary: A continuation fic focusing on Taylor Hebert’s life following the climactic conclusion of Golden Morning and a lengthy recovery period. Taylor has her feet under her now, and grimly prepares to face a world she had thought beyond her, that of a normal young woman.
A Worm/ Bloodborne Fanfiction
Summary: Taylor becomes a Hunter and stalks the streets of Brockton Bay every full moon. Gangsters beware, and let all Fear the Old Blood
A Worm / Pokemon Fanfiction
Summary: Taylor Hebert gets sent to the pokemon world by Bakuda’s bombs with her powers intact. Yes, she does connect with bug-types. You may run now.
A Young Justice Fanfic
Summary: An SI with an Orange Ring ends up in the Young Justice Universe and seeks to advance humanity through advance technology and magic.
A Digimon Fanfic
Summary: The War is over, or so it is thought. For the Digidestined, life goes on, but with digimon emerging once more into the real world, the world will change once more. Divided they fall, but a new generation of heroes, the Tamers, will rise to unite against the new threat.
As sweat rolls down my brow and my brain feels like it’s cooking inside of my skull, I have to admit that I didn’t expect to spend three hours tied up to a chair and gagged by duct tape when I set out this morning to the temple. Then again, since when has anything been as I expected these last few days? At least there’s no one to snap a photo or anything that can be used against me at a later date.
The Copenhagen being closed for the day meant that the four of us had it to ourselves. The woman who runs the place is in the backroom, doing… something. Gai is next to me, tied up and gagged as well. He and I were turned to face the table that Ayako’s sitting next to, doing some kind of paperwork. A line of empty cans are on the table next to her like one of those festival shooting galleries, and our goal is simply to knock one of them down using Burst.
I get the whole ‘learning works best under pressured circumstances for the first time, so we’re imitating one’ angle that she offered as an excuse when we started, but the gags weren’t necessary. And, since every now and again she glances up and there’s a small smile on her face, I can tell she’s enjoying this on some level. I guess she’s still mad at me over her brother and Gai accidentally setting her off earlier, so this is her idea of a harmless payback.
The muffled grunting coming from next to me signals the start of Gai’s next attempt. He’s been going at it over and over without stopping, eyes narrowed on the can furthest to the right. Ayako takes notice as the air in front of his head wavers and ripples as it tries to take shape.
Then it pops. The backlash hits him as if a physical force, causing his head to rock and his eyes to flutter. It looks like he’s ready to pass out.
“That’s no good.” Ayako gets up and moves over to check and make sure he hasn’t fried his brain. “You’re getting results, but you can’t just keep throwing yourself at it like that over and over. You need to take more than a minute to visualize what you want to happen, build the energy up as much as you can, and then fire it off. Don’t forget to take into account how far you are from the can too.”
A muffled sound of compliance slips from behind his gag as he closes his eyes and tries to temper his breathing through his nose.
Then Ayako turns her attention to me. “In your case, you haven’t really been trying all that much. You have to actually make an effort, Shinji.”
I roll my eyes. It’s not that I haven’t been trying over here. It’s just that the last three times I’ve done so, spaced out over the course of dozens of minutes, it’s making my head feel like an oven. The fact that Gai can fire failure after failure and keep going probably speaks of latent talent on his part in using that particular field of PSI. So, rather than risking my health, I’ve been observing and thinking on what we were doing in between tries.
Despite the others being largely clueless when it comes to underlying mechanism, I don’t think that what we’re doing is outside of the laws of magecraft. Looking at Burst as the ability to cause a change in the world and the backlash that we experience, the world is actively attempting to reject our efforts on some level. If that’s the case, then why are our abilities strengthened in that future according to the others? Is it tied into whatever it was we were supposed to do to change it?
I think on it for several more minutes but come up with no answers. Then I push the thoughts aside to try again.
Two hours pass.
I can’t help but grit my teeth behind the tape as I watch Gai’s mental construct take shape. He’s been staggering how often he tries now—the first renewed attempt being five minutes, the third done in ten, then fifteen for the fifth, and so on. Now at the twenty-minute interval between this time and the last, the result now floats before him.
Sweat rolls down his face as a big ball hovers in front of him. His eyes are fixed on it, furrowed in concentration to patch it up where it’s falling apart. It’s barely solid, evaporating over time as he strains himself to simply hold it together, but it retains its shape overall.
Ayako stands to the side of the table and observes it with appraising eyes. “Now send it forward by picturing it flying towards the table and pushing as much energy as you can into making that image a reality.”
It flies forward with a muffled roar, slowly eroding as it crosses the intervening space. There’s barely anything left by the time the remnants crashes into the line of cans and breaks apart entirely on impact. The dispersion causes him to tilt his head back and flare his nostrils as he takes deep inhales through them.
“There you go.” Ayako smiles somewhat softly as she comes over and undoes his bindings, showering him with honest praise in the process. “I’m impressed. It took me a nearly more than half the day to get it my first time, yet you managed to do it in less than five hours.”
The moment his hands get free, he tears off the tape covering his mouth and sighs. Then he rises to his feet and goes to look at the cans up-close. A grin spreads across his face at the results. “I nailed it!”
“Yeah, you’re officially a Psychicer now. How do you feel?”
“It feels like my head is on fire.” He wipes the sweat from his brow. “I think I want to lay down for a bit.”
“Well, since you’ve gotten down how to form it, I guess I can send you home early.” She looks up at the clock. “But Issei is still busy at the temple for a few more hours and won’t be able to teleport you back. You’ll have to take the bus or walk.”
“I can use the fresh air.”
“Then you’re free to go. Just don’t overdo it or tell anyone, and we’ll meet again at the temple in the morning.”
He agrees, bids us goodbye, and then walks out the door with a grin at accomplishing something that few others could.
Ayako turns to me and crosses her arms. “Your turn now.”
I exhale through my nose tensely. It rubs me the wrong way that he made more progress in a couple of hours. I can’t just let myself be upstaged like this. I close my eyes and focus on the image in my head again…
Pain flashes through my head at another failed attempt. I couldn’t get it to stabilize before the backlash kicked in. The tape around my lips holds back a train of curses as a mental sledgehammer pounds away at my skull and my brain roasts within it.
Why? Why can’t I get this? It doesn’t make sense! I’m doing everything right, so it should work! So why can’t I get it!?
“We’ll call it here for now.” Ayako comes over and starts to untie me. “You’re too stressed out, and at the rate you’re going you’ll end up hurting yourself.”
My hands come free first. I slowly pull the tape from over my mouth, to avoid adding to my pain, and then I rub my temples to make the throbbing in my skull slowly ebb away.
“It doesn’t make sense. I’m doing everything right, so how did I lose to Gotou of all people?”
“Don’t start getting sore because he beat you to it. I told you that he finished even faster than I did, so it’s likely that he has a stronger affinity towards it. You have the capacity for it, if that last time counts for anything. It’s just going to take a lot more work.”
“Even if that’s the case, I can’t fall behind.” I have to get this down. I just have to—if not for the sake of my survival, then for my pride.
“Then we can practice more after you’ve unwound for a bit.” She looks at the clock again. “Let’s go to Verde for an hour or two and then come back. That way we can have Lunch and I can try to beat a record in the Game Center.”
“I left my wallet at home since I thought we’d be at the Temple.”
“Then I’ll pay this time. It’s only fair since it’s my suggestion.”
“…Fine.” It’s better than sitting around here and doing nothing in the end.
We leave out of the Copenhagen and make our way towards the Verde. The Industrial District isn’t all that far from it, maybe a twenty-minute walk at our current pace. The thought of my constant failures nag me the entire way.
I should have gotten it by now. Gai’s an idiot and he managed it. Looking at every single instance of failure and the time it took to recover, even if I don’t have a strong affinity for it, the results aren’t adding up for the amount of effort. What if… what if I never get it?
In a worst case scenario, I might be bad at all of them. The Old Worm always said I’d be a failure and I had him killed for it. But now… now I can’t help but fear he might have been telling the truth…
No. No. I’m just panicking for no reason. I’m not useless. I wouldn’t be involved in this if I was. They wouldn’t be trying to help me if I was. They’d cut me off and leave me to die since I was useless in the end…
Then again, that’s what I would probably do if I didn’t care all that much for them. Thankfully, the others are far more soft-hearted. But that doesn’t ease my growing concerns over the fact that I can’t get it.
Eventually, I just come right out and ask, “Did you send a telepathic message to him and give him some instructions I didn’t get?”
Ayako gives me an offended look. “Shinji, I wouldn’t do that given the circumstances. You just have to accept he has an edge and make up for it with hard work. And don’t antagonize Gotou just because he did better than you either. I know how you get when someone is better than you at something.”
“I’m not the one who snapped at Gotou early and then taped his mouth shut because of that, now am I?” I realize a second later that came out harsher than I meant it to when she gives me a sharp look. “I didn’t mean for that to come out so badly. I just… you get it.”
The look lingers for a moment before she relents and lets out a soft sigh. “Take some time to cool your head off… and I do kinda owe him an apology for blowing up like that. It wasn’t his fault that he pressed the wrong button.”
“So what about that did set you off?” After all, I don’t want to end up making the same mistake. That and it usually takes a lot to push her to that point.
She looks at the crowd around us and then I hear her voice in my head. ‘I don’t like it when someone or something places such a cheap value on the lives of others just to do something that benefits them. Much less something as abstract as saving the future when it won’t come out and just tell us how we’re supposed to do that. It just takes us and uses us without concern for what we’re doing at the time.’
Ah, right. Should have guessed that much from what they told us earlier and that look she gave it. A part of me wonders if she would have forgiven me for what I had Rider do at both the school and to her after all of this. Probably not.
Ayako has a slight frown on her face now as we enter the mall. I suppose I’ve ruined the mood she was in by bringing that up. I should say something, but we’re in a crowded mall and she’d probably be mad if I said something aloud that leads to more people being dragged in.
I lean close to whisper in her ear instead—
“Stop right there!”
—only to pull back at the loud and annoying voice of the self-proclaimed Black Panther that normally stalks the halls of the school. And she isn’t alone. Flanking her left and right is the small and reserved, mousy-looking manager of the track team and the boring, high-jumping ace. When did they get there?
Ayako turns around to find the loud one looking incredulously at the two of us walking so close together. The mousy one looks like she’s walked in on something private and shrinks back in surprise. The third simply looks focused on her inner thoughts. “Makidera, what’s with the yelling?”
She waves her finger between Ayako and I. “You and him! Why? How?”
…I see where this is going and don’t have the patience for this. Let’s see, how did she say Telepathy worked? Visualize their face, wrap thoughts directed to the person, and send it out, right? ‘Mitsuzuri, I think they believe we’re a couple.’
She glances back my way, so I guess she heard. “Is it really that strange for the Captain and Vice-Captain of the same club to be seen together discussing club matters?”
“On campus, where you have to be in the same place. But outside, I’d expect you’d try to get away from him as fast as you can. Especially after that blow-up that had you running out of the club crying, and the fight between him and your brother that left him in the infirmary and sent home early.”
Ayako looks at me accusatively. ‘Crying? ’
‘I didn’t spread those rumors. In fact, I tried to tamper down on them, but it looks bad when you look at the two next to each other.’ I address trio next. “I don’t know who spread that around, but her brother didn’t put me in the Infirmary. I just hadn’t been sleeping well and his little episode didn’t help.”
“And I didn’t run home crying because of Shinji. I just realized I had something important to do and left him to do it.” She steps forward and crosses her arm as she turns her gaze to Makidera. “In fact, I’m a little offended at the suggestion that he could make me do that.”
“It could happen,” Makidera says, though the bead of sweat on her face and reluctance in her expression tells me she doesn’t buy it herself, but she doesn’t want to back down. The smallest of the group looks… I want to say ashamed. For what, I couldn’t be certain? Did she believe in those rumors too?
Himuro sets a hand on Makidera’s shoulders and switches places with her before things could get worse. “We apologize for any accusations that may have been made. Clearly those rumors have no substance and Makinoji was too eager to jump on them. However, it is rather odd that the pair of you would walk together without any conflict, given what happened and the history of animosity between you two.”
I take that as a cue to take the reins. “I came out here on some business and ran across Mitsuzuri by chance. She heard from my sister what happened and wanted to apologize on his behalf. Then she decided since we were in the same area, we’d discuss matters for the upcoming tournament.”
Ayako picks up the excuse and runs with it. “Right, and I was here looking into a matter for the cultural festival since I’m the committee festival chief and Ryuudou’s busy with matters at his temple. Really, it’s a good thing that we met up by chance since these last two days have been disastrous for the club with both of us acting like that.”
“Then we should be on our way so that we don’t hamper your discussion. Once again, you have our apologies for the misconceptions.” She turns and forcibly leads Makidera to the store containing a bunch of dolls and stuffed animals. Saegusa gives a small bow to Ayako before she follows after them.
After fending off the self-proclaimed Black Panther, her handler, and the mouse that tagged along with them, Ayako and I take the escalator down into the Underground Food Court. Since Ayako is footing the bill and most of the stalls are to my standards, I simply grab something light before we take a table in the corner to eat. I didn’t even get halfway through my meal before Ayako sends a telepathic message.
‘You know they followed us right? ’ She tilts her head slightly. ‘I’m using Rise to enhance my hearing and focusing on their voices. They’re around the corner, whispering to each other while Makidera is looking.’
I turn my head slightly and glance out of the corner of my eye to see that Makidera is by the stairs, peeking over the corner. ‘Then should we actually talk about the club to throw them off so that they get bored and leave.’
‘I guess. Speak loud enough to be heard but not obvious.’ “So I was thinking we could try holding a training camp or something. Ryuudou Temple is a big place suitable for it.”
“If you think you can get the slackers into it. I don’t have that kind of time.” ‘What are they talking about now? ’
“We could let your sister handle it by herself. She’s ready now.” ‘Well, now they’re floating around the idea that we’re in a secret relationship and they’re looking for any clue they can get to prove it. Himuro seems to be bringing up the point that you’ve been pretty tolerable lately as evidence and believes I’m the one for that.’
“If you think so then I’ll ask her when I get home. But you’re still going have to tell Ryuudou yourself. ” I can’t even say that’s wrong entirely. She’s one out of three reasons. ‘Really, don’t they have anything better to do? ’
“Do you two still not get along?” ‘Leaving them aside, I’m actually surprised you’ve picked up on Telepathy well enough to hold a separate conversation your first time.’
“He’s too uptight for me to get along with him. Besides, you’re on the council for the upcoming festival and talk to him anyway, so it’s more convenient.” ‘You already explained how it works, so it’s not that hard.’
‘And yet you struggled with Burst despite me giving you more precise instructions? ’ She holds up a finger and looks in their direction. ‘No, I think you might lean towards having some talent in that direction, but Trance isn’t all that well-developed barring Telepathy. Even then this is really as far as we take it.’
‘Why’s that? ’ I look as well but can’t see them. I guess they left.
‘For one, some Taboo can pick it up when it’s broadcasted. For another, while it can pass through solid objects, it is affected by the atmosphere. Enough distance can cause it to get scrambled or dissipate entirely, like a cloud that breaks up over time. So unless your Trance is specifically something that can get around those limitations, like Issei’s Aura Sight, we focus on combat instead.’
That seems rather short-sighted. But then again they said it themselves. They don’t know how their powers work on a mechanical-level, so making some kind of modification to get around those limitations would only matter if there was no alternative. They could just work on their Burst and Rise instead and leave things as they were with Trance since they could still operate within those limitations.
After taking a moment to drink from her cup, Ayako speaks again. “Speaking of the training camp, I was talking to Issei about it not too long ago before yesterday. He’s willing to lend us the space, but since now we’ve got to spend some time getting you and Gotou into shape, I’m thinking about letting your sister head it before handing over the reins to the club and leaving the decisions to her, barring exceptional circumstances.”
“She’s still a bit toothless, but your brother will probably keep anyone who gives her trouble in line due to his obvious crush.”
She shrugs. “He’s not exactly subtle, is he?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Yeah, well… he could do worse for his first crush. Shame he doesn’t have a chance considering that she’s fond of Emiya.”
“And Emiya’s with Tohsaka for some reason,” I add in, a hint of disgust in my voice.
She bites back a small laugh. “Really, for you two not to get along you seem to have the same opinion as Issei. It’s because of that those other rumors are spreading around.”
I blink. “What other rumors?”
She doesn’t answer. She just shakes her head and finishes off her drink before ushering me to hurry along with my own because she wants to hit the Game Center. I make a mental note to check on those rumors at a later date, but the moment I got home I was hitting the library like I planned earlier.
If Trance is closer to Mental Manipulation like I think, I can probably find some method of use that would increase my chances of survival.