Summary: Days in the lives of students at Japan's secret magical educational institution. Inspired by Lev Grossman's 'The Magicians'. Location and landmark references from http://kankou.rishiri.jp/eng/. WC: 6589.
Warnings: Made-up technical jargon? Shameless references?
Notes: Very likely my final je fic - written for je_holiday. a million thanks to sanjihan for being an absolutely awesome beta at such short notice *loves*
…when we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.
“Are you ready? He’s coming!” There was a flurry of feathers as the bird took flight, the swift snap of its wings spreading and lifting it from its perch with the beat of its downstroke.
But it was too late. The creature was already airborne and coming straight at him and, instead of the incantations that should be spilling effortlessly from his mouth, all he was doing was keeping his arm outstretched for it to come to rest.
And he tried. But as the bird approached and its piercing eyes met his, the panic rose unbidden once again and he flinched.
Everything went wrong from there.
The bird veered course in an instant and dove straight for his face. The image of the falcon’s dark eyes and cruel beak closing in at a hundred miles an hour followed him as he descended into blackness.
He couldn’t avoid them even in the dark, their over-excited Kansai-ben in incessant surround-sound, drawing him back out into the land of the conscious.
“Hey! I think he’s back with us!” Hina’s voice was loud and getting closer – he never quite knew how to lower his volume. Yoko tried to keep his features slack, but there was no point in trying to hide from one of the most sensitive empaths at Senhoshi Gakuen, not when one’s cognitive magic abilities were at Yoko’s primitive level.
Forcing his eyes open, Yoko groaned as the sharp splinter of pain jabbed him somewhere in the depths of his skull where no touch could soothe. Miserably, he registered that he was in one of the partitioned cubicles in the infirmary at the school’s medical wing. “Gods… Aiba! I’m going to kill him!”
Hina was unsympathetic. “The way I see it, you were asking for it. The guy’s a Beastmaster, linking with animals is probably a reflex for him. How was he supposed to teach it to you step by step? ‘Falcons are the easiest’ – hah!”
“Stop picking things from my brain when I’m defenseless!” Yoko attempted to glare, but even that slight rearrangement of facial muscles would require too much hurt to make it worth the effort.
“Just enroll yourself into one of the basic classes again and pay attention this time.” Subaru quietly stated the most sensible solution, and the one Yoko had been most desperately trying to avoid.
“Don’t suck so badly if you don’t want to be humiliated,” Hina added.
“Stop stealing my thoughts!”
Hina scoffed. “I don’t have to! Stealing implies finesse, but you’re broadcasting everything so loudly it’s just diffusing into me.”
Rustling sounds from the opposite side of the paper screen dividing Yoko’s cubicle from his neighbours’ interrupted their semi-shouting match.
“See? You’re disturbing other people.”
Under other circumstances, Yoko would be outraged, but his migraine was numbing everything except the desire to sink back into blessed painless darkness.
Distantly he heard Hina dishing out the lowdown on the other occupant to Subaru in an exaggerated stage-whisper (hardly anything could be hidden from Hina, unless the professors specially sealed it off – Hina was like a walking radio antenna or satellite dish, drawing in all sorts of information from the ether) – orphan found lost in the woods, no recollection of his past, impressive reserves of untapped potential, personally selected by Higashiyama-sama to join him and Matsuoka-sensei in the Shigotonin, a hush-hush research group rumoured to be conducting experiments in the darker battle magics. But something, some spell maybe, had gone wrong and the boy, Ohkura, ended up in the infirmary, stripped of all knowledge of the basic defensive and protective incantations that would enable him to safely cast spells and perform magic.
Right before he drifted off, Yoko decided to make friends with his fellow ‘room-mate’ – he could very much empathise with Ohkura’s situation after all, even if Ohkura’s limitations were tragically imposed upon him, while Yoko’s was derived from a shaky theoretical foundation he never bothered to stabilise.
When he woke up again, though, the infirmary was quiet and vast with the absence of Hina and Subaru’s familiar voices, he peeked around the screen to find the other cubicle empty, the blankets and futon left neatly folded in a corner.
He was about to give up and just go off on his own when his name was roared out cheerfully, turning heads halfway across the open-air courtyard that served as a general meeting place for the students at Senhoshi.
Ohkura winced slightly and tried to retreat further into the shade of the trees lining the far edge of the compound, where he had spent the past half hour waiting. Yoko slid to a stop in front of him, letting out another whoop of victory. “Made it!”
“I was almost going to leave without you.”
Ohkura wanted to be disapproving, but in the face of Yoko’s guileless enthusiasm, he found it hard to maintain his negativity. It was a pattern that had become habitual despite the short duration of their friendship, begun on the day Yoko half-tripped across the doorway entering the classroom late for Second Year Cognitive Magic Foundations and unapologetically bumping his way past the desks to where Ohkura was sitting at the back.
He had been a more or less constant presence in Ohkura’s life since then, claiming that the two of them were comrades in tragedy, though as far as Ohkura could tell with his patchy memory, Yoko had never suffered any disaster greater than continuously flunking some of his classes. Still, Ohkura didn’t exactly mind – Yoko’s flamboyant behaviour drew the inquisitive gazes away from Ohkura’s person, and also distracted him from dwelling too deeply on the fact that he had essentially lost the main focus of his life.
Despite Matsuoka-sensei’s protests, the Shigotonin had moved on, selecting another student not long after the accident to take Ohkura’s place. Ohkura saw his replacement around the school sometimes, unconsciously eye-catching with his shaved head, bare feet and colourful robes.
Yoko was poking his cheek and drawing him back out of his gloomy thoughts and he let Yoko pull him to his feet.
“Where are we going?” Yoko asked curiously as Ohkura led them out past the heavy wooden doors guarding the school’s main entrance and turned down a narrow trail leading deeper into the old-growth forests that surrounded the school buildings, concealing it from easy view.
“A couple of my friends are back from their fieldwork trip around the island,” Ohkura explained. “I’m going to see how they’re doing.”
“Friends?” It seemed like there might be a slight hesitation in Yoko’s voice, but it might also just be Ohkura’s imagination – meeting strangers never fazed Yoko before.
“Yes, they were my classmates until my studies got… disrupted. They both tested as Naturals at the beginning of Fourth Year. We don’t get many chances to meet up – they’ve been getting sent out for restoration or maintenance assignments all over Rishiri Island these last two years.” The path they were on bent sharply to the left and started sloping gently down towards a small clearing not far ahead – Ohkura began to sense the tingling in the air from strong elemental magics at work, growing more intense with each step forward.
“Oh, I guess it’ll be cool to meet them. I haven’t really spent time with Naturals before.” Yoko’s tone was neutral, and Ohkura glanced back at him, suddenly reminded that Yoko’s specialty was in Illusions and Glamour, and like all masters of perception-manipulation, he could act up a storm if he chose. Yoko was most likely going to have a very promising career in intelligence-gathering if he managed to master his basic cognitive magic skills and eventually graduate, in the as-yet-undefined future.
If it had been a couple of weeks ago, Ohkura could have probed Yoko’s mind and filtered out how Yoko actually felt, since Ohkura still retained all the offensive skills necessary to penetrate another’s thoughts. But Yoko had been making sporadic progress, and typically of him, the first thing he succeeded at in class had been the construction of a mental shield so solid only Hina could sneak his way through. Unfortunately, it was so impregnable that Yoko couldn’t ‘hear’ anyone else either.
“Yoko? Do you not want to come along?” Ohkura wouldn’t deny it would be a little disappointing if Yoko turned back, but he didn’t want Yoko to feel uncomfortable.
It was too late, however – they had already come to an abrupt stop at the edge of the clearing.
“Ah, it that them?” There was no mistaking the uncertainty this time.
Ohkura stepped up to stand beside Yoko, trying to project reassuring vibes. Watching Naturals at work for the first time always managed to induce some sort of awe in most people, and Yoko appeared to be no exception.
Out of the two figures standing before the ancient pine tree, one was still ostensibly human, if humans glowed with a soft orange light. Both his hands were resting upon what appeared to be his companion’s shoulders, and his eyes were closed in concentration as he murmured softly under his breath the necessary incantations to channel energy to the other… being? Ohkura still didn’t know how to describe Yasu when he was in the midst of his ‘work’. The vaguely humanoid shape seemed more like an extension of the tree Yasu was attempting to salvage, another splintered off-shoot of its already bent and beaten trunk.
As Ohkura and Yoko watched in silence, one of the thickest branches of the tree began to gradually curve down towards the forest ground, penetrating the soil and burrowing deep. Rumbling cracks continued emitting from the reviving tree as the grass around the embedded branch shifted, a reflection of the rearrangements occurring unseen below the surface.
Ohkura sensed more than heard Yoko’s fascinated intake of breath beside him as green shoots started budding from the wood, feeling the same shiver of excitement at the sight of a months-long process taking place in a matter of minutes. Yoko was already eagerly stepping closer, all signs of earlier hesitation a distant memory, and Ohkura had to grasp hold of Yoko’s arm to keep him from stumbling across the boundaries of the spell.
“Just wait a little longer,” Ohkura whispered into Yoko’s ear.
The glow surrounding Maru was already dimming, and after another minute winked out completely as he released the augmentative bonding with Yasu. Turning around, his face brightened with a huge grin when he spied Ohkura and Yoko. “Tacchon! Look, Yassan, Tacchon’s here!”
As Yasu spun around at Maru’s words, the bark-like covering sloughed off, shedding itself like dark-coloured snowflakes to reveal smooth skin and firm muscles underneath. By the time Yasu was standing in front of Ohkura, only the marks of flowering vines remained, indelibly tattooed across Yasu’s face, neck and torso, destined to become darker each time he summoned his powers.
Yoko was polite enough to wait until Yasu was done giving Ohkura his reunion hug before inundating Ohkura’s friends with multiple questions.
“Hang on, Yokoyama-kun!” Yasu laughed as he stopped Yoko mid-sentence. “We still need to clean up and recharge. Why don’t you come with us to our clubhouse?”
Yoko’s eyes widened in surprise. Despite the remoteness of Rishiri Island from the main islands, rigid traditions had softened in recent decades since the ending of the War and the banishment of the magicians that had instigated and supported the military during those harrowing days of madness, but certain traditions still tended to stay in place, like the one dictating that clubhouses could only be accessed and used by members of its own Discipline.
“We don’t let everyone in, but you’re Tacchon’s friend, and it’s not like he has many,” Yasu giggled as he dodges a mock-punch from Ohkura, “so we’ll make an exception.”
They headed deeper in amongst the trees, obstructing undergrowth naturally parting before Yasu and re-merging behind Maru. Ohkura strolled along, watching the three of them chatting easily as if they had known each other for years – occasionally Yoko or Maru would sneak a glance back at him with a snicker, and he guessed they were probably bonding by swapping stories about him.
The shafts of sunlight penetrating the canopy were gently warm, and Ohkura felt lighter than he had in months.
Yasu couldn’t exactly say what woke him, just that someone must have triggered an alarm spell entering the area around the Naturals’ clubhouse in the deepest part of the old-growth forests on Rishiri Island. He almost didn’t want to get up – usually he only crashed here when he was too tired to make it back to the school dormitories, but the iron-clad rule that they had to ‘guide’ lost tourists who’d strayed off the designated nature trails back to civilisation was too deeply ingrained to ignore.
Noiselessly, he slipped through the trapdoor that served as the entrance to the ‘treehouse’, magically suspended in between three centuries-old fir trees, and climbed down the branches, easily managing the final two-meter jump to the ground.
It was a cloudy night, and the moon was almost obscured, but Yasu found the intruder easily enough, standing at the edge of the Himenuma pond. Getting into a position where he had a decent line of sight to the stranger while still being concealed by the thick shadows cast by the trees, he breathed in, out, and then reached. The power came easily the moment he concentrated, uncoiling as naturally as extending a limb.
But then something went wrong.
His spell was halted so abruptly he only managed to get his shields in place a split second before the backlash of energy threatened to pummel his brain. It was like ramming into a cliff at two-hundred miles an hour.
When his vision cleared, Yasu looked up, half-dazed, to see the other boy staring right back at him, which should be impossible for any normal traveller, but not for a fellow student. For an instant, the clouds parted and Yasu caught a glimpse of large eyes and pale skin.
A bit more tentatively now, Yasu approached the boy. “Hey… Sorry about that just now. I thought you were one of the tourists and we can’t let them linger in this area after nightfall.”
The boy didn’t respond, merely continued gazing out across the black water.
Undeterred, Yasu tried again. “I’m Yasuda Shota, from the Naturals. You’re from Senhoshi too, aren’t you? Are you lost? I could take you back to the school if you want.”
“…Lost?” The boy seemed to laugh, but Yasu could virtually taste the bitterness rolling off of him. “I can see my path – all too well.”
He fell silent after that cryptic statement and after a while, Yasu was getting ready to go back to his cozy nest at the treehouse and precious, precious sleep when –
“Tell me about the trees.”
“Tell me about the trees. Naturals work with them all the time. How do they appear to you?”
“Um, gods, where do I start?”
“Wherever you want.” Disregarding the dampness of the grass near the edge of the pond, the boy suddenly sat down, knees pulled to his chest.
“Okay…” Yasu sat as well, already recognizing that this was going to be a long night, but something kept him from brushing off this boy whose every word and gesture was screaming desolation.
So Yasu started talking, about the trees – the birches, the elms, the pines and firs and cypresses; how each had their own unique timbre which was ‘heard’ more than ‘seen’; how he had always been able to discern their songs – the individual melodies, from the trilling piccolos of the alpine flowers that lined the beach to the slow inexorable bass of the ancient giants at the base of Rishiri-dake, the island’s volcano. He explained how he could pick out the dissonances marring the symphony of the forest and home in on them; how he intertwined the music within him with those of the injured plants, helping to strengthen, revive, restore, so that they merged once again with the harmony of nature.
“They sound the way they used to, after you’re done?”
“Oh, no, the song never stays the same after. Part of me has gone into the tree – we can always tell who’s worked with which tree, because everyone has a different signature they leave behind.”
Before them, the eastern sky was beginning to show the faintest signs of lightening. Yasu didn’t realize he had been speaking for so long.
“Looks like it’s time for me to head back,” Yasu said as he stood, stretching to relieve the kinks in his muscles. “Don’t you have classes too?”
He reached out a hand to the other boy, who stared at it wordlessly for so long it was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. Finally, the boy slowly brought up his right hand, encased in a fingerless glove, to grasp his. With a firm tug, Yasu pulled the boy to his feet, and was vaguely pleased to discover the boy wasn’t much taller than him.
“What?” Rather taken aback, Yasu touched his own cheek, wondering if he’d smudged it somehow before it occurred to him what the boy meant. “Oh, you mean these.” Even in the dimness of the early dawn, Yasu knew the markings on his face were clearly visible.
“I told you we leave a part of ourselves in the trees, right? It goes both ways, we retain bits of their essence as well.” Yasu ignored the intense scrutiny, since it was the most interactive the boy had been so far.
“It doesn’t… bother you?”
“Not when it’s something I love.”
“Something you love…” The boy repeated it in a whisper as the two of them trudged back in the direction of Senhoshi.
The other boy had retreated into himself again by the time they paused sort of awkwardly in front of the wooden gates.
“Well, I’ll… see you around?”
“Maybe.” He made to shuffle off, but Yasu blocked him.
“Shouldn’t you tell me your name by now?” Yasu asked as he met the boy’s startled gaze. “Otherwise how can I call you when I see you again?”
The boy’s lips curved up, just a little. “It’s Subaru. Nice to meet you, Yasuda-kun… Thank you for showing me the way back.”
Subaru smiled for the first time, and the sudden radiance made Yasu’s heart skip a tiny beat.
He absently rubbed the back of his right hand, trying to ease the itch irritating the skin. At least it was no longer the penetrating throb like in the early days, when every movement of his fingers and the stretch of skin over bone was a constant reminder that his life had become no longer his own.
Lately, he barely felt it – didn’t even have to be careful anymore about the rasp of cloth over hypersensitive skin when he pulled on the glove.
It’s Sunday, and Subaru was supposed to meet the others for a trek over to the Mikaeridai picnic site at Kutsugata-ku. Yasu had suggested the idea and once Yoko had enthusiastically seconded it, there was nothing else to be done but to go through with it. Hina had rolled his eyes in mock exasperation as Maru went one better and declared they should pretend to be tourists from Kansai while Ohkura just smiled in that lazily happy way of his.
But the morning had greeted them with thunderclouds and the first of the showers of fall and there was nothing to do but wait out the downpour. Subaru settled into the window seat, wrapping his arms around his knees. The view from his room, on the third floor of the school dormitory, was still partially blocked by the tree tops, but the rain-blurred outline of Rishiri-dake was still discernible in the distance.
Seeing the cone-shaped volcano sent a tingle through his hand and Subaru clenched his fist involuntarily. A fiery-red glow began to seep through the material concealing the mark upon his right hand, as crimson-orange as the lava boiling through the cracks of the earth while Subaru had been standing at the peak, three years ago, with his oldest friend facing him across the craggy surface.
The tattoo had just materialized across the back of his right hand, raw and burning and paralyzing his fingers with the pain, a permanent tangible symbol of his role, designated since the day he was born.
Takizawa of the East, of the morning and the rising sun; and Shibutani of the west, of the sun setting and the long dark night.
The two most dominant onmyouji clans in Japan, their strength stemming from their complementary powers – the Takizawas in the light, healing and protecting; while the Shibutanis, their shadowy counterparts, operated in the shadows, culling and destroying, ensuring that balance was maintained.
He’d asked his mother once, why he couldn’t perform some of the spells that came so naturally to Takki, and his mother had bit her lip and turned away, murmuring that he would know in time.
On top of the supposedly extinct volcano, with the blood-red seal freshly tattooed onto his skin with magics so ancient they were believed to have originated from the gods, he had finally understood.
Tears had trailed down Takki’s cheeks before his childhood companion had stepped off the edge into a portal hovering over the open chasm, and he liked to think that Takki had been mourning too, for the crumbling of the grand plans they had made, for all the dreams that would never be. He couldn’t focus too much on Takki’s eyes, too old and knowing as he mouthed Sayonara, Subaru.
The rumble of thunder jerked Subaru back into the present and he forced the calm back into his being, slipping automatically into the semi-meditative trance Hina had taught him to help him strengthen his control over his unstable emotions. Lightning was still prowling in the distance but directly overhead, the sky was clearing.
The door to his room flew open suddenly and Yoko barreled through, complaining loudly about the persistent drizzle and how the soggy the ground was going to be. Maru was close behind, cheerfully offering his prediction that the sun would be shining soon and the grass would be dry before long. Down in the compound, Subaru could see Yasu, gesturing animatedly as he spoke with Ohkura.
The serenity settled upon him with barely any effort. There would always be some regrets he couldn’t assuage, but they were far outweighed by the other bonds he had formed since then.
Hina appeared at the doorway, exclaiming that Ryo was back too, for once, so it was really time to go and the room noisily emptied itself.
Subaru was the last one out and he closed the door, not bothering to lock it, before hurrying to catch up with the others.
When Maru was in Third Year, he just barely scraped through his final exams. His powers had been fluctuating and unpredictable the entire year and he had been very prepared to flunk and return to a normal life – or, well, as normal a life one could have with two bodybuilders as parents – in Kyoto when he passed every required subject and tested into Naturals.
Fourth Year passed in more or less the same manner until the night Rishiri-dake almost erupted. He had been halfway along the southern slope, with Ohno – one of the few seniors patient enough to help tutor him – attempting to visualize how the ley-lines were affected by the movement of the tectonic plates and failing badly.
By the time they had finally given up for the day, twilight had descended and they had missed dinner, since time-awareness wasn’t exactly one of Ohno’s strengths. He could practically feel Nino-senpai breathing predatorily down his neck for making Ohno go hungry but the totally unexpected rumble underfoot cut short his worried imagination.
He and Ohno had stared at each other in disbelief as the ground shook once more, and then again and again with an alarming frequency. From further up the slope, soil, pebbles and progressively larger rubble were being jarred loose and tumbling down the mountain. Something that sounded remarkably like a minor explosion blasted from the top of the volcano, and the ominous orange-red glow was unmistakeable.
Rishiri-dake, extinct for countless centuries, appeared to be erupting.
Maru had stood there, frozen, as Ohno, the most alert Maru had ever seen him, began setting up the spells required to erect the protective force fields meant to minimize the blowout and calm the volcano, his hands whipping through the motions. As the earth became more and more unstable, the faint greenish web had started materializing, but not swiftly enough.
Gazing across the distance to where Senhoshi was, Maru had seen the flickering lights speeding towards them, indicating aid was arriving, yet still too far away.
“Maru! You have to help me!” Ohno had shouted, face pale and sweating with effort, drawing Maru’s attention back. More and more explosions were raining molten chunks of rock against the force field, and every blow was straining Ohno’s control.
And suddenly, under a sky turning red with fire and the very real threat of imminent demise, things clicked.
Setting his hands upon Ohno’s shoulders, words that Maru never realized he knew spilled forth as if he had been saying them all his life, augmenting and expanding Ohno’s green grid with his own orange lines of force. From somewhere within, he could sense the dim thuds against their force field, as the eruption gained momentum and increasing amounts of debris were being spewed forth, but it was insignificant compared to the boundless stabilizing energy he felt flowing through him.
He’d finally come back to himself hours later, back at the school compound, Ohno gently patting his cheek and Nino eyeing him with grudging admiration. The volcano was dormant once more and the culprit, a slight, pale boy with a red skull branded on his hand, was lying unconscious next to him, still wrapped up in the orange-green lines of his and Ohno’s combined shields. The fields flickered, and Maru’s head was beginning to ache from the relentless pounding of the boy’s raging power.
“Thank you, Maruyama-kun, Ohno-kun. We’ll take it from here.” And then everything felt instantly lighter and quieter as Higashiyama-sama seamlessly eased his own shielding into place.
Maru still didn’t fully understand the events of that night, but he was thankful that his abilities awoke, like Rishiri-dake, at a time when it was needed the most.
“And this is for Maruyama-kun.” Shige paused as he waited for Ryo to stuff the map with the fishing spots on Rishiri Island marked out that Shige wanted to pass along to Ohno into his backpack. “Oh, and this too – I think Murakami-kun might be interested in it.”
“What is this? Am I some messenger boy?” Ryo grumbled as he took the white envelopes with ‘Maru-kun’ and ‘Murakami-kun’ written in Shige’s scrawling handwriting across the front. “How do you even know these people?!”
“I have my ways,” Shige responded mysteriously, a hint of mischief dancing in his eyes.
Ryo reached out and poked Shige in the side, grinning at his outraged yelp. “Yeah, whatever. So where do we go this time?”
Shige hefted his camera and turned slowly, coming to a stop facing the northwest. “It’s in that direction.” Peering through the viewfinder, he shifted the camera minutely until the image he was searching for focused sharply and snapped the picture.
Ryo crowded closer to observe the photograph captured. “Ah, it’s not too far for once.” The image was of clear springwater tumbling over dark stones slick with moisture, against the rich green backdrop of forest foliage. At the top left corner, a wooden sign was planted at the source of the well. “Kanrosensui.”
Ryo hitched the backpack more securely over his left shoulder. “Right, let’s go then.”
Leisurely, they hiked along the trail that ran along the eastern coastline before cutting across the island, leading from where Oniwaki Magical Academy was situated at the southeastern shore of Rishiri Island to where Shige had predicted the next portal was most likely to appear, in the vicinity of one of the island’s mineral water springs. As they crested a small ridge and the path started to veer inland, Shige’s fingers brushed Ryo’s and he caught them quickly, before Shige could pull away.
Ryo had undergone a battery of tests after he’d passed his exams at the end of Third Year, but none of the teachers and other faculty staff had been able to determine which Discipline he was most suited for, with the result that he had been half-heartedly placed in the Physicals, since his telekinetic abilities were fairly decent.
It had been one of the hottest summers in Japan’s history, and even Rishiri Island had been abnormally warm, so no one had objected when Yoko had advocated going for a swim in the Otatomori pond, the largest body of water on the island, at the Numeura marshland. The icy water had sent a refreshing jolt to his senses as Ryo plunged into the water, leaving behind the raucous howls as Yoko and Hina tried to dunk Subaru near the shallows.
He had been turning around to swim back to shore when something plucked at his foot and he had been pulled under the surface by a swirling current. Even as he struggled to fight free of it, it had occurred to him that Otatomari wasn’t big enough to have an undertow. Breaking through, he had emerged into a world where the sun was setting, rays reflecting as orange-golden flecks upon the ripples of water.
It had been high noon when he went under.
He had made his way back to the edge of the pond, growing more uneasy with every stroke. His friends were nowhere to be seen, and even the spread of vegetation seemed slightly different. Refusing to acknowledge the panic rising in his chest, Ryo had followed the trail leading up from the pond into the forest.
There was a boy leaning against the trunk of one of the trees, fast asleep, the thick squarish frame of his glasses askew.
Warily, Ryo had approached him, gently prodding him with a foot. “Hey…”
The book that the boy had been propping up upon his lap slipped off as the boy jerked awake. Rubbing his eyes, he had adjusted his glasses and gazed up at Ryo. “You’re finally here.”
For a few moment, Ryo had been speechless. “What— I mean, why— who, oh, what the hell, how do you know me? Is this another of Yoko’s pranks?!”
The boy had shaken his head slowly, still staring up with those large brown eyes. “I don’t know you, but I knew you would be coming. That’s why I’m here waiting for you.” His brow had furrowed as he had frowned slightly. “You took a bit longer than I expected.”
And that was how Ryo discovered he actually belonged to a Discipline that was the rarest of the rare – inter-dimensional travel.
It was so obscure that in most academic institutions, the students worked separately – receiving personal tutoring from one of the faculty staff – and still rather inexact, with the documented methods of crossing into a different plane varying widely from continent to continent. The Western magicians had proposed an intermediate dimension, something like a waystation, from which other dimensions could be breached, but Eastern theory had envisioned something more akin to individual worlds as self-contained ‘bubbles’ in generally random motion, brushing past or colliding with each other from time to time. At the points of contact, the fabric between the dimensions was thin enough to penetrate and people with Ryo’s abilities could easily ‘cross over’.
Ryo had received this information in stops and starts as Kato Shigeaki – somewhere along the way the boy had introduced himself – led him back to his school, which had also been built on a Rishiri Island, Hokkaido, but at a different location from Senhoshi Gakuen.
“Recently, though, it’s been postulated that the motion of the ‘bubble-worlds’ aren’t as random as was once believed, and there are actually attractive forces between some of these dimensions that keep them in close proximity with one another,” Shige had continued explaining, sounding less nervous the more technical he got. “Whether it’s the similarities that keep them together, or that they are similar because of their closeness is still very much speculative and hotly debated.”
At the time, Ryo had been more concerned with returning to his own world and thankfully, there was an established portal that linked Oniwaki to Senhoshi. Ryo had stepped through the glimmering yellow rectangle to find himself back in one of the disused classrooms at his own school, and seconds later, was engulfed in a group hug by his trio of worried friends.
He met Kato again after beginning training in his Discipline, under the tutelage of Higashiyama-sama himself. Kato was one of the star students of his academy, apparently earmarked to join the teaching faculty after he graduated. His main Discipline was Psychic, though he seemed to have fingers stuck in many pies. Kato had a combined research project going on with the Physicals and Cognitives to explore techniques of transferring his visions onto a physical medium in a clearer and more efficient way. He took optional Glamour modules with the Illusionists and he was embarking on a special project to map out the various points of contact between Ryo’s world and his own, and to determine safe, reliable mechanisms of traversing them.
Ryo hadn’t been sure he could get used to working with such genius in the beginning. Kato had the typical Psychic manner of being rather all-knowing, which had rubbed Ryo the wrong way, and he was quick-witted and opinionated, usually arguing Ryo into sputtering fits of anger. Yet he was also dedicated, unwavering, and unfailingly meticulous, to the point of forgetting to rest or eat at times.
“But how can I neglect any part of my work, Nishikido-kun,” he had countered after Ryo had chided him for willfully abusing his own health, “when you’re risking your very existence, entering realms based on my calculations and predictions?” There was a melancholy in his expression that Ryo had wanted, without really understanding why at the time, to wipe away. “I could never live with myself, if something terrible happened to you.”
Kato had looked back down, shifting his formidable focus back onto his latest set of calculations, and Ryo had stared at Kato’s pencil as it scratched across the paper, trying to slow his suddenly racing heart and reminding himself to breathe.
The seasons had gone by, and unknowingly Kato-kun had become Shige, and Nishikido-kun, Ryo. Ryo had gotten to see the dork underneath the blazing intelligence, the humour and the occasional flashes of awkward shyness. They still argued from time to time, but it was more reflexive than antagonistic, and every time Ryo had seen Shige, there had been a knot in his chest that had wound tighter and tighter. It seemed to ease a little whenever he returned home to Senhoshi, but paradoxically Ryo missed the strange ache all the more.
“You know, Ryo-chan,” Hina had remarked off-handedly one day. “You should just confess and get it over with.”
The import of the statement had eluded him until he’d crossed back to Oniwaki and saw Shige before him, a smile lighting up his features.
Weeks later, after their first kiss, Ryo had pulled back, asking, “Did you see this coming too?” and Shige had leaned forward, whispering against Ryo’s lips that no, he hadn’t, but he had hoped, very very much, that it would.
“Hina!” Ryo banged on the open door to Hina’s room. “Shige wanted me to give you this,” he said grudgingly, tossing a white envelope at him.
“Ah, thanks, Ryo-chan,” Hina replied, massaging his temples as Ryo slammed shut the door behind him. Ryo had been mopey since he returned from the ‘other side’, the way he always got for the first few days as he adjusted to the lack of Shige’s presence, and being Ryo’s neighbour, Hina unfortunately bore the brunt of the negative emotions emanating from Ryo’s vicinity. He was hoping Ryo would be heading out of the dormitories soon – maybe to look for Maru and Yasu – and Hina would be able to escape the low-level sympathetic headache that plagued him whenever Ryo got drastically moody.
Idly, he pulled out the sheaf of papers in the envelope Ryo had left with him. A small piece of notepaper was attached to the front, covered in Shige’s handwriting.
I came across this particular spell when I was at the library the other day and I thought you might find it interesting. Apparently it was used by rangers in my dimension during ancient times to facilitate communication across vast distances. It might be too dangerous to actually perform, but it’s still interesting to consider as an academic exercise.
Curiosity piqued, Hina quickly shuffled through the article – detailing objectives, techniques, phrasings and variations, results and possible side-effects or backlash. On the surface, it appeared to be a bonding spell, but instead of a simple link between two people, it aimed to create a network between all the participants involved – thoughts, emotions, and intentions could become as one. The resulting unit would be vastly faster, stronger, more intelligent and powerful.
What made the spell unique was that any particular member of the team could be the one coordinating and directing everyone’s movements. Hina, as the empath, might be the nexus that kickstarted the mind-meld, but once it was complete, he could relinquish his position and someone else could be the core. There were, of course, also risks involved. Attacks on one member could spread down the links and bring down the other members as well, but with proper linkage and augmentation of their mental and physical shields, it would take a massive bombardment for the defenses to fall.
It implied absolute trust – between all the individuals who would be involved, a faith and belief that each would be there to guide the other, to lead the way in the dark, to support and sustain when someone had stumbled. It meant an unflinching understanding of one another’s strengths, an unhesitating acceptance of their flaws.
If all these elements were present, the spell’s boundless potential would be unleashed, and the entity created would be infinitely powerful.
It was truly tempting, but Shige was right. Theoretically, Hina did have the capability to achieve the linkage, but the mental and emotional consequences weren’t something he thought he would be prepared for.
Still, for a moment, he could let himself daydream.
He would be at the center, and one by one, he would draw their essences in – Yasu’s calm blue with Subaru’s fiery red, Maru’s warm orange glow and Ryo’s surprisingly vibrant yellow, Ohkura’s steady green flame followed by the deceptive darkness that was Yoko.
The light they created would eclipse a thousand splendid suns.
Carefully, Hina stacked the papers neatly and slotted them back into the envelope, reminding himself he had to write Shige a thank-you note. As he was putting the envelope away in a drawer, he heard Yoko’s mental voice, still tinny and erratic like a fading phone signal, urging him to come out and join them. He grabbed his jacket, heading towards the door.
It was a beautiful day outside, and he had friends to meet.
a/n: ever since i heard 'fuka fuka love the earth', i've always wanted to write an eito fic where each member's story is connected to the others in some way so it comes full circle, but never found a premise until this jehols assignment came along :) it was challenging and definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone as a writer, but i think it turned out pretty decent :) comments and feedback at always appreciated ^_^ thanks for reading!