After I blacked out, I had a strange dream. I was in what looked like a really big living room, a hearth at either end and tables traveling the length of the room; weapons, pelts, and hunting trophies littered the walls. There was a crowd of people moving to and fro throughout the room, talking to each other, and drinking. Moving to one of the walls, my sight was drawn to a throne made of wood and coated in pelts at the center of the wall I'd come to. A woman sat atop it, raising a wooden cup and joining in laughter with others from time to time. She seemed familiar, I was drawn to her.
Why are you so familiar? Who-... I lost myself... these are more of her memories, huh. She... she looks like the woman I saw before.
For a moment, my mind began taking its own direction. It felt like I was on rails with my thought, not just my actions. After controlling myself, I recalled where I've seen her before. This Oni woman, was Kiyomi's true mother, or at least from what I could tell. Our own facial features looked similar to hers, we had her eyes and hair, yet our secondary features were different. Our secondary features were a far-cry of hers, but the relation was unmistakable.
I yelled to her. Reaching her lap, she looked at me, and her smile changed. Her expression softened as she placed her cup to the side, she leaned forward in the chair, grabbing my sides before lifting me.
"Kiyomi, Kiyomi~! How's my lil'girl~?"
The woman placed us in her lap, nuzzling our cheek as we laughed.
"Mama, I can do the thing without going bed now!"
Why are we talking like we've got a speech impediment?
My speech was slurred at points, but still understandable.
On differences, did we get smaller?
We were sitting in her lap, searching our field of view, our sword was to the side of the throne. It was a third larger than it should have been.
How old is this memory?
"Oh? Is that true? Juro, is this little hellion telling the truth?"
The woman was now looking to someone out of our field of view until they began leaning on the throne and looking down at us.
"She's not fibbing, Elexis, she managed to hold mana-burst up for some time today. Thought the reason was foolish, she was afraid to get on the horse with me as we traveled around town. She insisted she ride with the carriage driver, so she threw it up for a while."
The man talking, Juro, looked just like the man from our dreams that we've been having over the last year or so. Only he was very much alive.
"Horse too tall! I'm not riding with Papa on one! I'll ride with Mama or on Wagon!"
Again with the damn emotional spikes...
We puffed our cheeks, then began flowing mana suddenly.
"Woah! Easy girl!"
Elexis raised us into the air suddenly, light traces of mana can be seen dissipating in the air as we moved. Her interruption gave a spike of joy, strangely enough.
What's with the damn emotional high too? They aren't mine, why am I feeling them?
"Don't wanna run out of energy just yet, you still have training to do today~."
Wait... Mother's voice? Hatsumi?
Elexis was looking at me, smiling as she held me up, and she was saying my name now. Yet her voice was no longer the one from in the dream.
Ugh, my head's feeling foggy again.
"Kiyomi... Kiyomi? Hey, Kiyomi, wake up, sweetie."
To the sound of Mother's voice, my eyes were fluttering open, and I began shifting in place. Sitting up, I could feel some energy returning to me, looking to my periphery for a second; it looked like I'd somehow regained three-fourths of my MP.
"I'm here. How do you feel?"
Mother responded, helping me up by propping my back.
"How long was - was I asleep?"
I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"Maybe twenty minutes, Lorn and Callum are back."
As she mentioned it, I could hear Vaughn and Callum fighting again. Looking at them, it looked less like a beating for Vaughn by now. Callum was teaching him kicks. Lorn was standing just to our side, watching them fight, and Beryl-
Hm? Where'd she go?
"Hey, where's Beryl?"
I found myself looking around until I brought my hand down, planting it on something smooth.
"I'm here too, I didn't want you sleeping on the ground."
Looking over my shoulder, I saw Beryl, who was just sitting with her hands in her lap. It took a moment for me to realize that her body was curled, giving me a cushion to lay on.
"Beryl, you didn't have to -"
"Kiyomi, you need the energy; it was important you got the best rest you could, so we made due."
Beryl cut me off and insisted lying me on her was the best course considering my recovery.
"So, why did we need Lorn, Mama?"
I asked, fishing for an answer on why Mother sent for the Guild Mistress in the first place.
"Her mana-veins follow the same pattern as yours. So, it's best for the physical portion of your training if she were to handle you instead of myself."
Mother explained, holding a fake smile whilst her tail swayed behind her.
...Is she upset?
Mother flinched for a moment before dropping the fake smile, replacing it with an awkward one as she scratched her cheek.
"I'm... actually quite disappointed that I won't get to teach you... I'd hoped magic would eventually be something we could bond over further, even with my insistence on waiting. But... well, now I won't have that chance."
Mother sighed as she finished letting her thoughts be known. The silence now allowing the noise of the fighting to control the atmosphere.
Mama... I'm sorry I disappointed you on another front now...
"Mama, well, you can still teach me how to hunt. I remember you said that was what you wanted to do most."
Thinking back a few months, she did specify that when the time came, that would be her favorite time to teach me. She ended up smiling at my attempt to distract her from her troubles.
"Enough of that, I'll still be able to teach advanced magic to 'Baby Beryl' here anyway."
Mother then flashed a sly smile at Beryl.
"Miss Hatsumi, I asked you not to call me that!"
Beryl complained, rolling her eyes. Prompting Mother to laugh to herself.
"Anyway, Kiyomi, you'll be training with Lorn. As a warning, it may be similar to when training your form with Callum."
Scratching her head, she did her best to avoid eye contact when explaining that portion.
Wait, so am I gonna get the shit kicked out of my head again?
After roughly another twenty minutes, Mother grabbed Lorn's attention.
"Lorn, she should be ready."
Craning her neck at Mother's words, Lorn turned around. Strangely, she seemed emotionless with her expression.
"You are fine with us going some ways into the field?"
Lorn asked, tilting her head.
What the hell is this? She's different from usual. This is actually quite creepy.
"If she's hurt, please be urgent in letting me know..."
Mother said, her voice strangely shaky in tone. Lorn looked at her for a moment before turning her attention to me, her expression still unchanging.
"Come with me."
Seriously, what is up with her?
I was almost compelled to listen, but I was still thrown off by the difference in personality. Looking back to Mother, she nodded and waved her hand.
Something doesn't feel right...
Following Lorn, we walked quite some ways, to the point that Vaughn and Callum's yells only broke through the ambient sound of the breeze from time to time.
"Miss Lorn? Are you okay today? You seem kind of... gone?"
I spoke as we continued to walk; at this point, we were nearing the center of the clearing.
"I'm fine, Kiyomi; the question is, are you?"
Lorn turned around, walking backward a few steps more, before stopping and planting her feet in the grass.
"I don't quite follow, Ma'am. I'm okay, I think?"
I responded, confused at her question, to which Lorn shook her head.
"No, Kiyomi, you don't seem to understand. Hatsumi gave you the whole explanation, did she not?"
Lorn continued to question, standing still, unmoving.
"Well... yes? She explained the entire thing about how my mana-veins go everywhere-"
"And how you can't use magic? Or that it augments your strength and your ability to take a hit?"
Lorn cut off my explanation, to which I could only awkwardly nod.
"Or that when we checked your MP, we saw you had twelve-hundred now?"
When Lorn mentioned this, she tilted her head, and I felt a strange flash of fear.
"Don't worry about it... whatever it is, Kiyomi, I'll only say that your Mother trusts you to make sound decisions... Please do ensure you continue to make ONLY sound decisions. Is that understood?"
I nodded slowly. My throat was in a knot, preventing me from responding.
"Since your understanding of your own mana-veins is basic and only, in theory, it's my job to make sure you can use your abilities."
Lorn began stretching her shoulders.
"Oh, by the by, it would be best if you stretched, Kiyomi, this will get physical."
Lorn hinted that the training was going to be rather taxing.
"The reason I'm here is to teach you how to use what is called 'mana-burst'. In which you emit your mana, gradually, in order to make you a more potent fighting force in the field."
I began stretching with her, I could already feel my gut sinking as I was anticipating training almost exactly like Callum's.
"Kiyomi, I'll be rather forward. You are stronger than even most individual adventurers. Possibly the most physically strong individual in the whole city. Do you understand the weight of that?"
Lorn began a different topic.
"I kinda gathered that, I know uncle Callum is pretty strong... But I don't really know of anyone else."
"Yes, well, He was originally the most physically powerful... Alongside myself. Our strength statuses are the same, and now that you are here, we fall in second place together."
Wait, she's as strong as Callum?
I wanted to ask but figured the explanation could somehow be in her age.
"Aside from your natural strength, Kiyomi, you now possess something else that you are very unique in. You're now one of the only two individuals in this entire city who can use mana-burst, and coincidentally, can't use magic."
She said, pointing to herself.
"There are many things we'll need to teach you, Kiyomi, but the most important one, I'm going to give you a crash course in right now."
"Miss Lorn? We aren't sparring, are we?"
I was nervously asking at this point. Her tone was unsettling and had me on edge.
She responded flatly, and with little change in tone.
Oh, fuck me, with her? She's like, seven hundred. I'm just an eleven-year-old by earth standards. What am I supposed to do?
"Do you remember that feeling from earlier, Kiyomi?"
Lorn caught my attention.
"When you performed mana-burst earlier."
I thought back, I could feel myself on the edge of the same sensation as long as I recalled it. As if it were a cap, ready to fly off of a bottle that was about to burst from the pressure.
"I guess? Why?"
I asked as Lorn breathed out, before blinking once, then looking dead at me.
"Because you'll need it for this."
Why does this give me some shitty feeling?
When I'd followed Lorn here, we stopped barely two meters from each other. Looking back, that was poor situational awareness on my part, as I had very little chance to counter what came next. Almost immediately after she stopped talking, Lorn launched herself forward, then brought up a kick that was aimed for my left shoulder.
Just barely avoiding the kick, I dropped my weight, crouching as quickly as I could before I quickly found myself recovering from a daze. I could hear a resounding crack noise and a sudden warm flow of blood from my nose as I recoiled.
I'd stumbled back into the grass, unable to regain my balance. Looking up to where Lorn stood, she was unwavering, wielding the same emotionless expression.
"Language, I'll have to talk with Callum after this. Undoubtedly you picked it up from him. If you want to keep my blows from hurting you, you need to start using mana-burst, It would be best if you do so as soon as you can. Because I won't stop until you're knocked out, or you figure out what exactly this means for you. "
This fucking bitch! She broke my fucking nose! Fuck! Calm, calm, Callum's probably broken your ribs before. Whatever she does, this is part of the training. Right?
I was attempting to settle myself, just as Lorn started moving again. She was maybe a step away as I was pulling myself to my feet. Luckily, I'd managed to roll to force myself upward and grabbed underneath Lorn's thigh as she went to kick once more. Propelling myself forward, I grabbed behind her other knee and forced my head into her stomach until I felt her impact on the ground. Bringing my head up, unsure of what possessed me to do so other than some extreme, seething anger, I remained clamped down on her thigh. My next movement felt almost foreign, even though I'd done so out of desperation when fighting for my life in the past. I'd taken the hand I'd used to grab behind her knee and clenched it into a fist, bringing it down into her stomach at full force.
"Now we're talking!"
As my fist came rocketing down, I could swear that Lorn had expressed excitement at me forcing all my strength into hitting her. When my fist connected, the resulting punch forced her stomach inward just barely, as if it were just some normal punch. Yet the ground around us reverberated from the impact, sending dust and small debris into the air.
"Oh, fuck, what've I done?!"
I blurted out, realizing that I'd just struck Lorn at full strength. Looking at her face in fear, instead of seeing what I expected, I received a predatory, toothy grin. Then she'd grabbed me by my wrist, throwing me over her what must have been some four meters.
Shit, what the fuck!? She took that hit head-on and it didn't do a thing?!
Regaining my footing for the third or fourth time since we started, I'd once more avoided a strong kick, which was followed by another punch.
Fuck! This hurts! Remember! Arms up! Elbows in! Chin tucked!
I'd fallen back onto what I remembered from combatives and all my other fights to try and by myself time from further injury or to strike back.
"If you don't use mana-burst, I'll break more than your nose, child. For your mother's sake, I'd do it soon!"
Lorn was instructing me as she threw punch after punch, showing she was an experienced fighter. While I was roughly two-thirds her size, I was also exerting super strength, and displaying blocking techniques and deflections that I realistically shouldn't have known; in turn, Lorn was unrelenting in her attack. Glaring at her through my arms, I searched for an opening. It was around this time, that I'd noticed the faint yellow glow of mana following her movements.
She's using mana-burst right now? Is that how she withstood the hit?
Thinking over it twice, I'd thought it must have been, considering an indirect strike with Callum was just enough to give him a nosebleed. If Lorn was as strong as him physically, to take a hit like that, she must have been using it.
"Come on, stop blocking, fight back! Otherwise, this will get you nowhere!"
Lorn yelled, breaking me from my thoughts, as she slipped a fist through my defense and planted it into my ribcage, just below my right elbows guard. In the next moment, I'd crumpled, gasping in pain for air.
Shit, I'm going down. Fuck.
On a split-second decision, I'd attempted to force out the same sense as before, opening my mana-veins just as Lorn's knee was headed for my face.
Oh, no, you fucking don't!
Forcing myself in the direction of Lorn's body, I forced my elbow into the woman's stomach. For the first time throughout the whole confrontation, Lorn let out a noise as if she was being forced to crumple from a hit. Making space between us, I kicked off of the ground and sent myself back a meter or two. When I looked back, Lorn was hunched over slightly, holding a hand to her gut and breathing heavily for a moment before fixing her posture.
"Well, I guess the little fresh bleeder does have some fight in her."
She blurted out, as if speaking to herself.
I'd asked, almost insulted.
"Well, I mean, you've got no fight. You're weak. You have all that strength, but you only press it when you're afraid! You need to use it to gain the upper hand, you do NOT have magic! You only have your sword and your strength! And if that isn't enough, you're doomed! You are not invincible, so you need to learn how the more primal of this world's creatures survive. "
Lorn continued pressing.
"And the way to do that, is to fight like that power was ours to begin with!"
Lorn took up a fighting stance, this time awaiting a move from myself. Seeing this, I looked back to my own hand, they were shaking and along my arms, a bare orange glow emitted from within my arms. As if lights were planted within me.
So I managed not to burn it all off at once... Guess I'm suffering with you, Vaughn. Beryl, please pick me up like we picked him up!
This is gonna be a long day...