Like the calm before a storm, the return trip to Kala was utterly uneventful so far. Even though Envy’s imminent invasion was like a dark cloud hanging over our heads, this moment of peace was everything I dreamed of every day. With Lucia revived, Sebastion had begun to smile again for the first time I could remember. Mom was healed, and everyone was together. I only wished Dom had lived to see it. I still held out hope that I might retrieve his body one day and bring him back, but that hope was slim. Envy would never let me get that opportunity so long as he lived.
To that end, almost all of our downtime was spent training for the final battle. Making the best use of this moment of peace, I instructed my family to the best of my ability on refining their domain. With the strength they had all gained, improving their efficiency was what I considered the best way to keep everyone alive.
“When using a domain, the basics are key. Your will is applied to the environment, and through a cost of energy, we turn that will into reality. The larger the area and bigger the alteration, the higher the cost. That is why when you create your domain armor, you should keep it as thin as possible.”
I paced behind my family with my hands behind my back as I lectured them. I observed their progress with a critical eye. Being kind now would only harm them later. Dad was best at creating the armor, followed closely by Charly. The attention to detail the two used when creating glyphs allowed them to grasp the theories far more quickly than others. Mom, on the other hand, was simply abysmal. Even after days of progress, she still could not form armor around her body like the others. The principles of her domain were too strange and disconnected from the basics for her to convert into armor. It was like she was wielding the heat of a volcano, and I was asking her to make the room colder. The two ideas simply didn’t work together.
I watched Mom wrap her domain around her body, only for her to suddenly shift location in an uncontrolled burst of electricity. The result was always the same, no matter how often she tried different approaches to the problem.
My only real accomplishment in teaching Mom was when she achieved some semblance of flight by repeatedly dashing into the air. It was more falling with style than actual propulsion, and it cost more energy than proper flight, but at least it allowed her to fight in the sky with some varying levels of success. At the very least, she would have another direction to flee if surrounded.
Mom shifted back to her starting location again with a deep frown on her face. “I don’t understand why I can’t do it. When I was asleep, I remember manipulating everything so easily, but now it is as if it was all a dream. Maybe it was. Maybe I was just delusional from the drugs and thought I was doing something.”
“Perhaps,” I mumbled thoughtfully, “but it is a fact you grew far stronger while you slept. I imagine it has something to do with becoming an Adept after Mare’s experiments, but I don’t know enough to connect what you felt then compared to now. Usually, though, mutations in a domain like what you are experiencing happen because how you view the world is twisted or distorted. Maybe while you were asleep, your mind was able to relax in a way you can’t while awake.”
Mom raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. “Twisted, huh? Is that a polite way of calling someone insane?”
“Everyone with an innate talent is a little insane,” I replied with a casual shrug, “It is only through our twisted worldview impacting reality that we can use our talents at all. Dad and Charly are the normal ones, really.”
“That would explain a lot,” Dad said with a teasing grin.
“Is that so?” Mom replied with a huff.
Dad seemed to shrink two sizes under her withering gaze. The grin faded away with a nervous chuckle. “Have I mentioned how beautiful you are today, dear.”
Charly covered his mouth with his hand as he failed to stifle a laugh. “Nice recovery, Dad.”
Mom rolled her eyes and once again tried to condense her domain as thinly as possible around her body. The attempt ended in another failure, but she was making progress with how easily she could manipulate her domain compared to when we started.
Up on a ledge above where we practiced, Lucia sat. Her legs swung freely over the edge while she watched. A small smile played on her lips but did not reach her eyes. Her intense gaze had bored into me for over an hour now without even once looking away.
Eventually, I relented. Leaving my family to practice on their own, I floated up the ledge where Lucia sat.
“What do you want?” I asked with a sigh.
“What makes you think I want something? Maybe I just want to watch. It is strange seeing you interact with others so much. Even when you trained me, you always took a hands-off approach and let me figure things out for myself. It really is like you are a different person around them.” Lucia replied with a playful grin.
“Yes, yes, I know,” I replied with a dismissive wave, “but that is not the only reason you are up here, is it. What do you want?”
I raised an eyebrow as Lucia’s domain spread around us. At a glance, I recognized She had muted all sounds from escaping the bubble, a higher-class application of a domain I had not taught my family yet. It was a rather draining way to apply a domain, and it was strange that she decided to use it here.
Lucia’s eyes roamed around the courtyard as she spoke. “I was thinking about that undead bear we met, that messed up Guardian. How long do you think it was following us?”
“Honestly?” I asked with a frown, “It has probably been following me since the first time I met it months ago. I always felt its “test” was a little too easy for how much it hated me. My guess is that it has been watching my every action since then, judging and waiting for me to slip up so that it can act.”
Lucia nodded sternly. “I was thinking the same, and I don’t like it. I have been using my talent to observe the heartbeat of the nearby creatures. Few normal animals should be able or willing to follow this little floating island these past days, but I have found three.”
“Three? I only expected two.” I replied, bringing my hand to my chin in thought.
“Suspected,” I explained with a casual wave of my hand, “I don’t have any way to verify my guesses as you do without drawing suspicion, but a giant floating castle flying through the sky is hardly subtle. Can you tell what kind of creatures they are?”
Lucia shook her head. “Not from this distance, at most, I can make a guesstimate based on their size and movement. One is small, moving across the ground. It might be a mouse or rodent. The second is also small, but it moves from tree to tree too smoothly to be anything but a bird. The third is bigger, but it is the hardest for me to track. Its heartbeat disappears randomly. If it wasn’t for the creature’s size, I wouldn’t even think it was the same animal.”
“The last one is probably our undead friend. One of the others is probably a Demonkin.” I mused.
“Demonkin?” Lucia remarked in surprise.
I nodded. “Never underestimate our enemies. Not all of them are mammoth nightmares. Envy knows the importance of information as much as we do. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn a weak Demon slipped through a crack into our realm at some point and has been observing us using mutated birds or rodents.”
“Shouldn’t we do something about it? I don’t like being watched.”
“You can if you want,” I replied with a shrug, “but so long as we are moving about using Dragon’s Nest, it will not take long before another appears.”
“Then why are we still using the island to get around?”
“Because it’s convenient. Besides, as my teacher always said, a spy you know about is not a threat but an asset. All getting rid of it accomplishes is pushing the next one to be more careful. Instead, it is far better to feed it partial truths until the time is right to act.”
Lucia frowned deeply. “I understand, but I still don’t like it.”
“Then how about we play a little game,” I said with a grin.
Lucia’s eyes sparkled at my words. “What do you have in mind?”
“Well, since both the Guardians and Demonkin are so very interested in what we are doing, I think we should let them find each other. Follow me.”
Lightly stepping off the balcony, I floated into the air. Lucia was practically glowing with as she leapt off the ledge to follow. The two of us glided low and slow, making sure that anyone interested in trailing us could. To avoid suspicion, I joked and chatted with Lucia as we flew.
“Are they following us?” I asked after some time.
“Two are but the third stayed behind,” Lucia replied after a moment of concentration.
It did not take long to find what I was looking for. Barely fifteen minutes after leaving Dragon’s Nest, I saw it. A slight shimmer floated in the air next to a large tree. It was only a little bigger than my hand, like a mirror hanging from the limbs of the old oak.
“A fracture between realms?” Lucia remarked in surprise.
I nodded with a grin. “This far into an invasion, these things are everywhere. Most are too unstable to let anything pass through, but they still weaken the divide between worlds.”
Lucia eyed the tear in space with suspicion. Even from a distance, we could feel the energy radiating from it. Like standing in the sun on a summer day, the power that spilled from the crack warmed our skin and invigorated our talents.
“If these things weaken the barrier between the worlds, shouldn’t we be doing our best to hunt them down and close them all?”
I shook my head. “There is no point. Even if ten thousand of us scoured the globe day and night, all we would accomplish is delaying the invasion by a month or two. Even assuming we could find all the rips opening underground and in the ocean, Envy is using a high-end rift stone to connect our worlds. So long as he keeps providing it energy, nothing we do on this side will be able to stop what is coming.”
“If we are not going to close it, why are we here?” Lucia asked.
“Because if there is one flaw all spies have, it is an insatiable curiosity. While closing this tear will not do much, if I start tinkering with it, as well as any others we come across, there is no way they will be able to resist.”
FIRST EVER FAN ART SENT TO ME!!!!!
Special Thanks to Aerous that sent me the art and Gentai the artist