Chapter 08 – Diamond Dust and Deliberations
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Fighting against Shiva? That will be interesting!

Sorry it took so long to actually write this chapter. This is a case of me giving priority too life and work. 

Suggested music for the battle segment :

Suggested music for the following segment :

I haven't gotten anyone to proof read this yet, so I'd appreciate any comment of things I missed!


     Shiva playfully smiles at me as she floats away from me, completely unaffected by my spinning kick. Her eyes are locked into mine, and I feel like she’s staring at, and judging, my very soul. Can she see the real me? I assume my fighting position, and consider my odds this time. Fighting against a robot didn’t turn out too bad for me, but I’m currently fighting a magical creation of ice-aspected aether that hovers in the air. I’m not exactly sure how it works for things like that, but I’m pretty sure that my punches and kicks are more likely to push her than have the normal impact they should have against a body that is ground-based. Or am I wrong? But if she’s not drifting already, is there some force that grounds her where she is? Does she control that force? Laws of physics aren’t any help in this world where nothing behaves as it should in the first place! Well, she blocked my kick with that ice shield of hers, and didn’t even budge. So while she’s floating, I need to assume she is “as grounded” in her position right now as a land-based character would be. That’s how most video game hovering units would be made in code, anyway. It would still have a normal capsule, it would simply be animated as if it’s flying!


     Alright. So let’s skip trying to figure out how good my odds are against her. And ignore the fact she’s made of magic, and flying. If I treat this world as a game, she’s an enemy, and that means she has Hit Points and defensive values. And I have the ability to inflict damage through my attacks. I may not be fighting at my best right now, as I don’t have my greaves or gloves. I didn’t expect to get into a fight! From now on, I should make sure to keep those on, it’s not like they are obviously threatening, like a sword or armor are! I will just assume Kaestra unleashed Shiva on me to see what I’m made of. Alright then, ladies. You will get a fight if that’s what you want.


     Rune steps in front of me, and, taking a defensive stance, hisses at Shiva. Looks like he agrees that this is a fight and that we have to win. I notice that Shiva’s stare changes to fix Rune at that moment. I use that opportunity to rush forward in a surprise attack. Before I know it, a series of moves are already appearing in my head, and I let them guide me. Tricking, it’s called. I have never actually done anything like this before, but I know the name of each step and component. What I’m going for is called a dragonfly twist round -- a gainer, corkscrew, ending in a powerful hook kick downwards, meant to send Shiva crashing on the ground. As soon as I start my attack, and land the first sidekick, Shiva blocks and quickly pushes me back. She starts floating upwards and backwards, and I can see her lips moving, as if talking, but no sounds come out of them.


     As soon as I land, tiny snowflakes and Ice particles start appearing all around me. Damn it, is she casting a spell on me? The snowflakes and ice start growing, and I can see the shape of a prism of ice forming around me. An ice prison. Wait, is she actually using her ultimate attack, diamond dust on me, at the start of the fight? The grin she flashes me seems to indicate it! She slowly raises her right arm in front of her face, her fingers in position for that iconic finger snap. This action is what should trigger the prison to shatter and shred me to pieces. SHIT. I brace for impact. This will hurt -- an avatar’s ultimate ability is usually game-breaking in power! I wait, eyes closed, arms in front of my chest and face, bracing for the fatal blow. But the sound of snapping fingers or the shattering sound of ice breaking never comes.


     I open my eyes, and Shiva is floating inches away from me, ruffling my hair with a silly grin on her face. A voice comes from the side of the room : “You can go now, Shiva. Thanks for the help.”


     Shiva bends down to a fetal position, slowly drifting away from me before disappearing before my eyes in a flash of light. I turn to face the source of the voice, which I am assuming is Kaestra. A tall, fair-skinned midlander hyur stands still, her arms crossed, as she eyes me up and down. Her golden-blonde long hair is tied in a high ponytail. She’s wearing the traditional caller’s himation, a flowy white and green garment that only covers the right shoulder. On her back, I can see tiny ornamental wings, and similar golden ornaments adorn her outfit, all the way from intricate rings and filigraned arm guards to intricate ankle bands. The most impressive of her decorative gear is the foot-long horn coming out of her forehead. The paramount symbol and most important tool of summoners. Looking more closely at her horn, however, I realize that this is not a headgear. There are many intricate gold chains running over its length, and it seems to have runes carved into it, but it’s obvious when looking at her forehead that this isn’t merely an accessory.


     Kaestra patiently waits for me to finish my assessment of her appearance before speaking: “Yes, it’s a real horn -- as you can see, I am no mere Hyur, I am Padjal. People here call me by my former name of Kaestra, but my Gelmorran official name would be Kaes-Ae-Senna.”


     I squint as she says the words “would be”, and wonder why she’s no longer going by her Padjali name. Gridanians don’t generally let them wander outside of the Twelveswood, they are far too rare and precious. I snap back to the present, wave in the direction where the Ice avatar just vanished and, trying to sound indignant, complain : “I’m Neva, you called for me, and that’s how you greet me?”


     She smiles, starts walking forward and continues past me, to the door. On the way, she explains: “Actually, that was just Shiva being playful with you. I only instructed her to greet you and try to talk to you and Rune. You could not hear a word she was saying, no matter how loudly she tried to shout. Rune, on the other hand, could understand her, and reluctantly agreed to stay out of your little training exercise. So Shiva experimented whispering in your ears and got a little too close?”


     Kaestra opens the doors and waves for Naja and Pimy inside. She turns back to me : “Come now, the test is over, let us discuss the results inside.”


     I nod, crossing my arms in front of my chest. Reluctantly, I follow Kaestra deeper in her mansion, and, shrugging, finally admit out loud: “I think what annoys me the most is how quickly this encounter was over and how one-sided it has been.”


     Kaestra smiles as her only answer, as she opens a sliding door that leads to a dining hall. She steps to the side, inviting us all in. Naja doesn’t quite manage to stifle a burst of laughter as she steps forwards. Pimy seems slightly surprised at my statement, but her reaction isn’t to laugh it off. Instead, she stops at the side of the door, turns towards me and bows her head politely, hands folded in front like a Japanese handmaiden: “Caller Ae-Senna has multiple centuries of training and experience over you -- it’s not fair to compare yourself against her.”


     The two of them seem dead set in letting me step through the door before them, but I stop before crossing the threshold, asking Kaestra to give us a minute. She nods and goes on to take a seat in front of Naja. They immediately start pouring drinks and talking, acting like obvious friends.


     There’s something about Pimy’s reverence that doesn’t sit well with me. For starters, I have not done anything to deserve it. Actually, I may have done the opposite. The thing is, I know Pimy -- I know her very well. She’s not a player character, she is not a main character in the narrative of the games. No. She is just one of the many names, appearances and classes you could pick for your adventuring fellow, a system that arrived late in Final Fantasy XI, to help with players who wanted to clear content solo. Pimy and I have hunted together so much. Many players dropped the system after a few weeks, once the feeling of new was over. But I persevered. I read the guides on how to get her to change her outfit to her red hate-ate set. I upgraded her great katana to the most badass one, and leveled her not only to maximum level, but unlocked her three advanced jobs -- even if i only ever let her use the samurai one --, and capped the duration she would stay, in both the number of enemies fought and time spent with me. 


     Essentially, she was my perfect partner. Whenever Rythea was offline, busy or not in the mood for playing the game, she would be there. Her personality was hand picked to cheer me up, so she was silly and funny, despite her serious looks. Since I tend to play support characters, she had the job to deal damage, and I would make sure she stays alive, either by tanking for her, or healing her. The two of us together would synchronize our attack abilities to maximize damage, which was easy to do since the programmers had made the fellow artificial intelligence extremely selfless. Unlike other players who would get tired of waiting on others, the fellow would be patient, and even let you know in chat that they’re ready for you to start the attack chains. I know I’ve always been a sucker for developing relationships with non-player-characters in games. It feels stupid to say thinks like “We understand each other so well” or “I can tell what she’s going to do next.” Because it’s really just me that figured out how her A.I. works, and how she will act based on this. But similar to a child playing with imaginary friends, I was really deep in that rabbit hole with her.


     Back in the present, Pimy is still bowing her head down. She’s slightly taller than me, but that’s only because she’s older. I know that once I reach adulthood, I would actually be taller than her -- I picked her to be medium height, or at least I did in the game, back then. Her demeanour and mannerism belies a strict and proper Japanese upbringing. She acts closer to how a servant than how a noble should, but I am not surprised, seeing as the term Samurai literally means 'those who serve in close attendance to the nobility'. But behind that well-groomed attitude of hers, I feel like there is a young adult who wants nothing more than to express herself more freely. She was a lot more laid-back when she introduced herself to us earlier, so I wonder if this more formal visit is what sets her back to her traditional ways.


     I extend my right hand to take her own, but I freeze and hesitate when I get within a foot of hers. I’m not used to dealing with feelings, so I stammer hard as I try to speak up: “Can you please---Can you stop treating me this way?” 


     It kills me to feel that she may exist only because I have accidentally willed her into this world as I got thrown here myself. How the hell do you tell someone “I’m afraid you only exist because I do..?” The worst part is that this devotion of hers makes me feel like she knows that she’s here for this purpose. I realize she has no chance to understand the kind of internal struggle she’s making me feel, so I softly add: “I mean… Please, I need some time to figure myself out...”


     I feel myself burning in embarrassment as I say those words, and turn to look away from her gaze. She is so pretty. Actually, scratch that. She is absolutely perfect. I made her that way. A few instants later, I feel both of her hands grasp mine. “It’s okay, Neva. I’m here for you now. Let’s see you smile!”


     I turn back to face her. She’s smiling in a way that makes me weak in the knees. She’s just like a beautiful princess. She turns my hand, palm upwards and drops a beautiful pearl in it. She slowly closes my fist over it. The pearl is unusually warm, and she explains to me: “This is one of a pair of signal pearls. I have its twin, and give this one to you freely because I would very much like to be your friend.”


     Linkpearls. That’s almost the equivalent of smart phones or cellphones in these worlds. A special type of seashell called linkshell produces pearls that are all linked together -- called linkpearls. Words you speak near one are echoed by all the others, no matter the distance from each other. Signal pearls are rare occurrences of this phenomenon. When two pearls are made at the same time by the same shell, then their connection is even stronger. It is said that you can use the pearl’s power to teleport near the other person, so you can help them out at a moment’s notice.


     She seems to realize that my mind has gone off to wander a little, and she lets go of my hand. After a few moments, she nudges me towards the room: “You don’t have to say anything. Just hold on to it for now. And let’s go hear what the Caller has to say?”


     We both go and sit at the dining table. I take a seat at the end of the table, so Naja and Kaestra are to my right and left, respectively. Pimy protectively takes a seat between myself and Kaestra. Rune jumps in my lap with a cute “mrrrp!” and curls into a ball, apparently ready to relax. I try to pour myself something to drink, but Pimy takes over and does it for me. She then pours herself a more generous portion and settles back in her chair.


     Naja looks amusedly at me and my drink, which made me decide to take it prudently, only sipping a little for now. Kaestra finally decided to break the silence: “So, Naja asked me yesterday to take a look at your abilities. Summoners are fairly rare, and we were both wondering how you were able to talk to your Eidolon without a horn -- natural or forged. The first thing we confirmed is that you, in fact, do not communicate with him this way, and that you are as deaf and mute to the tongues of the elementals as the average person is.”


     I knew that the iconic summoner horn headgear was technically used to communicate with the summoner’s spirits. It looks like the absence of a horn means that there is no communication possible. That may explain why I could see Shiva’s lips moving, but not hear a single sound from her? But it doesn’t explain how Rune seems to understand everything I want him to do, if we can’t communicate. I am curious about the term she uses for him, though, so I simply inquire about it: “Eidolon?”. 


     Kaestra folds her hand in front of her face, and peers intently at Rune as she explains: “Ah. Yes, let’s delve a bit on this particular mystery. Summoners can call forth elemental avatars, such as Shiva you have met earlier, and elemental spirits. Spirits are little more than a ball of concentrated elemental-aspected aether. They lack the intelligence required to really follow instructions, but they provide a few useful tools for us summoners. What you call Rune is definitely a creature made manifest by your abilities. As it is clearly an unaspected summon -- it doesn’t belong to any of the eight elements -- then it is closer to a living being summoned through magic. We call those beings Eidolons -- Icons, phantoms, doubles.”


     Naja takes over explanations: “Now, it doesn’t take a summoner to call forth an Eidolon. The beastmen races, with the help of large quantities of aether, are known to do so, especially when backed into a corner. But primals, as they call them, are extremely dangerous. They are starving for aether. To get that aether, they temper living creatures to serve them, and provide them with it. A tempered individual becomes a thrall. They lose all will of their own. If Rune is really an Eidolon, then he is an enormous risk to this settlement, and to this world.”


     Kaestra nods and continues, grimly: “And since you are the one summoning it, and keeping it fed with aether, that risk extends to you. Please understand that we have to assess the danger that you both represent.”


     So my cat, that comes from the same world my mind does, is potentially a weapon of mass destruction? Cats are already known to control the internet, and to have some minor form of mind control parasites -- Toxoplasma gondii, for the curious. A cat being able to temper humans to turn them into their servants certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched. I start wondering if the initial summoner of a Primal is also susceptible to being tempered. That wouldn’t be good for me. But would that really be all that different from how we cat-owners are already?


     Pimy intercedes before I can figure out what to say to all of this: “Do we know for a fact if Rune is the same as a Primal -- if it has the ability to temper individuals? It does not feel like it is draining the aether from this place, or to be particularly dangerous.”


     Kaestra shakes her head and continues: “Actually, we do not know. Until it decides to temper someone, we can assume it is unable to do so, but currently we cannot be sure if it simply CANNOT, or it WILL not. Only a few people are immune to the effect of a primal’s ability to temper. We would need someone with the blessing of the Echo to constantly watch over Neva and Rune, so we can stop her in case of emergency.”


     Pimy beams proudly at this mention: “Well, if you can accept a substitute, I may have a solution for you. The Glass of All-Seeing grants me the same powers as the Echo. And I am already bound by duty to the mirror and to my family, to watch over Neva.”


     I knew Pimy’s mirror could show the future, and things that are far away, but I didn’t know that it was able to show the past as well. If that’s the case, I wonder if she can tell who I really am? The Echo, in theory, also allows her to understand any languages, which I wonder how her mirror would allow her to do that. I wonder if she can even read my surface thoughts, too. That’s a scary proposition.


     Naja raises an eyebrow and turns to look at Kaestra. They argue silently with each other, and the former finishes: “Well, not that I doubt the powers of your family’s heirloom, lady Kettihl, but while there is proof that it can show events of the past, the blessing of the Echo is more than just that. I do not believe we have any proof that it confers you any protection from tempering.”


     In the game, the power of the Echo explains why players can die repeatedly to the same encounter, and when they finally win, that the story can continue. It’s like every death that happened before was a vision of an alternate reality, or a mere possibility. The ability to resist getting tempered hasn’t been officially explained, if I remember correctly. The theory, last I checked, is that the player characters are already tempered, simply by a different primal -- in this case, Hydaelyn, which is the name of the Mothercrystal.


     Kaestra nods and continues: “We do, however, happen to know of a young fledgling adventurer blessed by the Echo, and recently recruited to the ranks of the Path of the Twelve. We will introduce you to her later. But for now, let us just conclude our talks. My observations are that your summoning ability is unusual, and not a consequence of training or professions. Perhaps a racial ability, as an agrarian? Not much is documented about your kind. Your combat style certainly indicates training in martial arts, but I am not familiar enough with those schools to identify it. The school of Rhalgr the Destroyer, is quite popular for monks like you. Although there are a number of Dojos in Bastok, I believe, and that is where you come from, if Naja’s deductions are to be believed?”


     I acquiesce with a simple nod. Kaestra does not push further and returns to the topic of Rune “Now, I am not an expert in such matters, but your relationship with Rune seems closer to the one of dragoon and his wyvern, or a beastmaster and his familiar, even though it seems like the aether flowing between the two of you mimics the link between a summoner and his avatar. The way you two understand each other, I assume, may be easier to explain by a ranking member of one of those professions.”


     Personally, I think it’s just my Asperger’s natural ability to get along with animals, and Rune’s uncanny intelligence as a Siberian, but sure, perhaps I’m using a monk with a beastmaster or dragoon subjob. Well, I suppose we’re about done here, then. “I see. Perhaps I will have to look for a beastmaster, then, and have a word with them. So, who’s the ‘lucky’ young adventurer you wanted to introduce to us?”


     Naja smiles “Oh, you’ll probably like her a lot. Aileen and myself got her out of trouble a week or so ago, she’s quite the character. Her name is Rysse Zaku, and she goes by the name of the Firestorm Spear.”


     Wait a darn second. That name sounds just like "Ry Suzaku"? A firestorm lancer. Firestorm, the Dungeon and Dragon spell that is half holy magic, half fire magic? Suzaku, the phoenix god, holy fire bird? Can this be Ry? Is he also in this game, like me...?