A/N: University totally killed my update schedule, as I expected. I went from the start of the term to the end of the term without updating...yeah, I suck, I know. New experiences, new town, new living conditions, first GF, same old shitty update schedule

'Cough Cough'

A perpetual dry cough, in a perpetually dark environment. A constant itch in her throat, which sometimes erupted into a violent rasp. The winters were like that. Not that she knew it was winter. To her, the word 'season' had no meaning.

By the 10th year of her existence, she had heard and scrounged together enough to recognize human language. Understanding it was another matter. Her understanding was rudimentary at best, able to respond to a set battery of questions, and distinguishing between certain quantities. Getting a significant yes/no from her would be considered a step forward.

"Her potential is amazing. It's beyond all recorded values. Is she even human?"

"All of the standard tests return positive. She wasn't tampered with before she was shipped to us, that's for certain."

"What would happen if she was trained? Taught to harness he-"

"Our job isn't to train anyone. We harvest their magic, plain and simple. If she's a step above the rest of the stock, that only makes our lives easier. We'll throw her provider a Lusnin day bonus or something."

"But she could be much more! Could you imagine her behind one of the artillery trackers? Or as one of the forward combat souls?"

"Are you kidding? She can barely talk. C'mon, let's stop chatting. We have work to do."

Loneliness was not even a concept that could exist in the place she existed. Happiness, sadness, joy, terror, fear, surprise, love, hate. None of those things were in the place that she existed.

Her greatest discomfort was the cough. To her, she felt that if the cough would disappear, things would be 'better.' Not brighter or happier or more enjoyable. Just better.

She could have been alone forever without feeling lonely.

But then 'that' happened.

In a meditative position, I sit with my eyes open. I focus completely on my outstretched hand. Everything, from the sunlight of the sky lit windows to the expansiveness of the garden atrium designed to instil meditative focus.

My goal is a simple thing. The materialization of a small pebble. Something that I could have done a million times over in any dream. Something that was as easy to me as breathing. I imaged it in my mind. The composition and related elements that determine a pebble. The process of natural creation, from erosion to aggregation of minerals that create it.

I focus for a good thirty seconds. I attempt to gather it...that intangible quantity, which is neither magic nor real. Something that doesn't naturally exist in this world, yet something which had been proven to me to exist.

"Argh..."

Witnessing my failure for the third time, I leave my position and stretch.

It's been three days since I had first utilized that power. I actually kind of thought it would be all downhill driving from there. Y'know, like how an anime protagonist receives an upgrade mid-season and instantly knows how to use it at least half-decently? Well, I guess the real world doesn't work that conveniently.

"You still don't think it's real. That's why you're failing, you know?" A light teasing voice appears from the door.

Saya stands there with a light black umbrella in complete contrast to the greenery of the atrium.

"Well, mistress, I don't exactly know how to make myself 'think' it's real." I kick a nearby rock in frustration, "After all, it DID happen in a dream, you know?"

"Hm... Let's try something else today. I had an idea this morning. It might help." She beckons for me to leave the atrium with her.

I follow her out to the distinct green and sunny plains. In the distance I can see the edge and outline of the 'Night Castle.' Originally when I had been transported outside by magical means, it had been impossible to find the castle in my surroundings. But with more time, I had gotten more used to seeing the small hints of familiar things.

She lightly closes her umbrella, and daintily covers her eyes to block the sun. Again, I'm struck by how the sunlight doesn't seem to contrast with her long blond hair. Even as she avoids the golden light, it makes her beautiful.

"Don't you ever get hot wearing such dark clothes? Especially in this weather?"

"Hm...not particularly." She turns to face me. "Now, let's try it this way."

I lightly tense up, preparing for any unexpected attacks or movements. This was an automatic response now, trained from my past experiences both in this world and the last.

She laughs, "Relax, I'm not going to hurt you today. I just want you to try one more time. Try to create something, to use that power."

I barely stop myself from retorting in a sarcastic tone, and take a deep breath. I focus, as I've tried to do so many times before. My vision focuses, and the edges start to darken.

"The power is real. It's not just real, it is substantial." A voice rings out from everywhere. Saya in front of me is smiling, but her mouth has not moved. "It is something that is based on your imagination, your willpower, and your magical reserves."

The voice is hypnotic in a way, surrounding and penetrating every part of my body. I feel like I can't move, locked in step to the voice and sound. Yet at the same time...I feel my focus becoming sharper. In my vision, the world around me begins to glow a light gold. Distinct lines are forming: sharp coppery tones of gold, light wispy gold, and everything in between.

What...is this?

"Everything in the world, both real and dreamlike, has imagination and willpower. Everything is interconnected to something else. In that way, their imagination and willpower become the basis of..."

Magical power. That's the fundamental basis of mana. The ability to alter the conceptual image created by 'Gaia', that's how modern magus define 'magic.' The tool they use is the thing that can manipulate realities, both animate and inanimate. But at the core of that, the fundamental web that modern magus don't even realize exists- is the connection between the things themselves. Separate from the magical capacity of the magus, there exists a hint of golden magic in all things, amplified and transferred endlessly in a positive feedback loop between all existences.

"Yes...you understand now. Only 1 in a billion people can see what you see. This exceptional ability is your key to using this power. Now, reach forward, and make it. Create a place inside 'Gaia' and claim it as your own..."

The voice begins to fade, but the razor-sharp focus remains. The golden lines in front of me shift in ethereal motion, and I find a small pocket of space. Slowly, I use my mind's eye to draw out the shape of my desire. A small golden line emerges from the cluster of lines. Slowly, ever so slowly, it begins to form. I can feel it, the gathering of that which is 'real, but not real', All it requires now is for me to 'push' the object into existence. But just as I do that...

I hit a wall. A hypothetical wall that refuses to budge. I can't leave the razor-sharp focus. I can't leave that almost-dreamlike state. Of course, it's obvious why.

How...how can I be sure this isn't a dream? How can I know that this is real?

Ridiculous of course. Every logical part of my being, and my mind, knows that this is real. I have always been able to tell when I was dreaming, at least before that shared lucid dream with Saya. This is reality, that is obvious.

But...how can I be sure?

A hidden doubt, an unsure sensation of the self. The internalization of the dream and the reality. In the search for the ability to do the impossible, the line between them had become blurred.

Everything begins to blur. The sensation begins to fade.

I'm going to lose it!

Rising panic. Then...

Velvet warmth. A light and creamy pressure on my lips. An inexplicable sensation.

"Here is your proof of reality. Here is a sensation that no dream of yours could replicate until this exact moment. This. Is. Real."

The voice, which was hypnotic and all around me before, becomes concentrated, isolated and beautiful in its warmth. It spreads from the instant of contact, from my mouth to my entire body.

The razor-sharp focus snaps, and my entire vision returns to me. In front of me, closer to me than I had ever seen her, the mischievous and smiling face of Saya. My eyes are drawn inevitably to her small lips...and then I bring myself back to the point.

In my outstretched right hand is the handle and hilt of a simple sword. No ornate design or strange markings. Just a simple, clean sword with a white blade. Wisps of a reddish outline fade from the sword's shape even as I am examining it.

This is...that sword.

"Hmm, the first thing you create is the first real sword you ever held in your hand. The symbol of the first fight for your life. Something that you believed had little meaning, but in reality, was the pinnacle of your emotional climax in recent times. Right?"

I don't ask Saya how she knew about my fight with the participant in the library. That fight which had lasted minutes had been the most terrifying thing in my life till that point. That fight which I had lost, and thought I was about to die.

"...I was trying to create a rock."

"Idiot. Do you happen to have some strange emotional attachment or experiences with rocks? Of course not. Your strongest experiences are born from fire and blood, steel and pain. The opposite spectrum from emotional weakness, from love and lust. You should have started with trying to relive the experience of this sword."

I continue to stare at the sword. It feels just like that sword felt back then. Indistinguishable from the truth; how could I have just created this from nothing? I take a practice swing: the weight and resistance is perfect, just as I remembered it.

Most of all I felt a sense of elation.

I had finally done it.

I had achieved that power.


Some Time Later

"Really, a kiss? Did you have to go with something so stereotypically lame?" I adjust my position on the mahogany rocking chair inside Saya's room.

After dinner, I was going to return as I usually did to the library for my nightly reading, when Saya had requested I join her in her room. Technically this would be the first time I had ever seen her room, as my late-night escapade that one time was not to be known. Well it wasn't too hard to pretend I had no idea where it was anyway, I could swear that the hallways and rooms in this castle change on a whim.

Once inside her room, she sat on her bed (a huge Victorian similar to mine, but bigger) and motioned for me to sit on the rocking chair. Then, she asked me how I was feeling, after I had, in her words, 'seen the truth.'

"Well maybe if you weren't such a socially awkward boy whose never even had their first kiss before, I would have had to resort to more...desperate measures." The twinkling in her eyes when she said 'desperate' makes me shiver. "I guess we were just lucky this time, ney? Or are you disappointed?"

There's no such thing as the heat rising in my cheeks or the blush developing.

Before I could retort to her insult, she continues, "The point was that your control over your dream-state is both your greatest strength and your greatest weakness. The idea that, while in your dream, you are a god capable of anything, is an absolute experience you should be able to translate into the application of this power. At the same time, however, you are absolutely convinced that you know exactly when you're dreaming and when you're not. This is a problem, because the key to bringing the power into existence is the exemplification of your experiences. You have to believe it to be real for it to be real. So how to reconcile the two? How to make it so that you can bring out that absolute experience from the dream, yet convince you it is truly reality?"

I'm beginning to understand...

"The combined dream state.." I murmur.

She nods, "Exactly, one step was to merge our dream states. To throw your internal 'absolute' into confusion, and show you that it was possible for you to have that power in a setting that is not completely 'your dream.' The other step was merely to shock your internal reality with an 'experience' you had not yet experienced, and thus, couldn't possibly replicate fully in a dream."

"But then, what was that bullshit about having a 'full spectrum of existence?' What did that even mean?"

Saya smiles cruelly, "For a power that is based entirely on the strength of your experiences, how will you fight if you cannot imagine the experience of killing someone?"

A sinking feeling in my stomach.

"You mean...you made me kill that man...just so I would know...!?"

"The weight of a falling body, the crushing impact of your sword on a skull, the speed and impact of the bullet that pierces brain, these are the combined experiences that make up your strength. You would be a fool if you believed that that was the last time you will kill. Every time you add to those experiences, your creations will have more impact, more strength. That is also the key to this power."

...A power that becomes stronger with murder. A weapon that grows sharper with blood. Is that what I wanted?

I shake the thoughts away from me for a second. I recall that this is a special date as well. Exactly two weeks since that time...

COUGH COUGH

A harsh cough erupts from Saya, and she begins to convulse uncontrollably. I see specks of blood on the sheets.

"Shit, we've been talking...longer than I expected."

I suppose it would only be fair for me to explain everything now.

"Mark...get out. Leave me, NOW." Her demand comes through her pain filled coughs.

"...I know what you are." Looking away, I focus on a spot on the floor.

"What?" Surprise.

"Shinso...white ancestor...magic vampirus. One of the original predecessors to the modern-day vampires; an extinct race that feeds on organic magic, known as 'white ancestor.' "

"Hmm...if you know that much...then why are you still here?"