By Moonraker One
CHAPTER ONE – Humble Origins
A day came in the late part of October that seemed to never end. It started out the same as any other day: a young woman by the name of Shuichiko Masara woke up, teased her dark orange hair until it behaved, made sure she still maintained the clean smell of the previous night's shower, dressed, and headed off to another day of her senior year of school. Unfortunately, like a day exactly two hundred days prior to this day, events unraveled that dared to slow time down, or, barring her ability to imagine such a thing, increased her perception of how slow it was. Several reasons took precedence over others, but the biggest reason why this was true was the fact that she discovered an innate ability of hers to listen very well to people's complaints. She already knew that of her; what she had to discover was that people also knew, and took horrendous advantage of said fact.
It was the middle of the day, around noon-thirty or a few minutes after, where she found herself in the lunch room and a male student that had issues with his girlfriend was asking her for advice. She herself was not much for dating, but she offered as much help as she could provide. "Horaki," she said, rolling her eyes, "you've dated this girl for how long?"
"Five weeks," he sheepishly answered.
"I'd say you've given her enough time to misinterpret you," she replied. "Ditch her and move on." She hated guys that were mousy and didn't get it when you told them something; that was supposed to be the trademark of girls.
"She likes it when we see movies and such," he explained, "but when it comes down to personal stuff, she's not the kind to…be personable."
Shuichiko gave him a straight-line-mouthed expression. "So, you do all of the mushy stuff, but she doesn't want to let you get into her pants, is that it?" She folded her arms. His sudden jerk of a reaction proved her theory correct.
"B…but I'm just trying to be nice…" He surrendered. "Yeah, you're right. Nothing at all."
"To be fair," she replied, "I wouldn't want into your pants either. But if you're going for the gusto, you have to realize that she's probably religious." She shrugged. "You're trying to get her to sleep with you by being nice; that's like buying a ramen stand for a bowl of ramen. If all you want is the ramen, there are more efficient ways of getting it."
He got even more skittish and protested with, "but those loose girls disgust me! With all of their pounds of makeup and fake hair and what-not, they look like a toy doll. Miharu, she's pretty and she doesn't act aggressive and manly like…well…you."
"I'm going to let that one slide because enough people have told me it's true," she shot back, "and remind you of this analogy: if you crap in one hand and wish in another, it's obvious which one will fill up first." She went about finishing her meal, and got up to clean her plate. Horaki was a nice kid, but reminded her of an injured mouse that a cat would play with; it wouldn't kill it because then it'd have nothing to play with.
Shuichiko Masara was, to Horaki's credit, every bit as aggressive and manly as he thought, and approximately fifty percent as aggressive and manly as the more petite girls imagined her as in their nightmares. Most girls she saw frequently hung around the hundred fifties of centimeters tall; at nearly six feet tall—one hundred seventy-eight centimeters—she stood above most of her gentler kohai. Also, most of her fellow female students had some feature about them to not just be feminine, but feminine enough to be imagined as a housewife. When guys saw Shuichiko, in her school's girl uniform, with her moderate hips, mild bosom, and broad shoulders, they imagined her destroying a kitchen rather than cooking in it. However, despite her frequent disapproving look towards humanity in general surrounding her, and her intimidating height and shoulder width, she wasn't a fighter. That is, she wasn't a fighter physically. She could certainly fight with words, and her mind, but other than four years of living with an uncle with a passion for traditional Japanese karate, she hadn't gotten into a fight since the sixth grade when she punched a guy in the face for calling her a bitch and not having the balls to admit he said it. So, most of the student body got her all wrong; she was aggressive because it worked, not because she was secretly a vampire, a Yakuza boss, or a vampire Yakuza boss. Also her hair was much thicker than most of the other girls; it was a few inches wider at the neck than her head, so it could give the appearance of a cobra's preparing to strike, which didn't help.
After a ridiculously boring math class, and a physical education class, in which she had to listen to yet another student's problems, this time one of the few guys to be her friend, she prepared to leave for home. Her home life was relatively ordinary, and consisted of her getting home and cooking her food, then heading out to see if there was anything interesting at one of the nearby bookstores or video game stores. Her parents always knew she got good grades—even if they weren't A's—so they were never worried about her. She was as predictable as they came. She occasionally went to the gym and worked out, but that occurred at regular intervals as well.
After putting her pack on, and adjusting its weight around her shoulders—dang, was it heavy—she headed off for home. She couldn't wait to get home and get out of the uniform. She hated uniforms; they reminded her that she was supposed to be the same as every other girl in the school. But that thought told her that the school didn't consider her any more important than any other girl. And to her, that was unacceptable. So she walked the kilometer to her house and hoped that she would be eating her favorite dinner very quickly with no interruption.
Her day would not give up without a fight: along the way, a girl stopped to ask her why a lot of guys would ask her about dating, and she had to give a long explanation about how she felt she could understand men a lot better than her own gender because, even though she knew she wasn't gay, she thought the endless mind games that girls her age did were pointless. She preferred a straightforward answer that didn't clutter the speech up with unnecessary bullshit. This answer seemed to solidify falsely in the other girl's mind that Shuichiko was a lesbian and thus, she left quickly.
She was about to turn back to her own walking pace when she noticed a guy was walking while looking around nervously. She looked at him confusedly, and had to step out of the way when he almost ran into her.
"Oh, excuse me!" he said, not even bothering to look at her. He just continued walking. His pace became ever more hurried. She looked around; there weren't many people around. What was going on? Why was his hurry? She chalked it up to some home or work emergency and continued walking on. At least she would, until she noticed she'd stepped on something.
"Hmm?" she uttered, looking down. Moving her foot, she saw a small metal vial, with the word "scroll" on a piece of paper taped to the vial. She examined it confusedly, and turned around. "Sir? Sir? Um, you've…?" She stopped talking when she noticed he'd gotten too far away. She sat down on a small rock wall and opened it. The metal cap twisted off gently, and, upon turning it upside down, a small paper scroll fell out. She unrolled it; it had on it a bunch of strange markings she'd never seen before. The letters seemed to glisten a bunch of colors, and she couldn't help but stare at it for a few moments. Not noticing much use for it, she rolled the scroll back up, and put it back into the vial, sealing it.
To her surprise, the man was walking back towards her. "Oh, where is that vial?" he asked out loud. "It was right in my pocket…ah! There! Young lady, you didn't open that, did you?"
As he approached her, she held it out, shaking her head.
"Good," he replied. "Because if you had, it'd…" He seemed to stop for a brief moment, as he took it from her hand, as though an invisible being had pushed pause on a cosmic remote control. After a brief instant, he looked at her confusedly. "Hi, um, who are you?"
She gave him a strange look. "Sir? Are you ok?"
He looked his watch and panicked again. "Oh, no I'm not! I'm late! Sorry, whatever you're selling, young lady, I can't afford any new magazines!" He then left.
She shot the strangest look his way. "What the hell just happened?" She shook her head and headed home. "Whatever," she whispered. How had he suddenly forgotten who she was? What was up with that bizarre scroll? Was it magic? Did such things even exist? All these questions and more plagued her like a bad rash.
As she got back home, she noticed that her mother had already fixed her dinner for her, a strange departure from the norm. To her surprise, it smelled good, which startled her considering that her mother seldom fixed meals, and thus, she'd expect it to have an odor resembling the taken-out garbage. She asked her mother for the occasion, and the response she got was, "I just wanted to give you a break, because you've been working so hard." She shrugged and put her pack down to begin eating, completely ignoring her room and eating without changing her clothes. This moment was one to remember; she dared not waste it by delaying it.
"So, mom," she half-said, half-mangled, with her mouth partially full. "How's your day at work?" She finished before moving on to another sentence.
Her mother shot her a look for her eating habits. "Well, everything went fine. So far, the records are kept up and all the figures make sense." Her mother was a woman of modernity, and not traditional femininity at all. That didn't mean she wasn't delicate and pretty, like a more mature version of some of Shuichiko's classmates, but she refused to behave like a traditional woman. The last time she cooked a meal, and didn't foist the job off on her daughter, it was the child's seventeenth birthday. She had her almond hair done up in a very professional looking do, and her suit was light brown with black stripes underneath her cooking apron. Unlike her daughter, who seemed to inherit her father's frequent stone face of mild annoyance, she had a very positive smile that belied her slight wrinkling of the early forties. "So, how is it, dear?"
"Oh, amazing!" Shuichiko replied. "I'm thrilled you cooked, because now I don't have to!" She finished her meal in record time, as usual, and headed upstairs with her pack to change. Today was a day of different actions, and thus, she decided she'd skip entirely the nerd aspects of her personality and instead work out for the day at the gym. Her rationale for doing so, and thus breaking her normal routine, was that nothing normal was going on anyway.
As she packed a change of clothes into a duffel bag, she shuffled her wallet and house keys into her pants pocket. She headed downstairs to leave. "Bye, mom!" she shouted from the doorway. "I'm going out to the gym to work out for the week." She didn't bother to hear her mother's response. From there, it was a short walk to the gym and she checked in at the front desk and entered the locker room. She stripped her clothes off and put them in her locker, changing quickly into her shorts and shirt to exercise with. After locking her locker she headed out into the weight room to sling some of the weights.
She knew her routine well: three sets of eight repetitions each, using the seven kilogram weight. It didn't take long to finish her sets and then she moved on to the tricep exercises, and moved on to the abdomen and leg exercising machines later. She didn't take long to exercise the muscles because they were easier than cardiovascular exercising. Moving past the weight training and into the cardiovascular, she noticed she wasn't sweating much at all and her limbs didn't ache like they usually did. I must be getting into better shape, she thought. Feeling emboldened, she decided to work on the treadmill like usual. An hour on the machine, at a decent running pace, and she reached the point where she usually showered and went home. The strange thing was, she felt her forehead; there still wasn't much sweat there at all. Also, she wasn't panting like she normally was. Her earlier physical ability was one thing, anyone could say she was in better shape because of not being tired after the weights; but she'd just put in an hour of running on the treadmill—at an incline—and she wasn't much disturbed from standing still.
This struck her as a perfect opportunity to test how physically fit she was. In her several months of working out, she'd never bothered to work out with dumbbells weighing more than seven kilograms. She scanned the rack, and picked up one that said twenty kilograms on it. Eagerly, she went to pick it up. "Hmmf!" she gasped, hefting it off the rack. Her eyes got bigger as she was surprised at how hard it was for her to lift. She gritted her teeth and did a full set of eight repetitions with it with each arm, then forced herself back to the rack by willpower and tried her best not to drop it with force back on the rack. She sat down, holding her arms; now they hurt. "Well, that was dumb, Shuichiko," she scolded herself. As she took deep breaths to ignore the pain, something happened that definitely told her something was wrong.
The pain was gone within three minutes. She held up her arms, moving them about in each direction. The last time she'd strained to exercise, they ached for almost five days. Now it was as if she was unharmed. Desperately seeking an answer, she moved over to the triceps machines, and put twenty kilograms on. After doing a full set, the other part of her arms ached. But as she sat there, the pain went away once more. Moving over to the legs machines, she put on thirty kilograms. After a full set, the pain disappeared as normal. She did her arms, shoulders, chest, stomach, and thighs on separate machines, this time with as much as forty kilograms on each exercise. Each time, she would strain, it would hurt, and within two to three minutes, her pain was gone completely.
What the fuck is going on? she thought. She walked over to the mirror, and saw that all the exercising she'd done only increased the sweat on her forehead by a slight amount. Her eyes were drawn to the fact that her stomach, previously pouched out a bit from fat, was now starting to show muscle tone. She shook her head in disbelief. Did I seriously just do a few months' worth of exercise in thirty minutes? She couldn't help but be confused. As she sat on the bench by the mirror, she thought of something she hadn't before: the scroll.
She thought about the symbols she saw. The images seemed burned into her mind. She saw each glyph in her head, and seemed to instinctively know what they meant. The scroll she'd picked up, she somehow knew, was a spell; its purpose was to remove limitations on physical development. The display ended as quickly as it began. It dumbfounded her. Magic, she thought? Seriously? How can magic exist? She didn't believe in superstitious crap; but her abs and arms told her otherwise. So, there's no longer a limit on my physical development? She couldn't help but laugh; if this was true—and she wouldn't wake up in a few minutes and discover it was a dream—why her? Wasn't this the type of thing that would instead be given to the military or even used by someone in sports? The thought occurred to her that being able to achieve any level of physical ability possible was wasted on her. She stood up; no point in wasting a good thing.
She did each part of her body until she no longer found herself struggling with that amount of weight. What would normally take days, if not a week or more, of healing before doing weight training again, she could simply repeat after a few minutes. By the time another hour had gone by, she had gotten used to a hundred kilograms. She knew some of her male classmates to not be able to lift that much. Whatever this magic stuff was, she liked it and was glad it was hers. Being that she'd maxed out what she could achieve with this gym, she decided to shower and leave. Before putting her clothes on, she admired her new body; she resembled a female weight lifter from the neck down. Her thighs were once nothing much to speak of, but now she could see that her loose pants would struggle to contain them, and she could see the lines of the muscles going down her legs. Her shoulders were more than a few centimeters wider than they were before, and that made her shirt go on tighter. She was thankful her neck's muscle tone wasn't too dramatic; otherwise she might not be able to hide the sudden development.
She stepped out into city's evening air, and began calmly walking down the street. Her duffle bag in hand, she found herself feeling a strange twinge in her head. It was the strangest thing; she couldn't quite place it, but somehow, she could feel it was to her northwest. Almost unconsciously, it drew her towards it. She couldn't help but be curious. She turned the corner, and felt the feeling get stronger; it seemed to come from a gentleman walking about a dozen meters ahead of her. Almost on cue, he stopped, turned around, and glanced at her. Then he took off running.
"Ch…!" She gritted her teeth and gave a moment's frustration before chasing after him. She had been at the center of a lot of strangeness today and she wasn't about to give up until she got answers. He ran deadly fast, but she seemed to be closing the distance. He ducked into an alley and emerged on the other side of a bunch of buildings. She chased him there, and saw him wave and whistle to a guy in a white coat sitting near a luxury sedan, and he dove on the back and they took off. She expected to lose him.
Instead, she found the twinge she felt kept telling her of his location. She could literally sense where he was, and she decided not to lose him. She ducked back into the alley, dove onto the top of a closed dumpster, and took a leap of faith to grab onto a ladder leading to the roof of an apartment complex. She would be have time to be amazed at having jumped a meter and a half forward and two meters straight up later; right now, she had a person to catch. From the roof, she saw the car headed towards a building that looked like a dilapidated apartment building a few blocks away. Quickly wrapping her duffel bag around her neck, she moved from one rooftop to another, making a rolling landing and moving again. After a few buildings, she jumped onto the down ladder, slid down to just above ground, and headed across the street to another alleyway.
She saw two men guarding an entrance to the building at the end of the alley. Both of them had earpieces on to listen to instructions, and she took advantage of their lack of attention to jump onto the scaffolding attached to the building parallel to it. She moved over to their location, above them, and waited for them to start walking towards the opening of the alley. The car containing her target was approaching. The guards started talking to the two in the car, and she took the opportunity to drop down and hastily make her way to the door. She didn't see any security cameras, so she opened it and slid in.
The moment she stepped into the building, and it changed from looking dilapidated to looking state of the art, she realized; this was one of those moments where you realize you're in over your head. It was obvious something was going down that wasn't intended to be seen with outside eyes. She saw a camera panned to the far left, attached to the wall at the end of the hallway. As it tried to pan to face her, she kicked an adjacent door open and leapt in before it would've seen her. Her heart was pounding from the excitement of what was going on. A billion questions filled her mind: are these military? Are they government? What are these people doing? Why hide yourselves in what was an old apartment complex? She didn't have time to think of answers to these, as she heard a gun being cocked right behind her head.
"Who the hell are you, and how the hell did you get in here?" a male voice asked.
She was panicking, so to calm herself down, she turned around to face him quickly. A number of things happened all at once. First, the duffel bag she'd forgotten about hanging around her neck in all the excitement, knocked the gun from his hand. An instant later, she realized he'd lost his weapon, and her uncle's karate expertise instilled in her kicked in, and she kicked him straight in the face as he hastily reached down to grab his gun. Third, her newfound strength was more than she bargained for, as she knocked him backwards onto his back, and he fell unconscious immediately. Hearing footsteps nearby, she grabbed his right arm and leg, and hoisted him in one smooth motion onto her shoulders in a fireman's carry, and moved into a closet at the other end of the room. With him still on her shoulders, she shut and locked the door. Through the slim gap between door frame and door, she saw and heard them.
"Doctor Zoto," she heard an older gentleman in a suit say. "Are you sure you lost the person following you?"
The person she was chasing turned to a slightly panicked white-coated man in his early thirties. "Doc, I didn't see her behind me after we took off."
The man she presumed to be this "Zoto" character spoke, adjusting his coat. "I don't know who that was, but I believe we're in the clear. I don't have to tell you what happens when a civilian gets wind of our operation."
The older suited gentleman spoke once again. "Gliebman claims the seven-a vial was never used, but when we conducted tests on it, its magic was drained.
Zoto gave an exasperated sigh. "I did the examination; the runes are still drawn, but they don't glisten, which means someone's taken the magic and activated it. I only wish we could've gotten all ten of them intact."
"Doesn't matter," Shuichiko's target said. "We've got more than enough to start developing industrially duplicable magic for our use. Doctor Zoto here is the one who broke the lock keeping magic hidden away for centuries, surely he can figure out how to duplicate a weak spell like seven-a."
This time Zoto got visibly upset. "Don't be so arrogant!" he yelled. "It isn't about losing the spell; of course I can duplicate it. The problem is now we have a person who isn't part of our organization, who has one of our spells!"
"But," the man argued, "it's the weakest spell we've yet discovered!"
"The weaker a spell is, the more potential for growth it's got! Now we have to contend with someone who has a natural advantage in that they have virtually no ceiling to grow in power!"
The older man waved his hands to calm Zoto down. "Doctor, seriously, you need to worry about your blood pressure." He threw a disc on the table. Zoto looked at the paper sleeve containing the DVD. "What's the likelihood that this person will even be able to use the magic? I thought we discussed that there was a pretty steep learning curve. Without information like this, their use of it would be quite limited."
"So, this is the complete information on how to use magic?" Zoto replied. "I'll need this to complete my research. Thank you." He held it up, and grabbed a marker from the table. Quickly, he drew a symbol on it. "Tanaka," he said to Shuichiko's target, "remember this symbol. Whenever we give you information, using this rune will activate a one-time spell to transfer all the data into your mind." He looked at the symbol and touched the center of it, and it glistened multiple colors before vanishing. "Now that I can properly use all the spells, we can begin phase two." A few moments later, they left the room.
She waited about thirty seconds to make sure no one was coming in, and left the closet. She set her victim down on the floor. They'd left the disc on the table, and she picked up the marker and duplicated the symbol Zoto had drawn on it. Once she saw it glisten multiple colors, all at once her mind was flooded with encyclopedia volumes full of information about magic. How to use it, how to draw runes, she had learned it all. She used her newfound knowledge of magic to draw a rune on the paper sleeve, creating an exact duplicate of the disc, and she shuffled the copy into her duffle bag. She got an idea, one that was a bit nerve-wracking, because she knew she'd already heard and seen way more than someone should have. She stepped into the closet, grabbed one of the organization's uniforms off the rack, and put it on. Taking the marker, she used runes to make the uniform fit her, and put her duffel bag under her chair. She picked up the guard she'd knocked out earlier and put him in the chair. She used the runes to adjust his memory and heal him from the injury. He snapped to.
"Huh…uh!" He shook his head. "Who're you? I haven't seen you around before."
"I'm…uh, on important business from Doctor Zoto!" she lied. "I'm supposed to help him with phase two's research."
The guard got visibly nervous. "Sorry to have bothered you then…where's your identification?"
She tensed up inside but didn't betray it visually. "He doesn't want me casually revealing myself to just anyone in the organization; the stuff we work on at phase two is beyond top secret."
There was a short pause in which Shuichiko couldn't tell if she was going to be killed or not, but he quickly defused the situation by giving her a laugh. "Ain't that the truth," he remarked. She let out a sigh of relief. "Well, let me give you a piece of advice." He handed her a card from his shirt's front pocket. "This'll get you into at least level one security. I'm not supposed to even have these, but I swiped them from Doctor Moran, and Zoto's handed these out to all of his personal staff. The rune on the back gives you immunity from appearing on security cameras and tripping security lines. It's a privacy thing he's obsessed with. He thinks the rest of us will poison his private staff." The guard leaned in. "If you so much as sneeze wrong, the doc'll have you thrown into the punishment chamber. Watch yourself."
She smiled, picked up her duffle bag, and left. She walked directly from the doorway of the conversation room down the hallway to her left, into a room titled "Records." She showed the card given to her to the man sitting at a security post near the front of the doorway, and he gave her a nod and let her move on. The room wasn't terribly large, but she scanned the shelves for file cabinets with names she might want to read. She was only going to be able to do this once, so she wanted to pick the best information to steal.
She came across a file cabinet labeled "our important history," and gave a quick look around; one security camera, but it wasn't looking at her. She knew she couldn't be seen on it in possession of the card, but she knew the camera would pick up the ink from the marker drawing a glyph on the file cabinet. So she waited until it was the farthest away and drew the information transfer glyph. Content, she decided to quit pressing her luck and exited the room, leaving the compound through the door she'd snuck in earlier. Once in an alleyway a block away, she jumped to some scaffolding and climbed to the roof of a building. From there she took her stolen uniform off and changed into her normal outfit. From there, it was a quick climb down and a dash to her home. She hadn't run so fast in her life, the whole time looking back constantly. She practically leapt inside her door, her heart pounding the entire time.
"Dear, how was it?"
She practically leapt from the startle. "Gah! Uh, hi mom! Ha ha, uh, It was great. I think I'm getting more fit with each day."
Her mother looked curious. "You look a bit nervous? Did something happen?"
She shook her head, quickly forcing herself calm. "Uh, no! No, not at all. I'm just hyper from all the running I did."
Her mother shrugged. "Well, don't get too exhausted, honey. You don't want to over-exert yourself."
She headed upstairs. "Good advice, mom. I'll be resting for the evening." She slammed the door to her room shut and plopped down on the bed. In the relative safety of her room, she let out a gasp. Her mind and her pulse were racing. The magnitude of the day couldn't possibly be understated. She discovered an organization—up to god knows what—and the fact that magic existed, and also, that she had been the unknowing recipient of a spell that had removed any limitation on her physical acumen. Not to mention, she infiltrated the compound of said organization, and successfully avoided being killed. She couldn't help but find it absolutely startling that she hadn't met a bullet and been dumped into a river or something of that nature.
Once she calmed down, she slid off the bed and walked over to her chest of drawers that had her clothes in it. She put her duffel bag on top and laid down on the floor, sliding under the chest. Her father and one of his friends had to help move the thing up the stairs, and that was with nothing in it, not even the drawers. She put her hands at an equilateral distance apart, and bench pressed upwards, hoping to move it. It took surprisingly less effort than she thought. Certainly, she'd gotten used to a hundred kilograms at the gym, but her chest was full of clothing and was made of solid wood. The fact that she was straining substantially less than she expected was proof her magical enhancement was working. Pulling herself out from under it, she got back on the bed, dusted herself off, and got an idea. Grabbing her cell phone, she called a friend of hers. She knew for a fact that no one would believe her, so she felt she didn't have to worry too much. What she wanted to do was to see how athletic she could get, if she had truly "no limitations" on herself.
"Shuichiko?" a male voice asked. "It's a bit late to be calling. Shouldn't you be at the video store right now? You usually check out the new anime releases this part of the week."
She smiled; she'd certainly been guessed correctly by her friend. "Morino," she replied, "things are a bit different today. I'll tell you after school tomorrow. Meet me at our secret hideout."
"You get in trouble, or something?"
"This certainly fits into the 'or something' category," she answered. "Talk to you tomorrow; it's certainly important."
"Well, at least give me an idea of what's going on."
"I discovered the existence of magic, and found that there's this group out to fully unlock the secrets of it, and their purposes are unknown."
There was an uncomfortable silence. "Right," he said, laughing. "You've been watching too much anime."
"No! Don't hang up! I'm telling the truth!"
"This'd better not be a prank. See you after school. Good bye."
She plopped down on the bed, ready to fall asleep.