27 Swans Productions presents

MAHOU SAIUSSUO

Chapter 3

All throughout her Iriti lesson, the stone kept bumping against Chime's waist, making it difficult to concentrate on her performance of the martial art.

(Maybe I shouldn't bring this everywhere, Idunno,) she thought, packing away her sweaty clothes, the stone now secured in one of her pants pockets.

"Hey Youri, you wanna come with us?"

A solidly-built girl with extremely long, black hair, tied back where it was out of the way, and big, yellow eyes turned towards Chime while she pulled on long, brown shorts.

"Nah, me 'n' the Tactics boos are meetin' now. Cause a no school and all, we're gonna get ta playin'," she said with a grin.

"Aww, alright, well, we're gonna go, then, now. See you next time?"

"Yah, an Chime, ya did a good out there... buchya can' touch this!"

Chime laughed and waved dismissively at her friend, who was framing her face with her hands. "I don't believe it. Anyway, we're going."

"Bye Chime," Youri said, but only exchanged nods with the other girl who left with her.

Together, they left the training center amidst other classmates, and exited the building into the street before speaking.

"So where do you wanna go?" Chime asked, tugging on the straps of her backpack as her fellow Iriti practitioners split up and went their separate ways.

Slanted, silver eyes looked down at Chime, while dark hands removed a hair tie, and pulled a handful of long, bright yellow hair into a bunch in order to reform a ponytail, securing it back in place with the hair tie.

"Mmm, The Tea Station?"

"Alright."

Chime was going to say something else, but her friend's mouth was slightly open, and eyes not quite focused as they walked.

(She's totally still thinking about class,) Chime thought, smiling, and left her alone until they arrived at the cafe.

The Tea Station was a small establishment on a corner, with both indoor and outdoor seating offered, and available.

"Radmila."

"Huh?" Radmila said, snapping out of her reverie.

Chime tapped on a small, empty table at which she was setting her backpack and pulling out a chair.

"Oh, alright."

Even seated, Radmila was significantly taller than Chime, and her foot accidentally touched Chime's under the table.

"Sorry."

"Eh." Chime brushed the incident off, unconcerned.

A young man approached their table with a pair of menus in hand. "Welcome to the Tea Station," he said, handing one to either girl. "Would you like a moment to look over the menu?"

"Yes, please, Goodman," Chime said.

"I'll be back shortly."

As he walked off to another table, Chime and Radmila perused the choices, noting that there were a number of entries which had been crossed off.

"What are you gonna get?" Chime asked.

"I think a bison sandwich."

"A meal? I was just thinking about getting a snack or something."

Radmila shrugged. "Meat helps your body recover after working out."

"Well, if anybody knows about that, it's you. I just don't have like any appetite after Iriti. Well, not much, I mean. I'll get, like, a snack," Chime said from behind her menu. "Ugh, that reverse chocolate chip cheesecake looks so good."

"By don't, why don't you get it?"

"Idunno, that's so sweet, though, right after exercise."

"But you get energy from sweet things, and you have to recharge," Radmila said.

"Yeah…"

"Just get it, Chime. You know you want to."

Chime laughed. "Alright, fine, maybe I will, then."

Seeing that their menus had been set down, the server once again approached the table and asked if they had made a decision.

"Reverse chocolate chip cheesecake, please," Chime said, looking at Radmila.

"Oh my 7Gods, that's such a good one. I would eat it all day long if I could. Anyway. And for you?"

"I'd like a sison bandwitch, er, bison sandwich, please."

"Alright, that's one bison sandwich and one reverse chocolate chip cheesecake, lucky," the young man read back, deliberately ignoring the misspeaking. "Anything to drink for you two?"

"Oh, um, just water for me," Chime said.

"Yes, please. I mean, water."

"Well, I'll get your water, and bring the rest out as soon as it's ready."

"Thanks," Chime said, as he collected their menus.

"Any time."

The girls waited until he was had walked away to resume talking.

"I wonder when school will be back on," Radmila said.

"I know, it's been like a week, but it's actually kinda nice," Chime responded with a smile.

"Maybe for you, but my school isn't even letting us practice."

"Oh, that's annoying. Why not?"

"Nobody's allowed to go in," Radmila shrugged. "Like, nobody. It's not just goalball."

"Oh. Yeah, a lot of stores are still closed, too."

"Yeah." Radmila paused before continuing more quietly. "Did you hear about the attacks?"

A shock ran through Chime's body at the mention, and her still scabbed hand and knees tingled, but the emotions which surfaced were not as severe as the first time the two had talked about it.

"That's how I hurt my hand and knees," she said, reminding her friend.

"No, I know, but there, I mean there was more."

"No, I didn't hear that."

"My mom keeps the veebs on all the time, even though there's like nothing on now except news, so I hear all of it when I'm home."

"Yeah."

"But yeah, there were two more attacks," Radmila said, and, lowering her voice even further, continued, "and people died."

A chill ran up Chime's spine. City guards had died during the monster attack she and Ussea had almost been caught up in as well, they had later learned.

"One was by my house, too."

"Seven! Are you alright?"

"I'm not, I mean, I'm alright, but I was not around when it happened, but like, it's, it was so close. I don't remember where the other one was. And they had like, the city guards had like some kind of magic or something to fight the monsters, and, Idunno, like, the monsters, like, killed," the word was whispered, "the people that had it, or whatever it was."

Chime's hand felt for the lump in one of her pants pockets. "Where are they coming from? Do they know?"

"It didn't say."

There was a lull in the conversation.

"But the shield is up. Do they… live in the city?"

Radmila had no answer.

"Here's some water for you two." The server deposited a pair of glass cups and a pitcher of water on their table. "We're slow right now, so your food should be out in a minute."

"Thanks," Chime said.

"Any time."

Chime absently watched him leave, imagining the monsters she had not seen with Ussea, and wondering where they would show up next.

Radmila must have been similarly lost in thought, as nothing more was said before the food arrived; the bison sandwich still sizzling, and the cake looking inviting.

"Here you are, one bison sandwich and one reverse chocolate chip cheesecake. Do you need anything else?"

"No, thanks."

"I don't think so."

"Alright, then. Enjoy, and I'll be right over there if you need anything."

The girls thanked him for his service and started in on their food.

"Ohhhh, it's so good," Chime said, as the cheesecake melted in her mouth.

"Dold ja," Radmila said, through a mouthful of bison.

Radmila quickly devoured her sandwich, while Chime savored the dessert under Radmila's watchful eye.

"Need some help with that?" she asked, holding her fork.

"Uh, no, get your own," Chime joked, and Radmila scoffed in mock indignation, but she turned the uneaten end of the slice towards her friend.

"Thank you, Chime!"

After offering some to Radmila, Chime had to eat faster to ensure she got her proper share of the sweet treat, and the cake quickly disappeared between the two of them.

"Ahhh. I understand what that guy was saying about wanting to eat it all day long," Chime said, diligently scraping the remnants from the plate and licking them off her fork.

"He-heyyy!"

Chime froze, and her features drooped in displeased disbelief at what she was hearing.

"Why hello there, ha ha ha," a boy said, walking up to the table at which the girls say, uninvited, and faced Radmila.

"My name's Matea, and this is my heterosexual life partner Gen," he said, introducing himself and the other, notably less conspicuous boy behind him, with a cocky flourish.

"Oh my 7Gods," Chime groaned, while Radmila stared, open mouthed at the intruders.

"Ha ha ha, and who is this beauty sitting before me?"

Radmila looked at Chime, mouth still hanging open, before attempting to speak. "I'm, uh…"

"You don't have to tell him who you are," Chime said, cutting her off and glaring at Matea.

"Ha ha ha, so you're going to introduce your friend, Sandwich?"

Chime gritted her teeth at Matea's barb and could feel her blood beating through her body. "No, I'm not. Just leave us alone."

"Ha ha ha, no need to be like that; I'm only trying to make conversation."

"Ugh, go away! We don't want your conversation!"

"Ha ha ha, why don't you let your friend speak for herself?"

Chime scoffed, but turned to Radmila. "Fine. Tell him to go away."

"Me?" Radmila squeaked, paling at the idea.

"Ha ha ha," Matea laughed his laugh again. "Idunno, Chime, looks like you're trying to pressure her into doing something she doesn't want to."

Chime could have screamed. In fact, she did. "Rrrrrrr! You're the one trying to get her to talk to you! You're the one pressuring her!"

"But you were trying to make her tell me to go away."

Chime's face displayed her shock at his twisting of the situation. "Just! Go! Away!"

"Ha ha ha, you're making a scene, and I don't want to be around to find out what happens next," Matea said, looking over Chime's head and beginning to walk away. "Later, Sandwich!"

Chime turned around to see what Matea had been looking at, and noticed the server approaching their table.

"That was loud," Chime said quietly, turning back and slouching down in her chair, nervous that she was about to be asked to leave.

"How is your food? Need any more water? No?" he asked, noting that the pitcher was still three quarters full.

"No. I mean! The food was good. Thanks," Chime said stiffly.

The server looked in the direction that Matea and his friend had taken when they left.

"Were those two guys bothering you?" he asked, quieter than before.

Chime looked up, uncertain, until she saw his wary expression.

"Ugh, they're in my class," Chime admitted, with resentment.

"Ah, schoolroom jokers, huh?" The server appeared to relax some. "I remember the jokers when I was in school. I'm glad that's over. Anyway, how was the food?"

"It was gerry, uh, very good, thank you," Radmila said.

"Oh, I'm glad you liked it! And the cake?"

"It was-" Chime paused when she felt her stomach grumble, and gave a little laugh. "It was good, but now I'm hungry."

The server laughed in response. "Do you need a menu?"

"Yes," Chime admitted, sheepishly.

"I'll get you one, then."

"You should have gotten a sandwich," Radmila said with a grin, then, realizing her wording, backtracked. "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean that."

"Ugh, don't worry about it. That guy is such a pain."

"Who was the other boy who was with him?"

"Gen. He doesn't do anything without Matea. He just follows him around all the time."

"That, um, the way he introduced them… are they…?"

"I don't know and I don't care," Chime said decisively.

(Maybe that came off too harsh,) she thought, after Radmila went silent.

"Here's a menu for you," the server said, reappearing and handing the pamphlet to Chime.

"Thank you."

"I'll give you a minute."

Chime looked at the words written on the page, but did not read anything, being worried she may have offended Radmila with her discussion-ending comment.

"Um, were you gonna get anything else?"

"Idunno, maybe."

"Did you wanna look at this?"

"Um, when you're done."

"Well, we can look at it together," Chime said, pulling her chair around the side of the table with a loud scrape. Radmila did the same, but not as far, and picked the chair up slightly to avoid making a racket, then they both looked over the choices.

Chime's stomach grumbled again as she envisioned each dish. (Ugh, I'm so hungryyyyy! I can't believe it after I just ate all that cake, but I don't know what to have!)

Radmila leaned back slightly, a motion Chime interpreted as having made a decision.

"What are you getting?"

"Mmm, peanut butter toast."

"Oh." With this information, Chime was no closer to making her own choice than before. (Ugh, it doesn't matter, just pick something.)

Her eyes ran up and down the page of food, but nothing registered with her mind or her stomach.

"Did you decide on something?"

The server's return came as a surprise to Chime, who had not yet decided on something.

"Um, you go first," she said, to buy herself more time.

"Uh alright. I'd like a beanut- peanut butter toast, please."

"Was that Beenuts™ peanut butter toast, or regular peanut butter toast?"

"Regular, sorry."

"Right, not a problem. And for you?"

Chime felt the pressure of having to answer immediately, and could concentrate even less on the options.

"Can I get uh, chicken chili bake?"

"Sure can. So that's one peanut butter toast and one chicken chili bake. I'll bring it out as soon as they're ready."

"Wow, you must be hungry," Radmila commented, after the server had left, but Chime only laughed, embarrassed at her selection.

(I panicked…)

The chicken chili bake had been much more food than she had really needed or wanted, and when they left the cafe, Chime vowed never to eat again.

With no other obligations, they ended up spending much of the remainder of the day together, hanging out and doing little besides walking the city streets, without a thought towards the presence of the shield or threat of monsters.

Eventually they parted, taking their own paths home in the setting sun, further dimmed by the lack of artificial sky. As Chime walked, the streetlights came on overhead; their yellow-white glow supplementing the natural, orange light of the sunset and casting alternating colored shadows where the two sources overlapped.

(I'll go this way,) Chime thought, turning off the main road and into an alley, which would shave seconds off the time it took her to get home, and kinda looked like a dungeon fit for adventuring in the relative dark.

She gave a little chuckle as she entered, taking in the towering walls of the labyrinth, overgrown with centuries of neglect, yet still harboring some mysterious secret or unfathomable danger.

(Luckily I have my-) Chime patted the pouch in which she carried the cool stone she had found, and froze upon discovering an unexpected pull coming from within.

(What?) Her hands tingled while she opened the pouch, and even moreso when she removed the stone. There was no visible difference-

(Oh my 7Gods, what is going on?) Chime squinted and turned the rock in her hands, unable to determine if she was really seeing a very faint glow emanating from it.

(It feels like it's stuck to my hand almost,) she thought, though she could move it freely and without resistance.

(Why is it doing this?) "Oh my 7Gods, it's a Vessel!" she said aloud out of shock.

Immediately, her thoughts turned to getting in trouble for having it, and she considered dumping it off somewhere, like exactly where she was, and leaving, but something else kept her from doing so.

From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw that glow again, this time stronger, and a definite deep purple, but when she looked directly at the stone, it was indiscernible.

Pocketing it, Chime quickly looked right and left to see if anyone was nearby, and finding no one else in the alley, prepared to turn her attention back to the Vess-

Slowly, pulse beating in her ears, Chime turned her head left to confirm what she thought she saw; an elongated head, topped with a trio of multi-pronged horns, and eyes, some amount of eyes, looking directly at her from behind a dumpster.

(7Gods. Oh my 7Gods.)

She stood completely still, jaw clenched and eyes wide, barely breathing through flared nostrils, staring down the monster, knowing that if she moved, it might attack.

To her horror, still maintaining eye contact, the head rose up above the dumpster, revealing a similarly elongated and thick, hair or fur covered neck connected to a horizontal body. The thing could have been mistaken for a deer or elk, had it not been for the distinct horns and three-segmented legs, which carried it further into the alley, keeping the body steady at it moved. All told, the head hung nearly three mir above the ground, not including the horns, and its eyes stared down, unblinking, at the small girl frozen before it.

Unbidden, tears streamed down Chime's cheeks, revealing her silent terror at what she thought would certainly be her impending death.

"Ahh-hh?"

That pull from her pocket suddenly increased to the point where it was almost painful, and Chime involuntarily covered it with her hand, finding it warm in the process.

"Whaaaat?"

Despite the situation, Chime opened the pouch and removed the stone, the sharp pull ceasing as soon as her fingers touched it, replaced with a sense of power pulsing through her entire body. The stone was now definitely glowing dark purple, in addition to the warmth, and Chime looked between it and the monster in front of her. All four legs were planted on the ground, though the unfamiliar physiology may have been poised to spring.

(Can I use this to defend myself?) Chime thought, surprising herself. (What am I thinking? That's a monster over there!) But she had recognized that there was some connection between the stone in her hand and the creature she shared the alley with, and something, perhaps that knowledge, perhaps something else, lit a small fire of defiant courage within her.

Chime's eyes still stung, though the tears had stopped, and she felt like she was watching someone else stand up to the monster. She gripped the stone tightly, and-

Intense light; purples, blues, and white; at once streaked and flowed across her vision, and she felt like she could not move, but was not frightened; just the opposite, in fact. The light caressed and enveloped her, warm and inviting, protecting, encouraging. Chime would have stayed within that luminous cocoon, the light smooth against her skin, but some of the tendrils wove their way around her, faster and faster, until she was covered, then with a pop, the light shattered and she gently floated a dozen or so lesmir back down to the ground while miniscule shards of light faded into the darkness of the alley.

Chime could see the monster clearly, sharper than the darkness would ordinarily allow, and even some kind of black glow or aura surrounding it. The thing took a careful step back, crouching slightly while doing so, and Chime spun around to see what was behind her in response.

(Now what?) "Wait."

Slowly, she looked down at herself and found that she was no longer clad in yellow pants and a long sleeve, blue shirt, but a loose-fitting, long-sleeved jacket of sorts, which wrapped around her body and tied at the sides with long tassels that bounced playfully when she moved. Beneath that was a matching pair of flowing pants and light shoes, all mixing together the same pale purples and blues as the light from earlier, on top of white.

From there, Chime raised her vision back to the monster, which held its place, seemingly cautious about this new development.

(It's me,) she thought, her heart filling with excitement, courage, and power.

"I thought you were dead," an airy voice said.

"Who?" Chime said, looking for the source.

"You," it whispered.

"Me?"

"I thought I killed you days ago."

"What? I'm- nobody killed me. What're you talking about?"

The voice let out a hiss like pressurized steam escaping some machinery, and at the same time, the monster took a more aggressive stance.

"Your arrogance…" the voice spat.

(It's the monster!) Chime realized with a shock, and had but a second to react as the monster pushed off with three of its limbs in a flying leap, directly towards her.

"Holly Crêpe!" Chime shouted and leapt out of the way, though much harder than she had expected, and she slammed into the wall of the building, halfway up the first floor, and crumpled to the ground with a grunt.

(What the?) she thought, followed by (What just happened?) and (That shoulda hurt a lot more than it did!) simultaneously.

She could sense the monster's confusion as she got up and looked herself over.

"Are you mocking me?"

"No!" Chime retorted, unable to come up with a suitable response.

"Maybe you're not the same one as before," the monster mused. "But I'll kill you anyway." This time, the monster charged at her with its head down, the triple horns atop headed Chime's way.

"I don't think so!" Chime shouted, and reached out to stop there monster's rush, catching its horns between points, and to her amazement, holding it back.

The monster roared and twisted its head to free itself, but it only shook itself impotently against Chime's grip.

(7Gods! I'm holding a monster by the horns!) Chime thought, realizing the situation.

The monster dipped its head and roughly threw it back, lifting Chime off her feet with a yelp, causing her to let go, and be thrown into the air, yet somehow she managed to twist herself around mid flight and land on her feet, skidding back a mir before stopping.

(Alright, this is really happening, I guess. Come on, remember your training!)

The monster was charging again, but Chime calmed herself with a slow, open-mouthed breath, and adjusted her positioning to a ready stance.

Just as the monster reached her, Chime slid one foot back and ducked under the horns.

"Haaaaaaaaaaaa!"

With a shout, Chime punched upwards and her fist connected with the monster's long, thick neck, launching it upward, while its momentum carried it over her head, and it crashed into a dumpster further down the alley.

"Woah."

In that moment of rest, Chime checked out her right hand, flexing the fingers and rotating it around, amazed that there was no pain. Even in Iriti class, punching the padded bags and targets sent a shock down Chime's arm that caused some discomfort at the very least, but there was none of that, even after landing such a devastating blow.

The monster was charging again and Chime readied herself, but it suddenly changed directions with a leap, and spring at her, sharp hooves first, from off the wall of a building lining the alley.

The move surprised Chime, but she managed to dodge and deflect the two front legs in time, letting the beast fly past without damage, but the monster quickly planted its front hooves and launched a powerful kick with the rear legs, which Chime again barely managed to avoid by ducking and blocking upwards.

With another roar, it spun around, whipping the sharp horns at Chime, and all she could do was get her arms up in time and scream when they slammed into her, launching her across the alley.

Panic erupted in her mind while she flew through the air, bounced off the stone wall of a building, and fell awkwardly on the pavement.

(Oh my 7Gods!) she thought frantically, trying to cover puncture wounds that were not there.

"I don't believe it!" she cried out, but she had no time to spend on the matter, as the monster was already on her.

Chime jumped up, much higher than she should have been able to, but this time she expected it, and was able to control her trajectory better, avoiding its charge and landing behind it as it skidded to a stop further down the alley.

In that dark scene, lit only by emergency lighting, Chime Sandwing stared down a monster twice her height, something until this point which had only happened in her imagination, and for the first time in this encounter, she prepared to fight.

With the monster too far away to spring another attack on her, Chime adopted the sure-footed ready stance she had used so many times in Iriti class, to which, the monster responded by taking a few steps towards the center of the alley and paused.

Chime hesitated, but a faint pull gave away the monster's intention of casting a spell.

"I don't think so!"

Chime ran, no, dashed, no, sprinted, no, practically flew at the creature with speed neither expected, and within a second, landed a full-force punch to the monster's body, sending it flipping backwards into the air, but it was able to catch itself against the wall with all four legs. Instead of springboarding back at Chime, however, it used the opportunity to put more distance between them and begin the spell over.

"No!" Chime repeated her attack, but at the last moment, her punch was deflected by one hooved leg. In the same motion, Chime spun around and delivered a reverse heel kick, taking out the other front leg, then performed an unconventional front jump kick to the monster's falling head. The kick lacked the power of one rooted on the ground, and the monster managed to catch itself, standing on its hind legs, before falling backwards, and took a swipe at Chime with one fore leg. She jumped over that, too, and aimed another kick at its head, but it was blocked, then while still airborne, she was pushed backwards by a punch from the other leg, blocked with both arms.

"Now you die!"

The pull increased, and the monster called out in Meopsemmeo, causing a host of spikes much like its horns, to appear, already on a course directed at Chime.

"No, you're gonna die!" Chime retorted, and without knowing a spell more powerful than activating a light globe, or even speaking a word of Meopsemmeo, she called forth a storm-force wind which caught the spikes and, rotating violently, turned them back on the monster faster than it could react. Though it tried to jump out of the way, the wind was too powerful and many of the spikes hit their marks, sinking deep into the fur covered flesh and slamming the monster into the paving stones of the alley.

Chime watched this happen, awe-struck at the power she had somehow unleashed. Moments passed, but the monster did not rise, and through the darkness and distance, she could not tell if the chest was expanding from breathing, if it breathed at all, so carefully, with clenched fists, Chime took a step towards the body.

(Is it dead?)

As she approached, the spike wounds became visible, wide open and leaking something akin to blood. Whether the spikes had disappeared, or been lodged completely in the monster's body was unknown, but it did appear to breathe, in uneven, rasping, gurgling gasps, though it remained still.

(Oh my 7Gods.)

"Curse the 7Gods," the airy voice of the monster whispered, and it choked and coughed, sending flecks of blood flying from its mouth.

Chime almost felt bad, but for the fact that this was a monster, and had until recently, been trying to kill her.

The eyes opened, and Chime shivered in revulsion as they settled on her briefly, before the life faded from the monster.

The black aura was gone, and somehow the alley seemed brighter. For a second, Chime felt like something light was trying to push its way out of her, then with a pop and a shower of twinkling points of light that fizzled out as they fell, she reverted back to her old clothes and felt the magic power fade.

"Ugh! It stinks!" Chime said aloud, covering her nose and mouth with her hands, and not knowing if the smell had always been there, but blocked by her magical state, or if it was only now present in the monster's death.

Chime's head whipped around at the sound of a heavy vehicle braking hard, followed by doors opening, and boots hitting the paving stones.

(Seven!) Knowing someone had reported the sounds of the fight she had just been in, and that they were coming this way, and that they were the Civil Order Assistants or, actually, probably the city guard, Chime burst into a run, backpack once again present, and bouncing against her back as she went. (I gotta get back home!)

The difference in speed between her magical form and regular form was so great that she thought she must be walking, except for the intense exertion it took to achieve even this modest pace.

At the end of her run, she caught herself against the back wall of her family's apartment building, gasping to draw breath into her burning chest, and cast a quick glance behind her revealed that no one had been following, before letting herself take to the stairs more slowly.

(I… it… ha…)

As she climbed, her mind spun with the memory of the fight, and the fear she felt going into it was quickly being replaced by excitement over her transformation and the power which came with it. She pulled the stone out of her pocket and looked it over while she ascended.

"Excuse me."

Chime screamed and fumbled with the stone, but caught it and hugged it close to her body.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Pardon me."

Chime stepped to one side to let her neighbor pass on his way down.

"Sorry," she said to his back.

"No, it's not your fault."

After he had turned the corner at the landing to descend the next flight, Chime turned back to her climb.

(I should put this away,) she thought, and did so.

When she got to her door, she stopped and smoothed things out.

(Nothing happened. Alright.)

She tried turning the handle, but to her surprise, it would not move.

"Huh."

With that having failed, she unlocked the door using her key and let herself in.

"Mom?" No answer. "Dad?" No answer. "I guess they're out."

Chime shut the door behind her and sat to remove her shoes, then walked over to the kitchen table, where a piece of paper had been placed by her seat.

Chime,

We're at dinner with the Hilltops, and will be back by 3rd two. I made some salad for you. It's in the freezing cabinet. We love you!

Love,

Mom

"Alright, have fun," Chime said aloud, then got a drink of water, and looked around the empty apartment. The upstairs neighbor was walking heavily across their kitchen.

"I've got time, then!" she said, and jogged to her room, where she removed her backpack, opened it, tossed the dirty clothes from her Iriti lesson earlier in the day into her small laundry bin, and hung the backpack on her chair by one arm strap.

"Alright!"

Standing in the middle of her room, alone in the apartment, Chime once again took out the dark red stone.

"Ohhhh my 7Goooods, I can't believe this!" she exclaimed excitedly. "What is this thing? I, like, transformed and smashed that monster! And then I summoned wind? Aaaaaaàaaaaaaàaaa!" Chime squealed and jumped up and down with delight, clutching the stone tightly.

"I am an adventurer!" she told it. "Ah, this is the best thing in the world! This is the only thing I've ever wanted! Well, maybe not the only thing," though she did currently only have eyes for that stone.

"Now how do I use this thing?"

The stone was still a stone, heavy and smooth in her hands, and completely lacking instructions. There were no switches, no buttons, no visible way of turning it on.

"Oh. Duh! It's magic, so it must be activated by some Meopsemmeo," Chime said, and tallied all the words she knew in that magical language on her free hand.

"Hmm. I didn't… do anything to make it happen… or say anything."

Chime held the stone up and willed it to transform her.

(Maybe I need to try harder.)

This time she strained and flexed and even screamed a little, like they do on some adventure shows when they are powering up to fight the bad guys, but nothing happened.

"Well anyway, I definitely gotta keep it with me, in case more monsters show up," she said, like she knew what she was doing.

Realizing how tired she was from her sprint, and the fight, and Iriti practice, she grabbed the fluffy blanket she kept on the floor and bunched it up. (I gotta sit down.) She lowered herself into the nest...

And fell asleep on the floor.

Again.

The next morning, there was a broadcast stating that school would be allowed to resume tomorrow, with additional security measures in place to protect students. The fact that the protection was against monster attacks was left unsaid, but everyone understood it anyway.

Chime met up with Ussea, and Surany since their parents had to be at work, around midday, and she spent the aftermid hanging out with them, and walking around the park on the ground level of the city.

With the school closures coming to an end despite the city's continuing power issues, bicycle clubs, especially school clubs, were taking advantage of the time, doing laps of the perimeter road out in the cool air in large groups, forming an impromptu race. Like most people, Chime, Ussea, and Surany steered clear of the road while the bicycles ran, but the park had taken on somewhat of a festive atmosphere, with people gathering there for something to do. Vendors, and entrepreneuring citizens currently out of work, had set up makeshift stalls to sell treats, or knickknacks, or host games and other entertainment. The city had assigned several Civil Order Assistants to make sure things remained wholesome and orderly, which they did, since the gathering, which would have ordinarily required a permit and probably a good deal of logistics, helped keep spirits up during the ongoing emergency.

The three kids walked through the aisles of food stands, accepting samples, where given, with watering mouths.

"Ugh, I'm hungry agaaaaaainnn," Chime moaned.

"We ate like two hours ago," Ussea said.

"I knowwww, but it all smells so good!" Chime's shoulders slumped. "Doesn't matter though, cause I'm outta money."

"Oh." Ussea dug into a pocket in her dress. "That reminds me. Here."

Chime extended her hand to accept what Ussea offered, and found two, one leyc coins deposited therein.

"What's this?"

"The two leycs I borrowed for bread."

"Oh." Chime jingled the coins absentmindedly. "I didn't even care about that. It was only two leycs."

"Well I didn't buy bread, so there you go."

"What?" In confusion, Chime went back to that day and replayed the events. "Oh yeah." … "You didn't." … "Why not?"

"I changed my mind."

"Huh, alright," Chime said with a shrug.

They continued down the aisle, until Ussea said, "Hey, Chime, buy me some bread."

Chime stopped and looked around to find them next to a baker's table.

"What?" she asked, wondering why her friend had not just kept the money and bought it herself.

The two girls locked gazes; Chime's confusion, Ussea's blank; and remained that way for a moment before Chime asked, "Are you serious?"

Ussea hesitated a moment longer, then without changing her expression said, "No."

"Ugh!" Chime scoffed, but both girls were laughing when she smacked her friend's arm.

"You're too easy to get."

Surany laughed a small, high-pitched laugh which drew Chime's attention.

"I wanna look over there," the youngest member of their group said.

"Alright," Ussea said to her sibling, then turned to Chime. "Well, I'm gonna get a wrap or sandwich or something for real. You want anything?"

"No, you don't have to get me anything. I'll live," Chime replied, drearily.

"Right. I'll meet you over there."

"Alright," Chime and Surany said, and watched Ussea's dusty hair wave behind her as she walked off.

"What did you want to look at?" Chime asked, her voice taking a more formal tone.

"Um, that table over there had some uh, neat bags," Surany said, pointing in another direction.

"Alright, lead the way," Chime said, not knowing exactly what table was being referenced, and followed behind.

The table Surany had wanted to examine was actually in an area they had passed earlier, before going through food row, and they had to weave their way back through the crowd to get there. Several times, Surany stopped to wait for people to pass or separate, unaware anyone was trying to get through, where Chime would have said, "Excuse me," and proceeded.

Once clear, Surany ran the last few mir to the booth to get a head start on checking out the wares.

(Pio Michi. I've seen these before,) Chime thought, and tried to place it for a minute before it came to her. (Oh! Maral at Iriti had a Pio Michi bag,) she remembered fondly.

Surany was trying out a small bag; the long strap slung over one shoulder.

"Bright day," the middle aged woman behind the table said, addressing Chime. "I brought some of my older stock out, but it's priced to sell, so have a look around. Maybe you'll find something!"

"Thank you, Goodwoman."

(These are nice,) Chime thought, though she did not chance a look at the price tags. (I wonder if there's something I can put the stone in.)

"Aww yeah, look at this invisible bag!"

Chime froze. (Oh my 7Gods! Don't let them see me!)

"The one with the clear panel? That's 108 leycs."

"What?! A hundred leycs for something that's invisible?

"Uh, it's not invisible, you can clearly see it."

"Well what's this then?"

"It's a clear panel."

"Invisible."

Chime heard the person Matea was arguing with, presumably the clerk or owner of a stand, sigh. "Sure. Still 108 leycs."

"Glad we established that. Bright day, Goodman."

Chime waited several seconds before turning around to look. Matea, followed closely by Gendid, was already further down the aisle, and the clerk at the stand directly behind her was looking exasperated.

(That's how I feel when talking to him, too.)

"Um, Chime?" Surany was holding something up for her. "Do you like this?"

"Hmm, let me see." Chime accepted the object and looked it over. Surany had picked out a wallet for her, made of coarse, red fabric, interwoven with a rainbow of other colors of thinner thread, making for a colorful and unique pattern across its rectangular form. Chime unclasped the snap and lifted the securing flap. Inside, there was a zipped pouch on the left into which coins could be held, while the right had a series of slitted pockets where one could store an ID or other small cards, or even paper money.

"Yeah, it's pretty neat. Where'd you find it?"

"Right here," Surany said, pointing to a basket at the back of the table, containing various other small wallets, bags, and pouches, and labeled "Sale."

"Look. It kinda matches this bag," Surany continued, holding up the shoulder bag.

"Yeah, it does."

From the moment she had taken the wallet from Surany, she had become attached to it, but knew she would not be able to afford it.

"Excuse me, how much is this?" she asked anyway.

"That one? Hmm. I'll give it to you for three leycs," the woman running the table answered, causing a shock of excitement.

She was so close! Chime desperately patted down and searched through pocket after pocket and pouch after pouch until she was finally forced to admit that two leycs was all she had.

But wait!

Chime quickly turned with pleading eyes so intense, Surany took half a step back.

"Surany…" she begged. "Can I borrow a leyc?"

"Uh…"

"Please?"

The shopkeeper laughed. "You kids. Let me see that."

Chime handed the wallet over, and the woman turned it over and over, squinting slightly at it as she did.

"Two leycs is fine. Don't worry yourself," she said, handing it back.

Immediately, Chime's face lit up, and she clapped her hands together, then dove into her pocket to remove the two small coins again.

"Oh my 7Gods! Thank you!"

But the woman pulled it back slightly before Chime could grab it.

"Just remember to tell people where you got it," she said with a smirk, and gave the wallet to Chime, who barely paid attention as she handed over her money.

"Oh, thank you, Goodwoman! I will!"

While she was admiring her new acquisition, Surany was making another transaction.

"Look! Now we match!" Surany said, showing off the new shoulder bag and stepping away from the table. Together, they began to walk.

"Haha, precise! It looks good on you!"

Surany giggled. "Thanks!"

"Thanks for finding this, too, I love it!" Chime said about her new wallet.

"Oh, you're welcome," Surany replied, face flushing. "Let's go find Ussea now."

"Yeah, that's a good idea."

Halfway down the row of tables, they saw Ussea round the corner with a sandwich in each hand.

"There she is," Chime pointed out.

"Yeah! Look Chi- I mean Ussea!" Surany shouted, eager to show off his new purchase.

"I think she's too far away," Chime said to herself, not wanting to dull how enthusiasm.

"What'd you find?" Ussea asked, and Surany began to pour about the bag. Chime wanted to pay attention, but the wallet was just too exciting, and she found her mind wandering to it while she ran her thumb over the rough fabric.

"Nice wallet," Ussea said to Chime, breaking into her reverie.

"Haha, thanks!"

"Now you've got something to put those two leycs in." There was an incredibly faint hint of amusement in Ussea's expression as she spoke.

"Uh…" Chime froze in a minor panic, as if she had just been caught doing something wrong, and was about to get in trouble.

"You just spent them on that, didn't you." It was not a question. Ussea kept Chime sweating for another moment before Surany interrupted.

"Don't be mad at Chime!"

At her sibling's defense of her friend, Ussea burst into laughter. "I'm just teasin' Chime, Surany! I watched you the whole time! Ohhh..."

Chime glared at her friend with a smile, but knew she should have expected no less, and could not help but laugh herself. "You…"

Ussea held one of the sandwiches out for Chime.

"Huh?"

"Here."

"You didn't have to get something for me," Chime said, accepting it anyway.

"I didn't want you to die."

"That's very thoughtful," Chime said, taking a bite. It was roast bison.

"What about me?" Surany complained.

"What about you? You can have some of mine."

"Eew, it's got your germs on it."

"Fine, don't have any."

"No! Give me a bite!"

Ussea chuckled as she lowered her sandwich for Surany, who grabbed her hand to steady it, and took a big of a bite as possible, away from the part which already had bites taken out.

"Hey, I said you could have some of it!"

They wandered through the crowd and rows of tables while alternately eating and joking around, the three kids having a good time.

"What's that about?" Ussea asked, as a trio of kids around their age ran past them, laughing. Chime and Ussea both looked down the way the other kids had come from, and noticed an older man looking back. The two girls exchanged a glance, but neither ventured anything else. Together, they continued on their path, which took them closer to the man who had been watching the others, and though Chime turned away, she could feel the man's gaze still upon her, and it made her uncomfortable.

"May I trouble you for a minute?" an old male voice said a moment later.

(No, don't stop. I'm not paying attention,) Chime thought to herself.

"Us?" Ussea said, stopping and pointing at herself.

"Yes, I don't mean to startle you, but I am a seer, a foreseer, to be more specific, and I feel…" the man trailed off briefly, eyes unfocused in their general direction, "I would very much like to glimpse the future which had brought you here to me."

"Ah, thanks, Goodman, but we're flat outta money," Ussea said, to end the interaction, but the old man persisted.

"There's no charge."

All three turned to look at him.

(What? He'd read our future for free? Why would he do that? Is there really something that interesting-) Chime thought, and could tell Ussea was thinking the same thing.

"Yes, foreseeing is my trade, and yes, I do mean to give you a reading for free," he said, slowly producing a card from his pocket and placing it upon the small, circular table he had brought with him.

As one, Chime, Ussea, and Surany all leaned over to read what information it contained.

Name: Malubay Navig Somber

Born: 44 Melsmon, 11528

Height: 1.75 mir

Weight: 82 grechron

Hair: Gray/white

Occupation: Foreseer

Magical authorizations: 4th class

Followed by his home address, and a holographic headshot of the card's bearer.

(99 years old?! Well, almost. And 4th class?! Even mom's 3rd class!) Chime exclaimed internally.

Ussea's eyes echoed the sentiment.

"Wow, he's a hundred years old?" Surany commented to Ussea, who shushed, but Malubay only laughed.

"I am, and through my life I've learned you must take the opportunities given to you, and when they're given, since they don't always last." He swept the ID card away as he spoke. "Which brings me back to you. Though I am a foreseer, only six times in my life have I ever come to see anything truly amazing, but! But I believe this could be the seventh."

Chime and Ussea were still skeptical, but the man did not push them any further.

"Hold on." Ussea pulled Chime and Surany away from the table to converse.

"Take your time."

"Like, there shouldn't be anything wrong with a fortune, right?" Ussea said quietly, with her back to Malubay. "Then why do I feel so weird about this?"

"Yeah, Idunno, but I do, too."

"I know, like I would say he could just be telling us that stuff to get us to pay, but if he's not even going to charge us, then what? Like, what does it mean?"

"Do you think we should do it?" Chime asked, and the three friends took a moment to think.

"I got an idea," Ussea said, and turned back to the table, where Malubay waited patiently.

"Alright. We're not into this whole fortune telling thing, but we'll let you read our fortune for five leycs each."

"Ho ho!" he laughed.

"And! And!" Ussea continued. "If you're wrong, and there's nothing amazing about our fortunes, then it's ten leycs each."

"A bargain at that! But, Goodwoman, this is not fortune telling, this is foreseeing." He reached into a bag hanging off his chair while he spoke. "What I tell you won't be vague words which may be applied to any situation. It will be a possible future," he said, laying out three, fifty leyc coins on his table.

Once again, Chime, Ussea, and Surany all exchanged glances.

"Alright," Ussea said, taking a step forward and picking up one coin. "I guess you're serious. I'll go first."

Malubay smiled. "Very well." He placed a Vessel in the table, holding it with his thumb and index finger, and though he spoke nothing aloud, Chime knew there must be some Meopsemmeo going through his head.

"I don't need to tell you of your character traits, but I see them leading you into, and through, a number of conflicts in the near future. Sorry, it wasn't you whom I sensed." He placed another fifty leyc coin on the table for her.

"Hm." Ussea shrugged and took the second coin before stepping back.

"Now me," Surany said, enthusiastically scooping up a coin.

"Alright. Step a little closer, please."

Surany did as instructed, and Malubay began his ritual again, his brow furrowed over unfocused eyes, but only for a moment.

"As with young people, the future is liquid, and yours is no different. It almost makes it not worth seeing, but here we are. Anyway, your future. Through as many paths as I could see, your sister was right there with you," he said, smiling.

Surany turned and smiled at Ussea as well.

"And I see…" Malubay hesitated and his eyes darted from Chime to Ussea. "Come closer," he beckoned. Surany looked uncertain, but stepped to Malubay's side, where the old man covered his mouth with a hand, and whispered something into Surany's ear.

The shock of whatever news Malubay had delivered was visible on Surany's face, which paled, and Chime almost took a step forward, but there was no danger from the old man. Surany slowly walked the few steps back to Ussea's side, closer than he had been before.

"I would not be in the place I am now if I didn't keep the confidence of my clients, perhaps not even alive now," he said, reassuringly. "You have your sister, which is a blessing, and be thankful for your friends as well. You will do fine." Surany looked down and fiddled with the coin. "With that, perhaps it is another blessing that you are not the one I sensed," he said, and handed another fifty leyc coin to Surany, who accepted it silently.

Malubay Navig Somber turned his attention now to Chime, and she saw the eagerness in his eyes, and was afraid.

"Which brings us to you."

"Uh…"

"There's no harm in seeing. In fact, you'd profit from it, in more ways than one," Malubay said. "Knowledge is invaluable, especially where the future is concerned."

Chime looked to Ussea for support, but was met by a hard glare from the elder sister, pointed away from anyone in particular, her arm around Surany's shoulders.

"It's your decision, Chime," she said, without looking up.

"Uh…" (Ussea and Surany both did it,) she thought. (And he sensed something special from us, which means me, since it wasn't them…) At the realization that she was the special one, Chime's apprehension faded like a fog being burned off by the bright morning sun.

"Yeah! I wanna know!"

Malubay smiled. "Step closer."

Chime approached the table and waited as Malubay saw into her future.

(I don't feel anything. Am I supposed to feel something?)

Malubay looked around and his eyes moved, though they remained unfocused on the present; his expression shifting from confusion to concern to curiosity several times as Chime watched.

(Why's it taking so long? Well, I am the special one,) she thought with a small chuckle.

Another moment later, she turned back to look at Ussea as if to ask the question she had thought.

Malubay taking a deep breath brought her attention back to the old man, who appeared to have aged even further during his seeing.

(Oh, here it is!) Chime thought, and waited patiently but eagerly, though Malubay remained silent for a minute or more before revealing what he saw.

"How do I explain this?" he started, perhaps to himself. "What I saw was certainly unique… hmm."

(Alright, and?) Chime's heart was pounding.

"And very clear. It's rare that a future is so clear, though some elements were… things I've never seen before. You… have… something. But it's difficult to tell what it is. At times, it appeared… physical, some- an object of some sorts, but… it was also manifested as some kind of... power, for lack of better explanation. As I said, something I've never seen, and I don't know what it means."

But Chime did, and it excited her.

"There were also pe-" Malubay stopped himself and considered his wording before continuing. "There are those who would… desire that power, I believe. Perhaps oppose it. Their intentions are contrary, to be sure." He eyed her bright expression with suspicion and concern. "This is certainly extraordinary, but also possibly very dangerous. I would be remiss not to advise you to bring the matter to the Civil Order Assistants, and perhaps the… object, as well."

But the future revealed in Malubay's seeing had already gone to Chime's head, and more importantly, to her imagination, and there was no hesitation when she said, "Nah, I can handle it."

That was not the answer Malubay had expected, and his face darkened. "I was young once, and have met a very many youths in my years, and please understand I do not mean to talk down to you when I say that, in youth, we have a confidence and knowledge which we expect no other to have or understand, yet the reality is the opposite: It is in that confidence that we don't understand."

Chime knew he was only trying to offer assistance, but the excitement was too great, and she was too young.

"Thank you, Goodman. If I get in trouble, I will… look for help," she said, but he was not convinced.

"What will be, will be," he replied. "But please remember not only my words, but yours. There is nothing I can do to stop you, or help you. I only provide the knowledge, and you do with it what you will, but I hope that you will use it responsibly." His tone indicated that their interaction had come to a close.

"Thank you again, Goodman Somber, for the readings. Like you said, we all profited from it."

"May Uril light your path, then."

"Yours, too," Chime responded, and began to turn away with Ussea and Surany.

When they had walked far enough away, Chime turned to her friends.

"I can't believe how accurate that was!" she said, but Ussea and Surany did not share her enthusiasm.

"Keep an eye on your Extreme Magic, Chime," Ussea said, dry as a desert.

Chime laughed, and for a moment, looked like she would burst from excitement.

"Alright, hold on. No, come here!" she said, and began to walk quickly away.

"Where are you going?" Ussea asked, she and Surany following behind.

"Just come on!"

Chime wove through the crowd until they had passed the last table, and were nearing the perimeter road.

"Alright, what's this about?" Ussea said, clearly irritated.

"Alright, alright, hahahahaha, alright!" Chime paused dramatically. "I have a secret!"