Lethen had to hurry to keep up with Angus as he wended his way between the buildings of the industrial sector of Hikari’s campus. He was trying to keep a mental map of where they were going but would never remember all of it. He noticed a small building they passed with the words ‘VR testing facility’ written on the side. “What is that?” He asked.
Angus slowed to see where he was pointing, but returned to his previous gait before he answered. “That was an attempt to make training safer. At the time we were under a lot of scrutiny due to increased numbers of student injuries. They were trying to make a virtual reality simulation where knights could test out their skills and powers without putting others at risk. It was an absolute failure. Facing a computerized opponent, no matter how much time and effort was put into the AI, became quickly predictable. The program was shut down just a few years after it was created and it was been just another empty building ever since.”
Any disappointment Lethen felt from this evaporated quickly as they made their way through the gate that separated the industrial sector and the central hub of the campus. Unless you were a teacher, student, or on official business, you were not allowed on campus. Lethen had taken virtual tours, but the reality of what he was seeing blew them all out of the water.
The central hub was filled with delicate spires that raced upward with apparent disregard of gravity. The Hikari academy boasted some of the tallest buildings in the world, built with unknown methods that had the world’s architects constantly requesting special access to study them. Without exception they were turned down, citing vague reasons having to do with the safety of their students and staff.
The tower they were currently passing was made up of some iridescent, lilac colored stone that Lethen couldn’t identify. He was no expert on geology, but there was something otherworldly about it. As he looked closer, he noticed a distinct lack of lines on it, as if the entire spire had been crafted from one enormous rock, if it even was really rock. He slowed as he stared. He wanted to keep up with Angus, but he couldn’t remember ever having seen anything quite so beautiful in his entire life.
“Incredible isn’t it?” Master Brascko asked, coming from the door at the bottom. “This is my favorite tower in all of Hikari, hence why I’ve made it my home. Once you reach fourth year you’ll be able to choose your lodgings. It will be a choice made by the team as a whole, but I can already tell that you’ll be gunning for this place. I recognize that look on your face. It was the same look I had on mine the first time I saw this place.”
Angus had gone ahead, but now returned to his student’s side. He bowed quickly to Brascko before facing Lethen. “We can take a tour later on. First we have things to attend to. Please follow quickly.”
Lethen dropped a hasty bow toward the master before continuing his pursuit of Angus. They passed several other spires that were equally tall, but to Lethen, none of them possessed the grandeur of the lilac one. Something about it seemed right to him.
They slowed as they approached a much small building that appeared to be carved entirely out of jade. It was still many stories high, but was easily dwarfed by the mammoth edifices around it. Height wasn’t the only thing that differentiated this tower from the others. It was also of a completely different style. While the others were graceful, tapering buildings, this one had a bulky, solid look to it.
“In here,” Angus said, “and whatever we find out goes no further. I have a feeling I know what she’s going to tell me, but I want to find out for sure.”
“Why are we here?” Lethen asked. “And who is ‘she’?”
“We are here for answers, and ‘she’ is a sensei with a unique power. She can tell everything about a daemon weapon she touches. I know it’s standard practice not to touch the weapon of another, and I’m asking you to allow it twice in one day, but I think this might be very important. There’s something not quite right with that damned shovel of yours, and I intend to find out what it is.”
They remained silent as they entered the lobby of the jade building. Even the interior was made up of the green stone, though it was tastefully furnished with pale gray carpets and seats. A man sat behind a desk and gave Angus a wave. Clearly Angus was a regular visitor or perhaps a resident. Lethen had only met him this morning and had no idea where his sensei hung his hat. They took the elevator up the the seventeenth floor and Angus knocked on one of the doors.
“Can I help you?” came a feminine voice from the other side.
“It’s me,” Angus replied. “I have a student with me and we urgently need something looked at.”
She opened the door a crack and Lethen saw a small, timid looking face. Eyes sunken as if the owner had a hefty sleep deficit. When those eyes fell on Lethen, they widened. “The half-breed?”
Angus nodded. “His name’s Lethen and I believe there may be something very wrong with his daemon. I’ve seen them fight against their owners before, but nothing like this.”
She stared at Lethen for a long moment. “Come in then. I’m not sure I want to be associated with him, but I owe you for a lot over the years Angus. If it were anyone else asking, I’d probably tell you to piss off.” She opened the door wide enough to slip in.
Lethen went first with Angus following behind to close and lock the door. As pretty a stone as jade is, having the walls made from it made for a bizarre lighting effect in the apartment. By the door it was almost too dark to see, but as you neared the windows, more light was able to penetrate the green stone. It was like walking out of a cave. The walls were barren apart from some words scratched into them. Seemingly random words. I would’ve almost been less creepy if the words were all psychobabble, but it was things like ‘cheese’ and ‘mongoose’. Something about this girl was certainly a bit off.
“Sit down,” she said.
Lethen looked around the room. There was no furniture that he could see. He turned to Angus who just shrugged and sat down on the floor. Lethen followed suit. Angus gestured to him to give her the shovel.
“We need to know everything, Cheyenne,” Angus said. “I think there is something wrong with the binding on it. I touched it briefly and it felt like it was still wild and enraged. It took over Lethen’s body when he was angry. I don’t want to doubt the headmaster, but he should’ve been able to sense it at the ceremony, and he knows better than to give an improperly bound daemon to a first year student.”
She looked down at the shovel warily before taking it. The moment it touched her skin, her head jerked back as if she’s been physically hit.
Lethen jumped up to help her, but Angus grabbed his arm and shook his head. “She always looks like that when she communes with a daemon. She is the only person I’ve ever heard of that can truly talk to them. We can all feel something of what they feel, but she can actually have a conversation with them and see what they have experienced. She will be able to tell you everything that daemon has experienced since a little while before it was bound, more if it chooses to share.”
“She can see the stuff since without it’s permission?”
“To a certain degree. The daemon can try to fight her, and I’m guessing yours will do just that, but a binding starts from before the actual form change. It’s like marking the beast and starting the process of bending it to your will. The very first moment a binder sees a daemon, it has already begun. Once the first bond is in place, everything that happens to the daemon is imprinted on it. Part of her gift is the ability to analyze those bonds.”
“Is she in pain while she does it?”
“Only her and God know the answer to that. I know it takes a toll on her. I’ve seen her afterward and she looks exhausted. She usually stays like this for about five minutes before she pops back out of her trance, but I’ve seen her stuck there for up to twenty with a particularly troublesome or talkative daemon. I don’t know if it’s physically painful, but I’m sure it’s not easy. Most daemons are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Sustaining a mental connection with something that has experienced and learned that much has to be rough.”
Lethen nodded, pretending to understand. “It doesn’t look too healthy, that’s for sure. Does she do this often?”
“As rarely as possible, at least with the daemons of others. She spends quite a lot of time talking with her own, though it doesn’t look like this. She’s grown accustomed to the mind of her daemon and is in constant contact with it. In fact, since she found peace with her daemon, it actually helps her with this part of her power.” Angus pointed down to Cheyenne’s lap.
She held his shovel in her left hand, but in her right she had a wavy bladed dagger. Lethen believed it was called a kris. She clutched both of them in white-knuckled fists. Angus may not know for sure if she was in pain, but she certainly wasn’t comfortable. It looked like every muscle in her body was tensed up, ready to explode like a spring under too much strain. It wasn’t noticable at first but her lips were also moving. She was talking with something, but the other two couldn’t hear either side of the conversation.
It was less than five minutes when she snapped out of her trance so violently that Angus had to leap up and catch her. After her initial lurch, she fell limp in his arms, letting the shovel slide out of her hand and hit the floor. Somehow she retained a grip on her blade, although the hand around it looked as open as the other.
“I’ve never seen her like this before,” Angus said. “What the hell did the headmaster give you? She’s always weakened by the ordeal, but she’s never lost consciousness before. I can still feel her breathing, but it’s ragged and shallow. Help me get her to her bed. I don’t think she needs a doctor, but she needs a lie down. Grab her legs.”
They carried her to her bedroom. To Lethen’s surprise there actually was a bed; the first piece of furniture he’d seen in the entire place. It looked quite comfy. As they moved to position her on it, she began stirring, mumbling words too quiet for either of them to make out. Once she was settled they leaned in closer in an effort to hear her. Even with their heads just above her mouth, it still wasn’t enough to understand. They were just walking out of her room when her eyes snapped open.
“That daemon isn’t just badly bound,” she said. “It was tortured during the binding!”