“Kuso Isaac! No clawing! Jenjang.” Jin was struggling and in pain. Isaac’s mind tore itself from slumber and tried to pull in all the information it could. His heart was pounding and he’d just been attacked by some… group of people. Somewhere underground in a lab but he was in Elena’s attic space. The sun wasn’t up and Neasa and Oleksandra were dragging him out of bed, the taller Battle Angel holding his arms while the tiny Elf had his legs. Jin was on his bed and rubbing at her neck and shoulders. She was bleeding, tiny droplets that were mostly pooling into beads until she smeared them with her hand. She had the same thin crescent shaped wounds on her forearms.
Isaac did that to her? The two girls who had been restraining him let him go, Isaac wasn’t fighting anymore. He was shaking, infrequent shuddering shakes that ran down his height like waves. The smallest sight or sound demanded his body’s full, frenzied attention. He struggled against invisible chains dragging him into a primal fighting stance.
“Isaac?” Neasa spoke his name gingerly and with a questioning inflection. He glared down at her, his head whipping around with an uncanny snap motion, and she jumped away. “Isaac your face! You’re bleeding!”
Isaac touched his forehead and felt something warm. He pulled his fingers into view and saw something red. But it vanished before his eyes instead of coagulating. That wasn’t what blood did. Elena threw open the door. “Isaac!”
“He attacked me in his sleep! He had the weird noodle thing going on and his eyes were glowing. His fingernails fucking hurt!” Elena didn’t respond to Jin’s explanation and rushed over to look up at the wound on his head. Up.
Isaac was taller than her. No time for that. Neasa was right, he was bleeding. She put her hand over the wound and poured in healing magic. It didn’t react. She looked at the blood on her hand and saw it dissolve into ether as well. She looked back up into his eyes, matching his fear and confusion when Astoreth’s voice shook the frame of the house. “NEL! ISAAC?!”
The Grandelf jerked towards the window but failed to release her grip on Isaac’s shoulders. So she pulled him into a quick but firm hug and then detached to address the very excited infernal outside. “He’s got a wound on his head I can’t heal but it’s not deep. He attacked Jin and she says his eyes were glowing and there were distortions like on the island.”
“I’m coming up!”
“There’s no space. Meet us in the living room. Candi, you too.” The Megami always teleported onto the footpath leading to the front door so she had come around one face of the house. Elena jumped and spun with terror when she felt fresh pain across the bond with Isaac.
“FUCK!” Isaac roared with a fury none of the women, young or supernaturally aged, had heard from him before. He was clutching his forehead after smashing it against the frame of the door to the hallway. “Hit my head,” he growled out through clenched teeth.
“He hit his head, he’s taller than me now.” Elena related to the two big sisters on the ground outside. It helped her accept that there was no more danger as well.
Astoreth stalked through the walls of Elena’s house using phase to be at the landing of the stairs before Chandrakanta got to the door. She cradled Isaac’s head in her hands as she inspected the wound Elena couldn’t heal. “You used magical healing, celestial or nature?”
“I always channel both. You know that.”
Astoreth snorted and pushed her palm over the injury that was still bleeding out a blood-like substance that curled around the infernal’s fingers to climb like vines. “It’s responding to my healing, dark type.” She pulled her hand away and blinked back when the blood red eye that was underneath her palm blinked at her. It was just a hair off center from the middle of his forehead and appeared nested in the scar that remained from the wound Astoreth had just healed. The infernal’s hands shot to the sides of Isaac’s head and she quickly cast a medical scan. She shook her head and cast the spell again. “Candi! You’re the best at this. Are you reading that eye as actually being there because I’m not.”
Chandrakanta took Astoreth’s place as the infernal took a step away. “No, it does not appear to be a part of his physiology. I believe it is a psionic manifestation, or something similar.” The Megami’s brilliant prismatic eyes dropped from focusing on the new eye to Isaac’s original two. “Isaac, what happened?”
“I- I don’t know. I was asleep. I was also… I was attacked or bitten. I started to fight back but then I heard Jin- Why did you- You shouldn’t have let me hurt you like that Jin. Let me heal you.” Isaac went over to try casting his first aid spell but couldn’t focus. He tried his breathing exercise but his body wasn’t even providing basic interoception, the sense of one’s internal state of being. His self-soothing method was entirely dependent on the influence the lungs had on the rest of the body’s circulatory system but that was still pumping as hard as it could. He couldn’t feel anything but alert.
“I didn’t let you hurt me, I just didn’t want to fight back any harder because I knew it was you and you just seemed really scared. Otherwise you were going to get it just like Luba.” Jin ran the edge of her fingernail under the worst of the gouges Isaac had left on her arms. She hissed from the fresh sting as the skin lifted up in an arched flap. “You have really strong fingernails, I wish I could get people like this.”
Isaac released Jin’s arm with shaking hands and he took a few paces across the living room floor. Six pairs of eyes followed him, Chandrakanta healing the petty wounds on Jin without needing any focus. The Megami started to channel her Aura of Tranquility technique as well as pushing across as much comfort over the delta bond as possible. They had to get Isaac to come down more. “You said you were attacked, were you dreaming?”
“Ye- no- I don’t know. It felt like a dream but the sort of dream that’s more real than after you wake up. I was just looking at… the universes, there’s something wrong with the ones around here and one of the damned things bit me. So I swatted it. You know when you swat a bug, just, automatically. Or brush it off when you feel it crawling on you. That’s what I did and when I looked at what I had squashed it was… people.
“They were all smug, all narcissists. All of them were greedy and didn’t care about morality or any danger they might be bringing into the world they just wanted answers no matter the cost and they wanted their names to be remembered forever. No one that lives a good, simple life is remembered forever and these fuckers didn’t deserve to-” Isaac snarled and his words were cut off by a suppressed roar. “Damnit! I decided when I was fucking twelve I didn’t have the right!” He couldn’t remember if that was the correct age; when all of the news that first put the idea in his head aired exactly but it was right when he entered middle school or even before. There were always more stories a few months, a few years later. The perpetrators were always right around his age. “I don’t have the right!” His rage had peaked and quickly started to fall.
“Jesus Christ it felt like the world wanted me to sometimes but I just wanted-” The anger finally burned out and all that was left in the ashes was sorrow. “What if I killed you, Jin?”
Jin threw herself at him, pushing air out of his lungs from the impact and squeezing him as hard as she ever had before. “You didn’t Isaac you didn’t. I’m okay.” Her arms were lower around his waist than before since Isaac was now considerably taller. He didn’t hug her back, he was still afraid if he moved his arms his hands would resume their raptorial attack.
“I don’t even know how I killed them. It was from… the rest of me. How am I supposed to not do it again?”
“We can help you, Isaac,” Chandrakanta said as she joined Jin in embracing their male. “We can monitor the delta bond more, we can learn about what this attack was. We can keep investigating the authors and hopefully learn more about you through that. But we can do all of that once the sun is up. We all need to calm down. Elena, may we use your living room and simply, cluster?”
The Grandelf nodded and turned towards the direction of her linen closet. “Of course. Neasa, Leksya, will you two go strip all of the beds and bring the bedding down here?” They did so. Elena and Astoreth emptied the closet of every sheet, blanket, and even some of the softer bath towels. Isaac was soon buried under the warmth of other bodies, six all trying to maximize their contact with his.
Neasa was staring up into his illusory eye. “I think it’s closing. How are we going to explain you being twenty centimeters taller with an extra eye?”
Jin, being the second smallest since Astoreth wasn’t reducing herself, was the other one lying mostly on top of Isaac next to the Elf. “Late blood traits? Something like that happens, right?” No one answered but there was an unspoken acceptance that it was a good enough explanation for now. They could refine the lie later. “I like it. It’s cool. I think that’s what I saw glowing, now that I can look closely.”
Elena shifted her shoulder so that it wasn’t jamming into the underside of Chandrakanta’s breast so heavily. Group cuddles were so difficult to situate properly but it was definitely soothing all of them, Isaac most importantly. “We’ll probably need to have his blood worked up then. Doc’s gone half blind so she’s not likely to comment. We can discuss more of this later though. Rest now.” So they all did.
Elena brought her hands towards Chandrakanta and then released the blanket they were holding together into the Megami’s hands. She could finish folding it herself and Elena moved on to the next piece of bedding. Astoreth refused cooperation because she could fold a blanket on her own, even if it would be a little faster to have a partner. It didn’t matter because there was enough work for everyone to contribute and not so much that the work needed micromanaged. Oleksandra copied the task with mechanical precision and uncanny movement while Neasa was grumbling in the corner as she properly folded the blanket she had rolled up instead. They were Elena’s blankets, she had to do things Elena’s way.
No one had really managed to sleep before the light of the sun started to brighten the sky. They’d all been thinking, whether that thinking was more like planning or dreading depended on the individual. Chandrakanta was the first to voice her question out loud. “Nel, Star… I have been wondering. How do we go about discovering what happened to Isaac last night?”
Elena didn’t even look at the Megami when she responded, the answer was so simple. “Same as anything we want to discover. We all have our information networks.”
“Yes,” Chandrakanta said patiently, “We all have our magical research networks. I have all of the friends I have made volunteering. You have your connections in the schools. Star has her legal circles.”
Astoreth and Elena froze and stood up straight to focus on Chandrakanta. Elena clicked her tongue and Astoreth’s face twisted in her fight not to scowl. The infernal’s voice held an even lower rumble than usual. “The sum of our years on this wretched ball total over a millenia and none of us has managed to connect with a single scientist?”
“I am capable of intelligence gathering.” Oleksandra offered the group as she held out a stack of sheets she had finished folding two minutes ago. She’d been standing there with them as if she were the shelf they belonged on the entire time. “I could begin today if Isaac is willing to escort me to a location with public data access.” The Sapphire League’s telecom infrastructure wasn’t as potent as that of other leagues, but what it lacked in flair it made up for in robustness. Anywhere the league built a pokecenter had a slow but reliable connection to the public servers in the league’s capital and those of the interleague regulatory and advisory bodies. In Slov’Yanka that was the pokecenter or the library. Technically the sheriff’s office had a connection too but that was piggybacked off of the pokecenter’s line and access was kept behind the front desk. The pages were composed of compressed images and unformatted text, but they could be brought up without fail short of total intraleague network collapse. It’d happened three times in the history of the Sapphire League, caused by powerful solar storms each time.
The big sisters conferred telepathically before Elena went over and relieved the Battle Battle Angel of the bedding she was still supporting as if it was her divinely ordained role. “If you want to try to help, Oleksandra, we’d be glad. Just let Isaac know what you’ll be doing before you do it and don’t go anywhere you don’t see ordinary people coming and going. We need you to be safe more than we need answers. Other things could threaten Isaac and you named yourself as his protector.”
“I understand, Elena. I will operate under the conditions you have laid out.”
An old Mousewife was sitting at one of the public data terminals in the Slov’Yanka library and reading over the recipe she had printed out. Her great-grandchildren would be coming over soon and she was excited to bake something new for them to try. She was approached by a red-headed Bunnygirl with orange furred ears who politely asked her, “Excuse me, are you using this terminal?”
The Mousewife blinked. “What a nice Bunnygirl you are. So well behaved. No, dear, I’m done now. I was just resting here in this chair. It’s so nicely padded.”
Oleksandra beamed at the praise. “I do not need the chair. I will relocate it for you if you would like.”
“Oh good gracious, that is so kind of you. Thank you.” Oleksandra helped the ancient pokewoman to her feet and then carried the plush chair to the opposite corner of the library’s lounge. She then returned to the liberated terminal and with very little mind to her modesty bent over and inspected the panel of the computational machine. She poked a peripheral jack with an armored finger. Nanites extended into the plug outlet and interfaced with the circuitry, just as Oleksandra had done with the other two public machines. Isaac had permitted her accessing the computers. The hardware inside the case started to produce more clicks and whirs as the cooling fans wound up in preparation for the greater stress produced from its processor cores overclocking. Then she sat down in an empty chair and waited for Isaac. He was looking for a book to read to her. Oleksandra’s complimentary intelligence could decipher everything for her but she was fully devoting that system to fact finding during these sessions. She enjoyed listening to Isaac’s voice as he told the stories and showed her the words and pictures.
Everyone sat silently watching as Oleksandra placed printout after printout in precisely arranged rows and columns on Elena’s coffee table. It’d been five weeks since she started intelligence gathering and none of them knew what to expect. According to Isaac all they did together was read children’s stories in front of the data terminals after she poked around on each one for a minute or two. Yet she obviously thought she had produced something worth sharing. At least a few hundred SLC of printing fees’ worth.
The Battle Battle Angel placed her hand on the first column of printouts. “Evidence pool 1. Pulled from international obituaries published after the attack on Isaac. I focused on prominent individuals, specifically those with mentions of supporting science, technology, and human progress as virtues of the deceased as well as those with minimal or no details regarding cause of death or outlandish causes of death. This pool of evidence is the least informative but necessary for later cross referencing.”
She moved her hand to the next column. “Evidence pool 2. Compiled from publicly accessed but obscure online social posts and news articles discussing inconveniences due to prominent individuals failing to meet obligations or deadlines, disruptions towards management, et cetera. Many subjects that initially appeared on this tier also can be found in later additions to pool 1.”
The third column. “Evidence pool 3. Compiled based on transcripts of interviews given regarding science, technology, and advancement concerning dimensional travel and inter-universal access or published research regarding the same.
“Evidence pool 4. Public shareholder information, publicly disclosed financial records, and employment history for the top fifteen technological firms found on Terra.”
She put her hand over the final column. “The individuals detailed in these printouts were all involved through direct or indirect contribution towards interdimensional research, all sought and received wide scale social clout for their contributions, all were reported deceased after the incident under investigation, and all were major shareholders of Giovanni-Jahanna Poketech Corporation as well as related shell companies.” Oleksandra’s ear twitched as she looked at everyone else expectantly. When no one reacted her ears started to droop. “Is my preliminary intelligence insufficient?”
Isaac looked at the other faces before answering. “No but we don’t really know where to pick up again. You did great though, Oleksandra.”
The Battle Battle Angel glowed from the praise and in the same moment tried to deflect it. “It was merely standard investigation procedure. The only impediments are that the procedure is time and processing intensive.”
“Well, if we didn’t have you we’d still be stuck without any names.” The rabbit-eared pokegirl stepped around the table with bouncing steps and dropped to sit on the floor between his legs.
Neasa was looking at the paper contemplatively. “Those names she said, the poketech corporation. Jahanna I don’t know but Samodiva liked to talk about the Giovanni family. She says humans worshipped them as gods and that they secretly rule all of the leagues West of the ocean.”
Isaac’s throat tightened and his stomach churned thinking anyone would worship the Giovannis as they were portrayed in the pokegirl world. The crime boss gym leader from the Pokemon games was bad, but the real evil of the pokegirl version was from the other source of inspiration. That character had received his just deserts in End of Evangelion though, the wages for his hubris.
Pokegirl’s Gendo never suffered that reality check though, and his family’s influence was just as malignant as any other corrupt force on this peculiar version of Earth. In fact, it seemed that they had been rather successful in the decades between the end of the canon timeline for the pokegirls world and the present, fifty some years later. The evidence of this was the corporate and family merger with the Jahannas of the Crimson League. How the heads of one of the staunchest detractors of pokegirl rights and the controlling family for the primary industry of an incredibly liberal league became entwined was a question for later, possibly never. It was probably boring and boiled down to financial prudence anyway.
“Giovanni-Jahanna Poketech, most people just use Giohanna, is a massive technological research, development, and production firm jointly controlled by the Giovannis of Indigo league and the Jahannas of Crimson league. Realistically they have more political power than most of the leagues, once you include all of the other organizations tied to their leadership and the influence they have on the people running the leagues.” Isaac knew all of this from something he’d been working on. There was something else Giohanna could be up to that was important. At least one other thing, maybe two.
“How do we figure out if they were the ones that, well, ‘attacked’ me and what they were even trying when they did? They built some sort of machine, whatever it was.” Everyone had been looking at him while he was speaking. After he asked the question they looked to the others and everyone’s eyes finally settled on Chandrakanta.
The Megami pouted.
Astoreth muttered darkly in response to the petulant display. “I can’t exactly stroll into wherever I like and still have people give me the benefit of the doubt. No one thinks a Megami could be up to no good.”
“Yes, but in the middle of a Giovanni stronghold that means I will be seen as black in dal.” Chandrakanta had used an idiom derived from Hindi. Dal was from dried legumes and black referred to dirt or other particles that weren’t filtered out properly. It was comparable to saying she would stick out like a sore thumb. “No good is a sizable portion of their business model, Star.”
Oleksandra had been watching silently. “Direct infiltration would be premature at this stage. According to the methodology imparted upon Beru, we should target the periphery of the organization and attempt to find someone cooperative or easily manipulated. Perhaps one of the smaller corporations tied to Giohanna? I could investigate if there are any located within the Sapphire League.”
Isaac went to rub his forehead but stopped his hand in front of his new eye. Maybe it was better not to touch the thing, even if it lacked actual substance. “I think we shouldn’t rush to do anything. I can’t shake the feeling that Giohanna isn’t the problem here, it’s something deeper than that. Like I said… the universes…” He picked up one of the last pages from the column of obituary printouts. It didn’t have much text on it so there was plenty of space to doodle. The marks he made suggested a mass of bubbles or clutch of eggs. He then erased out a wedge shape of the spheres and scratched a bunch of scattered marks in the empty space. Then he tilted the pencil lead at an angle to smudge graphite to evoke something leaking from the bubbles nearby this void. “No.. it wasn’t quite like this… Damnit, what was I looking at?”
Isaac felt like he had nothing but more questions. Questions without answers made him worry, and worrying was dragging up all of the other negative emotions that’d been bobbing nearer to the surface ever since the night he had been harmed and fell into a frenzy. His third eye subtly pulsed with deep red light and the lines of the room started to bend in time with his breathing. Neither of these things were obvious enough for anyone but the big sisters to notice. Astoreth put a reassuring hand on Isaac’s shoulder as she pushed herself away from the couch and the distortions in space subsided.
“Neasa what is this? I can't read any of it.” Jin shoved the list back towards the Elf’s face.
“It’s the shopping list I was told to write down.”
“This isn’t writing. This is just a bunch of weird squiggly lines with dots and stuff.”
“I’ve seen you write your languages and you call my writing weird squiggly lines?!”
“Why didn’t you write in English?”
“It is in English!”
Jin stretched the list tight in front of her face and glared at it. “How is this English? You were told we needed ropes. ‘Ropes’ is spelled with an O. Where is the O?”
Neasa snatched the paper out of the Witch’s hand with a violent enough motion to leave the torn off corners pinched between Jin’s fingers. The Elf aggressively pushed her finger into one particular line of symbols. “Ropes, it’s right there.”
“That is not how you write Ropes!”
Isaac with his three pokegirls had been ferried by teleport to the Vorona Surplus Supply store in Zaporizhzhya. His enrollment in the academy garnered him a very lucrative discount and while Jin and Neasa had trouble agreeing on most things, they were in agreement that it was time for Isaac to replace the thoroughly abused yurt he’d received during his first day of academy. Even if it wasn’t so worn and patched, tattered and patched again the floor space wasn’t really enough to allow four comfortably. The store clerk had asked that he accompany Oleksandra after looking at the bunny ears so he had to cross the entire store before he could intervene in the building squabble. He looked at the slip of paper before staring in wonder at Neasa. “You write in Tengwar?”
Jin’s head snapped around to look at Isaac, her ponytail whipping around from the momentum and flying into her face before she pawed it back behind her head. “You know that? It’s actually writing?”
“Tengwar was one of the scripts that J.R.R. Tolkien invented to go along with his invented Elvish languages. I-” Isaac lifted his left arm but his tattoo wasn’t there. He had gotten a tattoo on his left wrist though, one written in Tengwar.
The scar tissue that wouldn’t heal on his forehead itched. At least there wasn’t an inhuman, red eye gazing out of the wound, wide open for everyone to stare at. That was a good thing about living in such a small community. Before he was able to figure out how to close, or was it more accurate to say he dismissed, the eye people in Slov’Yanka had stared, sure. But news traveled quickly and with so few people the news needed to travel to people were back to polite tolerance in short order. He dreaded to think how many initial impressions he’d have to suffer through in a large city like Dnipro or Zaporizhzhya. Isaac wasn’t sure if he’d ever left a good first impression in his life. He couldn’t remember anyone ever acting like he had.
He brought his mind back to nerd stuff. “I was really fascinated with learning how it worked, and because it’s all based on sounds you can actually use the script to represent a lot of different languages. Neasa, why don’t you show Jin how the symbols represent specific sounds?”
The Elf opened her mouth to comply but was cut off by Jin. “I don’t really need her to show me how it works it’s just, I can’t read that. Can you read that?” Neasa’s mouth snapped shut and she glared daggers at the Witch.
“Jin,” Isaac started with a lot of frustration in his voice. “She was going to help you and you cut her off.” Jin shot a glance at Neasa. It wasn’t a harsh glance but it also wasn’t apologetic at all. Maybe if Neasa wasn’t glaring back from her own anger... “But no, I can’t read it, I need a chart to look up the different symbols. Where did you learn this from, Neasa?”
“Queen Vershnyk’s head magus taught the queen and her advisors, plus me. She came from the Vesna High Queendom originally but was exiled for reasons she never made clear. Mother knew and she didn’t mind. You’re saying that our writing comes from a human?”
“I’m saying your writing comes from one of the greatest fantasy authors of the twentieth century.” Isaac’s tone made it clear he wouldn’t accept any disagreement on this, even though he by no means was familiar with the full breadth of fantasy writing that was published during the one hundred years. His argument was based on how the works shaped the popular conception of fantasy going forward anyway. Isaac found himself wishing he could read through the epic tale again. Maybe the libraries would have a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring for him to start. Maybe The Hobbit instead. “He was a professor of language before he was an author and the reason he wrote the stories was to feature his language and entertain his children. Do you speak the languages as well? Um…” Nope, Isaac wasn’t a big enough Tolkien nerd yet to remember Quenya and Sindarin offhand.
“No, Mother could only speak English and Ukrainian. Golloriell would sing in a language no one else knew though. It was very pretty.”
“Well, let’s make a copy of half your list in the Roman alphabet so Jin can get her shopping done. Jin, you should pay attention.”
Jin adopted her standoffish manner as she responded with a simple, “Why?”
“Because it’s probably what most of the wild Elf courts in the league use for their spellcraft.” Jin’s face twisted in displeasure ever so briefly before the full extent of the message clicked and suddenly she was very interested in watching and listening as Neasa converted the list from one script to another.
Isaac was able to return to his own shopping tasks now that he’d diffused the tension between his two more passionate pokegirls and enabled them to work in a way that wasn’t mutually detrimental. The sergeants were going to have a lot to say about harem management once courses started back up, and he was just about desperate enough to look forward to hearing it. Isaac had never been a team player and he’d certainly never lead a team before. After checking out his purchase at the surplus he still needed to pick up one item from a different tamer’s supply store.
Chandrakanta had put him in contact with a leatherworker to craft Neasa’s collar, he just needed an everstone to place in the fitting. When it was his turn to be waited on the sales clerk was very eager to explain that they were having a special offer for half off of a second evolution stone if one was purchased for full price. There were no dawn stones in stock even if he was inclined to offer Oleksandra the chance to evolve into the cybernetic berserker breed that was the Gunmn. To say nothing of the price tag. He was purchasing an everstone so that Neasa wouldn’t evolve so there didn’t seem to be much of a point in exploring her options.
Jin though, Jin had a plethora of options but only one of the choices that could be catalyzed by a stone wasn’t a dead end. He couldn’t imagine Jin would be content with life as an Elementalist or Tick Tock. She would probably want to evolve into a Sorceress but just to be safe and cover his options he purchased a moon stone after being assured the store would allow him to return the stone if he also presented the original receipt of purchase and it passed an inspection by the store manager. It’s not like he’d have a chance to pick one up once classes started and maybe she’d want the head start now instead of waiting for the ‘normal’ trigger to be fulfilled.
(-[|]-) End 10.1 (-[|]-)
“kuso” (くそ) “crap / fuck / damnit” Japanese
“jenjang” (젠장) “damnit / god damn / shit” Korean