“Is it easier?”
Isaac looked up towards the sound of the voice and found gold irises fixed on him, standing out brightly against dark sclera. Astoreth was dressed in form-fit black athletic wear and a black track jacket. They were out in the woods that fanned out behind Elena’s property catching ferals that had ventured in with the confidence late spring brought all wild things. “Is what easier, Star?”
Astoreth pointed with her glance towards Isaac’s backpack, in which he had just stored a freshly occupied pokeball containing a feral Doggirl. “When they have inhuman heads and bark and yap. Does that make watching the fighting easier?”
Isaac thought about how to answer.
“Oh, that. It’s been a while since it really got to me. It might have been the Griffin attack, probably before Samodiva’s raid but definitely after."
Astoreth nodded, briefly breaking the eye contact she'd been maintaining with her appraising stare. "That's what I sensed and you're likely correct about when you started acclimating. I was curious though, and this fight reminded me." Astoreth wouldn't have looked curious if you didn't know her. Mostly the emotion was projected through her letting the tone of her voice lighten and the set to her eyebrows soften.
Isaac thought for a moment. “No, I think it was always about the same. I mean, I like dogs too. Maybe more than I liked people for a while." Isaac sighed. "Most of what I get worked up about is watching out for Jin, Neasa, and Oleksandra. I always want to pull them out of the fight too soon. Whenever they get hurt I swear I see flashes of other times. Like Jin getting her arm mangled by Luba, or Neasa against Samodiva."
Isaac was gripped with a particular worry after that last fight. He’d only started noticing the problem recently, but then again they had only begun hunting without outside cooperation recently.
Neasa and Jin did not work well together. Oleksandra could work well with either one individually but if it happened all three were in the field then she would become agitated trying to comply with the conflicting communication she was receiving from her two harem sisters. Jin and Neasa both approached combat in very similar manners thanks to their training while in the Vorona Corps Academy, but while in the academy there were always plenty of other pokegirls around who were clearly above them in the hierarchy.
He had talked to both of them about it before the hunt today. Neasa’s reasoning was sound. She was an Elfqueen and Jin was an Enchantress. One breed was specially suited towards leadership and the other towards providing support. Jin, however, saw no reason to defer to Neasa and particularly resented the assumption that she should.
Jin still very much hated the idea that she could be seen as weak and she was not yet convinced that strength manifested as more than raw, individual fighting power. She was sixteen, probably the youngest of all of them.
Neasa was a few months older but her mental maturation had been accelerated by her evolution to Elfqueen. Oleksandra did not know how old she was but her hips and shoulders were broader, a physical indicator that she'd experienced a few more years of growth than her sisters within the harem. Possibly quite a few given she spent all but half of a year possessing the Bunnygirl breed's retarded aging enhancement. Despite her potential age, she was the least socialized as well as lacking in assertive attitude.
Most times the friction was overcome without incident but there were still far too many times with incidents for it not to be pressing on Isaac’s mind. There wasn’t much use in trying to predict the results of these moments of tension.
Most of the time it was less exciting clashes of ego that caused one or the other to be off their game and just a little bit extra vulnerable. Vulnerable was not a good state to be in while feral hunting. Neither was uncoordinated or distracted, but Jin and Neasa's spats made them that as well. He knew exactly what the textbook solution would be, he just didn't know who to appoint to the position.
Neasa was the safest assumption. Her breed possessed innate leadership qualities, supposedly. She had rejected leadership over the court though. Would her aversion to leading carry over to the harem of three? Then there was Jin, who Isaac imagined would not graciously accept Neasa's ascension.
The Enchantress felt she had a claim to seniority and she was his first 'girl, but Jin was selfish. There was no gentler way to put it. Her concerns were for Isaac, herself, her magic, and then whatever else happened to be important to Isaac. Like Neasa and Oleksandra. It was difficult for Isaac to imagine her not being a petty tyrant, at least for a little while.
That left Oleksandra. The Battle Angel had poor confidence and was still a bit rough in her communication skills. While Isaac figured both Neasa and Jin would accept her as the candidate for alpha instead of the other, would they respect the position or try to get their unsocialized sister under their thumb?
A dark and rich voice pulled his attention outward again. "If it's not the sounds of fighting that has you so worked up, what is it?"
Isaac sighed and wiped at his brow. It was sweaty or dusty or perhaps he was imagining some discomfort so he could rub the skin. "I think I'm going to need to pick an alpha and am just imagining the fallout."
"Ah," Astoreth grinned as she likely imagined the same sort of chaos Isaac was envisioning. "I find it a little strange you haven't already."
“I was really hoping they’d sort things out themselves by this point. Have more of a relationship of equals like you have with Elena and Candi.”
Astoreth laughed with some genuine mirth. “If you’re planning on things smoothing out like they did with the three of us then you’d better get much more comfortable with watching your girls fight. It took me and Nel ten years to have enough of an idea regarding the other’s capabilities that we de-escalated. We weren't young.” Astoreth paused for a moment. “Never were,” she said in a tone somewhere between quizzical and dismissive. "We weren't competing for the attention of the same man, either."
Her eyes locked onto his and he could see an unpleasant truth she was about to unleash resting on her lips. "Whether you appoint an alpha or not, the solution is going to come from you. You are the leader of this group, your alpha will be carrying out your will by your authority. It doesn't matter if you pick Jin, Neasa, Oleksandra, or that Doggirl you just captured. You back her up and the others will get the message soon enough. It is your role to impose order. Stay indecisive and they'll simply continue to clash."
Isaac didn't like hearing that. It didn't mean she was wrong, he reminded himself. He just didn't like hearing it. He supposed if he wanted someone to convey the message gently he'd be talking with Chandrakanta. She was also reluctant to assert herself and her opinions. So much that sometimes they needed to be dragged out of her even if what she thought was truthful and it had a real chance of improving the situation. Isaac didn't feel like his reluctance came from cherishing people's happiness like it seemed to be with Candi.
Isaac could probably spend all of his time and energy thinking about this and not have anything to show for it, so he moved for a change in the topic. "You're probably right. I'll figure something out. Thanks, Star. So, how come you're so relaxed while we're hunting?"
"I'm helping Elena with protection. I don't get to fight unless things are going wrong. And besides…" Astoreth trailed off before continuing telepathically. 'We're on Nel's turf. Everything has been a lot more under control than it seems.' She smirked. 'I did convince her to take us somewhere special next, though.'
After Isaac ran his girls through a healing cycle on a PPHU, and listened to Jin and Neasa complain about her counterpart zigging when she should have clearly zagged, they moved deeper into the wilderness. And there was Astoreth's special spot. A Buzzbreast hive that had lost its queen and over half of its structure some time in the past. The remaining Buzzbreasts were stuck going through the motions of feral life with even less of a future than typical. Trapped, psychologically bound to a slowly rotting husk devoid of new life.
Isaac pulled his girls into a huddle while Astoreth and Elena watched over them. Elena was quiet and her attention seemed distant since before the day's hunting began. She was monitoring the region through her plants and scrying spells, only she knew how large of an area she was monitoring with the assistance of her living weapon.
Neither of the veterans were offering tactical insight. They promised to go over mistakes they noticed after the hunt was over but this was all Isaac and the young pokegirls. That was the reason why Chandrakanta stayed behind, she didn't trust herself to not interfere.
First order of business… "Leksya, can you get a head count?"
"Eleven infrared signatures within the hive, commander, with visual confirmation of three Buzzbreasts plus five audio signatures that are a match for the breed. Movements suggests the Buzzbreasts do not view any of the unidentified signatures as hostile, possibly other members of the hive or subdued captives. Maximum twenty audio matches for Buzzbreast within the area outside of the hive."
There was no Buzzqueen, she had died battling an invading Wasp Queen. The smaller swarm of aggressive bug types had all been killed at the cost of the bee-girl hive also suffering an eventually fatal blow. Without a living queen none of the Buzzbreasts could evolve to replace her. There could be a Killerbreast among them, however according to Elena she'd never detected one.
So there were up to nearly thirty Buzzbreasts, possibly some evolved. Always had to consider things were worse than they seemed.
At least without a Buzzqueen they didn't have to expect complicated tactics from the foe. Buzzbreasts swarmed and stung. If they couldn't close the distance, then there was minimal risk of Isaac's girls suffering injury. The inverse was true too. One Buzzbreast in close limited how Isaac’s girls could respond, making it more likely that another member of the swarm would reach the same target. The worst case scenario was just like a zombie horror movie, dragged down and piled on.
The hive had been built out from the face of one of the Sapphire League’s unnatural buttes that dotted its landscape, appearing to be a mound left from a rock slide. The battle with the Wasps had caused an actual rock slide, destroying a portion of the camouflaged wall and breaking the illusion. The surviving Buzzbreasts had repaired most of the damage and the three individuals Oleksandra had confirmed visually were all working on what remained to patch up. Isaac could see the intended entrance for the hive and Buzzbreasts didn’t like having more than one opening into the hive, taking after the insect that inspired them. It was safe to assume any ferals within the hive would only exit by one of those two holes.
They could confirm that theory as they picked off the Buzzbreasts outside the hive. Without a Buzzqueen fulfilling the queen role the Hivemind enhancement wouldn’t help them against such tactics. Picking off lone individuals gave Jin and Neasa the chance to blow off steam and get their heads back in the game as well, so to speak.
Things went smoothly for eleven takedowns, all captured. The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth roaming bee girls were moving together and close to the hive. Close enough that, when Isaac's girls engaged the Buzzbreasts within the hive became aware of the commotion.
Angry buzzing filled the air, a deep, hammering thrum of insectile wings beating hard enough to lift a human sized body. Images flashed through Isaac's mind, scenes of the terrain they'd been stalking through as they whittled down the Buzzbreasts' numbers. A small hill, the one they'd been observing the hive from before they had engaged the first feral bug girl, crystallized in his mind's eye.
There were some lonely boulders that broke up a straight approach. Even better, they were between the hill and the hive. It was the best tactical position the situation allowed.
“Jin cover the south exit,” that was the hole built into the side of the nest. “Neasa, east,” that was the opening from the damage caused by the rock slide. They’d also engage any Buzzbreasts coming over or around the nest on their respective side. “Leksya, support Jin and Neasa. We’re falling back to the scouting point.” It was uphill, downwind, and put the deployed pokegirls between the target and the tamer. Oleksandra was watching Jin and Neasa’s backs, he was watching Oleksandra’s, and Astoreth along with Elena were protecting him.
The withdraw to the hill was executed without the three pokegirls suffering any injury. The three roaming Buzzbreasts were brought down during the retreating action and those from the hive were getting whittled down well before they reached the rocks Jin, Neasa, and Oleksandra were using for cover. It was looking like an easy victory until yet another failure in communication reared its ugly, metaphorical head.
Neasa, thinking in a forward and tactical manner, came to the conclusion that she could slow down the Buzzbreasts remaining within the hive with a payload of toxic dust dispersed from a modified living arrow. The shot was perfectly placed and disappeared through the hole in the side of the colossal nest.
Jin, acting with direct aggression and focusing on taking down one target with one attack, launched a crudely formed fireball at the Buzzbreast emerging from the entrance of the hive. The condensed sphere of elemental energy detonated on impact with its intended target and fire expanded in all directions, including into the nest entrance.
For a moment nothing came of these two separate attacks besides their intended effect. Downed or debilitated Buzzbreasts. Then Isaac's group was acquainted with the bane of millers for many centuries.
The hive went up in a small dust explosion. The structure wasn't strong enough to remain intact and burn, debris and Buzzbreasts were thrown through the air and then the feral bug types recovered and charged with renewed furor. No longer was it a fight to defend their home. Now it was vengeance. What little the bestial insect pokegirls had left, since the Wasps, was gone and even with their limited cognition the Buzzbreasts could recognize the extent to which these enemies had imperiled their already haggard existence.
With the fatalism of a creature that no longer believes it has any time left in the world, the Buzzbreasts threw themselves at the rocks and the enemies among them. The explosion had thrown them all over the field of battle and so they were now advancing from more directions and without the bottleneck of their own, now destroyed, home.
Jin cursed in her birth tongues and Neasa made use of the elvish she had picked up while learning from the Vesnas. Oleksandra became very quiet when stressed, so obscenities weren’t something that ever issued forth from her lips.
Without realizing it until the moment the momentum of the battle suddenly changed, all three of them had still been fighting like they had been through the entire day. Holding back with the goal of ensuring as many captures as possible. Oleksandra was fully aware of the disparity between the material value rewarded for capturing a feral rather than slaying one and was focused on correcting the perceived detriment her polarized combat effectiveness was having on the group as a whole. She’d become self conscious about her lethality. Jin and Neasa were thinking about prize value as well, but for both of them it was for matters of status. If she were responsible for producing the most captures, she would be the best girl. At least for the day.
Jin changed tactics first, just because Jin wasn’t keen on assuming the supporting role didn’t mean she didn’t have a plan. If she was going to be stuck supporting she’d make sure Neasa and Oleksandra noticed and appreciated it.
Step one: She enchanted both of them with increased speed, visual perception, reflexes, and fatigue recovery. They were both shooters and those were what she boosted within herself when she was experimenting with learning long range techniques. She didn’t use any of them where others could see because she wasn’t anywhere near as good at fighting at long range as she wanted to be.
Step two: Use a vocal technique and dramatic posturing to rally her harem sisters. Song magic, dance magic, posing, facial expressions, all the various shouts, cries, growls, and moans, any magic that relied on human expression to function; after watching Astoreth and Chandrakanta for this long Jin had realized it was all the same. What mattered was that it was perceived by the intended target and the energy was properly harmonized. Jin threw her left hand in a sweeping arc over the approaching Buzzbreasts while making a half stomp in the direction they were coming from. It planted her stance firmly with an aggressive lean into the danger. She stared boldly forward, meeting the compound eyes of the feral that would fall upon them first. What she vocalized didn’t matter so much as how she projected it. So long as it wasn’t something so totally absurd that it caused Oleksandra’s overly rational mind to trip up. Jin shouted out the phrase her mother always yelled when she spotted danger to the caravan when Jin was still a small child and they had no choice but to travel or starve. “Abunai!” With that her Sorceress mother would always launch a Mana Bolt that always took down the leading attacker, often breaking the morale of the rest of the pack and scattering them.
Step three: Jin could have cast her own Mana Bolt spell but in this sort of situation hampering many enemies would do much more than eliminating a single one. This tactic she stole from that Dominatrix who officiated her first knife fight against Neasa. With the same sweep of her hand she cast out several lengths of Rune Chain that struck the rocks and then bounced in wild directions to form a screening net of ethereal bindings. Some Buzzbreasts were entrapped, others flew into lengths like an inattentive child running into a clothesline, and the rest had to slow and alter course to avoid the new impediments.
And that was it. Jin was out of juice and limited to Mystic Bolts and other meditative level spells while the two harem sisters she was trying to catch up with brought down more than half of the hive in tandem. Nine of the bee pokegirls managed to get in close and only two without partially crippling injuries. Neasa grew a Lance stalk to wield as a staff, Oleksandra’s energized warhammer came out, and Jin stood back and projected what barriers and healing she could with the magical energy she could pull from around her.
Oleksandra smacked a particularly resilient Buzzbreast with the side of her uncharged warhammer and declared, “Targets neutralized.” Neasa stretched against the muscles she’d been working as she stood upright from her fighting stance. The Elfqueen turned and shot the Enchantress a look of disbelief before she smiled brightly and laughed out a pair of chuckles. Isaac, Astoreth, and Elena trotted down the hill to them and they began the process of getting ferals inside balls.
‘Your Enchantress deserves a pat of the head,’ Astoreth’s telepathic voice sounded in Isaac’s mind. Isaac smiled at the joke. Then Astoreth spoke telepathically again. ‘I’m serious, that was something we want to encourage. Go give her a pat on the head.’
Isaac was the logical point everyone gravitated towards once capture and collection was done. All of the Buzzbreasts survived to later be sold to an apiary, even the one who had her legs blown off by a bunny-eared BATTLE Battle Angel getting nervous about their proximity. The tamer noticed Neasa favoring one leg. The fabric of her trousers was torn and bloody, damage from a stinger that had grazed her. “Neasa, you’re wounded,” Isaac stated as he unstrapped the PPHU once again.
Neasa stretched away from her leg to try to get a look at the wound. “I stopped the bleeding and neutralized the poison, but yeah, I could use a cycle.”
“My armor protected me from any stinging but I have experienced concussive trauma and minor musculoskeletal damage,” Oleksandra reported her own condition.
“Jin, you hurt at all?”
Jin answered Isaac’s question with a dull, “They didn’t reach me.”
Isaac ‘heard’ Astoreth’s voice again. It had a musical lilt to it, like a cheery flourish of notes on harmonized oboe and bassoon. ‘~Head pat.~’
“Okay, I’ll run Neasa and Leksya through a healing cycle. Can you charge up the other battery for me?” Jin made compliant noises and went to fetch the battery and charging wand. Isaac recalled the Elfqueen and Battle Angel and loaded the first ball into the portable healing machine. Then he went over to his Enchantress who was channeling a continuous Shocking Grasp into the charging wand with a sour look on her face. “Hey Jin,” Isaac said in a gentler tone. He continued when she looked up. “You did really well.” He indecisively froze and then jerkily placed his right hand on the side of Jin’s crown and gave the hair underneath a single tossle.
Jin made a tiny peeping noise and then her eyes flashed pyrotechnically and she dove against his chest, throwing the hand still crackling with electricity under his armpit to give him three-quarters of a hug.
Chandrakanta sat with her hip barely touching Pazuzu’s leg and an arm behind the little infernal pokekit’s back as Pazuzu deposited grotesque amounts of crayon wax with furious scribbles that would have torn the paper to shreds if performed with a pencil. Astoreth had guilted herself into revealing the existence of her youngest ward to the Megami in the weeks leading up to Easter because she couldn’t envision not having both of them attending for holiday dinner. Astoreth explained her concerns in private to Chandrakanta after pulling her aside during said meal. Chandrakanta was completely unsurprised, totally understanding, and truthfully shared Astoreth’s concern that she could smother the development of a child. Chandrakanta finished the combo by plainly stating her belief that Astoreth would make an excellent role model and caregiver to such a young child.
Astoreth and Chandrakanta were away for a while more after that.
What it meant for today though was that the Megami was sitting at Elena’s patio table, soaking up summer rays and watching Pazuzu doodle while listening to the pokekit’s babbling description of the scene she was creating. A ‘lizum’ was a clump of green hairs surrounding a bald patch where there stood a few crude simulacra of human beings. Above the lizum were bad bugs. A furious scribble of blue was ‘Sticks’ and Pazuzu had a friend named ‘Karen’ with some sort of connection to the blue sticks. A bunch of haphazardly stacked, black boxes arranged in a rough circle were ‘Diz.’ Diz was where Mama worked.
“Who is Zuzie’s mama?” Pazuzu had already been given her nickname. The pokekit stared intently into the elegant Megami’s eyes and measured something with the paranoid suspicion sometimes referred to as ‘stranger danger.’ Chandrakanta thought it was adorable that Pazuzu was so shy around her and only redoubled her efforts to win the pokekit over.
“A-do-red!” Pazuzu jumped up and ran for the line of trees that the hunting group had just passed through. While Honorata had been able to find a speech T2 for the pokekit, it didn’t include some of the names Pazuzu was encountering. “You smell like dead bugs!”
The bugs hadn’t died, but there had been one evolved Buzzbreast in the hive after all. An Assasara of all things. She, along with five of her unevolved sisters, happened upon them right between Neasa’s healing cycle finishing and Isaac beginning Oleksandra’s cycle. Jin was still charging the battery and that was good enough for Astoreth to justify indulging herself.
Astoreth knelt and scooped up the infernal pokekit who, with the previous exclamation, launched herself at the towering Hild’s knees. Chandrakanta felt so giddy she could burst watching them but then at the edge of her perception she noticed that Augusta was still sitting, frozen faced staring at Pazuzu’s primitive toy. The Megami delicately moved a chair so she could sit down next to the poor, young, freshly descended Fallen Angel. With a slow and light touch she put her hand on the conflicted Dark type’s shoulder. Augusta’s gaze broke from Mr. Squiggles with a startled jerk but her building panic melted when her eyes met the much older Megami’s. “Augusta, are you well?” Chandrakanta’s hand brushed across the top of the Fallen Angel’s back, giving the muscles lacing over the spine one gentle rub before migrating to rest on the opposite shoulder.
Augusta blinked and then nodded. “Y-yes. I am well, ss- Chand-”
“You may call me ‘Sister’ if you like,” Chandrakanta assured her.
“Thank you, Sister. Sorry, it’s just, I finally was able to convince Pazuzu to allow me to wash her doll but it still feels…” Augusta’s eyes fell on the unmatching buttons sewn onto the scraps and was dragged back towards the edge of her trance. “Unclean…”
Chandrakanta reached over and plucked the doll from Pazuzu’s nanny. “Then what if I freed you from the burden of carrying him for a moment, hmm? Let us go welcome the hunters.”
Isaac focused on the lump of clay sitting on the table in front of him as he placed his hands to form a rough square made from index fingers and thumbs around the malleable ball of earth. Precious seconds tumbled through the neck of the hourglass that had just been upturned. The first step was to saturate the clay with his own magic, overwriting whatever inert, ambient magic may have seeped into the material from the environment. As he channeled his power through the sculpting medium it gradually reformed itself into more of a sphere. That was the sign that he was finished charging the material. The next step of the process was the shaping. The ball of clay stretched upwards as a cleavage furrow split its base into two round pillars. Now it was a lump on legs. The lump slimmed up as more material extended towards the top, three extensions. Two more rough cylinders and a much smaller ball on a post. He had the basic human form completed when a tiny clay samurai dashed across the table and sliced his figure in half.
“Mage’s Hand, I win!” Jin cheered as she snatched up the last card she needed to have a hand of five. Isaac was neither surprised nor disappointed, he’d been ready to concede when the card was turned up. ‘Animate a ball of clay to form the figurine of a soldier, then have your soldier attack your opponents. Whoever’s soldier is left standing wins the card.’ Of course Jin’s winning card would be the clay soldier one. Even if Isaac could get his formed in time, the combat was all about manipulating the enchantment placed on the clay. Once, before Jin evolved, it’d been his most reliable card to score with. Now it was the one card where he was most outclassed when facing Jin.
The game of Mage’s Hand was something like competitive flash cards. Decks were printed for all sorts of levels of education, although Isaac and Jin had probably exceeded its upper limit by this point in their arcane academia. The deck of cards was one with simple spellcrafting tasks printed on each card. The top card of the deck was turned over by one player while the other flipped the hourglass at the same time. First one to complete the task before the hourglass ran out took that card, otherwise it was a draw and the task went to the discard pile rather than any of the players’ hands. First player to accumulate five cards in their hand won.
No it really wasn’t fair for Jin to face Isaac. In fact it was the sort of game that seemed to always be unfair. Isaac’s only one-on-one victories came from matches against Neasa the first few times she played. Now that she was more familiar with conventional magic and had been exposed to every card in the deck that well had run dry. Still, he had taken two cards this game against Jin.
Well, he’d collected one card and part of Jin’s bargaining to entice him to keep playing with her was that he got the draws as well. “Another round,” Jin asked with devious anticipation. “I’ll give you half of the hourglass head start.”
Isaac considered for a second but then shook his head. “You asked me to come out here to work on your spells. It was only supposed to be one round for a break.” 'Here' was Elena’s unused building and while it had been constructed as a greenhouse by this point they might as well have had rebranded it as the workshop. Jin gathered the cards and stacked them up to be replaced in the cardboard sleeve. Isaac collected the hourglass, coin, dice, tokens, wooden blocks, wire, and marbles to return to the box, which also held the tin for storing the clay. He picked up Jin’s samurai figure and examined it with a speculative eye. Jin included even more detail this time, he could see lines suggesting where smaller plates were fastened together to make the singular pieces of armor. Still no details on the face, though.
It was small and the clay was soft so the figure deformed from the pressure of a light grip between two fingers. There was no reason harder materials couldn’t be animated similarly, though. The little clay samurai suddenly thrust the elongated stump that served as his hand accusingly towards Isaac’s face. Jin pitched her voice low as she imitated Isaac, “You asked me to come out here to work on your spells.”
“I was just admiring your handiwork.” He picked up the two halves of his portion of the clay and then pressed it all into the tin, mentally saying goodbye to the simple representation of the historical Japanese feudal warrior. He picked up a sheet of paper that had been off to the side and flattened it out in front of him while Jin came around to sit on his right. The paper kept rolling from being stored in a tube for so long. One of the spellcrafting charts plotted out for one of the spells Jin was struggling to comprehend. This one was a version of Thunder Wave originally developed in the Sunshine League. “So where are you getting stuck with this one?”
Jin pointed with her finger. “Here. I have no idea what these are supposed to mean.”
Isaac examined the symbols covering that portion of the chart. “Oh, this is one of those weird things about working off of anything out of Nuevo.” Isaac put his finger on top of the first symbol and thought for a moment. “They use this to indicate stabilizing. Yama o kudaru?”
“That’s yama o kudaru? Calling it stabilizing is boring but at least that makes sense. What’re the other ones?” Originally Jin had been learning magic from her mother in her mother’s language so some fundamental concepts would always be embodied by Japanese phrases.
Isaac put his finger on the next one. “Accelerating, um” Isaac struggled with Jin’s version. “Hi o… Hi… nope.” Isaac couldn’t fish out that last word.
“Hi o taku,” Jin offered.
“Hi o taku,” Isaac repeated, hoping now it was better committed to memory. Why? He’d probably say it was important to Jin and that was a good reason but Isaac also enjoyed knowing things. He pointed to the last symbol. “Truncating. The one that means ‘cut the grass.’”
“Kusowokaru, ugh. Kaykay, now that I know that…” Jin trailed off as she studied the full chart. Minutes stretched by as she moved little but her eyes and the hand she used to trace her progress. Elena tended to call it a light, Isaac favored comparing it to fire. Whichever it was started to shine in the eyes of the Enchantress, growing in brightness and intensity until it was like a furnace stoked for forging.
Jin sprang to her feet and she shook her head so that the scattered tresses of her ponytail all fell back to roughly where they belonged. As her body settled from the acceleration upwards she dropped into one of the casting poses she practiced for when she felt like showing off.
The crackle of static filled the air and a grin filled her face as she lifted her hand up in front of her and tensed, splaying her fingers wide and planting her stance. She hammed up her declaration of success, pushing more emotional energy into the moment with a bold and exuberant cheer of, “Thunder Wave is… go!”
"Another pokekit was killed by cops in Svyatlysche last night. OfficerJennies should be turned into pokepower." Those nearest to Vasylyna all mumbled agreement with varying degrees of conviction. Vasylyna Vasylevna Vasylova was an average looking young woman with a delightful name. She dressed in trendy clothes that flattered her figure, slightly augmented with permanent applications of dust techniques. Her eyes were blue and the roots of her hair blonde, but she frequently touched them up to stay consistent with whatever eye catching dye she'd applied most recently. She also applied cosmetic make up to her face generously and boldly.
The list of qualities Isaac appreciated about Vasylyna ended with decent looks and fun name. She was the most vocal champion of human and pokegirl parity in his cohort and, somehow, had gotten it into her head that he was an opponent.
Vasylyna's hostility came from the sort of mindset summarized with the phrase, 'If you're not with us, you're against us,' and in her mind Isaac had set himself against her. Her assumption about morality was that to champion a good cause made her a good person, and Isaac had a tendency to demolish her arguments by pointing out logical inconsistencies or missing context. The first time had been an honest, bluntly honest, mistake in manners.
Her response was to accuse him of abusing his pokegirls. Her basis had been Neasa's emotional reaction during the lectures on pokegirl relations. When Isaac was able to quickly prove that accusation was without any rational basis the virtuous, crusading maiden used a trick of semantics to justify the label based on Isaac's failure to prevent harm by endorsing Vasylyna's ideas. Most people didn't accept this new rationale but those within Vasylyna's orbit at least offered up gestures of agreement. Isaac was disappointed, but hardly surprised, when no one else spoke up to contradict her. It just wasn't worth it for them to get involved.
Now that Isaac had to suffer the label of pokegirl abuser because he didn't blindly accept being preached at by a classmate, well, part of him enjoyed demonstrating how little she really knew. "She was a Youma months away from turning fifteen, they were responding to her assaulting a merchant at his stall, she'd broken free from both 'kit balls they were carrying, and she screamed, 'Blood for the Maker,' before she charged them." He'd already learned about the ordeal two days ago from Astoreth.
Isaac thought he could see the red entering Vasylyna's eyes. "Oh, so you're fine with how many pokekits die in government custody, are you? Hateful human supremecists like you should be expelled."
Isaac sighed with his head in his hand for a moment. Now he'd come to the part where he regretted having his little fun. "Pokegirls are human," he said as the opening of his defense against these new baseless labels tangentially related to 'pokegirl abuser.' Vasylyna laughed loudly in the sort of way that signaled the rest of her clique to laugh along and Isaac's muttered defense of his character was quickly drowned out. Multiple people jeered, questioning how he passed the entrance exam if he didn't know humans and pokegirls were different species. Curious how their branch of the parity movement would still apply the league's official, dehumanizing stance if it was to mock an opponent.
The instructor entered the room. All those in attendence quickly went to their seats and so the conflict was diffused without a resolution. Just like every other time.
"Excuse me," the pretty girl with brunette hair and dusty colored skin started to say. It was strange because people just didn't usually approach him to start up a conversation. "You're Isaac Markiyan, right? You were in the Zaporizhzhia academy for the Voronas?"
Isaac became more alert. He sat up straighter and focused on the young woman who had approached him instead of heading for the lecture hall door. Someone who knew him without him knowing her was odd and tickled Isaac's paranoia. "Yeah, that's me." He studied the female classmate some more and was taking in the flecks of green in her otherwise rich brown eyes when from somewhere deep in his psyche a breed name emerged.
Isaac kept his reaction subdued but she still must have detected some of his building apprehension. The Sanctuary Goth raised her hands up in an ameliorating gesture. Her sleeves were long, concealing the only visual indicator for the breed. "Sorry, I know it's a little strange but I heard this story about a cadet with a third eye. A friend of mine is sweethearts with a guy and wanted me to go on a double date with them during harvest festival in Olepo last year. My date was trying to impress me by telling me about how he figured out one of his fellow cadets could identify pokegirl breeds on sight. I wound up telling him he was making this other cadet sound a lot more interesting than he was. Decent guy, he just needed more practice taking with girls."
"I noticed your eye today when you were having that argument with Vasylyna though," the covert pokegirl paused and sneered, "sugary bitch, isn't she?" She smoothed her face back into a smile before Isaac could respond. "Anyway, when I saw your eye I had to ask." She gave him a curious, sidelong glance. "Can you tell what sort of pokegirl I am?" The S-Goth reached up to play with some hair in front of her ear. There was a definite edge of concern to her voice, faint but there.
"A Ladyba," Isaac responded curtly. Saying a lie with firm conviction made people more likely to accept it.
The S-Goth burst out laughing, her eyes teared up and she bent over holding her waist a little. It was a pretty laugh and she was overcome by it when Isaac's answer obliterated the underlying tension she had been getting approaching him. "Sorry," she said as she straightened her back and wiped at her eyes. "Sorry, that just caught me off guard. The guy who told me about you had a pair of Ladyba for one, and pokedexes at home are always malfunctioning and scanning us as Ladyba too. I'm Dalida Danylovna Dorbenova." The S-Goth offered him a smile and her hand, which Isaac gently shook.
She was from the Dorben tribe. They'd formed from a number of political refugees fleeing persecution in Sanctuary, back when the ruling powers of the rogue pokegirl nation were consolidating their strength. They'd been enthusiastic supporters of their adoptive league in the past, aiding Sapphire League officials in developing countermeasures to infiltration by Sanctuary in the early years. Now Isaac imagined they were much more comfortable and complacent with the hardships of their founding ancestors kilometers and decades away.
"Isaac Markiyan," Isaac reintroduced himself out of habit. "Which you already know. So Symon was right about being bad at keeping secrets."
"Symon! That was his name," Dalida said as she clapped her hands together. Isaac felt a pang of grief for his fellow's ego. Hopefully Ostap found another way to make the double date worth his while.
Isaac looked around the emptied hall and then at the clock. He had to go get Jin from the library so they could have lunch. "Hey, sorry but I need to go get my girl so we can eat."
"Oh, no problem," Dalida responded. "I've got to get going too. Nice meeting you, Isaac."
"Nice meeting you, Dalida." Isaac watched her go, smiled when she looked over her shoulder at him, and thought. He could see the paths shifting again and he still couldn't see where they ended, but Dalida and Symon were both like signposts marking his journey down the infinitely forking road. Candi had tried to help him interpret what he saw but so far they still weren't even sure if it was a premonition or some immediate phenomenon.
His stomach lightly rumbled, dragging his attention to more immediate and material concerns.
(-[|]-) End 15.2 (-[|]-)
危ない (abunai) Japanese: "dangerous"
山を下る (yama o kudaru) Japanese: “descend the mountain”
火を焚く (hi o taku) Japanese: “burn/stoke the fire”
草を刈る (kusowokaru) Japanese: “mow/cut the grass”