Chapter 22: Clear
Where the hell am I?
Shun’s eyes shot open. An alarm buzzed. Looking around, he gathered that he laid in a dimly-lit room on a bunk bed quite big for the childlike body he seemed to now possess.
Shun tried and failed to move, to speak, to do anything. His sight worked, and that was all. With all his effort, he wished to move, only to end up frustrated. Just when he thought he was stuck, the alarm turned off.
“Hey, Shun, get up.” It was a child’s whisper, coming from the lower bed.
In response, his lips twisted open. The voice that came was one he remembered.
“Mmm… A few more minutes…”
“No! We should get up now, or it’ll be too late!”
Shun’s body shook as the inhabitant of the bottom bed got off. Several creaks later, the black hair of a child appeared across the ladder near his feet, followed by the face.
The young boy looked about ten. His short hair hung above his eyes. Although the boy had thin cheeks, his complexion was healthy.
…So that’s what this is, huh?
“It’s Kaa-san’s birthday today!” The child latched onto Shun’s foot in vigorous impatience and shook it. “We were going to bake a cake, remember?”
“Oh… Oh yeah!” Sitting up in his bed, he yawned and stretched his arms. His drowsiness vanished like a dream. “Sorry about that. Good morning, Hiroshi.”
Scratching his head, Shun apologized to his brother, who responded with a wide grin holding a hand out to Shun.
“Well, you’re up, so it’s fine. Let’s get to it!”
“Wah!” Shun cried out. An egg lay broken beside a bowl.
His brother, hunched over the counter measuring butter, straightened up and turned to him.
“Hmm? What’s wrong—Ah.”
“It’s all fine!”
Shun looked away in shame. However, instead of criticism, he heard his brother’s laugh. Throwing a short glance his brother’s way, he found him grabbing the bowl and the spoon that lay next to it.
“We can just scoop the egg into the bowl.” Putting the bowl at the edge of the table, he used the spoon to push the egg, letting it fall into the bowl. “This is why we cleaned the table, after all.”
“Wooow! Were you expecting this?”
The pure admiration gushing out of his younger self’s mouth amused Shun. He couldn’t see himself, but he knew that his eyes had sparkle. He held the memory dear.
“Heh.” Hiroshi puffed his chest in pride. “It’s only natural. It’s our first time cooking, so I considered everything.
“Hiroshi you’re so smart!”
“Hahaha, thanks!” The smile on Hiroshi’s faced continued to grow greater. “So, Shun…”
Shun’s younger self perked up. By the shift in his brother’s tone and gaze, he knew his next words were going to be serious. Still, he stayed relaxed because he saw that his twin’s mouth was still curved into a smile.
“I know that thinking isn’t your forte, but that’s fine.”
Hiroshi reached his small hand toward Shun’s head, patting it.
“I’m the older brother, so you can rely on me, okay?”
“You know Shun…”
Shun was standing in front of a door, holding a cake on a silver tray. He looked to his right where his brother stared at the cake, chin in hand.
“This turned out a lot better than I thought it would.”
The cake was circular and about fifteen centimeters wide. Of course, the twins didn’t own any cake pans, so they had created a crude one using earth magic. Due to their lack of skill, the creation of the pan accommodated for half the time they had spent. Imperfect, but impressive for two ten year olds. And thanks to a decoration of white icing and fruits, the misshapen shape was a minor detail.
“I can’t wait to see Kaa-san’s face when she sees this!” Shun grinned, staring at the door. “Let’s go in—”
“Wait.” Hiroshi stared at the door knob. “Maybe we should knock instead.”
“Ehhh?” Shun glanced at him in disbelief, mouth agape. “Wouldn’t it be better to surprise her at her bed?”
“Yeah, but she might wake up while we’re walking over, right? In that case, it’s better to have her wake up beforehand.”
He reached to knock the door, but Shun got in his way while minding the cake.
“We can be quiet, you know? Kaa-san’s a heavy sleeper!”
“But that doesn’t mean she won’t wake up when we’re walking right by!”
“It’ll be fine!”
An abrupt knock from the other side of the door ended the argument.
“You know, Shun, Hiroshi,” a woman said, voice drowsy and exasperated, “It doesn’t matter how much of a heavy sleeper your Kaa-san is, if you argue that loudly in front of her door, right?”
Both of them yelped at the same time, shifting to stand side by side, arms touching, hiding the cake behind their backs. The doorknob turned and the door creaked open. A woman peeked out from the gap. Her disheveled black hair flowed into view as the door opened further. Faint creases lined her face, doing little to diminish the rosy glow upon her cheeks. Amusement glistening in her brown eyes, she smiled.
“We’ll make sure to be quiet next time.”
With a laugh, Aki Yuna swung the door open, straightening her back and taking in the sight of her prudent little angels.
“So, what are these two sons of mine doing so early on a Sunday morning?
“Hm, hm, hmm~!”
“You can stop hugging us now…”
Aki Yuna sat humming on the couch with a twin in each arm. On the coffee table in front of them lay three used plates and a platter holding a half-eaten cake. They wished to mirror their mother’s delighted expression, but she was giving them a hard time breathing, squeezing without restraint.
“Nope! Don’t want to!”
The twins spoke in unison. “Why?!” Their revolts did little to pry open the loving embrace they were trapped in.
“Because I have two wonderful children,” Yuna replied in a melodic voice, “Who I absolutely adore~”
“Please let us go!”
For the next ten minutes, the twins begged their mother for freedom in a unified voice, and their mother shot every one of their pleas down. The little Shun was about to give up, until he saw Hiroshi’s eyes shot open.
“Hmm?” Yuna tilted her head in response to the sudden panic in her son’s voice.
Shun knew where this memory was leading him, but any commands he sent his body’s way, it refused.
“We were going to the mall together today!” Hiroshi squeezed his body sideways to face his imprisoner. “It’ll close earlier today since it’s Sunday, so shouldn’t we go out while it’s early?”
“Oh my! I nearly forgot!”
Damn it, I said stop!
“Ah!” Shun’s lips finally moved, but the words he desperately wished for didn’t come out. “Kaa-san, we promised!”
No, ya goddamn—!
Shun’s cursing paused as his mother spoke, heralding the inevitable conclusion.
“Hmph, I guess there’s no helping it.”
Pouting, Yuna released her sons. Patting them on the head, she got up from the couch and spoke.
“We’ll go out in half an hour, be ready!”
Content with what she heard, Yuna turned around and walked briskly to her bedroom.
…It’s been so long since I saw ya walkin’.
The last thing he saw from his seat on the couch was her back as it passed through the doorway, already out of his reach.
Shun heard a lot of new sounds that day.
He heard the sound of an explosion, followed by a crash as another section of the building behind him collapsed.
He heard the thunderous footsteps of the police, the SMC, and other emergency responders as they scurried around the site.
He heard bullets and spells spilling through the air, byproducts of the fight against the remaining terrorists.
He heard the screams of the civilians: a cocktail of fear, rage, and grief.
He heard his own voice.
Ignoring all the other sounds, he ran for a hospital close to the ruins of the mall. His breaths came in harsher with every passing second, his physical enhancement inefficient.
His vision darkened, but the little Shun yelled out his mantra, forcing himself awake. The crashes, grief-stricken shrieks, and siren wails fell behind, unable to keep up.
“Just a little more, don’t die!”
Blood dampened his back with every harsh breath, soaking into his shirt. The metallic odor filled his nostrils, clearing his mind. Readjusting the woman on his back, he ran.
Shun’s vision was replaced by a white ceiling.
“…The hospital? Why am I?”
“Looks like you’re up.”
Sluggish, his eyes moved towards the direction of the voice. Right next to him sat Hiroshi, hunched over and covered in dust and grime. His faint smile did nothing to hide the exhaustion clear in his dark, glossy eyes.
“Oh yeah, the hospital gave you a change of clothes since your shirt was soaked in blood.”
Hiroshi pointed at a pile of rags discarded on the bench. Looking closer, the little Shun realized they were pieces of the white shirt he had put on that morning. To his shock, all of them were stained a dark brownish red.
“Blood?” He repeated that word, mumbling and eyes wide. “Wait, blood!”
In an instant, the memories came rushing back to him. With a start, he almost jumped to his feet.
“Kaa-san! Is she—Gah!”
Jolts of pain ran through his body. Gritting his teeth, he let out a yelp. Hiroshi jumped off the bench and pressed him down to stop his movement.
“She’s going to live.” Hiroshi said, answering the most pressing question on Shun’s mind, causing his body to lose tension. “Stay down, you used all your mana.”
Sighing in relief, Shun laid down on the bench.
“Luckily, they were able to begin treatment immediately.” Hiroshi explained, leaning back against the wall. “I explained the situation clearly, so they were able to prepare a MBR-Pod without wasting time on an examination.”
Mana Based Regeneration Pods.
Coffin shaped machines that utilized magic-integrated technology to heal their occupants. The machine worked by instigating the patient’s mana supply, forcing their body to undergo regenerative processes.
However, the operation of the machine required extensive knowledge of the patient’s body and the injury they’d received. Only then could the mana be stimulated in a correct manner. Since Hiroshi had provided the necessary information, the doctors had omitted most of the preliminary examination on their mother.
“You thought that far ahead, huh…” Shun said, realising the significance of his brother’s actions.
Hearing this, Hiroshi’s eyes lost some of their glossiness, beginning to match the smile on his face.
“Yes,” he replied.
The two fell quiet, too exhausted to continue talking. The silence persisted until Shun, beginning to nod off, sighed in a dejected manner.
“It’s just…” Shun trailed off, but continued, “I really can’t do anything without you.”
Hiroshi’s eyes turned to dots.
“You prepared everything earlier when we baked the cake today. You managed to get Kaa-san fast treatment, and there’s countless other things you’ve done over the years,” Shun murmured, his exhaustion causing tears and words to mingle. “I probably can’t do any of that. If you’re not here, I can’t do anything at all.”
He laughed a self deprecating chuckle.
“That’s not true.”
A hand fit itself onto Shun’s head, patting him with affection.
“You were the one who immediately picked up Kaa-san and ran for this hospital. But I just stood there, frozen.” Hiroshi stared into the distance as if he was remembering a bitter event. “I can think quickly, but I can’t act immediately like you can.”
“Well yeah, but—”
“No ‘but’s,” Hiroshi said, cutting him off. “My point is this. You aren’t useless. You are as capable, if not more, than me.”
Whether because he was touched, or because he was drowsy, Shun let out a concise reply, fighting an uphill battle to stay conscious. Just before he passed out, he heard a mutter.
“Holding me in such high regard, do you plan to rely on me forever even though you’ve proven you’re capable of acting on your own?”
“What the hell?”
The dream ended, leaving Shun alone in a pitch-black space. He couldn’t see, hear, or feel anything, not even his own body.
I’ve been worryin’ over somethin’ small, huh?
He thought back to the exam.
Why the hell should I get so flustered over that idiot? I shoulda been worryin’ about how hard to punch him when I see him again.
“Well, better late than never, right?”
As a childish voice resounded through his ears, the world filled with light. When Shun could see again, he was standing in a white room. Surprised, he gaped at his surroundings.
“Huoh, you seemed surprised.”
A little girl sat in a chair in the center of the room. Almost everything about her could be described in one word: white. Her hair, skin, and clothes were like fallen snow. The only things that stood out from her monotone appearance were a blue ribbon in her hair and her golden irises.
“Who the hell are you?” Shun backed away from her on reflex. “Why are ya in my dream?”
“Well, I’m an uninvited guest,” the girl replied, putting her finger on her chin. “But, that’s not important right now.”
She clapped her hands together and smiled at Shun.
“Around this time, Haya is getting ready to pull off your collar.”
“Oh right! You don’t know her name, do you?” The girl slapped her forehead and sighed. “Well, the girl you were fighting, that would be her.”
“Howdya know that?”
“Unfortunately, I can’t say. If I do, I risk being exposed to someone who is hunting me.”
No matter how Shun looked at it, he found the girl suspicious. She looked young, yet spoke like a person who had experienced a long life. She acted childish, but there was a strange elegance to her actions. And the most unnerving detail was her golden eyes. They peered right into his soul, or so Shun felt.
“Yes, I probably look pretty suspicious. As for the eyes, there’s not much I can do about that.”
Shun widened his eyes, taking another step back.
How did she know what I was—
“Thinking?” The girl narrowed her eyes, smug. “I can’t tell you that either, but I have several things to say before you wake up.”
Shun wanted nothing more than to run away from the girl, whom he had deemed an aberration of nature. Her presence and abilities unnerved him, but for some reason he stayed still. In those deep, golden pools that stared right through him, he felt a sense of urgency and concern, as though she truly wished to aid him.
“Just as you trust Hiroshi, your brother also trusts you,” she said, childish tone replaced by a grave one. “Are you going to let him down? Are you going to let yourself get eliminated so soon?”
Shun fell silent.
“Hiroshi believed that even without him, you would be able to fight her. That you would be able to win. That’s why he eliminated himself without hesitation.”
She leaned forward in her chair, her slim face held in both of her delicate hands. The intensity of her golden eyes seemed amplified.
“Are you going to let him down?”
Those few words were all he needed. Putting on a scowl, Shun cracked his knuckles and returned the girl’s gaze.
“Like hell I will!”
Indifferent to the harshness of his voice, the girl smiled and waved her hand.
Immediately following her words, Shun vanished from the room, leaving behind the amused girl.
Shun opened his eyes to the sight of Haya’s hand closing in on his collar. With a start, he twisted his body, sending a kick toward the side of her stomach.
Startled, Haya yelped and dodged by leaning backwards and backflipping away. The black knives back in her hands, she lowered her stance and stared at Shun, eyes wide and breath uneven. “How are you conscious!”
“Beats me,” Shun replied, grunting as he jumped onto his feet. He stretched his body, causing several cracks to sound out from his back. “How should I know?”
“What kind of answer is that? Well, whatever. This is better anyways.”
Shun stretched his arms one last time. He concentrated until he felt the familiar increase in weight around his legs. A few test kicks later, he confirmed that no part of his body hurt. A great surprise, considering he’d been swatted onto the tree like a fly. He returned his opponent’s smile and mirrored her lowered stance. The playful grin she wore did a terrible job at concealing the feral look in her brown eyes.
“Don’t lose too early, got it?” Haya said, returning his stare, lips curving further upwards. “Or I’ll be bored.”
“I should be sayin’ that to you,” Shun replied. The beads of sweat forming on his temple betrayed his facade of confidence.
The two held their positions for a while at the edge of the clearing, next to the tranquil forest. Shun studied his opponent, ignoring the sweat as it made its way down his cheek. An agonizing minute passed before a breeze rolled through the trees, disrupting the calm.
Shun saw Haya shift her feet, getting ready to pounce. A drop of sweat hit the dirt as he adjusted his feet to match hers.
“Now…” the two cried out. “Let’s go!”
The sound of their feet kicking off the dirt signalled the start of the second round.