Chapter 4 - The Liar, The Pupil, The Shepherd
The siblings stayed the night. The temple was large enough that everyone was capable of having their own rooms, but Sydria insisted on being in the same one as Seti.
"Still awake?" She called out. Her bed was on the other side of the room. He wondered if she had the same stiff pillow as him. Even his old dorm room was more comfortable than this.
She shifted on her bed and her voice grew clearer. "You know I'm on your side, right?"
"You have a weird way of showing it, especially since you blabber everything to dad."
"Are you talking about that girl at the clinic? That vivamancer was wrong," Sydria said. "You can't do stuff to people's brains and not get in trouble."
He clenched his jaw. "Cassie helped me. Because of her—" He stopped. He was about to say how he could see because of the geas but remembered that what really happened at the clinic wasn't what Sydria thought happened. "So she breaks the law to help me, who cares? What have you done?" The words came out before he could filter them, and he regretted it instantly. He opened his mouth to apologize, but his pride wouldn't let him speak.
Silence lingered a moment before she replied, and when she did it was a whisper. "Yeah, I guess I'm just a stranger."
It was hard to fall asleep that night.
At morning's arrival, Seti was momentarily confused as to why it was so dark. He sat up with a heavy sigh when he recalled he was blind. It was followed by terrible leftover taste in his mouth when he remembered last night's conversation. To dismiss the feeling he activated his wind to propel air at his face, as he tended to do. However, instead of a gust of air to his face, the wind light spread out around the area.
The room lit up.
His wind didn't act as a flashlight anymore, but rather it was like a lamp. It remembered his last command and traveled through the room automatically, hitting every corner and touching every crack. The air was gentle enough that the drapes over the window didn't move on impact if it had felt anything at all. Sydria was still in bed, one leg over the edge, sleeping peacefully. The room they were in was small, with only a single drawer between the beds. On the drawer were two folded temple clothes for the siblings to wear when they awoke.
One thing he realized about this new mode was that the diameter was smaller than what it was before his ability broke yesterday. If he had to eyeball it, his vision was roughly ten feet in every direction. As well, he could only focus on one thing at a time within range. It reminded him of his normal vision, which could only focus on a single point and everything else was the peripheral vision. And a strange sensation came to him informing him that the area was thick with his air so that he could stretch it further beyond the ten-foot mark. When he tried to break the radius, his air had a spasm and return back within the limit.
Faulkner had called him a toddler with his adept abilities. Maybe he could extend his reach with some practice.
Another thing he realized was that his air hadn't traveled under either bed. He willed it to be lit up, and the air particles flew in without hesitation. The ease of control that he had was enticing. When that was done, he had an omniview of the room. The experience was only dulled by the fact nothing had color.
Seti slipped on the temple robes that Shanna provided for them. They had not brought extra clothes, as they didn't expect to stay the night. He grimaced at how uncomfortable the clothes were and made his way out the door.
The feeling that he was in a horror movie loomed when he walked down the quiet hallway, the amount of visibility matching a lamp light. The diameter of his view squeezed into the rectangle shape of the hall. Each door Seti passed had gaps that his air pressed through. He paused and let his air look into the rooms for him, getting a feel for his ability. With nothing of interest to look at, he continued to the main entrance room.
A figure shaped into view.
"Freaking!" Seti jumped up. "At least say something if you're there."
"Good morning. I'm here." Shanna spoke.
She still wore a suit with a tie, as a businesswoman would, and had the blindfold over her eyes. And now that Seti had an omniview of everything within ten feet of himself, he could see her figure well. She followed Melvin and Faulkner's example of being fit, with her bum perfectly shaped. Seti "looked" away, not in the physical sense, but the one where, while in range, he placed her in his peripheral vision. He didn't want to get into a habit of leering on women just because he could get away with it.
With that thought, it was possible for him to peak into locker rooms and—
Seti shook his head violently.
"Are you unwell?" Shanna asked. Her posture didn't move an inch.
"N-no, just thinking." His turned away as his face flushed. "So, what now?"
"I've told Faulkner that you're awake. He'll be arriving shortly."
He didn't know how she informed Faulkner or when, but they waited in silence. Shanna seemed comfortable, while Seti found it awkward.
"So," Seti started, "are you also blind?"
"I am not."
Seti heard Faulkner before he shaped into view. "She wears her blindfolds because she's denying her sense of sight." Unlike Shanna, he was wearing a different outfit. A short sleeved button up shirt, where the top three buttons were undone, and jeans to match. His hair was still tied back in a small ponytail.
"Denying her sense of sight?" Seti questioned.
"Perception training," Faulkner said. "For the past year, she's been wearing a blindfold in order to train her geomancy. She's jealous of what you can do in only a day."
"I am not," she said.
Faulkner beckoned both of them to follow as he left the room. He informed that breakfast wouldn't be for another hour, which meant that Seti woke up much earlier than usual. The hard beds and stiff pillow could be partly to blame.
"Tell me about your wind now," Faulkner said as they walked.
Seti explained the diameter limitation and the feeling that it could be stretched. He noticed that he was physically staring off into space and made a note to turn his head as he spoke—public appearance was something he agreed with his father on. He didn't need to physically look at anyone to see them, but it would be a bad habit to get into. Faulkner only nodded silently until they reached their destination. It was another empty room.
"Let's make a few things clear," Faulkner started. They faced each other in the middle of the room. Shanna stayed by the door. "You're my pupil but not my disciple."
"What's the difference?"
"Pupil means I can kick you out by the end of Friday—we only have five days, by the way. Disciple means you become my son."
"It does not," Shanna said.
"It's close enough." Faulkner took out his pack of cigarettes and hit it against his palm, then lit one. "My skills are too valuable to teach to just anyone. My disciple must leave his old life behind to dedicate himself. Even if you were willing to do that, I only want someone that could change the world. Nothing you would need to worry about at this time, as being a pupil for a week will be enough."
Faulkner, satisfied with how he worded his comment, nodded. Seti wouldn't be a person who could change the world, but even before that, would he be willing to leave his old life behind? Other than his sister and his father, he had no family or friends of note in Lambsgard. And his old life, once his sight was restored, would only consist of working at a company for money and not really making a difference. It wasn't exactly glamorous.
"Let's test your niche a bit. Make me feel happy. Go."
"Uh." Seti looked around. "How?"
Faulkner puffed smoke out. "Some abilities work just by desiring it, so desire me to be happy, like you desired me to train you when we first met."
Seti furrowed his brow. Certainly, he did want Faulkner to train him when they had first met. Was that desire expressed through the wind? Cassie had said she felt oppressed when he viewed her in a negative light. Sydria said his air tasted good. How many other things worked in his favor without him knowing?
He unnecessarily closed his eyes and tried to wish happiness unto Faulkner. It felt cheesy. Pictures of garden flowers popped into Seti's head, and then rainbows, and finally he even ended up seeing a unicorn.
"This is so stupid," Seti mumbled. "Did you feel anything?"
Faulkner nodded with a grin. "I feel disgusted. What are you imagining?"
Seti attempted other emotions, which included anger, remorse, and envy, to see what stuck and what the limitations were. The result was the same each time. Faulkner's emotions were unfazed.
"Maybe I have boundless talents and no emotions to be tainted."
"That's not true," Shanna said.
"Try using it on yourself to get a feel for it. In my case, the air was either nasty or it was so faint that I dismissed it automatically."
Seti had used his own wind on himself previously, though it was always when he wanted to calm himself down. To see if he had any control over the emotion niche, he tried to breathe in his air in an attempt to become happier. At once, he felt his nostrils close to stop the cold air from entering, as if it was winter. The pit of his stomach turned disapprovingly. The sensation lasted only for a moment and the air he breathed returned to normal temperature. Next, he tried to use the air to calm himself, something he was familiar with, but didn't feel anything odd. Strangely, he was more at peace with himself and the decisions he made so far. There was no anxiety for the future; what would come would come.
Ah, that would be the calm talking.
"It only works to calm me, nothing else," Seti said, turning off the calming air. As soon as he did, his shoulders slumped. He realized how much he wanted it to work out, to become something unique he could control—a wide variety of emotions. If he could do that, he would be able to register himself with a guild and maybe make a living of being a therapist or something else, something where emotion control would be beneficial.
"Don't be so certain. Niches and abilities are never quite so easily explained. I have a theory, try to make yourself excited," Faulkner said.
He had nothing to lose, so he tried. He willed himself to be excited, currently bummed and expected nothing. But maybe Faulkner had a point. Even the simplest systems tended to have complicated components behind them. Maybe there was a reason that Seti could only be calmed; maybe it had to do with his body, or current time of day, or previous mood, or—
Seti stopped. His excitement was rising. Just thinking about the possibilities gave his heart a race. He sensed something at work inside him, subtle in that he wouldn't have noticed if he didn't know to look.
"It works!" Seti said. "I really don't get it, but it fits like the calm fits."
"My theory, based on the information we have, says maybe your ability doesn't change someone's emotion but amplifies it. You wanted to be calm. You wanted to be excited. For me, hearing that Henry sent you to us made me curious, so I wanted to see what you could do. I believe either a desire for that emotion, or if that emotion was already present, is a requirement."
"And I don't want to be happy?" Seti asked, remembering the cold air that his body rejected.
Faulkner shrugged. "I suppose we're depressed people."
"Incorrect," Shanna said. Seti nearly jumped, forgetting that she was behind him. She had been in his vision diameter the entire time but didn't move at all. He had dismissed her figure as a pole or something. "Happiness is not so easily calculated. It is the result of happenings."
That was the most he heard her speak at once since the first time they met.
"Perhaps. Regardless, there must be more to the niche. I still believe you could alter the mood, rather than just amplify it. Possibly with practice. There may yet be a way to manipulate people into your bidding, all while making them think it was their own doing," Faulkner said.
"Forcing myself on them," Seti concluded. "How is that any different from a geas?"
"Interesting word choice." Faulkner hummed. "But there is a clear difference. Your emotion inducing air is easily repelled if it isn't used as an amplifier, and easily detected. Any adult with decent cognition can dismiss it like we can control mood swings—though your emotion niche isn't strong enough to be compared to a mood swing just yet." He paused. "Children may be more receptive. A geas, on the other hand, is irresistible and requires a tier eight vivamancer."
"A tier eight vivamancer? You're sure?"
"Of course there's always an exception to the rule." Faulkner smiled. "Each person has their own mancy, and each mancy has its own niche. Depending on the niche, that person could very well break the boundaries we all know. I'm sure you've heard of the chaos theory."
The chaos theory. A belief existed in the world where if a single person was born with the right conditions, they would become a global phenomenon. Reality would be unfair to their advantage. It was the explanation for the few born with immense powers—a level of their own. Their mancer abilities were often called incomprehensible. All of them made history. All of them were tier eight, but even then, they were a level above that. They all received the same title: Divine.
Seti hadn't known that the chaos theory could apply to a lesser degree.
"But if you're still worried about forcing yourself on people, consider that inaction is just as wrong as committing the crime itself," Faulkner said. "You could walk around and praise yourself that you aren't as bad as the next guy, however, when you could do good but fail to deliver, then how are you any better? The world is worse off both because of the one who decided to do evil, and because of the one that decided to not prevent it."
Seti thought about the people called heroes. In interviews, after doing some amazing act, they would often say that they weren't heroes, only regular people who were at the right place at the right time. If he could control emotions to some degree, maybe he could stop fights from breaking out by calming people down. He could be useful in the mancy world.
"Speaking of forcing, that reminds me. Did you know that we've given Melvin strict orders to allow no guests to come into the temple? How strange that he should make an exception for you." Faulkner rubbed his chin with mock thought.
"You're saying I changed his mood to let me in?" Seti had blown his wind at Melvin and Dora yesterday when he wanted to enter the temple, but did he really affect their mood? Of course, there could be another explanation. "They knew Henry Adams sent us. Everyone here is acting as if they don't know him, but that's obviously not true. That's why they let me in."
"That by itself wouldn't have budged Melvin. If Henry sent you he would have called one of us, but no such thing happened." That was a punch to the gut. Seti should have contacted his school counselor before traveling. "Your emotus alone likely wouldn't have been enough, either. But combined? Now you're training under an aeromancer—to which I should add that your air wanted to move me to train you as well. But I prefer to think this was my own decision."
The inner child reared its head into Seti's thoughts. Maybe his niche was a sign; a sign to force a way into the mancer world. No one else had thought he was capable. He could use his ability for good. But truthfully, whether he would do good or become selfish was a secondary thing. If a less ethical path was his only option, he might have picked it anyway. The desire to enter the mancer world shadowed over his moral compass. He simply wanted to change from his old life. It was fortunate that he could wrap up his actions as good deeds.
A voice screeched down the hallway. "Breakfast!" Dora.
"Ah, time ran out. I have several ideas how to advance the niche, but we'll talk about it later," Faulkner said.
The morning ritual of the wind temple seemed to be consistent. Dora, youngest of them, set the table without complaint. Melvin arrived wearing a sleeveless shirt; his toned muscles dripped with sweat. Sydria was already at the table, with bed hair and drooping eyes. None of the elders showed up.
Sydria avoided looking at him.
After breakfast, Faulkner and Seti met alone in a training room. On Faulkner's suggestion, Seti tried to get a feel for what worked and what didn't. Trying to increase his own joy or happiness didn't work and was only met with a wave of cold air. Anger worked easily, which in turn made Seti recall his previous conversation with Sydria and her arrogance for not looking at him during breakfast. It was a good thing he didn't apologize last night.
Of course, that feeling passed when he calmed himself. The whole experience felt like he was drugging himself.
"Wouldn't everyone around me start having their moods affected?" Seti asked. "I mean, my vision is ten feet all around me, so wouldn't that mean my air alters everyone inside?"
"Maybe one day, but definitely not currently," Faulkner said. "Before, your air was compressed and the niche was always on. Now, your air is too weak and spread out to affect everyone equally. Focusing on one person at a time is the go-to method for the time being."
Before they could go deeper into the topic, the four elders arrived, guided by Shanna. One of them, the one Seti knew was Elder Narn from the first day, threw a nasty glance at him before speaking.
"Young master. Tell this boy we must continue our discussion. I will not be swayed."
"Boy! I'm to tell you that we must continue our discussion." Faulkner smiled and winked.
As Seti left the room, Elder Poe gently tapped him on the shoulder as a friendly gesture that he appreciated. He tested different emotions as he walked around the temple ground. It took only a few minutes to note that he could amplify his boredom, and then wondered why he did so.
He passed by Dora and Sydria, where the latter ignored him completely. They were whispering intensely. With nothing else to do, Seti returned to his room and rested on the bed, allowing a serene calm to envelop him. It was comfortable to the point where he unwillingly took a nap.
He woke up to a tap on his arm.
Sydria was sitting on the edge of his bed with a cellphone in her hand.
"What do you want?" He asked with a voice deeper than he meant it to be.
"Dora and I made some changes to your phone. Apps galore!" Sydria showed off the phone like it was a trophy. Any apathy she had before was gone.
A drawer by the door moved and waved—except it wasn't a drawer, but Dora. How strange; he could see the entire room with his omnivision but sometimes recognized things incorrectly. Thinking a person was a piece of furniture was concerning.
"Okay, a promise is a promise! I'll let you teach him," Dora said. She spun on her heels and skipped out of the room.
Sydria showed him the functions of the new apps. Now, whenever anyone called, the phone would announce their name. Texts were read aloud as well, and he could reply with a voice-to-text program. Other useful apps made use of the phone camera. It could identify money bills and read back any words that the phone picked up. They practiced its usage with a book Sydria took from the temple library (he noted to visit it later). He held up his phone camera to the book cover and took a picture.
"Cause and Effect. Vivamancers and the Brain. Bestseller. Cory Donovan." A metallic female voice said from his phone.
"How weird," Seti said. "Why would technology like this exist when vivamancers can fix everything?"
"Not everyone can afford things like we can, and you know they have to make non-mancer stuff. But these apps were expensive anyway!"
"You bought them?" Seti disbelieved. "I'm not going to stay blind; I'll get it fixed after this week. Why would you pay for it?"
"Oh could you just say thank you for once. Dora was absolutely convinced you were permanently blind and said I had to change your phone. She can get pushy."
Seti smiled. He pictured the two arguing until Sydria caved. Not to mention Sydria found him a book about memory manipulation, something else he intended to learn.
"Thank you, Sydria," he said earnestly.
She shrugged. "We're going out in a few minutes and wanted to see if you want to come. It'll be Dora, Shanna, and the tattoo freak."
Tattoo freak was probably… Melvin. It was another reminder that Seti couldn't see the world in the same way others could. While his omniview allowed him to have eyes on the back of his head, things like tattoos or other art would be invisible.
"Sure, but I want to dress into something better than this." Seti didn't actually want to go and would rather read the book, but since Sydria was attempting to bridge the gap between them, he figured he should do his part as well. She was his sister, after all.
It turned out that Sydria had insisted on getting their regular clothes washed, which worked well for Seti. She then insisted that they take her car out into the city, but that might have been the default choice since there was no other car in the garage. Did no one else drive?
"I want to go too," Dora pouted.
"Shut it," Melvin said. He wore a sweater with the hoodie up. Considering his piercings, and the tattoos Sydria said he had, he probably was annoyed by the attention he received in public.
"You shut it. Why can't Shanna stay instead of me?" Dora asked.
Shanna said nothing. She was still in her business suit.
They were sitting in the car, with Melvin in the driver seat ("It's a man's job to drive") and Dora outside his window, complaining. Shanna sat in the front passenger, her blindfolds still over her eyes.
Sydria leaned forward from her seat to get into Dora's view. "Shanna needs a new look. Aren't you bored of seeing her in a suit all the time? Just you wait—she'll have so many new clothes that you can dress her up."
Dora's eyes lit up, then frowned, then beamed, then crossed her arms defensively.
Be more excited, Seti willed unto her.
Dora gave a final nod. "Okay! See you soon. Melvin, don't fight."
They drove out of the garage and entered the city. Sydria fidgeted; maybe she was anxious that someone else was driving her car. With Seti's omnivision being what it was, he could only see within the car. He plugged his earphones into his phone and took a photo of Cause and Effect. Vivamancers and the Brain. Listening to it read the index back was droning, but fortunately, there was an option for him to change the speed of the reader. Unfortunately, the speed was either too slow or too fast, causing a level of frustration to rise.
Seti took a deep breath to calm himself. His air acted its part as well, amplifying the emotion. He kept his eyes closed and tried to focus on the words read to him, but he would get distracted when Sydria stole glances and nodded after.
Several minutes passed before Sydria poked his arm. At this point, Seti still hadn't started any serious reading, both because he couldn't find the specific chapter he wanted and because snapping a photo sometimes had a delay. Technology that didn't respond instantly was something that irked him. His calm air, however, was shaping him to become a patient man.
"What is it?" Seti asked once he took off a single earpiece.
"Us girls are going shopping. There's a bookstore at the mall that you can check out, using that app. I'll buy any books you want when we're done."
"Sure. I'm not saying thank you again. I only have the ability to do that once a month."
Once they parked, Melvin left them immediately to do his own thing. Sydria took Seti's arm to guide him through the parking lot. That peeved him since he was capable of walking on his own, and could see even better than her in a ten-foot radius. He kept his mouth shut, though, because he didn't want to get into another fight so quickly.
Seti's "superior" vision ended when the natural wind blew into his omniview, pushing his own air particles aside, rendering him fully blind until the wind died down. He would need to find a way to stop that from happening.
The girls talked to each other—Sydria doing most of it—about which outfits to wear. Every time Sydria offered a suggestion, Shanna would simply nod and say that it would work. The younger sibling was likely annoyed since she spiced up her comments.
"Even Faulkner would fawn at you," she said.
"He's not interested."
"Are you interested?"
"I am not," Shanna said, still monotone.
"Is there anyone that you're interested in?"
"I do not know."
Seti absorbed the heat he felt on the back of his neck. The sun overhead blazed directly on him, meaning it was a sunny day. The heat sometimes ended and started again; the result of clouds passing by? The air smelled different—like rain, which was a strange thing to notice since he didn't usually focus on smell except when it was a terrible odor.
They stepped inside the mall and stopped at a terminal that mapped the area; at least that's what Sydria told Seti, but he couldn't confirm nor deny. They made their way to the bookstore first to drop him off. More than once did Shanna get a double look from people, either for her blindfold or her figure.
Soon after, Seti was alone in the bookstore with a promise that they would send a text before returning. The store was larger than Seti thought it would be, and it used engraved headers over each aisle, to indicate genre and sort order. That made it easy for him to see what was available since his omniview edged into the engravings. Most book spines bumped out their titles, removing the need for the phone camera to find a book.
In the end, after strolling past several books, Seti decided the most interesting one he wanted was the one he already had. He sat at an empty table and began reading a random page.
Before he could start in earnest, a large bulked man made his way to Seti's table. Up until now, Seti had dismissed the random shapes of people entering and exiting his vision range. However, this man was different. His hair was short cropped, to the scalp, and his upper body was large like a sports athlete, whereas his legs were thinner. That wasn't what got Seti's attention. The man wore a tailcoat that had a neck collar which rose to the height of his chin. On his chest was a badge with an engraved shape of a cane.
He sat directly opposite of Seti. He clasped his hands on the table and waited to have attention. Seti, who had been looking down on his book the entire time, acted as if he had not seen the man. The Shepherd was clearly here for him, but for what reason?
Seti amplified his own calm, removed his earphones, and then closed the book.
"Hello," Seti said.
The Shepherd stared at him. "I am Shepherd Cyrus Everstone."
"Hello," Seti said again.
"You are Seti Tutt. Son of Jacob Tutt and Lieutenant Noelle Cambridge. Tier one wind adept. Successfully graduated from Lambsgard University with prospects to join your father at Event Horizon."
"You did your homework. How may I help you?"
"I'm investigating an incident that occurred at the Lambsgard University clinic Saturday morning. Specifically, a geas event done by Cassie Carter.
"Ah," Seti said. "Odd, I thought the investigation was stopped because you guys coerced her into joining the Shepherd ranks, starting out at Prestige or something. Doubly odd that you came here to Maybell for the investigation; a bit slow, are we?"
And triply odd that they found him at this specific bookstore.
"By the time we came to Lambsgard you were already gone. Cassie had said you might be aggressive until I explain a few things. If I may?"
"I find it strange she would be willing to talk at all."
"After being granted immunity, she told us she had placed more than one geas on you. She guessed that you would understand our position if we explained."
"Oh yes, please share your side of the story. I would love to hear what you tell yourself at night."
If Shepherd Cyrus was fazed by Seti's comment, he did not show it. He stared on, shoulders wide and imposing.
"Cassie has a unique specialization. She can see aeronite in a way that other vivamancers cannot. This allows her to be more… precise in her modifications. This also includes control of brain vivamancy. Under normal conditions, a tier three adept should have no ability to shape a geas. For that reason alone, she was not under the effects of the AVC Act—Anti Viva Cult, a means to stop the usage of geas. But since her specialization could bend normal understanding of vivamancy, she has been practicing geas on herself in secret."
"So no one knew she could use geas until now?" Seti asked.
"A bit of an oversight."
"We do what we can to predict and prevent these events," Cyrus continued. "Cassie is too bright and too foolish for her own good. She reached the pinnacle of what she was capable of with geas shaping, therefore she would need another mind to practice on. She believed she could get away with using yours, but here we are." He paused, considered something, and then started again. "We could penalize her for her actions, but we believe it better to guide her to become a better person. The world could use someone of Cassie's talents."
"And Aiden was just piece to play? I know that you people threatened to reject his application to Prestige. How does it feel to play divine?" Seti asked. He didn't care for Aiden, nor was he even considered a friend, but the idea of Shepherds threatening to end a man's future was something Seti could relate to.
"I know Aiden. I reviewed his Prestige application personally. We rejected him due to lack of talent. By us doing nothing else, his future would have been decided. We gave grace under the condition that his girlfriend attended the academy as well."
It was ironic that they told a tier four the same thing that Seti heard all his life: no talent. Slightly more surprising was that Aiden and Cassie were dating if the girlfriend comment was true, but to each their own.
"I'm assuming she told you the reason I was at the clinic that day," Seti said.
"She did not tell us about that. I granted her leniency during the Veritas test when it regarded your personal plight. We know nothing other than the need for a remembrance geas." Cyrus glanced down at the book Seti had been reading. "But it would be a fair guess to think memory manipulation was done on you. For the problems we caused you, we are willing to provide our own vivamancers to help solve your dilemma. Free of charge."
Seti tapped his finger on the book. Well, he had a means to solve his blindness without using his father's money, so that's a plus. And it would be someone from a reputable source.
"During the Veritas test? What's that?"
"We have permission under certain conditions to make the subject become a truth sayer. A truth serum, as some fantasize it. It is the Veritas geas."
"A geas to solve a geas problem sounds contradictory."
"I agree it does, but geas is not something we take lightly. In fact, as of right now you might be screaming internally at me to help you but could show no sign of it. The power of a geas under the wrong hands could be disastrous. And that is why I am here. I'm bringing you with me."
"What?" Seti flinched back. "Why?"
"Regardless of any statement we receive from Cassie or another source, we must do our due diligence and ensure no foul play remains at hand. We will be forced to scan you and confirm that you are not under a geas currently and had no personality alterations. Once you are cleared, we will return you back to your father."
"What—no!" Seti stood to his feet. The amplified calm over him fading quickly. "I need to stay, there's something I have to do. I'm not under a geas right now."
Shepherd Cyrus raised an eyebrow. "You'll understand if we don't take your word for it. You'll come with us. This is not a request."
Seti steadied his breath and calmed down. He was currently Faulkner's pupil and was learning more about his wind adept abilities on a daily basis now. He learned more in the last couple of hours than he did his entire life up until now. The downside was that Faulkner said he only had five days to teach him.
"How long will it take to clear me?" Seti asked.
"When we scan you and return you to your father, we will supervise you for roughly a week."
"No!" Seti shouted. People that passed by were side glancing him. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "A full week would ruin what I'm— Unless you can provide an aeromancer to teach me?"
"That's not possible," Cyrus said, his hands still clasped on the table. "No aeromancer would take in a tier one adept, not even as a favor to me."
"But my niche— My niche is unique!"
"I'm sorry. A tier one simply won't be accepted."
Seti opened his mouth to argue, but no sound came out. His future denied again. He was finally making headway with his abilities. Hope had filled him for the first time in years. It was ending just as quickly as it started. A Shepherd could not be denied when a decision was made.
"Could we delay for a few days?" Seti asked though he knew the answer.
"Under the circumstances, we cannot."
He was defeated. What options did he have? His shoulders drooped down. He dragged his feet towards the bookstore entrance. The Shepherd stood and collected the forgotten book and cellphone on the table.
"Follow me," Cyrus said after handing the items over. He was at least a foot taller.
Seti obeyed. The crowds parted as the Shepherd walked through, drawing attention as he did. Seti lingered a step behind, his slow walk being the only protest he could muster. He wished he could do something, do anything to change how unfair life was. But what could he do? No one fought the Shepherds. No one other than the mafia, at least.
Except… perhaps Seti could do something. It had only been one real lesson, but he did learn something new with his wind. He could amplify emotions. How could he have forgotten something so important so quickly?
He immediately amplified his own desire to want a change. He didn't want to hesitate any longer. He would find a way to fight back. The sense of defeat he had felt waned. Now it was a matter of picking the Shepherd apart.
"Do you think I'm under a geas right now?" Seti asked, matching his step to the Shepherd's. His voice was clear and confident. He would gauge the Shepherd's thoughts and manipulate what he could. This ordeal could possibly end with Seti simply walking away.
"What I think is irrelevant, we must undergo the procedure."
"I understand. But do you think I am?"
If there was even a little doubt…
"Your sister thinks your recent actions are fully suspect. That is why we are here. I trust that over a single conversation we had."
He wouldn't give up so easily. They entered the cafeteria of the mall, soon to be out of the building. Seti would have to push several different emotions unto the Shepherd until something stuck. Maybe he would try mercy? What emotion induced mercy? Empathy? But to the Shepherd, if Seti really was under a geas, then it would be empathetic to bring him in. Maybe tiredness? Laziness? What would work on a Shepherd? He had no other choice but to gamble and see—
Melvin shaped into view. His hoodie still up, he sat alone at a table with a phone in one hand and his chin resting on another. He seemed bored.
Seti amplified that boredom.
Melvin yawned but still looked at his phone. He had no awareness of his surroundings.
"This is retarded," Seti said loudly. He stopped walking and gave no indication that he saw Melvin. The benefits of omniview. "It's unfair. The Shepherds always do whatever they want."
Cyrus, now a step ahead of Seti, turned around. He tilted his head. "Mr. Tutt?"
But Seti's words weren't meant for the Shepherd. He meant it for Melvin. The man's eyes snapped to attention when he saw Seti with the Shepherd.
Melvin pointed discretely at Seti, then at his own eyes, and finally at himself.
Can you see me? He was asking.
"This does not help your case, nor will it deter me from what we must do," Cyrus said.
"Yes," Seti said. And if there was one thing he knew about Melvin…
You want to fight! Seti willed unto Melvin. Consequences be damned. Fight the Shepherd!
People slowed to a crawl as they passed. Melvin pointed again at Seti and then did the universal motion of a finger-man running. He opened his hand, every finger wide, and counted down.
"Sorry, just emotional," Seti said, starting his step forward. Cyrus turned slowly to lead again, but he was wary.
Seti turned and bolted. Cyrus reached out. The grab short.
Seti ran. Cyrus followed. Melvin clapped once.
Then several things happened at once.
Melvin leaped off the table—knocking it down—and lunged himself towards the Shepherd. His hands, clasped together from the clap, separated.
A phasm sword materialized between his hands.
Cyrus turned— He noticed Melvin. Instantly, a barrier wrapped around the Shepherd. Seti's sight of the Shepherd changed into something entirely different: Cyrus now visually appeared as a humanoid solid block of something.
Melvin took his sword and swung down as he landed. The Shepherd caught the blade.
A shockwave erupted on impact. Wind blew past. Cafeteria cups flipped and spilled. Melvin forced Cyrus to one knee. People screamed.
"He's not alone!" Cyrus shouted.
Seti ran on. The two combatants were no longer in the ten-foot view. Another burst of sound. More screams. Then an odd figure shaped into view. She was running and jumping off the cafeteria tables, knocking them down as she went. She also wore a tailcoat.
A second Shepherd.
She snapped her fingers. A spear materialized for her to grab. Seti changed directions. She threw the spear at him—missed over his shoulder.
Not a miss. It impaled the wall. The second Shepherd soared off the table and flew acrobatically towards the spear. She landed on it with grace, as if weightless.
"Halt! You're being detained for—" She tried to say, but then the wall her spear rested on changed. A giant hand, with each finger as tall as a person, tried to grab the Shepherd. She jumped off her spear and dodged. The ground she landed on shaped into bars and tried to imprison her. She rolled back to avoid capture. "Enemy geomancer on site! Visibility negative!"
The ground continued to deform and shape into obstacles against the female Shepherd. Poles. Boulders. Pitfalls.
Seti ran with the crowd. Someone had a phone out as they ran, pointed backward. They were recording the fight.
Another burst of sound. Melvin slid into view with his phasm sword thrust into the ground to slow his speed.
"Switch!" He shouted. His hoodie was down, revealing all the piercings on his face.
He noticed Seti in his peripheral and tossed the phasm sword. Seti caught it while Melvin clapped his hands and formed another blade and ran in the direction of the female Shepherd. The juggernaut that was Cyrus appeared and charged at Seti.
A wall, taller than Seti could see, accelerated from the ground between them. It cracked when Cyrus slammed into it. Seti ran away from the fight, clutching the weightless phasm sword in one hand and the book in the other. He forgot he had the book.
The female Shepherd jumped off the geo-made wall to the normal wall and somersaulted midair. She landed in front of Seti. She stepped towards him, katana in hand, and swung. Seti held up his own blade to block but he lost his grip on impact. The sword flew out of his hand, leaving him defenseless.
"This pissin' monkey!" Melvin ran into view.
He slid to a stop and set his feet. Seti jumped behind him. The female Shepherd stepped into his range—he swung down. She directed the blow and countered; his sword blurred in response. Neither gave ground as they had a response for each move. Seti was mesmerized, completely forgetting that he should be running. Melvin feinted and low kicked. She snapped her fingers while losing her step and her katana changed into a staff—the blunt end hitting Melvin square in the chest when it shaped. He flew a few feet back, landing on his backside. He kicked his feet up and re-engaged battle once again.
Seti heard Sydria call his name but couldn't tell which direction it came from. The wall by him formed again, this time to shape into the figure of a person. No, rather, Shanna had just walked through the wall.
Shanna stood calmly, one finger raised up. In the next instant, another wall appeared, separating Melvin from the female Shepherd, and it became a dome over the three of them. It cut them off from the outside world. The shouts outside muffled.
"What happened?" She asked. A bang echoed against their geo-dome from the direction Cyrus had been. He was trying to smash an opening.
Melvin sat down and breathed heavily. "He was dragging Seti off. I stepped in."
Dragging wasn't the word Seti would have chosen.
"Debrief me," Shanna commanded.
"Two opponents, one Shepherd," Melvin said between breaths. "Both are crafters, but the Shepherd is Cyrus Everstone."
Only one Shepherd? Who was the female fighter then? She definitely looked like a Shepherd and fought like one too.
Shanna frowned. "You were losing to the Lamb."
That answered that question. By naming conventions alone, the Lamb was likely a future Shepherd.
"Screw off, I was not. Want me to go all out? I can, but you guys said to keep a low profile."
Another bang to the dome. A crack appeared. Melvin stood and clapped his hands to form a great sword that he rested on his shoulders.
"Picking a fight with Cyrus is low profile?" Shanna flicked her finger towards the crack. The dome shaped slightly and repaired the crack.
"Like I said, he was dragging the kid off. He's a pupil now, you know?" Melvin shrugged. He reached out and felt the wall by him.
Shanna turned towards Seti. She still had her blindfold on but the clothes she wore were different. Her sleeveless sweater hugged her chest and the jeans were tight around the waist. Sydria knew how to pick them out. They also had the price tag hanging from them, meaning she had been in the middle of trying them on.
"You look good," Seti said.
"Must be nice to see in the dark," Melvin muttered.
"I will bring the roof down," Shanna said. "Faulkner is coming."
"What do you mean you'll bring the roof down?" Seti asked. This was beyond what he expected would happen. "What about the people out there? Sydria is out there, too."
"She is being protected by the Lamb." Shanna glanced up and raised her hand. "There are no other civilians in the cafeteria."
Right, Shanna could perceive things outside the dome. Seti's visual was limited to within their geo-made hovel, but at least it was better than seeing nothing.
"Why not make a tunnel for us so we can escape?" Seti asked.
"We are not attempting to escape." Shanna's raised hand clenched into a fist. She brought her arm down quickly in the act of pulling.
Muffled shouts came from outside the dome. A second later the ground rumbled. It continued to shake for several more seconds before the calm. Shanna flicked her fingers several more times. The dome opened and melted around them. The smell of debris forced Melvin and Seti to breathe through their sleeves. Shanna did not follow their example.
Seti could check his surroundings now. He was probably able to see better than what he would have been if he had his eyesight, with the dust in the air. Chunks of concrete littered all around, a high contrast to the clean ground where the dome previously guarded.
The woman Shepherd—Lamb?—jumped into view and whipped a rope at them. It latched onto Seti's arm and pulled him off balance, dragging him away from his two protectors. Shanna flicked a finger and a geo-spear rose from the ground and stopped inches from the woman's throat. She stopped moving.
"Reimir, enough!" Shepherd Cyrus yelled. He walked on top of the debris and dropped next to his partner.
Seti tried to pull his arm free, but the rope only tightened unnaturally.
"Where is my sister?" Seti demanded.
"Safe. No thanks to any of you," Reimir said. Her tied back hair was coming undone, covering some of her face. She leaned away from the pointed tip that was an inches from her throat. She gripped the phasm rope firmly.
Seti heard the sounds of rocks falling behind Cyrus. Sydria appeared.
"Seti!" She shouted.
She was unharmed. He was relieved momentarily until he remembered that she was the one who called in the Shepherds. She was the one who was in the way of him becoming a wind mage.
"Don't be so loud," he said, annoyed.
Cyrus, Reimir, and Sydria all stood on one side. Shanna and Melvin on the other. Seti was between them with a rope wrapped around his arm.
"We are at an impasse," Cyrus said. He crossed his arms and shook his head slowly.
The wind picked up. The air started to clear. Seti lost his omniview to the gale.
"No, we are not," Shanna said.
The wind continued to turn faster and faster. It surrounded Seti and pressed him in every direction. He could feel it rise in its height. The sound of the wind shut out any other voice. It lasted for another moment before the gust slowed enough for his omniview to work again. It took him a second to realize what he was seeing. A powerful twister formed—with them in the eye of it. The wind was so great that the debris outside lifted off the ground and spun with the wind.
The center of the twister was silent of the world without.
Cyrus was the first to look up. Reimir noticed and followed his line of sight. Her own eyes widened. A moment later, a man floated down from above. His clothes swayed gently as unseen wind held him up. He was like an angel that descended from heaven.
Or the devil that was kicked out.
Five feet from the ground, whatever power was holding Faulkner stopped, dropping him next to Shanna. His eyes narrowed. He had no cigarette. He wore no smile. His thin lips etched into his face.
"T-that's—!" Reimir stammered. She peeled her eyes off Faulkner and turned to Shanna. "Then y-you're—!"
"That's correct," Shepherd Cyrus said calmly. "We are in the presence of the Wind Dragon and the Earth Dragon. The members of the Serio family. Mafia."