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“Are you sure you want to do this?” Farrah said as she and Jason drove to Kaito and Amy’s house. Given the short distance, they didn’t portal over so Jason had it ready in case of emergency.

“No,” Jason said. “I still say we could go with the chimera confluence for Kaito.”

“We’ve been over this,” Farrah said. “That’s an adventurer’s confluence.”

“We could put him in front of some monsters,” Jason said. “He might thrive. Think about it. Venom attacks, gas cloud attacks. He’d be an affliction specialist, like me.”

“Did you even get that third essence?”

“No,” Jason said. “I have snake and rat essences. Maybe the Americans could get me a skunk essence.”

“I think you should stick with the essences you’ve picked out, rather than try to make a petty point,” Farrah said.

“Fine,” Jason grumbled.

“The reason I asked if you were sure,” Farrah said, “is that you’ve already been through two rank-ups and he’s still better looking than you.”

“Seriously?” he asked.

“I’m not going to apologise for having eyes. You must have noticed that your rank-ups are making you look more like him.”

“That doesn’t make it something I want to talk about,” Jason said, just as his phone rang. “Oh, good. Someone who wants to talk about something other than how handsome my brother is.”

“If this world had gods,” Farrah said, “I’d be praying that they were calling to talk about your brother.”

Jason threw her a look of mock anger as he took out his phone and put it on speaker.

“Keti,” he greeted. “What can I do for you?”

“What’s this I’m hearing about a light show at the marina?”

“Sorry about that,” Jason said. “Farrah got a little over-excited after she hit silver.”

“Farrah is category three?”

“I am,” Farrah said. “Hello, Ketevan.”

“Congratulations,” Ketevan said. “Look, we’ve passed it off as a cashed-up bogan playing around with propane but try not to make too big a spectacle. You’re lucky we swapped out the police department with our people.”

“You can do that?”

“For a small town like Casselton Beach, yes,” Ketevan said.

“So that’s why Paul got transferred to Coffs,” Jason said. “I appreciate the effort you’ve put in.”

“You’ll need to discuss the changes in your capabilities with the tactical department, Farrah,” Ketevan said. “How powerful are you, now?”

“Not sure,” Farrah said. “I’ll need a few fights to settle into my new levels.”

“We’ll let you know, as always,” Ketevan said.

“Alright, thanks Keti,” Jason said.

***

Oddly, Jason had found that combinations were harder to devise for non-combatants than for adventurers. Farrah had advised him to focus on what the individual was already capable of, thus Erika’s cooking magic set and Ian’s healing combination were right out of the Magic Society common combinations list. Ian’s confluence, ministration, was one of the most healing-focused confluences on that list.

The living document couldn’t get updated from a universe away, but the existing archive was intact. Jason and Farrah had been parcelling out chunks of information on known essences in return for various concessions from the Network. On Anna’s advice, much of that had been with the Americans and the Chinese, helping to smooth some ruffled feathers.

Both factions were maintaining a presence in Sydney, as between them they had finagled some forty percent of the spots in the International Committee’s training program. Jason, but mostly Farrah, taught the Network’s young new essence users to fight like adventurers. They also spent time helping existing teams adapt their tactics, giving them a stop-gap until the young ones came into their own.

Jason found preparing the rest of his family to be less straightforward. They wouldn’t have the training, which made picking out essences all the more difficult. Jason found himself paying attention to the technology essence, which seemed to be analogous to the magic essence in that it was common but highly regarded.

Also like the magic essence, it often defined the nature of someone’s powers. Where magic would often lead to a skill evolution toward spells, the technology essence promoted conjuration abilities.

Technology was an essence that the Magic Society records had no insight on. That left them relying on the Network's knowledge or experimenting with them on the parts of his family he was less enthused with. Farrah, thus far, had steered him away from that course.

The vehicle essence was known to Pallimustus, but there were not a large number of known combinations, despite it being common. For Kaito, they picked out a combination that was both known and comprised of common essences. The vehicle, wind and swift essences combined into the soaring confluence, which was a known non-combat combination focused on flight.

On Farrah’s world, that combination meant exotic magical flight vehicles. On earth, the results were somewhat different. Kaito demonstrated this after recovering from taking in his essences and downing a spirit coin. He used his very first ability to conjure a helicopter in his backyard. He then immediately dropped onto the grass, having consumed almost his entire mana supply.

"What did you do to my fence?" Erika asked. Ian was at work and Emi at school, but she had come to offer moral support to her brother. If that took the form of laughing at him as she hosed foul gunk off of him in the backyard, then so be it. She was less amused when the tail of the helicopter toppled the fence between her and her brother's yards.

“That’s a big vehicle,” Jason said. “How can he manage something like this at iron rank?”

"There are some mitigating factors," Farrah said. "Firstly, his essence combination is very flight-oriented. Something less specialised, like your ability to turn your familiar into a mount, is less effective when working with flight. He doesn't face that restriction. The other thing is that power sets don't balance individual abilities as much as the power set as a whole."

“Clive explained that to me,” Jason said. “So, most of Kaito’s powers will be weaker?”

“I’ve seen power sets like this before,” Farrah said. “They have one very impressive power, while most of the others are minor powers that supplement the main one. Kaito, you can expect most of your abilities to affect your conjured helicopter in some way. Speed boosts, conjured weapons, that kind of thing.”

“Weapons?” Kaito said.

“Yes,” Farrah said. “I’ve never seen a power set with no combat abilities at all. Even Ian’s will have a few, and he has as pacifistic a power set as you’ll ever see.”

Kaito took another spirit coin from Jason, standing up after putting it in his mouth. He smacked his lips unhappily.

“It’s like licking a battery,” he said.

Kaito walked around the helicopter currently filling his backyard.

“It’s pretty sexy, I’ll give you that,” Jason said.

“It looks a lot like the FCX-001,” Kaito said absently as he moved around it.

“Oh, the old FCX-001,” Jason said. “I totally see it now.”

Kaito threw his brother a cranky glance.

“The FCX-001 is a concept helicopter by Bell,” Kaito said, at which Jason and Erika both perked up.

“Yes,” Kaito groaned. “The same company that made the Bell 222 that Airwolf was based on. The FCX-001 is much more impressive than that, though.”

“Than Airwolf?” Erika asked. “That doesn’t seem likely.”

“It does look like half-helicopter, half spaceship,” Jason conceded.

“It’s not just the looks,” Kaito said. “The real thing is just a concept. Morphing rotor blades, advanced anti-torque innovations, augmented reality piloting. It’s literally a helicopter from the future.”

“Time for a ride, then, yeah?” Erika said.

“I can’t fly it,” Kaito said. “I don’t know how to start trying to register this thing.”

“Kai, it’s a magic helicopter,” Erika said. “You don’t register it. You fly it upside down while yelling woo like you’re Nature Boy Ric Flair.”

“Who?” Kaito asked.

Kaito and Erika continued to argue while they looked over the helicopter before opening it up for a look inside. Amy had been quietly watching from the side without talking but didn't notice Jason when he slipped away or when he quietly approached her.

“You’re a problem,” he said. She didn’t show it but he felt the slight startlement in her aura. She turned to face him.

“What kind of a problem?” she asked.

“For the others, it was relatively obvious which way to go. Cooking, for Erika. There’s a bunch of druid-type choices for Dad. Farrah even managed to find a flying vehicle combination for your husband.”

“Your brother.”

“Brothers don’t do what Kaito did. My brothers are in another universe.”

“Do you even understand why he slept with me back then?”

“Because he’s a dick.”

“That’s why I did it,” she said. “I was selfish and cowardly and stupid enough to convince myself that the way to solve my problems was by blowing them up. He did it because you intimidate him. The insecurities floating around the back of his head told him that sleeping with me meant he was as good as you.”

“Are you high? Did this whole thing happen because you confused the two of us six years ago and you haven’t realised yet? On what planet is Kaito insecure about me?”

"You seriously never saw it?" she asked. "You were always insightful but you were both blind spots to each other. Think about the way he was back in school. Always doing everything he could to fit in, to be accepted. He never had the courage to be himself and live with people liking or hating it. You did. Aggressively. That always intimidated him."

“Why? Everybody loved him.”

“Not everyone, Jason. Kaito could get any ordinary girl he wanted, but someone like Asya wouldn’t spare him a second glance. She had handsome boys with the right clothes and the right opinions coming out of her ears. She was looking for someone who charted their own path. Why did you think she and I didn’t get along? I had you on the shelf and she was trying to take you off before I was ready to.”

“That doesn’t sound like a positive thing.”

“It was high school, Jason. We were all monsters. I know you think that people hated you in school and you were the misunderstood loner, getting by on cleverness and guile. I hate to break it to you, but that was just some teen angst crap. Most people didn’t like you because you were a bit of a prick and thought you were too good for everyone.”

“That seems harsh,” Jason said.

“Too bad,” Amy said. “Now that all this time has passed, have you and Asya…?”

“No.”

“Why not? I haven’t seen her much since she came back, but she clearly still has a thing for you.”

“I know, but it isn’t fair.”

“Why not?”

“I can read her emotions and she can’t read mine. I’ve learned that successful relationships require a balanced power dynamic. Otherwise, one half will just get crushed when the other half bangs his brother like a drum.”

“You’re going to have to get past that someday,” she said.

"No, I'm not," Jason said. "I just have to live with it until you die of old age. I'll give you magic enough that you should comfortably see a hundred, but not much more.”

“And how long will you live?”

“Assuming I don’t get killed too often, then centuries. Forever, if I can swing it.”

“Are you serious?”

“Amy, you’ve seen glimpses of a wider cosmos. I’ve had it crawl into my body and try to steal my soul. Language lacks the mechanism to represent the magnitude of it. Our minds are too limited to grasp the scope. Only the soul can truly understand, but that’s not a viewpoint you want, believe me.”

“You’re right that I don’t understand. I want to, though. I want to see a wider world. If there really are all these magnificent things, I want to see them for myself.”

“No.”

“What?”

"I said no. You'll get more than most because you're family and I'll see you safe. You’ll see things, as the world starts to change, but you’ll see them on the news, with everyone else. I will never show you the true wonders that are out there. You’ll keep seeing only glimpses, knowing that amazing things are out there while you’re trapped in whatever’s left of this world’s mundanity.”

“You really have changed, Jason. You never used to have this vindictiveness inside you.”

“It was a parting gift from my closest friend,” he said, turning to look at the helicopter. “Looks like your husband is going to take us for a ride.”

Right after he spoke, the door of the helicopter slid open to reveal Kaito.

“Come on, honey,” he said. “Erika won’t leave me alone until I fly this thing. Jason, we can do her magic when we get back, right?”

“Sure,” Jason said. “No rush.”

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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