"Distort... Distort… Distort! Come on already! Just work! Distort!"
I was out of time.
My attempts during Grampy's absence to figure out how to cast illusions with my magic had been a no go. Significant research and a whole lot of time and effort resulted in me finding out why I was having such a hard time performing a well known spell.
It was because my Magic Control was still pitiful that higher end spells simply fizzled out, exploded in my face or simply didn't work… mainly the middle reaction annoyingly.
There simply hadn't been enough time to train that individual attribute before Grampy returned. So in these last moments I was like a kid desperately trying to finish up his homework before handing it into the teacher. I even skipped school today to muster every bit of my attention into this as a last ditch effort.
"Osawa-kun? The Master requires your presense within the main dojo immediately."
"Of course he does."
"Ugh. I'll head out once I'm properly dressed, Oharu-san."
Like the last time Komuro returned, a town hall meeting with all available Yukihana members and associates attending. That just meant more people to gawk at me while this crazy ass family prattled on about… whatever crazy shit they dabbled in after-hours. The only real boon this time was that there wouldn't be as many people since Grampy and Uncle Takei returned early. Which wasn't all that bad since it meant I didn't need to bust my ass to help prepare for their return.
There's a silver lining in everything.
I still didn't want to go but Grampy had specifically requested that I be there – the same threats tacked on the end, as usual. Oh sure the old bastard couldn't simply cut me down with so many people around. That didn't change the fact he could simply make me go missing later and make it look like an accident.
There was also a darker lining to everything too.
With my feet feeling heavy like lead I trudged my way across the courtyard towards the dojo. This time I opted to go through the main house as I really didn't want a great of last time where I was paraded out in front of everyone.
A good thing to consider from the gaggle of noises coming from the dojo annex I already knew I was fashionably late. Thankfully Nobuo wasn't here to escort me this time so I could slip in from the side hall. No one was watching it and the panel door was already ajar so I seized the opportunity to not make a scene for once.
At the back I noted a much smaller number of people – men mostly. Everyone here had the impression that they could hold their own in a fight. They were the Yukihana's main fighting force if I venture to guess. Those who were competently trained in the Densetsu-fubuki-ryū style.
I only recognized a small handful of them from the typical open training sessions that those with Ice Magic affinities did. It was a daily occurrence which wasn't hard to miss with all the slapping of wooden swords and grunting. No surprise that I had been barred from them since I was an Ice user and I was already receiving 'training' from Grampy.
There was no love lost on them either.
"Psst. Little Bro."
I gave Yasue a quick nod as I shuffled over to where he was kneeling. It didn't seem like the main event had started yet. Grampy was at the front having a private conversation with Takei. Whatever it was about – hopefully not me – appeared to be rather heated.
"Glad to see you still kicking."
"And punching if I can help it," I tacked onto Yasue's greeting. "So what movie is Grampy making us watch tonight?"
"Pfft. I wish we were doing something that fun. No, this is just a meeting to relay information Uncle Komuro has received during his trip."
"Hmm… not that you mention it. I was curious… Does the Yukihana have a lot of money?"
The teenager looked a bit perplexed by my question and was about to answer it when I felt a rug on my collar.
"Young man, I would advise not speaking of such things here."
I turned to see who was likely Yasue's father kneeling behind us. They looked similar with their wild hair except this man looked to be graying and had noticeable crow's feet around his eyes. I would probably guess the man to be slightly older than Uncle Takei.
At least his scolding didn't seem to have any ill intent. The man seemed more like someone who took a moderate approach to situations and people; Opting a wait and see approach for the more favorable outcome. I liked the man already.
Nodding to him that I understood the seriousness of his advice, I sternly faced the front again and whispered aloud, "I'll take that as a no then."
"Yasue! You’re already in enough trouble as it is. Do not further aggravate your Great Uncle,” Yasue’s father ordered.
“Ya Dad, I know.”
“Oh? I thought I was on Grampy’s shit list all on my own. Something you can share with the rest of the class.”
“Oh it was nothing. Just missed a delivery and Uncle Komuro is upset about it.”
“A delivery? I see… that really does answer my question then.”
Nearly four months at this place and I was starting to notice the scratches and dings on the wall. What I had initially assumed to be a prosperous traditional Japanese family. It wasn’t until I really started picking apart the circumstances of Toki’s story a bit more. Her whole arc was her trying to raise her abilities so that she could take over from her sick old grandfather and help restore the prestige of the Yukihana.
Now I may have buried the lead on Grampy eventually falling ill but I had no sympathy for the bastard when he was the picture of health right now and making my life miserable! Hell, I think I’d actually laugh if he just had a heart attack and dropped dead now. It would certainly be a blessing for a lot of people here who begrudgingly kiss his aging ass.
But let's not get sidetracked by that misnomer. It was implied that the Yukihana were fumbling because the one person who deliberated and gave orders was sick. The façade of that information was told to us by Toki herself – biased beyond belief. Oh sure the fall of a central figure could send catastrophic ripples through an organization and potentially destroy it. However that story didn’t seem to track well with the disrepair of things I’ve seen inside the main house itself. What I have been starting to see now was that perhaps the fall of the Yukihana wasn’t as sudden as it was made out to be in the game. No, perhaps I was currently watching and hearing this arrogant family going through the motions of keeping itself afloat.
It would explain why my talent with Light Magic was seen as valuable when it saved money on medicine and trips to the hospital. That was definitely something invaluable for a bunch of Magic Swordsmen to possess. Additionally Yasue’s ‘deliveries’ seemed to take up an exorbitant amount of his time. Perhaps the Yukihana were running their own courier business as a side gig in order to save money.
Why, though? What reason could they have to be risking abject poverty when so many members were putting time and effort into running this place? I doubted it was the pay and benefits the serving staff got. Most were living in rooms just slightly better than mine. They didn’t appear to own anything objectively valuable besides some antiques that would likely spend most of its time collecting dust. Even the casual clothes Toki wore to school were no better and in some cases worse condition than her classmates. I doubted the Yukihana family wouldn’t spoil their princess if they couldn’t afford to.
So I can conclude that the Yukihana family weren’t as well off as I initially thought and that may extend to the amount of influence they possessed. Money was still power even in a world with magic and monsters.
Which finally led me to the inevitable conclusion as to the reason for their slowly declining state…
“So how much money does the Yukihana owe?”
“Who dares ask such an inappropriate thing in my home!” Grampy’s voice boomed.
I blinked owlishly. A shuffled awkwardly when no response came while at the same time a lapse in the conversations around the room inexplicably stopped. Those rare but sudden moments when everyone stops talking at the same time and everyone laughs at the lull.
Ya… Not one of those moments.
Of course that moment happens exactly when I ask my really inappropriate question.
"Thanks," Yasue said. "I might just get off that shit list thanks to you."
"Don't mention it… really." Slapping my knee, I stood up and made my way to the front. "You called Mon Capitane?"
Grampy really did look like he was about to have a stroke at this moment – Composure and optics be damned about cutting a child in half. I could literally feel the cold emanating off the old bastard and it made the frigid snow outside feel downright balmy.
"You ungrateful little–!"
"–Hisato-kun! How have you been? Have you been eating right? Are you sleeping enough? Please tell me you're still not living in the old shed in this weather!"
Leaning back, I had to literally unbrace myself for Uncle Takei taking the wind right out of Grampy's tantrum. It would have been considered a masterful way to diffuse the situation. Looking at the concerned and worried face of this unnaturally pretty man I was doubtful that was the case.
"Umm… I'm fine – mostly. I could be eating more. My amount of sleep is fine. I've gone ahead and weather proofed my little shack… that's was everything, right?"
I’d give the man credit where it’s due, even the soft looking Takei Yukihana could look intimidating when he wanted to. Perhaps half-assing my answers to questions that should have been readily apparent wasn’t all that great considering my conditions here were, by lay, considered emotional and physical abuse of an adolescent far under the age of majority. So for the guy that had tried his best to take me as his own in the short amount of time he had been around, I could only feel a little encouraged by the gesture even if it amounted to nothing.
Both Takei and Komuro glared at one another. My earlier hunch was right on the nose about what they were arguing about. Now that the son had returned, he was in conflict with his father on the state of the house they share.
“Father! I asked – no, I begged you! Yet my nephew is still getting the same treatment he had been receiving since he got here! I did as you asked and yet you broke your promise to me!”
“I promised you nothing! I said I would consider the boy’s standing as one of the Yukihana’s attendants should he prove invaluable to us and his performance prove faultless.” Grampy shot his index finger at me like he was jabbing me with a knife. “He has shown himself disrespectful, arrogant, and subpar in his duties to this household!”
“To your unreasonable standards perhaps. However I know Hisato-kun has taken it upon himself to train his Light Magic on his own without your help!” Takei stated in front of everyone. I wasn’t sure if everyone thought Grampy had taught me himself or just believed my deception of that crummy journal I never bothered reading. Not that it really mattered. I was just surprised Takei had such a pulse on the place even when he wasn’t here. “I know he’s been healing many of our injured students and family members! Not only that, I've been told by some of the locals of Horonobe that he has taken time to help at the local clinic!”
Make that a very large feel.
Yes. Since my encounter with the Toungling in the back forest I knew money was required for me to eventually live on my own. So in lieu of a regular job I opted to hit up the local medical clinic in town. I had only started going there recently as it took time to wear the only doctor in this small rural town into letting me work for pocket change. If I could put in the amount I've earned so far… well lets just say it was barely enough to insulate my shack for the winter.
Doctor Takahashi was as old as dirt and also had the dubious role of being the town veterinarian. Since the area was mainly rural farms he made a lot of house calls. My ‘helping people’ as Takei put it amounted to healing animals that had a broken leg or complications during birthing. Not the most pleasant stuff I’ve had to witness but I could say I was more like an animal midwife than an actual medical assistant all things considered. I'm sure the farmers I helped were grateful but it really wasn't worth mentioning.
Mainly for the sake of keeping my lunch down.
“Has he really?”
“Yes, the boy healed my sprained ankle in a matter of moments.”
"I have seen the boy use his healing abilities in training too. It's very impressive."
Conversations picked up again. In my favor no less. I wouldn’t call out the hypocrisy when many of these nameless faces hadn’t once reached out to me while I was trying to stay warm to and from school or when I was hungry and I couldn’t access the kitchen without Nobuo barring my way. That would be utterly pointless.
As far as I was concerned I had written basically everyone here off as useless. I assumed my standing would improve when my affinity for Light Magic was revealed, all I got was pain and scorn when I didn’t do exactly as I was told. They had taken me for granted and cared more what their tyrant leader said than my conditions here. Besides Yasue I really didn’t think I could count on anyone here to go against Komuro's wishes.
“You say he is disrespectful, arrogant, and subpar but anyone who’s actually interacted with Hisato-kun would vehemently deny your biased feelings towards him!”
While watching Takei tear into Komuro was no end of amusing for me I was out of the loop on what this promise concerning me was. I already had a hunch but needed to confirm it first.
“Uncle Takei… Just what was it that you begged Master Komuro for on my behalf?”
“I asked that you be brought into the main house to live with us. There is a room across from mine that belong to your–”
“–No thank you.”
“No thank you? Wait what?”
“I said no thanks. I refuse to live in the same place as your father.”
I glared at the Old Bastard who surprisingly looked more put off by my willingness to put up with living in an old supply shed without any running water or consistent electricity than live in a place where it was even a foot closer to where he sleeps at night. That the place he used to contain me and keep me out of sight was more preferable than the honor of living in the Yukihana’s sacred household.
Whatever Komuro truly felt about this seemed moot right now. It was Uncle Takei that appeared put off by my words.
“But Hisato-kun, you can’t truly like living out there? It’s not healthy for many reasons. Besides, I promised you that I would look out for you because of what happened to your parents.” Takei took a knee, leaning in to wrap his arms around me. It was equal parts heartwarming and awkward with everyone watching this handsome man act all doting. “I know things haven’t been ideal for you since I’ve been away but I truly do want you to be a part of my family.”
Sadly for him, I wasn’t so moved or willing to placate him after building up my own confidence these past few months. I was more than determined to go it alone if I had to and while I truly felt for the man and his kind hearted intentions, this wasn’t a place where that could happen so long as Komuro was in charge.
“While I appreciate that and will continue to keep my promise to you, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline on that too.” With a gentle push I moved his arms off me and drew my line in the sand. Perhaps this openness was the perfect opportunity to speak my mind. To lay into the true matter of what was wrong with this place. “Whether anyone here likes it or not you can’t just magically fix the truth.”
“The truth? About what? I-I don’t understand.”
I ignored Takei’s plea for clarification but looked hard at Komuro. Really looking at him and his black eyes that looked similar to the magic stones that I got from killing Tounglings. “The truth is that my Mother left here for the same reason I want to. I’ve not even been here for half a year and I can already see how suffocating this place is. You speak of some great and noble family yet I’m not sure more than a small handful here actually believe it. So you can say all the horrendous things about my parents behind my back or to my face but the truth is that they were both good people who sacrificed themselves to keep me alive. I lost them for good and they are not coming back. But I can say without any doubt in my mind or heart that my loss was more meaningful because I held something so precious that you’ve never truly had. A connection not based on duty or sacrifice.”
I spared Takei a look of total and utter apathy. “That’s why I don’t want to live with you. Before you can invite me to become part of your family you need to have one to begin with.”
Silence reigned in the room. Not even the slightest wail of wind was blowing outside. I knew no one was expecting to make some heartful and grandstanding speech about family – myself included in that group. It’s ironic that it wasn’t the terrible treatment I had to put up with so far or knowing that it would likely continue until I was able to leave on my own power. No, it was the fact Takei had done his damnedest to open up his heart to me and demand from his own father what Hisato Osawa needed more than anything; Unconditional love and support after the loss of his parents.
I wasn’t truly Hisato Osawa though.
I had what it took to reach the top of this fucked up world and had the proof hanging around my neck. While I was initially worried about what Komuro would do once he found out I now felt a surge of determination that made me realize that I wasn’t just another child for him to push around.
So I ripped my Magic Plate off and tossed it to Komuro.
“Do you understand? You can try to keep me under your thumb as much as you want but I don’t need you or anyone else to survive in this world and it’s you that’s holding the Yukihana back, not me.”
Those were the first words out of Komuro Yukihana’s mouth.
The first time I saw him with a look where he completely lost his composure.
I was expecting something a little more… well more when the first star of my Magic Plate turned gold. Everyone made it out to be some special event akin to a birthday party of sorts. To the inhabitants of this world reaching one star was a mark of adulthood. A distinct difference in culture from this world to my own. So while I received no special fanfare for this achievement I took pride that it marked my own confidence in making it to the final chapter of the series that I never got to see.
With that star my affinity for Light Magic grew. Likely surpassing the benefit the real Hisato gained from it and therefore taking a step ahead long before he was placed in a position to merely assist the player in the first game. By the time I reached that point I wouldn’t allow myself to be relegated to a side character but would advance on ahead with my own goals and ambitions.
To hopefully find a way home and away out of this nightmare!
“How! How did you manage to reach this level so quickly!” Komuro held up my Plate for everyone to see. The reason for his shock reached everyone in the room at the sight of my first star.
“How? Well that’s easy. Believe me from personal experience when I say this, Grampy, but… There is no such thing as impossible.”