GUESS WHO'S BACK: So I took a nice break after finishing my last story to enjoy the holidays, go to another con and become Mystic Messenger trash for a month (that last one happened completely by accident, I swear). I had a weird idea for an AU fic and decided to give it a try. It was originally supposed to just be a one-shot but I ended up expanding on it. Get ready to join me for another adventure with your favorite pair, and mine. Anyway, I hope you like it.
Kyoko hastily threw her hooded cloak around her shoulders as she hurried out of the dormitory and down the precariously uneven stone steps on her way to the guild's Main Edifice. The familiar weight of the grey wool settled around her and staved off the chill that had developed in the air on this particularly drizzly day. Passing a group that had gathered to the side of the pathway, she bowed and touched her forehead with two fingers in respectful greeting when she noticed the braided cords on their hoods. When they nodded in response, she continued on her way.
The anticipation of this week's assignment had her giddy with excitement; something she rarely felt since she moved up to Class 1 Weaver (Enchantment Division) in the Spellweavers' guild. She would be working with the latest batch of students under the cross-training program famously crafted by Grand Enchantment Archweaver Lory Takarada. All Provisional Weavers — those who are currently enrolled in Spellweaver school — are required to cross-train for one week each with the other nine guilds. The Grand Archweaver was a firm believer in encouraging awareness and respect between all guilds; something he felt was currently lacking in society.
This week, Kyoko would be escorting the Provisionals to work with the Healers. She had a deep admiration for their practices and work ethic in their clinics. There was something about their crisp, white tunics and their hard-earned logic that never ceased to amaze her. Despite Spellweavers also having the ability to create quick drafts for healing minor injuries and sickness, Healers have centuries of extensively researched methods that treat the many maladies that weaver drafts could never accomplish.
The large, ornate front doors of the Main Edifice opened before her as three other Class 1s made their way outside while giggling between themselves. Kyoko tried her best to ignore the hushed whispers passed between them when they noticed her heading inside. She was well aware of the negative attention directed towards her when she gained her Provisional status two years behind her contemporaries.
However, it was pointless to let the sideways glances and muttered comments about being 'the Grand Archweaver's Pity Project' get to her. Her goal is what kept her moving forward. Ever since she parted ways with the man she supported as he rose through the ranks of the Sonic Spellweavers, the man she grew up with and who inevitably betrayed her, she worked to find her own purpose. To live for her own desires instead of those of someone else. It just so happened that she was especially adept at enchantments. She clutched at her amulet through her cloak and headed towards the main hall.
After a briefing on the week's training module, the Provisionals had their credentials updated in their amulets and were ushered to await the transports to take them to the Healer Main Edifice where they would begin their first day of lessons. There, Kyoko met up with her best friend, fellow escort and Class 1 Weaver, Kanae. This was a rare occurrence since Class 3 through 1 Weavers are typically assigned smaller, menial tasks all over the city. They hadn't seen each other in over a month. She nearly skipped over to her friend's side when she spotted her, but stopped herself when she realized she was in front of students and, instead, strolled quickly over to greet her.
"I can't believe it's been so long," she encircled an unwitting Kanae in a tight hug. "I missed you so much!"
"Yes, yes, I missed you too," Kanae awkwardly fought to break free from the embrace. "Would you stop that? We have Provisionals to attend to."
"I'm sorry, I was just overjoyed to see you again!" Kyoko released her with a large smile and eyes twinkling with delight.
In all honesty, Kanae was also quite happy to see her friend. Having been stationed on the outskirts of the city doing random odd jobs for 6 weeks was nothing short of dismal. It was a welcome change to have such a bright spark of energy and enthusiasm around her again.
A light tap on Kyoko's arm caused her to turn around and address one of the Provisionals in her friend's group, a petite student by the name of Gin. The small girl brought her fingers to her forehead and bowed slightly before turning her big brown eyes up at her in wonder.
"E-excuse me, Weaver Kyoko," she began nervously. "The other Provisionals in my class told me you had a special amulet."
"Well, that's true," Kyoko replied, slightly confused. "But everyone gets the chance to retire their starter amulet and create their own when they graduate from Provisional to Class 3 Weaver."
"No, they said they heard yours was different from the others," the girl pushed. "They said your stone was different."
"Oh! Well, I suppose it is," she conceded.
"We want to see it," she demanded excitedly before remembering herself and bowing her head once more. "T-that is, if you don't mind, Miss Kyoko."
Kyoko looked at Kanae as if to ask her permission, to which she nodded and shooed her away with two hands.
"Go on and show them," she said as Kyoko turned towards the group of Provisionals that suddenly gathered behind her. "The transports don't arrive for another 10 minutes."
Reaching into the neck of her cloak, she pulled at the sturdy cord from which her amulet hung until it appeared. The group of students tightened their cluster around her to stare at the bright blue stone with jagged edges that was elegantly wrapped in wood and metal twisted together in an intricate pattern. As the small crowd studied the amulet closely, one of the students towards the back piped up with a question.
"I only see a blue stone. What's so special about that?"
"I'm glad you asked," Kyoko chirped. "Let me show you."
She held the amulet out between her thumb and forefinger and slowly tilted it back and forth to let it catch the light. Each pair of eyes staring at the stone widened as they saw the color of the stone change back and forth between rich blue-violet and brilliant amber in the light. Smiling proudly, she carefully tucked the amulet back beneath her cloak. There were bound to be questions and she didn't want to risk it getting damaged in any way.
"What draft did you use to make it do that?" Gin was the first to speak up.
"None, actually," she explained. "The stone naturally looks like that."
"It must be a very rare stone," another student chimed in. "Where did you get it?"
Kyoko looked wistfully into the distance as she replied, "It was given to me by a dear friend when I was just a child."
"Who was it? Do they have any more?"
"I was quite young at the time and I haven't seen that person in the years since," she said sadly. "However, they are supposed to have only one other stone like mine. But that one belongs to them."
Kanae listened to their eager questions with a slight smile. The story behind the amulet stone was one she knew well as Kyoko had confided in her late one evening in the Provisional dormitories. At the tender age of 6, the poor girl found a dusty old Spellweaving book in her parents' library and tried to use a draft to change the color of her doll's dress. Instead, she ended up changing her hair color from deep brown to a shocking shade of orange. Distraught and fearing her impending punishment, she ran into the forest behind her house and didn't stop until a stream blocked her path.
It was there that she met a boy, only a few years older than her, who asked why she was crying. Between hiccups, she explained her predicament to him. He placed a hand on her hair and she heard him whisper strange words. Looking at her reflection in the stream, she saw her natural hair color had returned. She was immediately in awe of his abilities and the curiously rare and crooked blue stone he carried in his pocket that he said he would make into his amulet when he became a Spellweaver. They became fast friends and, for two weeks, they regularly met up at the stream and played together until he announced that he was headed back to Central City with his parents. He said he wanted to attend a preparatory school to help him get into the Spellweaver guild.
Sad about losing a new friend, she asked if they would ever meet again. He replied by breaking his stone in half with a quickly murmured draft and handing her a piece. Shocked by his kindness, she swore she would never forget him and wished him well in becoming a Spellweaver.
"Do you think you'll ever find them again?" another one asked.
"I don't know," she shrugged. "I doubt they'd even remember me."
The Provisionals collectively groaned in dismay and began to chatter among themselves about what type of stone it could possibly be. Kyoko smiled at this and turned back to her friend who regarded her with an even stare and folded arms.
"You ever get tired of the spotlight, Kyoko?"
She laughed at the question. "At least this kind of attention is better than people making assumptions and talking about me behind my back like they usually do."
"You're right," Kanae agreed. "Thank goodness the majority of the Provisionals respect you more than the other Weavers."
Kyoko was about to respond, when another person appeared next to them, abruptly silencing their conversation. They were about to gesture towards the person out of habit until they recognized who it was. Sporting a cloak that now had a second gold braided cord stitched along the hood, Hikaru Ishibashi grinned at both ladies and casually waved.
"Hey Kyoko, Kanae," he spoke while still smiling.
"Hikaru! Or, should I be calling you Master Weaver Ishibashi?" Kyoko asked.
"No need to be so formal with me, Kyoko," he waved her off with a hand. "I was still a Class 1 like you until I got my official designation last week."
"What brings your esteemed self all the way down here," Kanae teased. "I thought you would be free of the grunt work by now."
"I'm here to bring this one up to the Grand Archweaver," he pointed at Kyoko. "He has specifically requested her assistance today."
"But I'm supposed to be helping out with the cross-training this week," she was confused and noticeably flustered. "Who is going to escort my group of Provisionals?"
"Chiori is being reassigned to be your replacement," he explained. "She'll be here shortly."
Kyoko turned to Kanae with a sad pout. This was supposed to be her week to catch up with her best friend. But, she would never disobey a direct order from the Grand Archweaver. Kanae noticed her distress and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I am back in the dormitories for the whole week," she said calmly. "We can always meet up later, okay?"
Kyoko nodded and gave her a quick hug before leaving to follow Hikaru to the Grand Archweaver's chambers.
The Five Tenets of the Guilds were written long ago when the ten guilds were first established. Grand Archweaver Lory Takarada took them very seriously and used every opportunity he could to remind other Spellweavers of their importance. As such, a gilded stone plaque with the Five Tenets inscribed on it adorned the heavy double doors to his chambers. Kyoko spent a minute re-reading them before announcing her presence.
FIVE TENETS OF THE GUILDS
1. All Guilds shall work together in harmony.
2. NO Guild is more important than the others.
3. NO Guild is less important than the others.
4. Each citizen should be equally considered for the Guild of their choice on their own merit.
5. As each member is respectful of their Guild, so should each Guild respect their members.
She smiled as she read the words, knowing that Tenets 2 and 3 were the Grand Archweaver's personal favorites. He was well aware of the fact that many Spellweavers considered themselves to be an elite class and looked down on the other guilds as inferior. It became his personal mission to break the younger generations of that notion. While he wanted them to have pride in their guild, he also wanted them to be aware that they were still merely a part of one of ten integral guilds that allow Grismeir to function as a unified nation.
Breaking from her reverie, Kyoko sharply rapped twice and waited for permission to enter. The doors silently swung open before her and she saw the shimmer of what appeared to be a soundproofing spell dissipate before her. Slowly walking into the room, she stopped once the doors closed automatically behind her and bowed deeply while making the gesture of respect to her superior.
"You called for me, Grand Archweaver?" she asked while still bowing.
"You can stand up straight, Kyoko," he said in a friendly tone. "Come, have a seat."
As she straightened up, she saw the Grand Archweaver motioning towards the set of plush chairs with deep emerald upholstery arranged around a table on one side of the room. It was then that she noticed he was not alone in his office. Seeing the tall, dark-haired figure sitting in one of the chairs with three gold braided cords on his hood, she immediately resumed her bow and quickly repeated her gesture of respect towards them.
"My apologies, Archweaver Tsuruga," her cheeks took on a pink tint of embarrassment. "I did not see you when I walked in."
"That is quite alright, Weaver Mogami," he smiled politely and nodded. "It is good to see you again."
The chairs suddenly seemed much further away as she timidly walked towards them and quietly sat. Lory quickly drafted some tea from the can of loose leaves and cups resting on a nearby credenza. A warmed cup floated into her hands with a flourish as he sat down towards the head of the table. Kyoko was now even more puzzled as to why he called her to talk with both him and the Archweaver seated across from her.
Ren Tsuruga was currently the youngest to ever achieve an Archweaver designation a mere four years after graduating to Class 3. He was well known around the halls of the Main Edifice as a highly skilled Spellweaver capable of successfully weaving a number of complicated drafts; not to mention notably attractive, if the swarms of female weavers who attempt to catch his eye on a regular basis are any indication. Kyoko had several interactions with him once she became a Class 3 as she would occasionally be assigned small tasks such as various errands or retrieving documents for him from the Archives. While he was always kind and respectful, she always felt like he was silently judging her abilities. It was not necessarily a bad thing as it encouraged her to always improve. She hoped one day to be evenly matched against him.
"Well, Kyoko, I'm sure you're wondering why I pulled you away from your assignment today," he noticed her meek nod in response and continued. "I have recommended you to be Ren's research partner for a particularly complex draft request we received from the Intelligence branch of the Defenders."
"I appreciate your confidence in my skill, sir," she began to protest. "But, why not assign a Master Weaver to this task? Surely they would have more experience and knowledge than I."
"Ah, overly-modest as always, Kyoko," he chided her playfully. "You were specifically chosen because of your experience. I've seen the innovation with which you weave your drafts and how vigilant you are when evaluating prototypes for potential errors. You are precisely the person we need for this task."
"Th-thank you, sir," she stuttered and turned towards man seated across from her and bowed in her seat. "I will do my best on this project to which you have both entrusted me, Archweaver. Please have me assist in any way you see appropriate."
Returning her bow, he finally spoke, "I look forward to working with you, Weaver Mogami."
For the first time, Kyoko was able to get a good look at his amulet as it fell forward through the opening in his cloak when he bowed. Never before had she seen an amulet where the stone was completely enclosed. Spellweavers usually took pride in the stone they chose for their amulets and made settings that showcased them. Instead, his was hidden within a nautilus shell made of interlocking pieces of highly polished wood.
'Maybe he is just very cautious about not damaging his stone,' she thought
Amulet stones were the focal point of an Enchantment Spellweaver's energy and allowed them to recall any previously created drafts for easy reuse, as opposed to Sonic Spellweavers who relied mainly on their instruments. It was impressed upon all Provisionals that they should be protected from chipping or cracking as it not only damaged the integrity of the stone, but could have adverse affects on the Weaver as well.
Kyoko followed closely behind Ren as he walked swiftly through the third floor of the Main Edifice to the research laboratory he was using. She kept her eyes fixed forward so that she would not be distracted by the stares of others as they walked but she could discern their expression by the tone of their voice. An excited, high-pitched group of female voices she heard on their approach soon turned to harsh, conspiratorial whispers once they were past; jealousy and disdain evident in their speech. It was not hard to guess what they were saying.
They came to a door at the far end of a hallway that he unlocked with a draft. After making a soundproofing seal on the door, he directed her to a large desk, upon which several large books were opened. In the center, lay the official request from the Defenders. He handed it to her to read and her eyes widened as she scanned the words on the paper.
The request sounded simple, but she knew well how difficult it would be to actually pull off. The Defenders wanted a draft to allow them to have multiple layers of disguise that could be removed and reapplied at will in order to maintain full anonymity during scouting missions. On top of that, they needed to be hyper-realistic so that the disguise appeared as natural as second skin. Accomplishing one layer of disguise was fairly simple, but supporting more than one would be quite the challenge.
"Alright," she sighed lightly, placing the paper back on the desk. "Where would you like me to start?"
"I pulled the notations from the archives detailing how the currently used disguise draft was prototyped, thinking I could build on that," he pointed to one of the opened books as spoke. "Unfortunately, I'm not coming up with any ideas. The patterns are too tight to allow for modification."
She moved around the table to get a better look at the book he identified. After scanning the pages briefly, she slammed the book shut and expelled a rather large cloud of dust. The look of shock was clear on his face as she fanned the dust away from her eyes. Smiling, she moved the book to another nearby table and cleared an open space on the desk. When she turned to look at him again, he was still gaping at her incredulously.
"That means we will just have to start from scratch," she said determinedly.
"We do not have that much time," he groaned while he pinched at the bridge of his nose. "The Defenders need this by the end of the week."
"A-alright," she faltered, but soon regained her purposeful look. "Then we need to take a new approach. Let us look at drafts that accomplish similar tasks and how we can incorporate them."
"Fine," he dropped his hands to his sides in defeat. "What do you suggest?"
Kyoko placed her hands on the now empty desk area, drafted a pen, paper and ink and sat down.
"Why not make a list of all the modification drafts we can think of first? Maybe we will find something we can use from there."
"I suppose that is a start," he said with resignation as he pulled a chair from the other side of the desk to sit beside her.
They spent the next several hours looking up any and every modification and transformation draft they could find; including those for inanimate objects as well as people. Once a sizable list was generated, Ren made the decision to call it a day and tasked Kyoko with researching the drafts for each one during the following day. Upon leaving the laboratory, he told her to place her hand on the door alongside his. As she did so, she looked up at him questioningly. Using a different draft than the one she saw earlier to unlock the door, it suddenly began to pulse with a low blue light.
"Go ahead," he urged. "Make an unlocking draft and mine will record both your palm, amulet signature and your voice to give you access to the room."
She did as he instructed and the glowing disappeared from the door in an instant. Her hand slowly retracted from the door ad she continued to stare at it.
"The door will now only open for either one of us," he explained. "Since this is classified research for the Defenders, confidentiality is important. I'm sure I do not have to tell you that you cannot discuss this project with anyone else."
"I understand," she nodded. "But, what if I also need to lock the door on my own?"
"Simple, you only need to reverse your unlocking draft," he said with an odd smile.
"Oh," she silently cursed herself for not thinking of that.
"I must be going now. Have a good night, Weaver Mogami. We shall reconvene first thing in the morning."
"Ah, good night, Archweaver Tsuruga," she gestured towards him. "I will see you tomorrow."
SOME PARTING WORDS: I wish I could stick to an update schedule but work, and my own motivation, often get in the way. However, I will work hard to keep things as regular as I can if there is enough interest. Looking forward, as always, to hearing from you all.