This was born of a throwaway line in chapter six of Felis. The hardest part was finding a justification for Roxis to just spit it out. I kind of wanted it to be birthday candles, but Roxis' birthday is in August, way too late after he joins the workshop given that Al Revis seems to have a Japanese setup with the school year corresponding to the calendar year.
The Japanese equivalent of Halloween is in summer, which is why the scary stories and Pamela were during summer break, which is like our winter break. Roxis was at Al Revis by his birthday, but he wasn't in the workshop then.
I was going to wait a bit longer to post this, but, well, execharmonius reviewed and this fic is relevant to what we were talking about.
Disclaimer: I don't own Mana Khemia etc., Gust and the other rightful owners do, no infringement intended or money made.
Student workshops had to have at least four members. Teachers' workshops at least had to contain students, plural. Isolde didn't really have any interest in teaching, especially not teaching a discipline she was starting to believe truly ought to die out, but to stay on the faculty here she at least had to look like she was making an effort.
The real reason they kept her around was because she was the unquestioned greatest in her field. The real reason she stayed around even though she had to try to create lesson plans for people who couldn't grasp principles of Predictology that were for her as simple as two plus two was so she had access to the school's collection of various rare books and materials. Those left by former teachers, those donated by former students, those confiscated from late students, and many more acquired over the centuries.
She had hoped that it had simply fallen apart afterwards. But Theofratus had created to last, it seemed. How did you destroy a being with that power?
The ancient alchemists had managed to kill a mana, but as far as she could tell it was by accident, and she couldn't capture Vayne and experiment on him trying to replicate it.
There were still mana trapped there, but she couldn't quite bring herself to do it. So she was almost happy when she realized that it just wouldn't work. Even if she had a method of killing him, all he had to do was wish that it wouldn't work.
And Sulpher was clearly wishing that he would be safe. Canny old cat…
Maybe he'd survived by latching on to Sulpher? Sulpher could be wishing that any flaws in Theofratus' creation didn't kill him. Without a pactmate who wished for his welfare could he still just fall apart?
But Sulpher was Theofratus' cat, the closest connection to him that was left, so how could she want him to die? He had left them both behind, and even though Sulpher had chosen his murderer, well, he was a cat. Or perhaps Vayne had wished it.
Theofratus had done the impossible, there was no precedent however much she searched. Nothing to give her any idea of what to expect.
The mandatory office hours always shortened her temper, since she obviously couldn't have that sort of research open when people came in, so there was really nothing to do but brood and try to find something to read to kill the time. Vayne himself had even come in once, which had almost given her a heart attack until she saw he was just touring the school. It had been easy enough to send him away.
Renee was one of the few Al Revis students with any innate talent for Predictology. She also had a keen understanding of the world. Pacting with the Mana of Azureflame, one that had suffered at the hands of alchemists, had removed any illusions that anything done here was for the benefit of the world. Isolde didn't mind mentoring her, really. It was a nice feeling to be able to spare someone else the heartbreak of having her illusions shattered the way Isolde had.
Tony was only her student because they were Renee-And-Tony. He was an idiotic goofball but he was her idiotic goofball, and she felt a bit of obligation to keep him from actually getting into serious trouble. Although she knew that Isolde had reasons for certain orders, she wasn't actually going to let him get beaten up by his rival Flay. Well, not too badly.
Tony had been convenient before because he had no interest in studies and therefore didn't bother her. Now he was convenient because since Vayne was in Flay's workshop he jumped to obey any order because it would irritate Flay.
Her newest workshop member, however, was anything but convenient.
Tony had gotten him to join solely to one-up Flay, and he had joined because he wanted a teacher who would mentor him. He was actually interested in becoming an alchemist. He was going to insist, and probably file a complaint if she didn't act like teachers were obligated to.
The entrance exams were designed to be almost impossible without cheating or the aid of a mana. In other words they let only those who were going to be alchemists anyway in, so they would be supervised. Roxis was very clearly the type who wanted the world to be fair, so there was no way he'd cheated.
He was the sort who did his homework.
If she found some way to make him leave, he'd get sucked right into Flay's workshop. She didn't want a potentially powerful alchemist, unlike the ones already there, in Vayne's circle of supporters.
So right now she was just asking leading questions to try to figure him out, figure out how to push his buttons so he'd be as convenient as possible. "Have you given any thought to what you want to accomplish here at Al Revis?"
"Well, finding a mana who will pact with me, obviously." After that he had to pause to think, and that made her think. For most, a mana was something they found on the way, or found them. Either that or the end result, a proof of their worthiness of an alchemist that would be the true graduation after years here.
Why was that so important to him. "Does the Rosenkrantz family have a particular mana, or did they all find their own?"
"There was a few that favored us, but… My family hasn't produced any alchemists in a long time." The name was still known, but he seemed to feel that there hadn't been a legacy for him to inherit. Only a burden of high expectations.
"Well, mana are rather capricious. Some people try for years to gain one's approval and some people catch them in butterfly nets."
His eyebrow rose and he almost seemed about to ask her if that would work. The rest of the staff hadn't believed it either. That girl was dangerous. Frankly, if it weren't for pity they would have left her in that jail cell instead of giving her the knowledge and equipment to cause more chaos.
Dangerous and Vayne's friend.
"It seems rather unfair to some people," she said, and instantly knew that he was one of them. "And once a mana has chosen them, we have to let them into the academy. We can't let people with that power run around unlicensed, and that means we don't have as many spots for merit students." The deserving. Like him.
Roxis' spot had been opened because some idiot had tried to break into the school treasury and escape to the surface. Anyone with even the slightest grasp of Predictology would have known better, would have known that people would have tried before and the school wouldn't have had a treasury if it weren't very well defended.
"Sometimes we end up with students who haven't even graduated from elementary school, like Vayne 'Aurelius.'" Of course, he had been alone in the woods and hadn't even known what a school was, according to the fool who had brought him here.
"…You must be joking." The thought seemed to divide him between disgust and rage.
"I knew Theofratus, and he had no children. Probably Sulpher only chose him because he needed someone who would stay in Theofratus' mansion. It must be so annoying to have a pact with such a child after living with Theofratus." Hint hint. "He barely knew how to read and write, I'm sure he wouldn't be getting those grades without Sulpher's help." He wouldn't have defeated you without his cat doing all the work.
Anger. Outrage. Jealousy. The determination that had made someone with such a desperate honor code cooperate with Tony, if that was the way to gain her counsel, to become an alchemist. "If you asked, he might be willing to consider you." Sulpher was too loyal to be lured away with salmon, at least not permanently, but… "You have to ask properly. Go to where they are, close your eyes, and say, 'I wish you were my mana.' But you have to really focus on how much you want a mana, how much you want the power Vayne has. All the dreams you hope to accomplish with it, all the reasons you want it. If you wish for it hard enough, it would be very hard to refuse you," she knew, and smiled.
"Um, Jess…" Vayne knew how much trouble it would be to hide the evidence if Jess bought those things, if she did the kind of things with them that she was clearly salivating over, but even though of course he didn't want her to go to prison or to have to hide the evidence again, he found himself unable to say no, not when, well, she probably wouldn't hear him anyway. Nikki might have been able to convince her, but he couldn't tell Nikki about it.
He was well aware that this was a bad idea, but he still have Hagel the money. He just couldn't say no when she looked at him like that.
And, well… even if it was a lot of trouble, and he worried that she'd get in trouble, it was a lot of fun to just play around like that. To help her out.
"What are you thinking?" Sulpher wondered.
"It's great to have friends, isn't it?" He didn't want to go back to the forest. Back to being chased out of anywhere where there were people, having his hand slapped away when he reached out, having people be afraid of the demonchild.
"Vayne." Such force in that voice, that word, and he turned.
"Roxis." Roxis who hated him and Vayne didn't know why, and it reminded him of so many times when he'd thought he'd be allowed to stay and then suddenly people started hating him and chased him away.
And he never knew why, until his teacher came and told him why. That he was different, he had a mana and people who didn't understand it were afraid of alchemy. That nothing was wrong with him. That he could go to this school and people would understand him.
Roxis brought those memories back, Roxis who hated him and wanted to force him out.
"What do you want, you creep?" Nikki stepped in front of Vayne defensively, wanting to protect him, like Sulpher.
He opened his mouth as if to say something. Not here, he couldn't say anything so embarrassing in front of them. Especially if he were to be rejected. "I want to challenge you. A fair fight, not five against one." The beastgirl hadn't had a mana then. Perhaps if he'd saved the tree instead of following orders… Too late. "Meet me in the west campus grounds at sunset, alone." Except for his mana. Of course.
"Five against one? What are you talking about?" Jess didn't get it.
"You want me to fight you without Sulpher?" Or was there even more to it than that?
"This time, I will defeat you." And then Sulpher would see who the more worthy master was.
Except he lost. Again. To an idiot runaway pretending to be the great Theofratus' heir, who didn't deserve the many blessings he'd been given. Knocked to his knees, his eyes were closed in shame already as he gripped the wound on his arm. Like that, already shamed, it was no more shame to say it. "I wish you were my mana."
Didn't he try hard enough? Wasn't he smart enough? Wasn't he worthy enough?
Why were a girl who cared more about her manicure than her honor and a bully worthy and he wasn't? He would do great things with that power, make his family proud, help the world… All the dreams he'd had as a child came rushing back to him, before he'd started to learn that the world wasn't fair. That he might just be one more in his family who had tried and tried to pick up the family craft and failed utterly. His father had skill in Predictology, but without a mana there was little to do with it but gamble his way through the lands that their ancestors had traveled as healers, as heroes.
The name Rosenkrantz… There were children afflicted with the pox, men dying of a wound turned septic, all so easy to save with such basic syntheses. People had hoped that his father could save them, watched him and hoped that he would pass the exam, return a full-fledged alchemist.
He'd wanted that so badly for as long as he could remember. Prayed to be granted that power. Almost been willing to sell his soul to the devil, some nights after failing so badly the first time. He'd had to wait another year to retake it, and then being put on the waiting list had almost been worse torture than outright failure.
He wanted to be an alchemist, needed a mana, so much rode on it.
"Roxis." Vayne's voice was full of sympathy and what he almost thought was admiration. He would have hated him forever even harder if it had been pity.
"Meow!" Why was the mana alarmed? Surely that wasn't simple rejection.
As blue-white light crept past his closed eyelids Vayne's soft, abstracted, "But Sulpher…" didn't sound like a plea for Sulpher not to leave him but a plea to be allowed, allowed what?
A hand touched his shoulder and he could sense Vayne kneeling in front of him, putting his forehead against his, and he didn't quite know why he didn't draw back, didn't spit venom at him until he felt that hand slide down to touch his injured arm and felt power gather around him, the same power he'd felt when Vayne summoned Sulpher to battle.
Felt that power open itself to him, and he would have done anything for a mana. So of course he struck, of course he seized it before it could possibly escape. Even though that meant he was equally bound.
He was too distracted by triumph to realize what he'd gotten himself into when Sulpher sunk claws into his pant leg, just deep enough to prick the skin. "Isolde put you up to this, didn't she." It wasn't a question.
"He wants me here." For Vayne, it seemed that was enough for all to be right with the world.
"If you let her hurt him, I'll fix you." And that was a promise.
"What on earth?" Sulpher found him worthy to talk to now, but it wasn't Sulpher that he felt, whose power ran through his mind and his veins. "Vayne. How is this possible?" Pacted to a human?
Now the claws sank in. "Don't…!"
Too late, as that power responded to his wish to know and he saw.
"It isn't possible." How could an entire school of alchemists fail to see that Vayne wasn't human? How could an alchemist create life?
…Fitting, that the only mana who he had managed to interest would be an unnatural… "No, I didn't really mean that." I don't want you to go away. "You are his son, and Isolde did put me up to this." Tried to use me.
Such power. "You didn't even know," that this was here, that you could have cheated the way I thought you did. Such power, and you did try your best at classes just like everyone else, study before the term started because you knew so little, only what Sulpher had wanted you to read so that you were kept occupied, and Vayne wasn't showing him this, he just wanted to see it and so he did. "It's too much." I don't want this much power.
It's too easy. Disturbingly easy, like cheating. To cheat is to admit you are a loser before you even begin. He would not give up so disgracefully. He would not use Vayne as a tool the way Isolde had used him. "Don't just do anything I think of automatically."
Vayne still didn't have any idea what he was talking about, or what this was, besides what he had with Sulpher. Yet something within him did, set hard-learned limits in place, watched.
At least some part of him was sensible. "Why didn't you keep him from pacting with me?"
Meow. "It didn't occur to me to wish for him not to." Sulpher clearly thought it should have, but what human would want to pact with another human?
"Is this bad?" Vayne didn't understand how it could be. He wasn't hated anymore, and Roxis had what he wanted, and he had another Sulpher.
"It's unprecedented." He wanted to lean back, get some space, adjust his glasses to buy time to think, but how could he distance himself from Vayne now?
Mana could not manifest in the world too far away from their pactmates once they pacted. It was like an invisible tether, linking Vayne to Roxis and, he knew, to Sulpher as well. "Our dorm rooms are too far apart." Difficult. This was all going to be so difficult. "I suppose you could just vanish at night…"
"Vanish?" That sounded rather worrying to Vayne.
"Demanifest. Withdraw from the physical world."
It didn't seem to be ringing any bells.
"Don't worry about it, Vayne." Sulpher's tone was as firm as his paw on Roxis' injured on. Claws sheathed, for now. "You'll just have to share a room."
"Like a sleepover?" Jess and Nikki had one once. Vayne sounded like he thought it would be fun, as though he was completely oblivious to what two teenagers being willing to share a room, and a bed unless someone (Vayne.) slept on the floor, meant. Crashing at someone's place? Fine. Sleepovers? Fine. But every night?
But if Vayne started vanishing, like mana did, then soon his secret would be out, and people were suspicious of alchemy as it was. Trespassing on the province of God by creating life? Vayne's very existence destroyed the main argument that alchemy was only a mere science, not any form of magic. "Does Isolde know?" He felt like an idiot after the question passed his lips. Of course she knew, she'd set him up because he had. "How will we hide that you are my mana?" Oops.
"Why would you want to hide that Sulpher is your mana?" Wasn't he good enough?
Thank heaven for Vayne's cluelessness. Or was it deliberate, on some level? Sulpher seemed to wish that he could blend in. He sighed, irritated, and tried to gather himself to stand up, arm twinging as he tried to brace himself.
"Sorry about that. I brought a heal jar?" A peace offering was pointless now that they were bound like this, but it wasn't a peace offering, was it. Vayne existed to serve.
Theofratus had been sick.
He tilted his head back and Vayne pressed it to his lips, helping him drink as though they had done this before. He could feel that Vayne had made the jar, the power the same as that in his veins.
He felt as though he could call out to the heavens and they would answer, rain destruction upon… Such power.
So much he almost flinched from it. It was wrong to have this much power over another living soul. "You should be very grateful to Sulpher," he told Vayne after the desire to understand how Vayne had been able to achieve this semblance of independence was granted.
Yes, there was something inside Vayne that did understand his power, was at least trying to choose, and he didn't want to deal with the details of that now.
Sulpher jumped up onto Vayne's shoulder as a sign of whose side he was on. And so that he could loom over Roxis. "Sulpher's always been there, as long as I can remember." Would Roxis be like that too? "I didn't know other people could be like this." Too bad the others already had mana, or he would have asked Sulpher to pact with them too.
"Not usually." Vayne wasn't usual. He wouldn't have taken a hand up before, wouldn't have accepted help but stood on his own. Vayne's arm moved as easily as did his own. It was almost like he was pulling himself up, as natural, but this was still Vayne. Not a piece of him, not a puppet.
This power, and its mana, were so easy to abuse.
Roxis had always despised the easy way out, and those who took it.
Vayne needed Sulpher, and now needed him. Sulpher was no alchemist, what if something happened to Vayne? What if Vayne needed a human's insight on humans, instead of a cat's? An alchemist came before a mana as a supplicant, seeking the blessing of their power, but Vayne wasn't an ancient and wise creature. Vayne needed him, and he had already willingly shouldered so many burdens because he was needed.
This was going to be difficult, there was so much he would need to learn, so many new things to discover, and this was nothing his ancestors had ever done.
This was going to be extremely difficult and aggravating and right now he needed to rest, badly, before trying to sort out how they were going to do this in the morning.
He really couldn't wait.
Opening his eyes to see that Vayne had been followed by all of them, including that ghost, he sighed, knowing he wouldn't get the chance to wait a minute.