The halls echoed with Yuuno Scrya's footsteps as he strode purposefully forward.
Technically speaking, this was the Ancient Studies department of Cranagan Central University, the oldest and most prestigious college on Midchilda, but Yuuno couldn't help but think of it as 'home'. Certainly he'd spent more of his short life here than at his actual home; the Dean was a Scrya, as were most of the tenured professors so Ancient Studies was basically a secondary clanhold in the opinion of most of the Scrya kids. Normally, walking through these venerable halls gave him a deep sense of peace and belonging, the unique joy of being among other seekers of knowledge. Today, though, things were... off-kilter.
Yuuno knocked twice on the department head's door, and strode in without waiting for a reply. "I just heard! Is it true?" he snapped immediately upon entry.
The man sitting behind the desk blinked a few times, brushing a lock of dark hair out of his face and adjusting his glasses. "Good morning, Yuuno. How nice to see that your time in the field hasn't affected your manners." He said dryly.
Yuuno sighed in a combination of embarassment and impatience. "I'm sorry, Uncle Ryuga. It's just that..."
"No, no, don't worry about it. I know how you must be feeling... I know how I'd feel if it were my dig. I was just teasing." Ryuga Scrya said soothingly, a small grin on his face. Neither of them were actually certain if he was Yuuno's uncle or not (blood relations were not closely tracked among the Scryas; between the wide number of those lost in the field and the much, much wider number of adoptions, it was really hard to actually be certain who was related to who anymore), but that was the basic nature of their relationship, so Uncle Ryuga was as good a title as any. "And unfortunately, yes, you're very right to be impatient. The vessel containing the artifacts you unearthed at your most recent dig has indeed suffered an accident. It appears to have been a fast-forming vortex of some sort in the dimensional tides; tore the vessel to shreds in seconds. Nobody could have predicted it."
Yuuno groaned. "Was any of the cargo recovered? Some of it was... well, let's not mince words. The primary finds were some very, very dangerous items. Some of the most powerful energy sources I've ever seen among the recovered Lost Logia. If they fell into the wrong hands, or were rendered unstable somehow..."
"Unfortunately, it does not appear that anything of value was recovered from the salvage site." Ryuga said. "The Jewel Seeds are gone."
"No, no, no!" Yuuno snapped. "Have we any idea where they landed?"
"Er... yes, unfortunately. We were able to trace the energy signature to... um... an non-administrated world. Eye-arth, or something like that. They have no knowledge or history of magic, no way to contain the Seeds if they go out of control."
"It just gets worse and worse, doesn't it..." Yuuno muttered. "Still, that also means the locals won't be hunting for them. Perhaps if I could recover them quickly enough..."
"You? Yuuno, this has become a matter for the Bureau. Let the enforcers deal with it, you don't have to..."
"No. Those artifacts were my find; I'm the one who endangered an innocent world by unearthing them. Finding them is my responsibility." Yuuno said firmly.
Ryuga sighed. "I know that look. I have absolutely no chance of talking you out of this, do I?"
"You always were too stubborn for your own good. It clashes with your innocent appearance, you know." Ryuga said. Then he smiled wickedly. "Actually, I sort of predicted this would happen, and on the off-chance I was right, I prepared a... small surprise for you. Follow me." Rather than walk out of the room, however, Ryuga raised one hand, causing a circle of white light to appear around his desk. Yuuno, without a word, cast a silent spell to sync himself with the transport spell.
Once the light faded, Yuuno opened his eyes to find himself in the matriarch's chambers, the one room that was off-limits in the ancestral Scrya clanhold. His eyes widened. If I'm here, than that means... he thought, nearly overwhelmed by the implications. Only one woman was allowed in this room without permission.
"Grandma? I've brought him." Ryuga said.
"Step forward, child." Quavered the ancient woman seated behind the enormous, elaborate oaken desk. She looked so tiny there, behind the gigantic desk, nestled among a lifetime's worth of books and mementoes. And yet this frail old woman, Mazda Scrya, was the undisputed ruler of the clan, and one of the most respected scholars in Midchildan history.
Yuuno bowed to her. It seemed only proper. "M-ma'am. It's an honor to meet with you like this."
"Ryuga tells me... that you have taken on a task of great danger." The venerable lady said.
"That is true, ma'am."
"Then you must be well-prepared. The Clan Scrya allows our youth a great degree of freedom and trusts them to care for themselves... but we would not send them into the world unarmed." She extended a slender, wrinkled hand towards Yuuno. "Take this. Her name is Raising Heart, and I myself built it for you."
"I... I... I..." Yuuno said, momentarily struck speechless by this proclamation concerning the tiny red sphere in the matriarch's palm. "I do not deserve the honor you do me, ma'am."
"Is it not my decision whom I give such honor to? Whether you deserve it or not, it is yours." The old woman said, a slight smile gracing her lips.
Yuuno took up the tiny gem. "Raising Heart..." he said softly.
"Nice to meet you. We'll work together, my master." Raising Heart said. Yuuno thought the gem felt a little warmer when it spoke.
"I... I don't know what to say, ma'am. Thank you. I'll take very good care of it." Yuuno said. He knew he was grinning like an idiot, but at the moment he just didn't care.
"Well, Yuuno? Try it out!" Ryuga encouraged. "It's not every day that the head of the clan does someone an honor like this!"
"Right, right... what's the start-up phrase..." Yuuno agreed excitedly, closing his eyes to allow the device to speak to him. ""I am the one who gives you this charge: release your power to your contracted master. As the winds fill the sky, and the stars fill the heavens, so shall my heart fill with courage, and my hands with magic! Raising Heart, set up!"
The tiny red gem burst into brilliant light, expanding from storage mode into it's true form as an intelligent device. Yuuno held it in his hands and gazed upon it for the first time.
He cleared his throat. "Um... uh... not to sound ungrateful, but... well... is there some particular reason it's so... pink?"
Lady Mazda smiled beatifically. "That was my own personal touch. I thought it very appropriate for a young lady."
"Snrk!" Ryuga said, making a sound very much like he'd just choked on his own tongue trying not to laugh. "Oh... oh my..."
"What?" Yuuno briefly snarled, before quickly recalling who he was talking to and toning down his reaction to, "Ma'am... it's me. Yuuno. I'm... well, I'm pretty explicitly not a girl."
Lady Mazda looked at him, squinting her eyes as if to see him more clearly. She tilted her head slightly to the right, and blinked slowly. She then tilted it slightly to the left, and blinked slowly again.
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Ryuga said, clutching helplessly at his midsection.
"Quite sure." Yuuno said in a tone so cold it could have spawned icebergs. "Look, I really appreciate this device, but I'm really not a girl! Trust me! There's a really simple check you can do to make sure about that, and it definitely came up 'boy'!"
"Oh. Huh." Mazda said. "Well, that's all right. Pink suits you."
"It sure does, Miss Yuuno." Ryuga said, an utterly evil grin on his face.
Yuuno turned to him. "Stuff it." He turned back to Mazda and said, "Be that as it may, I wonder if there is perhaps somewhere I can have it painted, or..."
"No. Pink is my preferred color." Raising Heart said.
Yuuno groaned at the sentient staff. "Really? You won't reconsider?"
"Not a chance, my master."
"Well... great. That's juuuuuuust great." As if his age and generally soft appearance didn't make getting respect from his peers hard enough, now he was walking around with a little girl's wand. Spectacular. "Fine. If I have no choice, I should at least know what capabilities it has."
"Oh, it's specialized for long-distance high-energy combat, particularly high-power cannon assaults and quick, mid-distance directed shots." Mazda said promptly.
"I wanted to make sure it matched your specialties, Yuuko." Mazda said kindly.
Yuuno walked away from the desk and back towards his uncle. He whispered to the older man, "Uncle, is... is Lady Mazda okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she thinks I'm a girl, she just got my name wrong, and... well... this device's settings..."
"What about them?"
"... beam cannons and directed shots for mid and long range combat." Yuuno said bluntly.
"Those are the opposite things of what I am good at!" Yuuno roared at the top of his lungs, causing Ryuga to jump about a foot and Lady Mazda to blink slightly.
"Oh, my, did someone leave a window open?" She asked nobody in particular.
Ryuga, once he'd gotten his heart-rate down a bit, considered his 'nephew's' words. "Oh... I didn't even think about that, but you have no talent at all for those types of magic, do you?"
"None! Uncle, I'm barely going to be able to use this device at all!" Yuuno implored.
"Well... look, Yuuno. Lady Mazda is ninety-three years old. I'll admit that she's a little... out-of-touch, recently. Occasionally she tries to wear pancakes as shoes, that sort of thing. But really, she's sharp as a tack most of the time. So when she asked to build you a device for your mission, who were we to turn her down?"
"Well, I guess... wait. For my mission? I only found out about it today. Don't these things usually take weeks to make?"
"Er... yeah. She actually started building it for your mission two months ago."
"Two months... I was at home two months ago. I didn't even leave the house except for... did she start building me an intelligent device on the day I went to go buy groceries?"
"... ... ... ... ... ... ... possibly."
"Oh, wonderful. Just great. I have a device specialized for something I can't do in a color I don't like, built by a senile woman who doesn't know my name and thinks I'm a girl. And she built it so I can buy milk."
"You're not such a prize yourself." Raising Heart said.
"It's really the thought that counts, though..." Ryuga said rather lamely.
"Keep your dog off my lawn, please." Mazda said kindly.
"... right. I'm sorry, Yuuno." Ryuga said. "Look, if you can wait a few weeks, we can have Raising Heart recalibrated for you..."
"A few weeks? By then, those Jewel Seeds could have ripped half of reality apart! I need to leave immediately. This will just have to do." Yuuno said, returning the... ugh... pink staff to its storage form and putting it into his pocket.
"Well... look on the bright side." Ryuga said.
"There's a bright side?"
"Maybe girls will notice it. See you waving that thing around and come talk to you."
"... ... ... are you quite serious?"
"Sure." Ryuga said. "And then they'll ask to compare shoes and make-up tips, oh lovely miss Yuu-"
Yuuno turned and began stomping towards the door before the sentence could be finished. "I'm suddenly reminded why I started doing fieldwork and spending long stretches away from home at age nine..." He muttered under his breath.
"Has anyone seen my teeth?" Lady Mazda asked.
"They're in your mouth, ma'am!" Yuuno snapped over his shoulder.
"Oh! Why, thank you, young lady."