Mandrake’s scribblings: … Okay. This mandrake apologizes. It is a day late. The first part of this chapter is so awkward! This mandrake had the hardest time of figuring out an acceptable flow that it retreated and left it on the backburner for two weeks. Enjoy the chapter. Please comment and share. Some good reviews on RRL will be nice too.
The indicator sign lights up, telling its passengers that the bus has reached its station.
Announcer: “We have arrived at Station Number 7. Please check your belongings before exiting the bus. Thank you for patronage. Have a nice day.”
The passengers quickly exit the bus and scatter to other bus lines and station exits. One passenger is the still on board the bus. Carrying her coat in arms and her backpack haphazardly slung over her shoulder, Nila steps of the bus and walks over to a nearby bench.
She drops her coat on the bench armrest and her backpack on the bench itself. The bench’s metal frame rattles from the weight. Steadying the frame with her hand, she sits down on the bench and relaxes her posture.
She massages her shoulders. They have become sore and painful, having accumulated during the bus trip. Holding on to a heavy coat and backpack has put her body frame under significant stress.
Nila: [This will take a whole day to recover. But…]
She releases her mana reserves and floods her circulatory system with mana. A warm feeling washes over her. Having a surplus of energy at its disposal, her body goes to work in healing and repair.
Nila sighs in comfort as her extremities turns warm from being rigid and cold. With her ailment tended to, she shifts her focus to her surroundings.
In a high window, far in the distance, a mountain with a white snowy peak can barely be seen. Nila picks up a travel brochure from her coat and skims through it.
Nila: “Mount Iwaki…”
She sees Hirosaki’s famed monument in full view in the brochure. Alongside the mountain, pictures of apple orchards and an ancient castle decorated the brochure.
Nila: “Hirosaki huh…” [What a calm city.]
She checks her shoulders. The sore feeling has disappeared. They have healed completely.
Nila: “Now, to look for her.”
She recalls the details of her task. Find the woman, Jiang Shuu Ren, and scout the site of her home.
Nila: [Jiang Shuu Ren. I think she was that woman back in the medical facilty. Of all the coincidences. Still she is this city. I have to-]
“How are you doing, Ama-san? You’ve turned quiet.”
Hearing the familiar voice, Nila turns in surprise. Lo and behold, the woman she is looking for is standing a short distance away, talking into a cage covered by a cloth.
Nila: [Wha the- She’s right there!]
Nila quickly retrieves her coat and back pack. She slowly approaches the woman.
Nila: [Should I make contact? Or should I leave and just scout her home?]
Nila becomes wary in an instant. She stops in her tracks and puts her attention to her surroundings.
Nila: [This is weird. There’s nothing.]
Shuu Ren: “Eh?”
Shuu Ren continues her path and sees Nila in front of her. Recognizing her from the medical institute in Tokyo, she unconsciously let out a puzzled reaction.
Nila: [Shit. Okay. I’ll talk to her. I have to start a conversation.]
Sensing that her cover is blown, Nila calms herself. She readies herself to talk to the woman. Stringing sentences together, making up a faux background for herself. She is ready.
In an instant, she freezes.
Again, her mind is thrown into confusion. A storm of anxiety churns her thoughts. What should she do? How will she confront this? What lies ahead?
Just like that, her world is stuck. Before she can decide her next action, be it a halfhearted one or one made in the spur of the moment, the next one merciless cuts it away.
Shuu Ren: “Hello?”
The woman Nila is supposed to keep an eye on approached her. Her greeting pushes her mind off the blank and still world and her sense fall back to reality once more.
Shuu Ren “Are you alright? You looked like you wanted to talk to me. So…”
Nila: “A-ah… Sorry. I was dazed for a moment.”
Nila recalls her thoughts. Her crafted script that had scattered across her mind. Salvaging what is left, she nervously let out her words.
Nila: “We’ve met before, right? In Tokyo.”
Shuu Ren: “So it really is you. The delivery person?”
Nila: “Yes. I already quit though.”
Shuu Ren: *Eeeh?*
Ignoring Shuu Ren’s muffled surprise, Nila extends her left hand towards her.
Her stomach lurches. Her breath seizes up and her body freezes once more. Her mind turns darker and darker.
Shuu Ren: “Jiang Shuu Ren.”
Shuu Ren grabs Nila’s hand and shakes it. At the moment of her touch, Nila is free once more and gasps for air.
Nila: “Ni-Nila Marie.”
Shuu Ren: “Marie is your surname is it?”
Shuu Ren: “Then, Marie-san, nice to meet you.”
Nila: “Nice to meet you, Jiang-san.”
After the exchange of greetings, Shuu Ren subtly checks the time on her watch. In spite of this, Nila catches upon it immediately.
Nila: [Her bus is coming up soon. I must get something out of this. But… How?]
Noticing the bird cage Shuu Ren is holding, Nila points to it and asks.
Nila: “What is-”
Shuu Ren: “Hmm?” [Is she nervous?]
Shuu Ren is puzzled at the woman before her. She follows the direction of her finger pointing and realizes her intention.
Shuu Ren: “Oh?”
She smiles and gentle lifts the cage higher. Her chest swells with pride as she lifts one side of the cloth covering the cage.
Shuu Ren: “This is a golden eagle. Her name is Amaterasu.”
Nila peers into the cage and sees the bird within. Her body is brought as low as possible with her head arched back as if she about to lunge forward. Her tail is pointed upwards as if ready to fan downwards for propulsion. Her eyes fixed on Nila and her beak is left slightly agape. The appearance of the golden eagle shows Nila her intentions. Nila unconsciously retreats a step back.
Nila: “She’s a pretty bird.”
Nila looks at the bird. Her incredible animosity. Nila could only wonder. Is this bird the cause of it all?
Shuu Ren: “She is, isn’t she? She is usually is very active but now she quiet. I thought she might be stressed from bustling people at the station so I covered her cage.”
Shuu Ren talks some more about her bird while Nila feels that she must escape from here.
Nila: [I could take a picture of her. I can at least do that before I get out of here.]
She slowly reaches for a phone in her coat pocket. The golden eagle twitches and her focus turns towards Nila’s creeping hand.
That same experience. The feeling of helplessness and the futility of trying. Nila stops her hand from moving any further.
Nila: [I must ask for her approval. Then maybe…]
Nila breaks eye contact and looks directly at Shuu Ren. At the same time, her heart jumps, expecting the horrible experience to strike her once again.
Nila: “Can I take a picture of you with the bird?”
Shuu Ren: “O-Of course.”
Shuu Ren adjusts the cloth covering to show more of the bird. Nila takes a few steps back. The added distance between her and the bird never felt so liberating. Shuu Ren straightens up her posture and holds up the cage. Nila reaches for her coat pocket and takes out a phone. Nothing happened this time. Setting up the phone’s camera, she holds the phone in Shuu Ren’s direction.
Shuu Ren puts on an earnest smile and brings her head closer to the cage. The golden eagle reads the situation and eases slightly by lowering its tail.
Nila checks the photo and pockets her phone. Shuu Ren pulls the cloth over the cage once more and lowers it to her side.
Nila: “Thank you.”
Shuu Ren: “You’re welcome.”
With her task completed, Nila retreats a bit further. She realizes her tactless action and calls out to Shuu Ren.
Nila: “I have somewhere to go. And your bus will be here soon.”
Shuu Ren glances at her wristwatch and nods. Before parting ways, she waves at Nila.
Shuu Ren: “Okay. Have a nice day.”
As they walk their separate ways, Nila increase her walking speed. Once outside the station, she breaks into a run.
Her mana reserves are released and her body cuts through the air. The end of the pedestrian walkway before the street a few blocks away reaches her within seconds.
Her feet slams into the concrete and her body soars into the air. In one desperate leap, she flies across the street and hit the top edge of a two-storey building.
She scrambles up the top of the building and lies down on the flat roof. In her heavy heaves for breath, her thoughts finally caught up to her.
Nila: [What the fuck! What was that?!]
She replays all of her memories of that encounter. The eagle that made her froze in fear and helplessness. Nila clenches her fists in frustration. This feeling of helplessness and futility. For her to experience it again despite the strength she has obtained. To feel vulnerable and weak.
Nila: [What will I find at her home?]
That thought stabs fear into her heart. What lays waiting at Jiang Shuu Ren’s home if a bird she brought along reduced her to a wreck?
Nila: [The university is in that direction. Her home is near here.]
She casts a side-glance at the street leading to the university and continues her path towards the apartments.
Nila: [I wonder what her home looks like.]
Her body is brought as low as possible with her head arched back as if she about to lunge forward. Her tail is pointed upwards as if ready to fan downwards for propulsion. Her eyes fixed on Nila and her beak is left slightly agape. The appearance of the golden eagle shows Nila her intentions.
She stops in her tracks. Her experience in her first direct encounter with Shuu Ren is barely half an hour ago. She laid still on that roof before mustering up enough courage to continue one. Her fear freshly planted in her pulse in anxiety of what she might encounter at the woman’s home.
Nila: “It’s here.”
She looks up at the three-storey apartment block in front of her. On the second floor, the fifth apartment from the left is the home of Jiang Shuu Ren. Nila places her hand over her cotton choker. No one is at home. Not sensing any reaction, her confidence grows a little more.
In a short leap, she jumps to the second floor and hops over the railing. Walking past the apartments, she takes a closer look at the doors.
Nila: [Standard lock. No problem for me.]
She stops in front of the fifth apartment from the left. Shuu Ren’s apartment. Nila places her hand on the door and checks it closely.
Nila: [If I break into her home and plant some electronics, Anne can-]
She recoils backwards. Her back slams against the railing. Completely different from ones she was used to. Just as similar to those at the bus station.
She looks around in panic. Nothing. Not a soul around her.
Nila: [I can still-]
She reaches for the zipper on her backpack.
Her mind turns dark. The lowest point she experience before Shuu Ren snapped her out of it. Nila is brought down to this point once more.
Almost instantly, she lost her will to stand her ground. She must escape, no matter what. Her eyes dart at the buildings near her.
Nila: [I need to get away from here.]
-Tick… Tick… Tick…-
It has become a pattern. Something unheard of. For a few to cause so much confusion and uncertainty, a continuous pattern is too much. She gasps in unbridled fear.
-Tick… Tick… Tick…-
Her mind turns darker and darker. So much that her vision begins to darken as well. Nila looks around in desperation. She dare not move. Because she knows that it will result in her death.
-Tick… Tick… Tick…-
Nila: “No!” [My escape!]
She cries out in desperation. She can’t see any more. Even though her eyes can technically see, her mind has shut off her senses. She can’t see. She can’t hear. She can’t tell what is up or down. The only thing that feels stronger is the looming presence of death.
-Tick… Tick… Tick…-
Nila: “Let me go!”
Tears welling up in her eyes, Nila throws out a desperate plea. And then, something from the reality that is separated from her responds back.
Nila falls backwards and lands on her bottom. Her senses returns to her and she quickly looks around. She places her hand against her cotton choker. It has stopped. Gasping for breath, her eyes catch sight of a black cat in front of her.
Nila: “The cat?”
Her suspicions are on point. Her black fur is standing on end. Her body is arched low to the floor. Her light blue eyes wide and a low growl can be heard from her. Like the golden eagle, the black cat is showing Nila the utmost peak of hatred.
The cat slowly walks forward.
-Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick-
She retreats as quickly as she can. Her hands push back against the floor and her heels scrape over it. She tries to puts as much distance between her and the cat. Her senses are lost again. But the cat. The cat is clear as ever in contrast to the background of indescribable nothingness.
She realizes that her distance from the cat has not increased for a while now. Only then, she notices the dull pain from the back of her head. She has back herself against the wall. But if she has hit the wall, then…
Nila: [The stairs!]
She turns for a split second to look for the stairs near her.
In an instant, the cat which was a few meters away appears before Nila in an instant, her fangs bared and growling.
Nothing. There’s nothing she can do now. She has been fighting against that fact from the beginning. Finally accepting her fate, she curls herself up as small as possible and sobs.
Nila: “Please… Let me go.”
… Silence. Nila who is cowering realizes that it has stopped. Slowly unclenching her body, she cautiously takes a peek. Everything seems to be normal. Her senses has returned. And the cat is…
She presses her back against the wall. The cat is still in front of her, sitting up straight and watching her intently. Nila lock her eyes with the cat’s. Her arm slowly inch towards the stairs. The cat notices it but keeps sitting down.
She lunge sideways and down the stairs. She lands at the bottom and scrambles to get up.
The moment she has a foot firm on the ground, she stamps hard with all her might and launches her body into the air.
She lands on the roof of a building and runs in full sprint. She jumps to the next roof and the next. Building to building, she runs further away from the apartment complex that caused her much grief.
The wind howls as it dances around the tall buildings that are built together side by side. The buildings are massive, spanning twenty odd storeys, and multi-lane roads surround their sides and stretch across the landscape. It is a big city sprawl capable of housing a population in the hundreds of thousands. Yet in spite of that, the buildings, the streets, they are all empty. As the darkness of night envelops the city, the buildings are dark and hollow, emitting a silent and eerie atmosphere. The only sources of light are the brightly lit rooftops to warn any unsuspecting aircraft, the street lamps that line the street and the cluster of auroras spread across the sky. Save for a few cars driving around, the city is pretty much lifeless. A ghost city. A product of rich Chinese firms investing their money in a gamble for a chance to reap profits when the empty city flourishes into a bustling one.
In one of the buildings, one of the elevator is rising through the floors with one occupant. Stopping at the last of the few floors from the top, the elevator doors opens. A large figure steps out. A bleached ram skull. Long shreds of what is left of a cloak. A big body blacker than the dark corridors around him. The elevator doors close and the darkness creeps over the space once more.
Rosetta heaves a sigh and continues his walk through the corridors. He slowly approaches a door halfway through the corridor. A single light overhead illuminates its surroundings. As he step into the light, a clearer view of his figure can be seen. His head hung low and his demeanor is visibly dispirited. He stares at the door before him. The door is different from the others. It is colored warm yellow and is mysteriously worn by many years of use. He reaches for the doorknob. His hand passes through it.
Rosetta: “Hmm…” [An open mind. Letting it all in…]
He slowly grasps the doorknob and opens the door. A bright light emerges from the door. As the light dissipates, what is before Rosetta is an old-fashioned room. The furniture is old and simple. The old Chinese music of a woman singing in a high-pitched voice is playing on an old-fashioned record player. The room is illuminated by the warm yellow glow, like bright sunny day seen through an old yellow filter.
Woman: “My goodness… You look like what death will look like to this frightened old woman.”
Rocking on an armchair next to a marble round table, an old woman speaks to Rosetta in Chinese. Grey hair neatly combed into a bun and wearing old Chinese robes, the old woman is well past her 90s. Feeble, wrinkled and weak, her warm presence blends in with the rest of the room. Rosetta stands before her motionless and silent. For a moment, the powerful being, possessor of a massive throve of knowledge and magic, is enthralled by the graceful old woman before him.
Woman: “Are you one of those ‘Rosetta’?”
The woman asks him in Chinese. Rosetta answers in kind.
Rosetta: “Yes, I am Rosetta.”
The old woman smiles gently and asks another question.
Woman: “Do you know who I am?”
Rosetta: “Yes… Chun Xin Yi.”
The woman nods and gestures him to come over.
Xin Yi: “No need for formalities. Just call me Xin Yi. Come, come. Have a seat. And shut the door behind you.”
Rosetta: “Thank you…”
Rosetta turns around to shut the door. The warm, welcoming atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the cold and industrial grey colour of the empty corridors. Rosetta closes the door and walks over to the woman, careful to not knock any of the furniture over. Xin Yi gestures over to a marble stool. Rosetta sat down. His figure towers over the woman despite his sitting position.
Xin Yi: “How is your journey here? I hope it was not rough on you.”
Rosetta: “No, I’m fine.”
Xin Yi: “Do you want tea?”
Rosetta noticed a cup of tea on the table in front of him where there was nothing before. Unfortunately, he can only stare at it.
Rosetta: “I am… Unable to drink the tea…”
Xin Yi chuckles and waves her hand. The tea disappears as suddenly as it appeared.
Rosetta: “Xin Yi, how are you?”
Xin Yi: “I’m alive, if that is what you are wondering. More importantly, I am happy.”
Rosetta: “I see… I am happy for you.”
Xin Yi turns her gaze upwards.
Xin Yi: “This sky, is it the work of a girl from the Anne family?”
Rosetta: “Yes. The enemy has stepped up their efforts. She stormed the skies as an emergency measure to protect everyone.”
Xin Yi: “She’s such a strong girl. This storm is spread out as far as the eye can see. How big is it?”
Rosetta: “It only covers the top half of the world.”
Xin Yi: “One half of the world… Goodness, I hope she does not keep this up for too long.”
Rosetta: “No. She will recuperate every few days so she doesn’t lose energy. Does the sky being like this inconvenience you?”
Xin Yi shakes her head and raises her hands in front of her.
Xin Yi: “No, no. I’m just worried about her wellbeing. I know first-hand the consequences of using magic without rest. Tell her to not hurt herself for me, alright?”
Rosetta: “I’ll pass on the message as soon as I meet her.”
The old woman lowers her head.
Xin Yi: “Thank you.”
As she raises her head, she looks upon her hands clasped together in front if her. They are old and wrinkled. Her fingers looks fragile and her skin is thin and glassy like wax paper.
Xin Yi: “Honestly… It’s thanks to her that I am able to meet you like this… This body has grown weary and tired. Her storm that floods the air with energy has given enough life to this old woman to get out of bed.”
She starts laughing happily. Rosetta is silent, unsure of what to say. Letting her laughter die down to a chuckle, she sips from her cup of tea.
Rosetta: “… Xin Yi, do you know why I am here?”
Xin Yi smiles and nods.
Xin Yi: “I do. You’re asking for my help, aren’t you?”
Rosetta: “… Yes. Will you help me?”
Xin Yi chuckles as Rosetta’s question.
Xin Yi: “If I had refused, there won’t be a meeting like this, will it? Yes. I will help you. However I can.”
Xin Yi sets aside her tea cup and faces Rosetta.
Xin Yi: “So, how can I help you?”
Rosetta struggles to put his word together. Alas, he decided ti start from the proot of the problem.
Rosetta: “I have accumulated a lot of enemies over the years. The followers they draw is increasing year by year.”
Xin Yi lights up and jokingly gestures at Rosetta.
Xin Yi: “Oh? That’s one common ground we both stand on, isn’t it? Ahahahaha~”
Rosetta: “Y-Yes… We do share that common trait… Anyway, they had recently dealt a heavy blow and gained an advantageous capability to find me. In the near future, I will be holding a meeting with my closest allies and my presence there will only draw in my enemies and bring harm and chaos.”
He extends his left hand towards Xin Yi.
Rosetta: “I need your help in fending off these people for the duration of the meeting.”
Xin Yi: “Hoho. I am an old weak lady but I think I can handle them. With everybody’s help, I believe I’ll do just fine.”
She reaches over and shakes his hand. She then lightly taps his hand while maintaining the handshake.
Xin Yin: “Don’t worry. No one will reach your place. I’ll protect you.”
Rosetta: “That’s good. Thank you.”
He retrieves his hand from the handshake and she retracts hers. Xin Yi looks at her hand that held the magician’s hand. Her skin feels cold but is slowly taken over by her warmth.
Xin Yi: [This is how he is presented to the world. How unfortunate.]
This feeling flashes through her mind as she watches her trembling hands before her.
Rosetta: “Is there anything you need to get off your chest?”
Xin Yi looks up to Rosetta and smiles wryly.
Xin Yi: “I’m certain that you know of my circumstances. I’m afraid that this will be the last time I am able to help you. That’s why I’ll try my best for this one time. Until the end.”
No one spoke for a few moments after that. Rosetta stares down on the marble table while Xin Yi maintains her gentle smile and reaches her tea. The first to speak is Rosetta.
Rosetta: “Xin Yi. If you wish it, I can grant it to you. I have the luxury to do so.”
Xin Yi raises her eyebrows in surprise. Her eyes quiver for a moment but she casts her gaze down and shakes her head while smiling. Rosetta’s figure slumps further in disappointment. Xin Yi places her hands on her knees and bows slightly before rising up again.
Xin Yi: “I am sincerely sorry. I can’t accept your gift. His gift has given me so much happiness and fulfillment. No amount of gratitude is enough to repay his deed.”
Rosetta: “If you feel that strongly about it, won’t you want to accept another? What about your loved ones? Let me help you. Please…”
Xin Yi shakes her head once more.
Xin Yi: “I am satisfied with his one gift. To accept another from you is conceited of me. Thank you for your generous offer.”
Rosetta: “… I understand… But what about the others?”
Xin Yi: “I’ve already done everything in preparation for it. Everyone, on both sides, made their peace. I am at peace.”
Rosetta: “I see… It is sad to see you go.”
Xin Yi: “On the contrary, I am glad that I am able to help you. Grateful to repay his deed… One… More… Time…”
He extends his arm made of dark matter towards Xin Yi. Black threads emerge from his hand and they converge in front of his hand. They reform into a sphere that keeps growing size. Ghostly white runes that dances across its surface. A sphere darker than the dark lifeless corridors outside. A mana sphere.
Rosetta: “I’ll give you this.”
Xin Yi draws closer to gaze at the floating sphere before her. Her eyes shows admiration and fear towards it.
Xin Yi: “This is… A gift?”
She straightens up and looks at Rosetta with an inquiring look.
Xin Yi: “What do I do with this?”
Rosetta: “This is to aid you. You will be fending of strong enemies who fashioned their own magic to attack me. They are more than what you can handle in your current state.”
Rosetta bends closer with the mana sphere in hand. Xin Yi keeps her eyes fixed on it and draws back.
Rosetta: “You need not rely on the storm to provide you with energy. You can draw as much as you need from this.”
He places the floating sphere before her. Xin Yi, whose back is pressed against her chair, can’t withdraw any further. Rosetta returns to his sitting position and takes a deep bow.
Rosetta: “Please do not hold back and use it however you wish.”
Xin Yi realizes her reaction is appalling and relaxes her posture. She cautiously reach out with her hand close to the dark sphere. The way her hand is ever so slightly pushed when she got near is all too familiar for her.
Xin Yi: “This is bigger than the gift I was given. Isn’t this too much? Or are the people looking for you very formidable?”
Rosetta: “I am giving you a generous amount. I have reached the final milestone in my journey. I am fine parting with this much.”
Xin Yi: “The final milestone… You mean you’re finally done with your life mission? The last person is found?”
Rosetta: “Yes… Yes, she is.”
Rosetta’s mood changes. He feels happy but conflicted at the same time. Xin Yi notices this and smiles. She bends forward and inquires some more.
Xin Yi: “Is this person special? Someone more than her role as the last person in your journey?”
Rosetta: “… Yes.”
He casts his gaze down. The conflicted feelings in him takes over and his mild cheery mood changes to a dreary miserable one. Xin Yi draws back and sips her tea. She understands that this is as far as she can tactfully inquire.
Xin Yi: “Then I’ll take this and use it to aid you in fending off your enemies.”
She slowly reaches under the mana sphere and scoops it up with her hands.
Xin Yi: “I will pray for the success of your final mission. Stay strong. You’re doing for more that yourself, aren’t you?
Rosetta nods and starts to rise from his seat.
Rosetta: “I am taking my leave now. Thank you again for your help.”
Xin Yi: “Think nothing of it. I’m doing this for the Rosetta I used to know after all.”
Rosetta leaves the table and walks to the door exit. He opens the door, spilling the warm yellow light on the cold, dark corridors outside. When he steps out, Xin Yi calls out to him.
Xin Yi: “Hey.”
Rosetta: “Yes? What is it?”
Xin Yi: “When you finish your final mission, what is left for you?”
Rosetta looks at her and stands there in deep thought.
Rosetta: “The end, I guess…”
Xin Yi gently smiles upon his answer.
Xin Yi: “I suppose that is another common ground we both share.”
Rosetta steps outside the door. He pauses when he grabs the doorknob.
Rosetta: “Yes… I suppose we do…”
He closes the door and the corridor turns dark once more.
Mandrake’s scribblings: How’s that for a chapter! This mandrake is pretty proud of the second part. Please comment your thoughts and share this series to others. Help this series grow!
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