There was a lot to learn, and for once, Daisuke wasn’t reluctant to start learning. Most of the book, he found, was filled with different kinds of Runes, and what sort of purposes they could be used for. Most often, you needed to use combinations. A Rune for fire, for example, wouldn’t do much good on its own, unless you had placement Runes telling it where to go and what to do.
If you traced Runes onto the object you wanted them to affect, that usually worked best. Daisuke chose a Rune for levitation and traced the symbol onto the empty cup on his beside table, with his forefinger. He just felt a slight buzzing all through him, and the cup actually moved up! The problem was, Daisuke didn’t know how to stop it, and had to search through the book for the ‘cancel’ Rune before he could get the cup back down.
The ‘cancel’ Rune, Daisuke felt, was going to come in pretty handy before he got the hang of this.
The book had some explanation on how to do simple things using Runes and combinations of Runes – things like bringing something toward you without touching it, or causing plants to grow faster. It suggested practice on some of those before attempting any of the more complicated feats. The same section strongly advised that Daisuke practice as soon as possible, since his Trial could take place at any time, and it was best if he knew what he was doing.
I guess I could do that. Daisuke looked down at the page number, absently. Somehow or another, he had managed to read his way through twenty pages, in less than an hour. This stuff is totally cool! I’m gonna love using it…
He turned the page, expecting to get a glimpse of the more complicated uses for Rune Magic. Instead, he found that after the section on simple usage ended, there was a new section, titled ‘Element Adepts’.
Okay. Daisuke shrugged. Now’s as good a time as any to find out what the heck they are.
‘Like Rune Masters, Element Adepts are chosen for their potential to use the powers dormant within them. However, Element Adepts employ different tactics than Rune Masters. They tend to draw their power from the five basic elements – Water, Fire, Air, Earth, and Spirit. To use these elements, the Adept must be in direct contact with them. Air, because of its availability, is most difficult to master and control. Spirit, because of its scarcity, is generally the easiest.’
Daisuke found himself interested. Wonder if I could meet one of them… That sounds totally awesome! He smiled to himself. Not as cool as Runes, of course, but still… He read on.
‘Because of that limitation, Element Adepts work well together with Rune Masters. If the Adept needs to employ the power of Fire, for example, and none is available, the Rune Master can simply trace out the fire symbol and power can be drawn from that. This, as well, will cover the need for placement Runes to direct and control the fire.’
"Way cool!" Daisuke grinned at the book. "Here’s hoping I find a friend who’s an Element Adept!" He continued to read, feeling more and more drawn to the idea.
‘The most effective partnership between Rune Masters and Element Adepts can take place when two such bond together (see page twenty-five). The bond strengthens both sides of power, Runes and Elements.’
"This gets better and better." Daisuke glanced at page twenty-four, the only page between the one he was on and the one that would tell him about bonding. It was a description of the different uses of the Elements. He shrugged, and skipped ahead to twenty-five.
‘When an Element Adept and a Rune Master choose to bond, the strength of one amplifies the strength of the other, and vice versa. This can only be accomplished if the two merge in blood, and ceremony. The bond is permanent and, like most things, is not to be undertaken lightly. Be certain that both partners are fully in agreement.’
Daisuke shrugged again. What’s so bad about that? It’s not like you have to get married or anything. It’s just sharing powers…
‘The bond may also result in emotional complications, as well as merging other aspects of one’s self besides just the magic itself. Bonded partners can often sense each others’ movements and actions, even when miles apart. Some of the strongest bonds even allow for contact between the minds of the participants, though usually only when the two are in actual physical contact.’
"Wow… intense…" Daisuke started to rethink his eagerness to bond with an Element Adept. Unless it’s with someone like Kari, of course… That would be okay…
He turned another page. Next up was the section on the more complicated uses for Rune Magic. Daisuke closed the book, resisting the urge to read on. I know I’ll want to try one if I look. But I need to start simple. Something easy… He looked around the room, thinking hard.
Outside his bedroom, he heard the front door open. "Hey squirt, I’m home! Where are you?"
Jun! Daisuke snatched up the book again, cradling it protectively to his chest. True, his older sister had never taken anything of his, but he still wouldn’t put it past her, and he didn’t want her to get her hands on his Rune book!
The door to his room swung open. "There you are," Jun said, sounding annoyed. "Why didn’t you answer me? I thought you, like, ran away or something."
"I was hoping you’d just leave me alone, but no, you had to come barging in here!" Daisuke shot back. "What do you want?"
"Chill, short-stuff. I’m not trying to steal that precious book of yours or anything…" She stopped at that, and looked at him again, eyes narrowing. "Why are you holding a book? Since when do you read stuff like that?"
"None of your business!" Daisuke wrapped his arms protectively around the book. "Anyway, I’m not gonna hang around here all night. I’ve got places to be." He pushed past his sister, toward the front door.
Jun followed him. "Where do you think you’re going?"
"To the soccer field. Do me a favor and tell mom and dad where I went, all right?" He got his shoes on and reached for the door. "Thanks a lot, see you later."
"Later," she repeated. Her voice was oddly subdued, and when Daisuke stole a glance back, she was just standing there with a strange expression on her face.
He shrugged it off and kept going, pulling the door shut behind him. I’ll bet it’s because she’s so shocked that I actually found a book to read.
It wasn’t raining any more, and Daisuke found that the soccer field looked weird when it was dark out and he was alone. The last bit of light was fading, and he hastily opened the book to find the Rune for light. After tracing the symbol onto a thick stick, he had a sort of almost-flashlight – with enough light to read the book by. It wasn’t exactly the place he’d have chosen for his first time using Rune magic, but, well, he couldn’t exactly practice at home, not with Jun there.
So, practice already! He held the stick over his book, and tried to pick out something to try. There were a bunch of suggested exercises for beginners. Hmm… Guess I’ll try calling something to me.
Daisuke looked around for a promising target. His eyes caught on someone’s forgotten soccer cleats. Perfect! But who was stupid enough to leave those here? He shrugged. No matter – they were just right for his first bit of Rune Magic.
Bending, Daisuke cleared a small patch of the soil at his feet. Let’s see… they have to be in order… Carefully, Daisuke traced the Rune for ‘move’ into the soil. Beside it, he traced in the symbol that meant a foreign object, and wrote it ‘soccer cleats’. And, lastly, he traced out his own Rune, stating that he wanted the cleats to move to him. Finishing, he stood up straight and looked over at the cleats. He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on where and what they were. Cleats. By the bleachers.
In a second, the cleats were in his hands.
"All right!" Daisuke cried, brandishing the shoes in triumph. He looked more closely at them. "Hey, wait a sec! These are mine!" He felt sheepish. "Well, at least I didn’t forget my regular shoes."
The next step, obviously, was calling an object he couldn’t see. His jacket was the obvious choice. It was still hanging in the closet at home, and it was going to start getting cold out soon.
He could be more specific this time. Daisuke traced out the Rune for move again, followed by his own symbol and a little possessive tick, to show that the ‘foreign object’ was his. After tracing in that Rune, he spelled out ‘jacket’ and then his own symbol again.
He didn’t even have to think very hard before the jacket was in his hands. I think I’m getting the hang of this! Daisuke exalted, proud of himself. I’ll bet I could handle that Trail, easy! I’m a natural! He set the jacket down. It wasn’t cold enough to wear it yet.
A few more simple exercises later, and Daisuke was feeling a great deal more confident. I’m good at this. He grinned to himself. Do your worst, powers! Daisuke Motomiya won’t back down! I can handle whatever you throw at me! I’m –
He never got to describe what he was, because an explosion off to his left abruptly made his world shudder.
Daisuke fell backwards, surprised more than anything. "Wh-What…?" he barely managed to get out – then his eyes hooked on to the source of the explosion, and his breath caught.
Suspended in mid-air, right in front of him, was what looked like a gigantic rip – a rip in the air. On either side of it, the soccer field was clearly visible, but through it… A world of pure gold met Daisuke’s wide-eyed gaze. The gold didn’t shine; it was dull and not very nice-looking. Kind of ugly, actually.
But it was another world! It had to be!
With shaky fingers, Daisuke snatched up his book and flipped past the section on Element Adepts. The section for the more complicated use of Runes probably had something… Right? "Hah!" Daisuke stopped flipping. ‘Dimensional Rifts’, the heading read. He held the glowing stick closer to it, reading.
‘These usually require someone to open them. Occasionally, some rip open on their own. Part of the reason Rune Masters are needed. Opening a gate intentionally involves’ –
No thanks. Daisuke skipped over that part, skimming down until he found ‘closing’. Aha! Here we go! Now I’ll just…uh… He stared at the long list of symbols and instructions in dismay. That’ll take forever!
Well, he was a Rune Master. Or at least, he wanted to be one. "Great," Daisuke muttered to himself, walking reluctantly over to the rip. "Well, guess I’d better get started."
The ground underneath the strange rip was soft and damp from the rain. Daisuke’s symbols were clearly visible in the mucky soil, and that actually helped a lot. Still, it wasn’t a short, quick and easy type of job, that was for sure. Daisuke scowled at the portal, taking a short break.
"This is all your fault," he accused it.
The portal said nothing. Daisuke was sure the thing was mocking him.
"Thanks a bunch," he muttered.
The portal growled at him.
"What!?" Daisuke stood up abruptly and glared at it. From the darkness, a set of glowing blue eyes glared back. Wait a second… Portals don’t have eyes – do they?
He had all of two seconds’ warning before the thing on the other side of that rip leapt through at him.
"Whoa—WAH!" Daisuke stumbled back, dropped his book, and instinctively brought his arms up to protect his face. The creature – whatever it was – snarled like a hungry cougar and swiped at him, but kept its distance.
Daisuke cautiously lowered his arms, and the thing made a jump for his face. "AAGGHH!" he shouted, waving the only weapon he had – the glowing stick – at it frantically. The thing fell back into a crouch, shrieking like it was in pain. Its blue eyes stared at Daisuke maliciously.
The red-head watched it warily, babbling out a few stammered words intended to calm it. "N-nice creature. Good thing. Y-you don’t wanna kill me. I’m too skinny to eat!" The thing snarled at him hatefully. It had a sleek black body, twice the height of Daisuke’s and almost twice as thick, as well. It seemed more comfortable on four legs, and a set of bat-like wings sprouted from its shoulder blades. There were long, sharp claws on its hands and feet, and its muzzle was sharply pointed. It looked like nothing Daisuke had ever seen before.
He desperately tried to remember the Rune for ‘shield’. He could remember his own; if he could just manage to trace that one, and the ‘shield’ Rune, then he’d be protected. Daisuke’s mind raced nearly as fast as his heart was racing, trying to remember…
With a fierce snarl, the creature took advantage of Daisuke’s hesitation, and pounced. Fire shot up his right arm as those sharp claws found a vulnerable spot, slashing. He yelled, in fear and pain, and swung the light stick hard with his left hand, knocking the creature directly in the skull. It seemed furious, but not pained, shying away from the light and then making another leap that would crush Daisuke beneath it. The boy brought his arms over his face and got ready for the crash.
Which never came.
Something green and with the feel of dirt, and plants, flashed quickly in front of Daisuke’s tightly closed eyelids. He jerked down his arms in surprise and found the creature he’d been fighting contained by thin vines, that were wrapping themselves around its limbs. The thing roared, furious.
"Move, you idiot!" Someone crashed into Daisuke roughly, shoving him out of the way as the creature spread out its wings, snapping the vines like thread.
"Ow!" Daisuke protested, fire lancing up his wounded arm as he landed. "Hey, watch it!"
"Then get out of the way!" the new person – a guy, Daisuke noted – snapped. "Do you want to die?"
"No…" Daisuke searched frantically for his light, but it was gone. "We need light!" he shouted, then barely rolled out of the way as the thing brought its claws down where he’d been sprawled out.
"I need Fire for light, genius!" his rescuer snapped back, dodging another blow
Fire… Daisuke remembered that symbol; it was a really cool-looking one. "Okay, coming up!" he shouted back, and brought up his injured hand to trace the symbol. The muscles in it were stiffening up fast, and it was all he could do to form the lines. Fire, now, he thought desperately, and imagined flames.
"What do you mean comi – oh."
The place where he’d scribbled out the Rune burst into flame – a small one, restricted to the area of his symbol and not controlled to go any further, but it was fire.
"I’ll ask how you did that later!" The other boy was beside him, breathing heavily. "If we live until then. Hold still!" One of the boy’s arms thrust into the flames, and abruptly there was a ring of fire surrounding the two of them, seeming to rise and come to a peak, sealing them off.
Daisuke could see the creature through the dancing flames, howling and spitting at the fire. Finally, the thing turned and spread its wings, lifting up to fly shrieking into the air, and away from the park.
Daisuke fell back and sprawled out on the ground. He was exhausted, his heart was still pounding hard from the fight, and his right arm throbbed with pain. He couldn’t feel bleeding, but it hurt like anything, and his fingers had gone numb.
The other boy let out a sigh, and the flames vanished. He turned toward Daisuke.
"What were you thinking!?"
Daisuke looked up. Now that they weren’t battling for their lives, he could get a look at his rescuer, who was faintly visible in the moonlight. He was surprised to see someone he knew. Smooth dark hair, tall, with those exotically-slanted eyes… The kid was in his soccer league. Ken Ichi-something-or-other, if he remembered right. Not that he’d known him well.
Well, the guy had just saved his life. And was busy ranting at him.
"Do you have any idea what that thing could’ve done to you!?" Ken demanded. His eyes were glittering furiously in the dim light. "What the hell were you thinking!?"
Daisuke got defensive immediately. "I was trying to close the gate! I didn’t know it was there! It just… jumped on me."
"Gate?" Ken looked away from Daisuke, eyes falling on the rip. He looked at the spot where the red-head had drawn the fire symbol, then turned back toward him with narrowing eyes. "You’re a Rune Master," he stated, finally.
"Yeah, what’d you think I was?" Daisuke muttered irritably, pushing himself into a sitting position. His right arm was next to useless. "You saw me use the fire Rune, didn’t you? And, by the way, thanks for saving me. I owe you."
"Actually, I was trying to avoid being killed by your ‘friend’ when you did that." Ken shook his head. "And, you’re welcome. It was nothing. So you were trying to close a gate. How did it open in the first place?"
"I dunno." Daisuke felt tired, and he didn’t really want to think. "It just did."
Ken frowned at him. "You’re impossible to talk to."
"Yeah? Well, same to you." Daisuke gingerly cradled his right arm. "Can I get a little attention here? I think this thing needs some bandages or something."
"What’s that?" Ken looked at his arm, and those slanted eyes widened. "Did it scratch you?" he demanded, looking strangely alarmed.
"Well, why didn’t you say something? You’ve got to get that thing treated before it gets worse!" Ken bent down and pulled the boy to his feet, supporting him as Daisuke’s knees wobbled. "Do you have your manual with you?"
"I dropped it when that thing jumped at me," Daisuke admitted.
"Well, we’d better find it then," Ken told him flatly. "Because it looks like you’re going to need it. If you plan to continue living, that is."