The Beast Within
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2, Darkstalkers, Hellsing, and whatever characters are mentioned in this story don’t belong to me, so there’s no sense in suing me.
< >: Thoughts
World Tour Part 10
At his counter, Henry the Halfling looked up from the book he had been reading from, as the portal to his shop allowed three new visitors to enter. He began his standard greeting to all customers.
“Welcome to Henry the Halfling’s Potion and Magic Shop! How may I…?”
Henry stopped in his customary welcome as he beheld an old friend.
Happosai smiled as he waved back. “Hey there! Long time no see!”
“Well, I’ll be a manticore’s uncle!” The Halfling quickly rounded his counter to shake hands with his long-time acquaintance. “Happosai! How are you? Where have you been for the last 40 years or so?”
The old pervert shrugged his shoulders. “Well, it’s been fifty years. And as to where I’ve been, you know me, a little of this, a little of that, got sealed away for a decade or so, pretty much the usual stuff.”
Henry nodded as he addressed another familiar face. “Ah, welcome back my young sorceress-in-training.” He then gestured to Cologne. “And who might this fine lady be?”
Kasumi nodded as she introduced Shampoo’s great-grandmother. “Henry, this is Elder Cologne of the Joketsuzoku.”
“Ah! Of course! The Grimbard Sisters told me once they had a distant cousin with the Chinese Amazons.” He gave the matriarch a bow. “Welcome to this Halfling’s humble shop!”
Cologne nodded as she was quite impressed with his courtesy. She gave the Halfling a bow as she looked about the shop. Though much smaller than Castle Talbain’s Botanical Gardens or the Grimbard Sisters’ magical storehouse, the Amazon could tell that Henry’s store was well-stocked with all kinds of rare and exotic ingredients. One might think of the Halfling’s business as a kind of general store for magic users.
Speaking of which, she also noticed several other customers roaming about the shop, some of whom were not human. There were beastmen of all shapes and kinds. Fairies and imps flitted about. And she could also sense the immense amounts of mana energy coming from the priests, sorcerers and other magicians as they haggled over prices with Henry’s staff of elf and gnome workers. There were even miko priestesses, and an African shaman present. She began to hear snatches of conversation from the people around her.
“No! I wanted THREE pounds of crushed back scales from a FOUR-toed Spine-Beast, not four pounds of scales from a three-toed one!”
“Do you have any levitation powder in stock? The quality kind from Ala Maron?”
“I’m sorry. We’re completely sold out of Aqua Gems and Luna Stones.”
“How much would it cost me to fix my invisibility cloak?”
“I need new talismans and charms for tonight’s exorcism.”
“That’s too expensive for a new wand!”
Kasumi looked in wonder at the myriad of Old Races and sorcerers.
“Oh my! It’s much busier than the last time I was here.”
“Well, it’s one of the peak times of the year for this store, Lass.“ Henry admitted as he led Cologne, Happosai and Kasumi toward a private room in the back. “The Annual Apprenticeship Games will be held in Ala Maron in a week. A lot of novice magicians and their masters are stocking up and getting ready to compete.”
“I’ll be glad tell you all about it over a tankard or two.”
A little later…
Happosai smacked his lips after downing his second mug of liquor and refilled it. The drinking vessel was a large, pewter drinking cup with a hinged lid, resembling a beer stein. The four of them were sitting at a small table, which was in the place where Henry kept the store’s supply of Makai beverages. Several large casks were lined up against the back wall of the room. Inscribed on the ceiling were patterns of Rune symbols, which invoked a preservation spell to keep the stock well-maintained. Kasumi and Cologne had opted to have some exotic Makai tea, while Henry and Happosai were gulping down their ales.
“Aaaaah! That’s the stuff!” Soun and Genma’s master said with a smile. “It’s been too long since I had a good swig of Makai ale! Russian vodka and American moonshine don’t hold a candle to this!”
“Cheers, old friend! “ Henry said as he lifted his own tankard. “Or as you would say in Japan, kampai!”
The two clinked their drinks together before each downed the contents in one swallow.
After refilling their tankards again, Henry turned toward Kasumi and Cologne.
“So tell me, my friends. What brings you here to my shop?”
The Elder nodded as she took a sip of her tea, (silently marveling at its otherworldly taste and making a note to buy some later), then explained the situation with the Tendos and Genma. After ten minutes, she finished relating all the details, leaving the Halfling stunned and dumbfounded.
“The Emerald of Kilarney?!” Henry exclaimed. “Now that’s what I call bad luck! That’s something that even Lord Belial would steer clear of!”
“Who’s Belial?” Kasumi inquired.
“He’s the current ruler of the Makai.” The store owner replied. “And I do believe that he’ll be one of the judges at the Apprenticeship Games.”
“What are these games?”
“Ah! Well the games are held every year in Ala Maron, a city in the Makai that’s well-known for its magical lore and artifacts. The wizard schools host a series of competitions for all beginner-level apprentices such as you, my dear. There’s no age limit, and there happens to be plenty of prizes for those who do well in these games. In fact, out of the best of the winners, some are even offered full scholarships to learn at the most prestigious of magic academies.”
The thought of attending college perked up the brown-haired girl’s interest. After graduating high school, Kasumi had a chance to go to Tokyo University with her high scores. However, since her father had irresponsibly spent her tuition money, achieving higher learning status and getting a job was but a distant dream. Now there was a chance to attend a school of magic and…
Kasumi quickly squashed that fantasy before it got out of hand. There was just no way she could ever come close to achieving such a goal. And even if she did somehow get a chance to compete, she was considered as a late-starter in the game of magic at the age of 19. Though Henry, Happosai and Cologne praised her natural aptitude for spell-casting and potion making, she didn’t think she had what it took to beat those who have been training since they were young.
She quietly sipped her tea as Cologne discussed with Henry over the ingredients she would need to break the bad luck hex on Akane and the others.
Through the corner of his left eye, Henry noted Kasumi’s slight expression of sadness. Then he smiled a bit as he took another swig of his ale.
“Thank you for your purchase.” The elf cashier said as he handed Cologne her change.
In Kasumi’s arms were two bags of spell ingredients, as she and the others were preparing to depart. She had also purchased a few ingredients for her own potion-making. However, just as she was about to bid Henry goodbye, he held out a hand bell and began ringing it, alerting all the patrons to his counter.
“Everyone! It is now time for the monthly lottery!”
The customers started to talk excitedly among themselves as the Halfling revealed what appeared to be a hand-cranked, shuffling device like something out of a bingo hall. He then pointed to a glass bowl with scraps of paper in it, inviting each of his customers to take one. Kasumi took a slip and saw that there was a number on it. She showed it to Happosai and Cologne.
“I’ve got number forty-seven.”
“I have number twelve.” The Amazon said.
“I’ve got number twenty-two.” Happosai announced.
At that moment, Henry began cranking the machine, which caused it to drop a small, numbered ball on the counter. He then announced the first winning number.
At Castle Talbain…
“Is something wrong Chance?” Kismet asked as she noticed that the kitsune was intensely staring into the surface of the Crystal Shard of Destiny.
The sexy foxgirl shrugged her shoulders while writing down a few numbers on a small notepad. “It’s not much really. I was just checking the local lottery numbers, just for fun. For some reason, the number forty-seven is coming up as something of high importance.”
Back at Henry’s Shop…
“And the winner for a keg of my finest Makai mead goes to the number twenty-two!”
“YAHOO!” Happosai cheered as he jumped up and waved his winning slip of paper. He then ran over to the counter to claim his prize.
“Congratulations my old friend! Enjoy it!” The Halfling said as he gestured to a large barrel which had an inscription on the side. The elf worker tapped the inscription, activating the spell, causing the container to shrink down to the size of a soda can for easy transport. He then handed it to the Anything Goes Grandmaster.
<Heh! Soun and Genma aren’t going to get a drop of this!> The old pervert smiled, as he pocketed his prize. In addition to its high alcohol content and a taste that put the best French wine to shame, the mead had quite a few magical and medicinal qualities.
Cologne nodded as brandished her staff, which now had a new addition embedded in it. At the head of her staff, was a sparkling gem that was called a Shield Sapphire, which allowed a person to be protected from all manner of physical or mystical harm, but it could only be used once a day. It was her prize in the lottery.
Standing nearby, Kasumi smiled as both Cologne and Happosai won prizes. There would be ten drawings and Happosai’s was the ninth. She figured that the odds of her number coming up was slim to none, and decided that it was just as well. She waited for the last number to be announced, not at all expecting to win.
“And now, for the tenth and final drawing for this month’s lottery.” Henry turned the crank for the last time, allowing the ball to drop to the counter. He picked up the ball and read the last number. “The winner of the grand prize goes to… number forty-seven!”
Soun’s eldest daughter stood in total disbelief. She won? She was going to get a prize?
“Kasumi! You won! That’s your number!” Happosai said as he pulled on her apron to get her attention.
“Go and claim your prize!” The Amazon Elder urged.
The brown-haired girl slowly walked up to the front counter as a crowd of Old Races and humans applauded. Behind her, Cologne and Happosai followed along. When she stood in front of Henry, she shyly handed him the slip of paper with the winning number.
The store owner smiled as he took it. “I had a feeling it would be you, Lass. And this prize will most CERTAINLY help you in your magical studies. I present to you… THIS!”
Reaching down behind his counter, he brought out an envelope and handed it to her. She took a deep breath before opening it up. She reached inside the envelope and pulled out what appeared to be a credit card. It looked to be made of plastic, but the material didn’t feel like it, but rather more metallic. It gave off a rainbow of colors on its surface, as its center projected an image of herself. She nearly dropped the card in surprise. She then gave the Halfling a puzzled look.
“Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a LIFETIME pass to Ala Maron, the City of Magicians! The card has identified itself to your magic aura, so no one else can use it! You are entitled to free food and lodgings, as well as a fifty percent discount on all purchases! And since the Apprenticeship Games will begin next week, I would suggest that you make full use of your prize!”
Kasumi was on the verge of fainting at this sudden turn of extremely good fortune.
Happosai grinned at her expression. “Ever read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Think of that pass as your Golden Ticket!”
Nabiki’s sister finally found her voice as her hands trembled while holding the pass. “I… can’t believe it! This is incredible!” Then she realized something. “But, even though I can go to the Apprenticeship Games now, how can I? I don’t know of any way to get to the Makai.”
“I can help you with that.” Henry said simply.
“Indeed I can. If you truly wish to become the great sorceress that I know you will be, I can take you to the Makai.”
In the Makai…
Nabiki looked about in absolute wonder and disbelief as she and her group were in a Makai version of the Tokyo airport.
After spending the night at a local inn, they had taken the local caravan to the nearest transport center. However, instead of jetliners, the citizens of this wondrous place rode on gigantic airships like something out of Final Fantasy. However, these machines were powered by magical sources, rather than pure science. The airship to Ala Maron was shaped like a huge whale, with three propulsion nacelles near the stern. Others flew in and out on dragons and other flying beasts. Some flew in on their own power as Nabiki noted various individuals such as dragon men, bat-winged demons, angel-winged humanoids and even ghostly apparitions.
“I’ve got it!”
The Secondary Lycanthrope looked over to her right to see Matthew’s father approaching them, holding up six tickets for First Class.
They were on their way to Ala Maron.
In her room, Kasumi sat on her bed and considered the card in her hands. Henry the Halfling had given her a day to decide on whether or not to accept his offer to bring her to the other realm. It was an opportunity that only happened once in a lifetime, and both Cologne and Happosai had urged her to take it.
However, that would mean she would have to leave home for several days, perhaps even for more than a week or two. At this point in time, she couldn’t trust her family to behave themselves or take care of the house on their own. Technically speaking, Akane, Soun and Genma were no better than five-year-olds. Kasumi certainly didn’t want her sister anywhere near the kitchen after her fiasco with the Anti-Hair Grow Formula. And she was pretty certain that her father and his friend hadn’t changed their ways completely. If she were to go to the Makai, there was no guarantee that Happosai’s disciples wouldn’t backslide on their obligation to do the chores. Kasumi was afraid to come back to find her home in shambles.
On the other hand, this was most likely her only chance to get out of the rut that her life had been in, since her mother had died. Ever since she learned that she had a talent for magic, her overall outlook on her own future was far brighter than it had been in years. She was no longer plain-old Kasumi Tendo, the family caretaker. She was Kasumi Tendo, future sorceress and perhaps even more. All she had to do, (as Cologne had said), was to take off her apron and take that first step out of the house.
At that moment there was a knock on the door.
The door opened and Oscar smiled at the young sorceress-in-training as she nodded for him to enter.
The bodyguard politely bowed to her, looked about to make certain no one was listening in, closed the door behind him, and said, “I’ve just spoken to Happosai, and he told me that you have a rare opportunity to compete in the Apprenticeship Games next week. I must say that this is quite a surprise!”
“Yes, but I’m afraid that I might not be able to go.” Kasumi said quietly.
This caught the disguised Dragon Man by surprise. “What? Well why not? Is it because you have no way of getting to the Makai? I’m certain that if I were to contact my master, he would be more than happy to arrange the trip.”
“Oh no!” The Tendo girl said while waving a free hand. “It’s not that. Henry also offered to take me there.”
“Ah, I see! Yes, I suppose that Henry would have a way to access the Makai in order to keep his store well-stocked. So why are you so hesitant to go? I would think that this would be an excellent opportunity to increase your magic skills.”
“It would be.” She agreed. “However, it’s not as much as me being able to go, but rather if I SHOULD go, given the current situation with my family and houseguest.”
Oscar considered the meaning of her words and nodded. “I see. You do raise a good point. I myself wouldn’t leave them to their own devices, judging from what I’ve seen so far. No offense intended toward you or your family.”
“None taken.” Kasumi assured. “Even though I do not cook for them unless they do their chores, if I were to leave, then they would be forced to feed themselves. Grandmaster Happosai assured me that he could take care of himself while I was away, but Father and Mr. Saotome would either have to eat out, survive on cup ramen, or eat whatever Akane cooked.” She shuddered at that last thought. As much she was punishing them for not helping out with the chores, NOBODY deserved that kind of punishment.
“And if your sister cooks as well as she makes potions?”
“She is my sister, I do love her, but Akane should NEVER be allowed into the kitchen.”
Oscar considered the situation, and then came up with a solution. “How about this arrangement? Until our master says otherwise, the members of the Talbane staff will do everything possible to assist you, and to a lesser degree, look after your family and houseguest. While you are gone, we shall see to it that Akane, Soun and Genma stick to their obligations to help out with the chores. I shall also call in our castle’s chef to make meals for Happosai and the other inhabitants, should they do their jobs properly. I’m quite certain that the Anything Goes Grandmaster will keep his promise to help out, so we’ll only have to look after the others. So what do you think?”
Kasumi sat in stunned silence after Oscar offered the services of the Talbane staff. It would be the answer to all her worries about leaving her family to go the Makai! However, she was a bit uneasy to accept such a generous offer and started to wonder if he had some kind of ulterior motive. Though not a distrusting soul by nature, she did have enough common sense, (and shopping experience), to know that not everything was for free.
“Why are you offering so much to help me? I mean, I am grateful for what you and the others have done for my family so far, but to offer to bring in a chef…”
The bodyguard held up a hand, silencing her as he gave her a warm smile. “The reason why I’m making this offer is to repay you for all the wonderful meals you have cooked for me and the others. Furthermore, like Henry, Happosai and Cologne, I too think that you have great potential that is just being wasted in this house and you need an opportunity to develop it.”
“But to offer me the Talbane’s personal chef? Will Matthew’s father even agree to it?”
“Why don’t we ask him?”
With those words, Oscar whipped out a very high-tech cell phone and pressed the auto-dial button.
In the Makai…
As they were settling down in their First Class rooms, (which were the equivalent to those found on a luxury liner), Jon’s cell phone began to beep, indicating that a call was coming through.
“Hello? Hello Oscar! It’s been a while since I heard from you. So how are things in Japan?”
As Jon spoke casually on his cell phone, Nabiki could only stare in total disbelief. She then addressed Matthew while indicating his father with a finger.
“HE gets reception in the Makai?!”
Jon’s son could only shrug his shoulders. “What can I say? We’ve got one heck of a calling plan.”
In actuality, the cell phones that were used by the Talbain family and their house staff were actually technologically advanced tachyon communicators, (courtesy of the MIB), which even allowed for conversations between dimensions. The middle daughter could only gape in amazement as Jon continued to converse.
“Yes, I do agree with you, Oscar. No, it’s quite all right. Contact the castle and make the arrangements with William to have Chef Bennet flown to Tokyo. Oh, and make certain that Miss Tendo has everything she would need. Yes, we’ll keep a lookout for her. Yes. All right. Goodbye.”
“Who was that Mr. Talbain?” Nabiki asked as he hung up.
Jon took a deep breath before replying. “That was Oscar, one of the bodyguards I sent to look after your family while we were on this quest. He said that your sister Kasumi is about to take her next big step in her sorceress training. We may just meet up with her in Ala Maron.”
Nabiki’s jaw dropped literally to the floor with this announcement as the elder werewolf began to relate the events that had occurred in Japan.
The next day…
“Ah Lass! I am so glad that you have decided to accept my offer.” Henry said as he, Kasumi and Cologne were in the private room of his store again. Happosai was currently off on another panty raid.
The eldest Tendo girl nodded as she took a sip of tea. “So when can we leave for the Makai?”
The Halfling wagged his right index finger. “Tut, tut my dear! Not so fast! There are still a few things that need to be taken care of before we’re off to the Other Realm.”
“Well, for one thing, we need to get you a Blood Oath.”
“He means this, child.” Cologne said as she rolled up her left sleeve and pointed to the small scar on her forearm. “Though you’ve already proven yourself as trustworthy enough to keep the secrets of the Old Races, we must finalize your promise.”
“Yes indeed.” Henry nodded. “Think of the Blood Oath as your passport. The local authorities will allow humans and other outsiders to travel within their lands if they have sincerely have sworn the Blood Oath. Those who have not are subject to punishment, memory erasure or even death, should they trespass in the Makai.”
“Oh my!” Kasumi trembled a bit, and then asked in a quiet tone, “So what do I have to do for this oath?”
The store owner gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about that now, Lass. We’ll take care of it before we leave for the Other Realm. What really concerns me at this moment is the fact that despite your talent for magic, you are not ready to compete in the Apprenticeship Games.”
“What? But you said…”
The Halfling held up a hand, cutting her off, while explaining his statement. “What I meant to say is that you do have the potential, but you have very little in terms of practical experience. Cologne has told me that you have been diligently studying from the beginner’s spell book she gave you, and I’ve seen your talent with potions. That’s good for a start, but we must increase your ability and proficiency, in order for you to be on a more even footing with the other competitors.”
The Amazon Elder nodded. “To put it simply Kasumi, you’re a diamond in terms of magic. Your potential value is quite high. However you’re like a diamond in the rough, which requires quite a bit of polishing.”
“Fortunately, we have a week to prepare.” Henry pointed out. “Therefore, I believe that my crash course in magic will be just the thing to get you up to speed, with those who have studied all their young lives. That is, if you don’t mind a lot hard work.”
Kasumi gave both a small smile, and said, “If there’s one thing I’m very familiar with, it’s hard work. So when do we begin Sensei?”
The Halfling gave her a knowing grin as he replied, “No time like the present to begin building your future. Please follow me.”
Henry got up and began walking toward the back area of the room. Kasumi and Cologne followed him closely as he led them toward a very large stack of barrels. He gave them a wink as he tapped the nearest barrel in a specific pattern, causing a pattern of Rune symbols to appear. The spell activated itself, causing the entire stack to move to the side, and revealing a hidden door. With a grand gesture, he opened the door and led the two females into his most private place on the property.
Both the Amazon and housewife girl looked about in total amazement. It was almost as if they had left the Earth and entered into another world. The place was a like a forest, with trees, grass, hedge, rocks and a soft light which illuminated the place like the sun. There was even wildlife such as squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, birds, as well as several species of animals that were not native to the human world. It was just so unbelievable that such a place was found in the back room of a store that Kasumi just has to ask.
“Are we… in the Makai?”
Henry chuckled as he shook his head. “No Lass. This is actually a pocket dimension that I use whenever I need some private time or…” He made an intricate movement with his right hand, causing motes of light to swirl about him. “… practice a spell or two.”
Soun’s daughter caught his meaning and took out her beginner’s wand. With a simple flick, she made a pattern of lights dance about its tip. She had barely even concentrated her mystical ability.
The thousand-year-old Halfling nodded as he explained. “As you can see, this place is highly conductive toward magic. Mastering spells is a lot easier in here than in the outside world. Now, a smart girl such as yourself can probably guess where you are going to train for the next five months.”
This statement caused Kasumi to nearly drop her wand. “Five months? But you said that the Apprenticeship Games are in a week!”
“Indeed. However, if you were to train for a week in the outside world, you still wouldn’t be able to hold your own against those who have been spell-casting since the day they started to walk. Therefore, you shall train in this place, where time moves far differently than the outside. One month in here is only a day on the outside. On the final day, we shall have the Blood Oath Ceremony and prepare for when the portal to the Makai opens up.”
“Hmmm, now this place has some definite possibilities.” Cologne remarked as she could see the area’s applications toward martial arts training. She was considering on bringing Shampoo to this hideaway.
“Indeed.” Henry agreed, and then pointed out one important fact. “However, also keep in mind that the longer you stay in here, the less time you will have to live in the real world. This place will age you. Kasumi is about to lose almost a half-year of her life in here. For Halflings such as myself; losing a decade, fifty years, even a century is of little consequence. But for mortals, even for long-lived ones such as yourself and Happosai, time is a precious commodity.”
He then addressed the brown-haired girl. “For the final time, I ask if you are willing to submit yourself to this training regimen. At times, I will be harsh and you will know pain. I will not accept excuses! I don’t call it my crash course in magic for nothing. You will either fly or as the mortals say it, ‘crash and burn!’ If you truly feel you are up to task, then I expect to see you at my shop, bright and early tomorrow morning.”
Kasumi took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes Sensei.”
After exiting the pocket dimension and returning to the real world, the Halfling paused and asked for Kasumi to stand still. At that time, Henry began to gaze upon his student intently, and then reached out to grasp a corner of her apron. He considered the material and shook his head.
“No, these clothes will not do.”
“Is something wrong with my clothes?” The caretaker girl asked.
“For everyday wear or shopping in the market, no.” Henry replied as he let go of her apron. “However, your present garb will NOT hold up against the trials that you will undertake in the Apprenticeship Games. And since you are going to be a great sorceress someday, it would be best if you start LOOKING like a sorceress. You will need a new wardrobe when you go to the Makai. And I know just the seamstress!”
He reached into a back pocket of his coveralls and took out a cell phone. He flipped it open and pressed the auto-dial button.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Arana the Jurogumo nodded as she hung upside-down from the ceiling of her workshop. She was currently repairing one of the Grimbard Sisters’ cloaks when she heard her cell phone ring. Instead of dropping down to the floor to answer the device, she instead extended one of her spider-legs and shot out a strand of webbing. In a move reminiscent of Spider-Man, she easily snagged her phone and pulled it up toward her. Flipping the device open, she spoke while repairing the torn fabric.
“Hello, this is Arana. Henry? Henry! It’s so good to hear from you again! How’s Japan? Yes, I’m doing fine. Am I busy? Not really. The clothes that I make don’t wear out as fast as those made from ordinary cloth. What’s that? You want to commission me to make sorceress clothes? It’s been quite a while since I’ve made those! So who are they for?”
“They’re for a very special person who’s going to the Apprenticeship Games next week, and they’re going to have to be very sturdy and functional. Her measurements? One moment please.”
Henry gestured for Kasumi to stand still as he took out a piece of chalk from another of his coverall pockets. He then quickly drew a mystic circle around the novice sorceress and chanted a short spell. The circle glowed briefly, enveloping her in a gentle, golden light. Then the spell ended as Henry spoke into his phone again.
“Did you get those measurements?”
The spider-woman nodded as a magic circle appeared on the floor and gave forth a three-dimensional image of Kasumi. The mystic version of the hologram rotated slowly about, giving Arana a full view of the eldest Tendo daughter.
“Yes, I have the measurements. Oh what a pretty girl she is! She looks a bit like that nice Nabiki Tendo. Oh? She’s her older sister? Well then, I shall give this project my highest priority! Yes, I believe I can have it all done within three days or so. Yes, I will have the clothes sent to you by the usual means. It’s good to hear from you again Henry. Good bye.”
“Well, that takes care of that.” The Halfling store owner said as he put away his cell phone. He addressed Kasumi again. “Remember Miss Tendo. I expect you to be here at 6:00 am tomorrow morning to begin your training.”
The proprietor of the shop shook his head and held up a hand. “Do not call me Sensei. Call me Henry.”
“I am not a Master Wizard, Sorcerer Supreme or Mighty Mage. I may know all the basics of magic, but that hardly qualifies me for the title of Teacher or Sensei. I can only guide you in the ways of magic and you must do all the work in order to strengthen your skills. When the five months are up, I hope to see you master all the fundamentals. And speaking of fundamentals…”
He made another magical gesture, which caused a small, hidden panel in the wall to open up. Inside the compartment was a book; similar to Kasumi’s beginner spell book, but was considerably thicker.
“This will be the textbook which you’ll be learning from now on. “
On an airship in the Makai…
“Nabs, will you calm down and stop pacing? You’re going to wear a hole in the floor.”
“How can I calm down?” Nabiki exclaimed as she walked the length of her first class room for the umpteenth time. “My sister is coming to Ala Maron in a week!”
Matthew shrugged as he reclined in an easy chair. “Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Just about all apprentices come to the Makai, and there are a lot of sorcery schools here. I’m a little surprised that Kasumi is coming here so early in her training. She must have a lot of hidden talent. In any case, Ala Maron is a really big city. The chances of you meeting her there are pretty slim.”
“But if we do meet here there?” The female lycanthrope pointed out. “How am I going to explain what I’m doing here in the Makai? What am I going to tell her?”
Her boyfriend thought for a moment then shrugged his shoulders again. “How about the truth?”
“Calm down Nabs, and listen.” Matthew said as he got up from the chair and stood before her. “If Kasumi is coming to the Makai, then it’s a sure bet that she knows about the Old Races. And it’s most likely she’s going to have to undergo a Blood Oath, if she hasn’t already done so. The Makai authorities won’t let any outsider come here unless they swear to one.”
“Really? But I don’t have a Blood Oath.”
“You’re a werewolf now, so that makes you one of the Old Races. Don’t worry about meeting up with your sister. If and when the time comes, we’ll see it through okay?”
Nabiki nodded as they embraced each other for comfort. However, she was still a bit uneasy over the fact that Kasumi may just find out that her little sister is now a werewolf.
<Hmmm, it’s been quite some time since I made an adventuring outfit for an apprentice sorceress.> Arana thought as she considered the bolts of exotic Makai cloth on the table before her. She took another look at the image of Kasumi in the magic circle and noted her height, weight, bust, waist and hip sizes.
<According to what Henry sent me, this Kasumi Tendo is 19-years-old, and is just starting in her training as a magic user. If she’s going to take part in the Apprenticeship Games, then her outfit should be lightweight, sturdy and resistant to wearing down and stains. Ah! Fabric from Tazaninta is considered the best to be used for wizards and witches! I believe that will be good for a base!>
Just as she was thinking about witches, the resident spellcasters from Salem knocked on her door.
Parelle, Girella and Tyselli entered the seamstress’ workshop as the eldest of the three addressed the arachnid clothing expert.
“Arana, have you finished with that tear in my cloak?”
The Jurogumo nodded as she reached out with one of her spider legs toward a nearby clothing rack. She gently handed the repaired garment to the witch, as Parelle smiled in satisfaction.
“Ah, I declare that your skills as a seamstress are unmatched on Earth or in the Makai.” The elderly magician commented as she admired Arana’s handiwork. “This old cloak has great sentimental value to me. I wore this when I attended Malicor’s Academy after my sisters and I won the Apprenticeship Games so long ago.”
“Funny you should mention the Apprenticeship Games.” Arana commented. “I’ve just received a request to fashion an outfit for a beginner-level sorceress. She’ll be taking part in the games next week.”
“A sorceress you say?” Tyselli said with interest. “So who commissioned you?”
“Henry the Halfling just called me a while ago and sent me the girl’s measurements. You can find them over there.” The spider-woman pointed to the magic circle with the image of Kasumi.
“Well now, let’s have a look.” Girella walked over to the image, followed by her siblings. The trio crowded around the circle, which depicted a perfect, three-dimensional portrait of Soun’s eldest daughter. The three became extremely excited when they measured Kasumi’s magic potential.
“DAMN! That’s some potential mana ability! Who is this young one?” Tyselli asked.
“Henry told me that she’s the older sister of Nabiki Tendo. Her name is Kasumi Tendo.” Arana replied.
“She’s Nabiki Tendo’s older sister?” Parelle said with a bit of surprise. Then she took on an introspective expression. “Hmmm, well that might explain a few things if this girl happens to have the gift of sorcery.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember that Nabiki Tendo was bitten by Young Master Matthew, yet retained her humanity. Now as we all know, only one in every hundred thousand or so are able to keep from losing their sanity after receiving Secondary Lycanthropy, due to some unknown factor. It could be that in Miss Tendo’s case, that factor may be an affinity toward magic.”
“So are you saying that the Tendo family line may have some kind of magical ancestor who had passed down that gift?” The youngest Grimbard wondered.
“It’s possible.” Girella supposed. “It could be that one of their predecessors may have been a priest or spiritualist. In the case of Japan, he or she could have been an onmyouji.”
“But that doesn’t make sense!” Tyselli insisted. “I’m reading a very HIGH amount of latent mana potential in this Kasumi girl. If the Tendo family was so powerful in terms of magic, then why haven’t we or the Elder Council of Wizards heard about them?”
The oldest of the Grimbards held up a hand, as she came up with a theory. “It could be that the Tendo family trait for magic might be like a recessive gene and may have skipped several generations. And for those who do inherit that ability, it may either be diluted or concentrated in some latent form, until some unknown factor triggered it. I’m guessing that this Kasumi had the latter. That might explain her surprising talent for casting spells.”
Girella caught on to her sister’s line of thinking. “And her sister Nabiki inherited a tiny portion of that magical trait; not enough to effectively cast any spells, but enough to overcome the madness of Secondary Lycanthropy!”
Tyselli then finished the theory. “And as for their foolish sister Akane, that magical trait skipped her entirely, which explains why she couldn’t even mix a simple anti-hair formula and why she’s now under another hex!”
“She’s under another hex?” Both Girella and Parelle said in surprise.
Their youngest sibling nodded. “I just got word from Cousin Cologne. Apparently Akane Tendo couldn’t even follow the simple instruction of remaining inside a magic circle, and caused herself and two others to be linked to a source of extreme bad luck. Our cousin is busy trying to undo this latest mess.”
“What kind of bad luck source?” Girella inquired.
Tyselli sighed as she answered. “The Emerald of Kilarney. Cousin Cologne asked if we could help her research the cure for this fiasco.”
All three witches groaned in disgust as they knew they were going to be burning the midnight oil on this one.
Pushing the plight of Akane Tendo to the backburner for the moment, Parelle addressed the Jurogumo again.
“Arana, this Kasumi Tendo intrigues us and we would like to help her in the Apprenticeship Games.” She turned to her siblings. “Isn’t that right?”
The two other witches nodded in agreement. Kasumi was prime apprentice material and they were itching to help this girl achieve her maximum potential.
“I wouldn’t mind some help in making her some clothes for the games.” Arana said.
“Give us a few minutes. We might just have what this girl needs.”
All three Salem witches returned to the workshop with their arms laden with various items of clothing and artifacts. The oldest of the three held up a well-worn cloak.
“I wore this cloak when I was nineteen. It will enable the user to become invisible when he/she puts on the hood and has limited levitation ability. It won’t allow for true flight, but it will float the user safely to the ground from great heights. Can you incorporate this into your design?”
Arana nodded as she took the offered garment, and then turned to the middle sister.
“I enchanted this mithril-woven silk ribbon for Kasumi Tendo’s hair. The Runes inscribed on this fabric will act like an alternate medium for spell-casting, should she lose her wand. And the ribbon will alert her of any approaching danger.” She then held up a pair of boots. “These boots are made from Salamandra skin, and are fireproof. She’ll be able to walk across burning lava without fear. I’ve also added an enchantment to allow her walk across water or any unstable surface without losing her balance.”
The youngest of the three held up a shirt.
“This tunic will protect her from any curses and has limited healing ability.”
The Jurogumo gathered up the offered items and nodded. “Thank you, Grimbards. I think these will do very nicely. These sorceress clothes will be among of my greatest creations.”
The next day…
“OUT! OUT! OUT! STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN! YOU DO NOT BELONG IN HERE!” Chef Bennet said as he literally tossed Akane out of what was once Kasumi’s domain.
“Who are you to say I don’t belong?! Just let me cook…!”
The short-haired and short-tempered girl rubbed her head after getting rap from a soup ladle, courtesy of Castle Talbain’s head chef.
“Miss Tendo! I am to cook for those who do their chores around this home, and it is high time you started to do yours, if you wish to eat the delicious dinner I am preparing!”
“Then let me help you cook and…!”
The Head Chef wasn’t impressed by either Akane’s claim to being competent with comestibles, or her stubbornness. He had handled far worse in the castle’s kitchen with Cruk the Orc and the bands of ogres that constantly bother him for scraps. A bratty teenager with delusions of being able to cook was nothing to him.
“I am also under strict orders never to let you come within five feet of the kitchen door! Now go do your chores, or you will go without any supper!”
Akane snorted in disdain at the uppity chef and went off to sulk. Then she promptly tripped over a floor rug and started cursing.
“STUPID BAD LUCK CURSE!”
Then the picture on the wall fell off its hook and landed on her head.
Bennet let off a sigh as he went back into the kitchen to watch the soufflé he was preparing. At that moment, Oscar came to check on his fellow co-worker at Castle Talbain.
“How’s it going Bennet?”
The cook let off another sigh as he answered. “It’s going fine, aside from the constant interruptions from that Akane girl. Honestly! I swear that Cruk has better manners than her!”
“No argument here.” The disguised Dragon Man agreed. “From what I’ve seen so far while looking after this family, the youngest Tendo daughter has several deficiencies in terms of social interaction and self-awareness of her own faults.”
“If that’s a fancy way of saying she’s got the manners of a swine and lives in her own world where everything she does is perfect, then I agree!”
“Uhm, quite. So have there been any difficulties in the food preparation?”
“As long as you can keep that girl from trying add her own ‘improvements’ to my recipes, then we can avoid any need for a stomach pump! I had a perfectly good rack of lamb cooking in the oven and she ‘thought’ that adding some seasoning would make it better. She was about to add RAT POISON before I managed to kick her out of the kitchen!”
“I’ll see to it that she stays away from the kitchen until Miss Kasumi returns. Hmmm, speaking of which, I wonder how the little novice sorceress is doing right now?”
Kasumi was breathing hard as she was on her hands and knees. Her dress was torn and tattered around the hem and sleeves. She was sweating and her body was aching in several areas. Over the long years of caring for her house and family, she had built up an extraordinary amount of endurance and stamina, but Henry’s crash course in mastering the basic foundations of magic, was taking its toll and pushing her to her mental and physical limits.
Though only half a day had passed in the real world, within the pocket dimension of Henry’s Magic Shop, more than 15 days had elapsed. The Halfling had decided to begin building up Kasumi’s physical and mental abilities, in order to cope with the increase in mana power and control she would need to compete in the games.
On her back was a slip of paper with some Rune symbols on it. This had caused her body to become heavier by a factor of three. It was a kind of weight-training to help strengthen muscles and endurance. At the same time, she was also wearing a magic limiter in the form of a headband. Henry had noticed early on that Kasumi tended to waste a lot of her mana reserves on a single spell, thereby tiring herself out faster. The limiter restricted her power accordingly, so she would get used to casting with only the minimum amount of power needed to do the job.
Through it all, Kasumi never complained. This was a trait that the storekeeper found quite endearing. After more than two weeks of intense physical and mental strengthening, he decided to up the ante.
“Kasumi, I do believe that it is time for your first lesson in offensive magic. We’re going to start to learn how to throw fireballs.”
“Hmmm” Arana the Jurogumo considered the articles of clothing in front of her on the table. The magically infused garments that the Grimbard Sisters had donated for Kasumi’s sorceress outfit would be quite useful in the Apprenticeship Games. The main question was how to combine them all in an ensemble that would make full use of their abilities. Different items of magic tended to conflict with each other as their power interacted.
According to the general rules of the games, a beginner spell-caster could bring whatever artifacts, clothing or notes he/she wanted, as long as they were deemed as novice-level and didn’t give the competitor an overwhelmingly unfair advantage. Many of them actually bring their own spellbooks, though there’s usually very little time to review during the heat of competition. These games were created to test the ability of the student in terms of magical potential, ingenuity, endurance and adaption to changing situations. The highest-scoring among them are offered the chance to learn at the most prestigious of magical academies.
The spider-woman seamstress first decided to work on the cloak that Parelle had offered. The hood and cape combination was a light mauve color and had dark blue embroidered edges on the bottom and sides. The material was made of two different fibers, one that made the user invisible when the hood was put up, and the other contained the levitation enchantment. However, the garment was old and well-worn. Though it had been cared for by its previous owner, the magic within the fabric was beginning to fade. It was over three hundred years old after all. The first order of business was to renew its mystical properties.
Spreading the cloak out on a separate table, Arana began to use her spider-legs to begin fabricating her mystic silk threads. With quick motions, she integrated the threads into the fabric, much in same way that she created the shape-shifting clothes for the Talbains and other denizens of the castle. In less than an hour, she was able to weave and repair the hidden Rune symbols within the cloak, thereby reinvigorating the enchantments. When the cape and hood glowed with renewed power, the arachnid seamstress nodded in satisfaction as she turned to the boots and hair ribbon, given to her by Girella.
The mithril-bonded fabric was a recently empowered item and needed no modification, but the boots were another story. The soles were too thin and were in danger of falling apart. The leather sides were also wearing down and cracking. After examining the condition of the footwear, Arana decided that they were too far gone to be salvaged. However, their design was practical and their magical properties could come in handy. Therefore, it would be best if a new pair that was identical to the original be created. Fortunately, Arana did have a supply of Salamandra skin leather available, and in addition to being a seamstress, she was also a competent shoemaker.
Looking over the measurements of Kasumi’s shoe size and the dimensions of her feet, she took out a large sheet of Salamandra skin leather and started to cut out the appropriate pieces to make a new pair of boots. The style of the footwear was like the knee-high, go-go boots that were worn in the late 1960’s, but didn’t have the outlandish high heels or platform extensions. They were simple, rugged and each could be laced up on the sides that covered the calves. There was an embroidered cuff on the top of each one. Arana decided to modify the toes with an inner plate of orichalcum for kicking. Every woman should be able to kick back in defense if she had to.
It took several hours for the Jurogumo to re-stitch the magical enchantments into the soles and construct the boots. Once completed, she placed the pair of footwear off to the side and started to work on Tyselli’s tunic. It was a short-sleeved blouse, and was white in color.
Like Parelle’s cloak, the shirt was quite old and the spells that protected the wearer from curses and minor injuries were weakening. As she did previously, Arana interwove her mystic threads into the silk, strengthening the material and the enchantments. She also added her own touches in the form of a small web pattern on the shoulders.
After strengthening and refurbishing the donations from the Grimbards, she needed to piece them all together. Arana got to thinking about practicality and decided that a short-skirt dress with modest leggings would work. She then began to extend Tyselli’s tunic and turn it into the upper portion of the dress. The leggings would fit snugly into the boots she had just constructed, and the cloak would fit nicely over the shoulders of the dress.
As she worked in the basic design of the ensemble, Arana realized that Kasumi would need something to carry any extra equipment and such. So she also began to construct a handbag, which she would later take to the Grimbards for magical enhancement. Additionally, she worked on making a belt, which she intended to see Grom the Gargoyle, in order for a dagger to be fashioned for Kasumi. No adventurer goes without some kind of protection in case magic failed.
<Yes, this will work splendidly!>
“Well… all things considered, not a bad first attempt at a fireball.” Henry mused as he put out the last of the flames. “Now all we have to do is to work on your aim.”
Kasumi could only sheepishly smile at the crater she had inadvertently caused. The target that she had been aiming for sat untouched some twenty feet away. The tip of her wand was smoking a bit. Despite having the magic limiter on her forehead, the amount of power she had put into the projectile was more than what she had intended.
Her Halfling instructor had also noticed that the limiter was not enough to sufficiently curb her mana reserves. This meant that her hidden potential was far more than he estimated. He made a note to use a more powerful limiter after they had lunch. The pocket dimension was well-stocked with food, water, a comfortable place to sleep and a bath. Henry also used the place to age his wine and other alcoholic spirits. As they sat down to eat, Henry considered the fledgling sorceress.
What really impressed and scared Henry a bit was the fact that Kasumi was soaking up the principles of his magic lessons like a sponge. And this was only her first day, (though technically it would be a month). He really began to wonder who her ancestors were to have inherited such magical talent. Normally it would take a novice more than 60 days to be able to throw a fireball, and his student had accomplished it in just over 2 weeks!
However, there was a downside to her ability to learn magic quickly. Her mystical stamina was even less than that of the first-year novice. Simple spells such as levitating a pencil or lighting a small fire were nothing, but more advanced spells tended to wear her out fast. She was just using too much mana to accomplish the task. The fireball exercise itself already had her feeling drowsy. She needed to build up her spell-casting endurance and restrict the amount of power when casting certain spells.
The storekeeper decided to let his pupil rest for a while and give her body time to replenish her mana stores. After eating lunch, he instructed her to take a bath, have a nap, relax for a while, and read several chapters in her new spell book.
When word got around that the Jurogumo was making a sorceress outfit, several of the castle’s residents decided to add their own touches to Kasumi’s magical garb.
Laursa the Dryad donated some of her tree’s sap in order to give the outfit color and waterproofing. The sap would also blend well with the wearer’s magical aura. The clothes would become very stain-resistant as well.
Shamus O’Shea the Leprechaun gave a few coins from his pot of gold, to be melted down and made into a belt buckle, courtesy of Grom the Gargoyle. In addition to being the Talbain Museum caretaker, he was also the castle’s blacksmith. The gargoyle was also making Kasumi’s dagger, as per Arana’s request for the apprentice spellcaster to have a personal weapon and utility tool.
The Grimbard Sisters wanted the novice sorceress to have all the basics handy, so they were creating a portable laboratory for Kasumi to carry in the new handbag that Aranda was constructing. The set included test tubes of various sizes, mixing spoons, corks, flints, and other equipment that was needed to concoct potions in the field.
Little by little, the sorceress outfit that was being made for Kasumi Tendo began to take shape and fill out.
Back at Henry’s Shop…
Kasumi’s bowed as her first day, (or rather first month), of sorceress training came to an end. Her clothes had been magically cleaned and mended as she and Henry exited the secret dimension and back into real world. In her arms was her new spell-book, along with an additional artifact, which was an intricate bracelet on her right wrist. It was inscribed with several Rune inscriptions. This was the strongest magical limiter the Halfling had in his possession. With the Tendo girl’s power substantially increased, he didn’t want her to accidently destroy her home or the surrounding areas with her magic.
The first month had taught her how to invoke the classical four elements of wind, water, earth and fire and use them for basic offense and defense. Control was still an issue as she was repeatedly using too much mana to cast those spells. Henry made plans to spend the next day to improve her power application skills.
He had also noticed that she had very good spiritual awareness and divination potential, which led him to suspect that one of her ancestors could have been a miko or prophet. That opened the possibilities toward fortune-telling. He made a mental note to research her family tree later.
As he escorted his pupil to the front of his store, he then gave her a bit of advice, and her homework assignment.
“Now Lass, remember what I told you about using too much of your mana. Tonight, I want you to read chapters four and five of that book, and practice the meditation exercises we went over. And be sure to also review what you’ve learned about reading the flows of mana around you. It will come in handy once we begin your introduction to for future predictions.”
“Thank you Henry. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Kasumi gave her magical tutor a bow as she departed for home. Instead of her usual, quiet and calm pace, her step had a bit more of a bounce, and she was feeling more carefree than she had in years.
The next day at Castle Talbain…
“Oh, this is very nice!” Arana commented as she held up the new belt buckle that Grom had made from leprechaun gold. The front of the clasp had a four-leaf clover design engraved on the front plate.
“Aye, thank ye lassie. Shamus be glad to be of help to ye.” The gargoyle said as he also handed the arachnid seamstress a small weapon. “And this be the dagger I promised. It be made of the finest steel and a bit of what the humans call titanium. I also inlaid some orichalcum on the edge.”
The spider-woman nodded as she admired Grom’s handiwork. The dagger was a double-edged weapon with a seven-inch blade and a three-and-a-half-inch long hilt. The crossguard was a simple design, but had very complex engravings on it. The pommel was actually a purple gemstone mounted on the end of the hilt. The scabbard was plain black with some gold trim on the sides and tip.
“Thank you Grom! It’s lovely!”
At that moment, the Grimbard Sisters entered the workshop with Parelle holding up a handbag. The container looked to be a simple, leather case about the size of a toaster with a shoulder strap. The top flap was held in place with a simple metal clasp.
“The apprentice will have no trouble carrying all of her ingredients and supplies in this bag.” The eldest witch sister declared, as she opened the case, began taking out various items and setting them down on the table. It wasn’t long before she had unpacked a veritable mad scientist laboratory. It was obviously more than the little case could possibly hold, which meant that the Grimbards had warped the space within it with their magic.
Parelle then put all the things back into the case and pointed to a label on the inside of the flap, indicating the contents of the handbag.
“All Kasumi Tendo has to do is think of what she wants from this list, and she’ll be able to pull it out when she needs it.”
“Excellent!” Arana remarked. “I’ve just about finished drawing out the final design of this ensemble. We’ll be able to present this to her tomorrow.”
Day two of magic training…
“Good day to you, Lass. And how are you and the family?” Henry greeted as his shop opened up for business. His elf and gnome staff was busy preparing for the day. During the time that the Halfling was training Kasumi, he left one of the senior workers in command of the daily operations.
“Everything is going well Henry.” Kasumi replied. “When I came home last night, I was a bit worried to find my home a mess, but Oscar and the others were able to keep my father and Mr. Saotome in line, and thankfully my sister out of the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong. I do love Akane. However, after that Anti-Hair Grow Formula and the bad luck hex she’s under now, I simply cannot allow her to try another one of her cooking attempts. I only wish that I could undo that curse, but I still don’t have the knowledge or skills to do so.”
“Eventually you shall, Lass. Don’t worry though. I am quite certain that Cologne and the Grimbards will eventually take care of that problem.”
“I hope so. Last night, my sister and I had a bit of a disagreement…”
“C’mon Sis!” Akane pleaded. “I can’t stand this stupid bad luck curse! You’re studying magic! Can’t you undo it?” At this point she had a really ugly black eye after walking past a playground and getting hit by a baseball. Furthermore, the Horde of Hentai and Kuno had come within a hair’s width of defeating her.
Kasumi shook her head as she clutched the new spell book in her hands. “I’m sorry Akane. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve only started in my magic training, and I certainly don’t have the expertise to cure you, and I don’t want to run the risk of compounding the problem. You’re going to have to wait until the Amazons find the antidote.”
“NO WAY!” Akane said with disgust. “Not after they screwed up the last time!”
The elder girl kept a calm and level tone as she chided her sibling. “Akane, may I remind you that Cologne told you not to move from that magic circle?”
“Well, if you won’t help, then let me have a look at that new book of yours! Maybe I can undo it myself!”
As soon as she reached for it, Kasumi immediately backed away while shaking her head firmly. “No.”
“No?” Akane was shocked to hear that word coming from her sweet older sister.
The first child of Soun Tendo remained firm in her stance. “You heard me Akane. I said no, and I mean no. This book is only for instructing those who are serious about learning the ways of magic. It is NOT meant for those with selfish motives or those who want an easy fix without considering the consequences. You’re just going to have to learn to be patient until Cologne and Shampoo are able to cure you, Father and Mr. Saotome.”
Patience was never a virtue of Akane’s, as she immediately made a grab for the book. However, Kasumi and Henry had foreseen such an event and had already taken precautions. As soon as she touched it, the spell book gave her a jolt of mystic lightning. It did not harm the elder sister as she was magically authorized to read its contents. The youngest Tendo lit up like a Christmas tree for a moment before being forced back.
“There, you see that? Even my spell book agrees that you must wait. Now then Akane, if you would please leave, I have some homework to do tonight.”
End of Flashback…
“Well, I’m certainly glad that protection spell we put up did the trick.” Henry commented.
“Yes.” Kasumi agreed reluctantly. “Although, I didn’t like to cause Akane pain.”
“Now, now my Dear.” The Halfling assured. “You didn’t cause her pain; it was the book just defending itself against unauthorized eyes. And it’s best that she learns a little pain now, rather than getting far worse pain in the future.”
“I suppose. Although Akane has become even more irritable since Chef Bennet moved in to do all the cooking.”
“Is the chef’s cooking not to your liking?”
“Oh no! Actually it’s quite the opposite. I’ve never had such delicious and rich European food before.”
“Ah yes. Even among the Old Races at the Talbane’s castle, he’s quite the marvel.”
“You’ve eaten his food before?”
“Indeed. I always look forward to his meals whenever I visit the Talbanes.”
“Maybe someday, I’ll be able to go to Matthew’s castle too.”
<You know what, Lass? I think you will.> Henry thought as he led his pupil to the pocket dimension for the next stage in her training.
Meanwhile at Castle Talbain…
Arana stood in before a large crowd of Old Races in one of the conference rooms, as she was about to unveil her latest masterpiece in the world of clothing design. She gave them a solemn bow as she gestured to the curtain behind her.
“My friends, words alone cannot express the gratitude I feel toward your many contributions to the sorceress outfit that I have created for Kasumi Tendo. The many donations and ideas have been integrated into this design, which I feel she will wear with pride. Though she may not know it yet, she will not only carry our gifts into the Apprenticeship Games, but also the heart and soul of Castle Talbain!”
The denizens of the castle gave her a heartfelt round of applause as each thought about his or her part in the creation of the outfit.
“And now my friends; behold the creation that you all had a hand in bringing to life!”
She gave a nod to Shinko, which signaled him to pull on a rope and draw back the curtain. The outfit was on a mannequin that was an exact replica of Kasumi Tendo. There was an even louder round of applause, accompanied with several hoots and cheers. It was unanimous. The sorceress clothes were by far among the greatest of Arana’s achievements.
She couldn’t wait to see Kasumi’s reaction when she saw this!
In Henry’s Shop…
“Is something the matter Lass?”
Kasumi paused as she sat in the middle of a mystic circle. She was currently dressed in a simple ensemble of a short-sleeved blouse, regular training pants and was barefoot. Determining that her normal housedress wouldn’t be able to take another pounding like the first day of training, Henry had provided her with some alternate clothes for the remainder of her magical crash-course. She was again wearing the weight-increasing parchment on her back and the new power limiter on her right wrist.
“I’m not very sure. I was just clearing my mind with those meditation exercises, when I suddenly felt something.”
“What do you mean?” The Halfling asked.
“I felt as if a great many people were just talking about me. I didn’t know what to make about it.”
“Hmmm. Interesting. I wonder.”
“About what Henry?”
“Well, the circle that you are sitting in, not only helps you gain more mental control over your personal mana reserves, but it also opens up your spiritual awareness as well. And the fact that you picked up on such a large impression could mean that some hidden psychic divination abilities may have been awakened.”
“Things such as fortune-telling, sensing danger, future sight and dowsing. You’ve probably seen such things on the television, but this isn’t like those fake psychic hotlines. To have such powers means that you are especially attuned to Ley Line patterns and mana fields. We’re not talking about drawing power to cast spells, but rather reading that power to better sense the environment around you. It may even help you predict an occurance in the future. I happen to know of a kitsune with an extremely high talent for calculating odds and probabilities.”
“Really? So what does this mean for me?”
“Well, why don’t we find out?” Henry said as he dispersed the magic circle and instructed her to stand. Reaching into his back pocket, he took out a coin with a hole in the middle.
“A five-yen piece?” Kasumi asked in confusion.
The store owner nodded as he pointed to the face of the coin. “The Japanese phrase for the five-yen is ‘go-en,’ which means destiny or fate. That’s the reason why it’s a common donation to Shinto shrines. I think that makes it quite fitting for this new exercise.”
With that, he produced a length of string and threaded it through the hole in the coin’s center. Tying the two ends together, he formed a crude necklace. He then handed it to Kasumi.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” She asked.
“We’re going to test your ability to see that which cannot be seen.”
In the Makai…
Jon Talbain leaned against the railing of one of the airship’s observation decks as the huge craft continued on its way to Ala Maron. So far, it had been an uneventful trip and they were due to reach the City of Magicians within another day or so. At that moment, Morrigan walked over to join him in watching the sights.
“Good afternoon Jon.”
“Good afternoon Morrigan. Everything going well with you and Felicia?”
“Things are going fine.” The succubus assured. “In any case, it’ll be good to see Father again after being in the Human World for so long.”
“How is Lord Belial these days?”
“The same as always. He’s still griping over the fact that I have yet to choose a husband and ensure the future of our household.” She then came closer toward him in a more seductive fashion. “And I know that he’d be VERY happy to see you again.”
“Uhm… yes, it would be good to see him as well.” Jon replied in a somewhat uneasy tone. Like the Chinese Amazons, Lord Belial had gotten quite fond of Matthew’s father and had frequently hinted in none-too-subtle fashion, that he would like to call him his son-in-law. The Talbain family was well-respected in the Makai, and Belial was more than eager for the two families to join, and strengthen their power and nobility. In the Other Realm, Jon held a title that was equivalent to that of an Earl.
As Morrigan was starting to move in on the werewolf, Felicia then caught sight of the pair and headed toward them.
“Hey you two! Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all!” Jon said quickly as he made room for the Catwoman.
Morrigan displayed a slight twinge of irritation before nodding and thinking to herself. <Another time.>
The trio quietly conversed among themselves as the airship continued on its way.
Back to Kasumi…
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Kasumi asked as she was standing with one arm stretched out. Her hand dangled the five-yen coin from its string. She was wearing a blindfold over her eyes and in front of her was an obstacle course of large boulders.
Henry nodded to his pupil as he sat on a rock at the finish line. “This exercise will not only allow you to develop your divination powers, but also train you in how to control your mana reserves. You must trust in your instincts and let the power flow through the coin in order for you to find your way. You must attune your mystic senses along the paths of Ley Lines and mana fields. Now, use those mental techniques I taught you to dowse your way through the maze.”
Taking a deep breath, the eldest Tendo child started to concentrate and created a mental image of the coin in her mind. Then, she slowly exerted her own power outward toward the coin. She had to be careful not to put too much of her energy, otherwise she would overflow the surrounding fields and get a false reading. She then felt a slight pull on the string and decided to take that first step. Then she took another and another.
The Halfling nodded as he noted that the five-yen piece was glowing. As the fledgling sorceress began to unsteadily maneuver around the boulders, she began to totally trust in her senses. When she was about halfway through the obstacle course, she suffered her first setback as she tripped over a small rock. She fell forward and landed on her hands and knees. She lost her coin in the process and was about to take off her blindfold.
“Keep your eyes covered, Lass.” Her magical tutor said.
“But I lost the coin.”
“Then find it Lass, without cheating with your eyes.”
Kasumi started to panic, but then took another deep breath to settle her nerves. She started to focus her senses and saw in her mind the coin lying on the ground some three feet to her left. She reached out and smiled in relief as she grabbed hold of the string and stood up again. Then she started to walk again while guided by the coin.
After another ten minutes and two more falls, she made it through the maze. Henry gave her a small round of applause.
“Not a bad first run, Kasumi. Now I want to keep that blindfold on and go back over that course.”
The brown-haired girl nodded as she turned about and was about to start back, when she started to hear some thumping noises. Then she frowned as she began to get different readings from the surrounding mana fields. She reached up for the blindfold to see what was going on.
“Keep that blindfold on, Lass.” Henry said as he was waving his own personal magic wand. It was golden baton with some intricate inscriptions on its handle. Using a levitation spell, he began moving the boulders into a new pattern. When he finished moving them about, he put away his wand and instructed Kasumi to continue.
“You… moved the rocks!” She said in realization.
“That I did. Remember Kasumi, this isn’t an exercise in memory. This is to test your ability to sense the changing patterns of mana flows. Now go ahead.”
Soun’s daughter let out a sigh and began making her way back over the course.
“Lovely! Simply lovely!” Parelle remarked as Arana neatly packed away Kasumi’s new sorceress outfit and accessories into a small box.
“I must say that this is one of your best works.” Tyselli commented.
“That Kasumi girl is going to be happy to get this.” Girella added. “So when are you going to give it to her?”
The Jurogumo nodded as she replied. “There will be a temporary portal to Henry’s Shop in the afternoon tomorrow, about 8:00 pm in Japan. There will also be a return portal back here a day later. I’ll be able to deliver the outfit to her personally and get back here with no problems.”
The three witch sisters began to converse among themselves. Ever since they found out about Kasumi’s vast magical potential, they had begun to consider her as a very good candidate to inherit their magical knowledge. Like their cousin Cologne, they were getting in years, and needed to pass on their lore to the next generation before it was lost forever.
The sorcery siblings came to a unanimous decision as the eldest among them addressed the seamstress of Castle Talbain.
“Arana, we’re going with you tomorrow to see this Kasumi Tendo. “
“Well, I think that was a good training session for your second month.” Henry commented as he and Kasumi exited the pocket dimension and back into his store. She was wearing her normal housedress and apron. Once again, she had her power limiter bracelet on her wrist.
“I think that went well too.” She agreed, and then began to think about her family.
The Halfling storekeeper noted her silence. “Something the matter, Lass?”
“I was just thinking about how this is the first time I’ve ever left my family on their own without helping them.”
“Don’t worry about them. I’m certain that they can handle themselves for a few days, and besides; you must press on if you are to reach a level, in which you can compete with those other apprentices.”
“It’s not just that. I’ve looked after my family for more than half of my life, and it’s a little difficult to just leave to their own devices. Normally, I don’t like to speak ill of anyone, but as I told Oscar, my father and sister act like five-year-olds much of the time. Father’s old friend isn’t that much better. I can’t help but worry that they’re getting into some kind of mischief or trouble while I’m away.”
“Oh, I am certain that Oscar and the others are keeping them in line and Chef Bennet will make certain they are well-fed, provided they continue with their chores.”
Kasumi was still understandably worried, and then thought about the upcoming competition. “So what should I expect at these Apprenticeship Games? Who am I going to compete against?”
“At the games, you should expect the unexpected. As for your competition, you’ll be meeting people from all races and all walks of life.”
A castle in Eastern Europe…
Alexia Val Karas VIII, grumbled in disgust as she sat on her bed and read a letter from the head of the family, namely her father. He was currently traveling through the Makai. The Val Karas family was descended from a very powerful line of wizards and prophets in the 12th century. The current heir to the vast family fortune and magical powers was only 18-years-old, but was considered a genius in terms of all general magic. She specialized in elemental attacks and shadow spells.
<Why do I have to take part in the Apprenticeship Games? I’m already far above any normal apprentice. Father just wants me to represent the Val Karas family at the games for political reasons!>
Alexia gave a toss of her long, blonde hair as she nonchalantly tossed away her father’s letter, then picked up another page of correspondence. She growled even harder as she read the latest rejection to her petition to become the student of the famed Grimbard Sisters at Castle Talbain.
<Who do those old hags think they are? I’m worthy of their teachings! I come from the greatest line of magicians and sorcerers in history!>
As she fumed about being turned down for the umpteenth time, she then reconsidered her father’s order to take part in the Apprenticeship Games.
<Fine then! When I crush and dominate the other contestants, I’ll show everyone, including the Grimbards that I alone am worthy of the ancient magical lore of the Elders! I doubt I’ll find anyone at the games who could give me a challenge!>
In a secluded cave in Salem, Massachusetts, North America…
“As you know Serena, the Apprenticeship Games in the Makai will begin next week, and we must use this time to prepare you for competition.” An elderly woman in a witch’s outfit said to her student; a girl of 16 years and wearing similar clothes.
“I will do my best, Grandmother.” Serena Ravenwing said.
“Should you make it to the top sixteen or better, you may even win a scholarship to one of the Makai’s sorcery schools. You may even meet… them.”
“The Grimbard Sisters?” The young witch asked with excitement in her voice.
“Yes. The greatest witches of all time and among the foremost experts in magic.”
“I’m going to win!”
In a very hot area in the Makai…
A huge body went skidding across the ground like a rock skipping across a pond, tumbling end over end. The monster finally came a painful stop, face down in the dirt after digging a deep trench. His skin was badly scorched in several areas and he was smoking a bit.
A teenage boy growled as he was in a battle stance with his hands literally on fire. He was a tall adolescent with a black leather jacket, black shirt, dark denim jeans and hightop sneakers. He had short, black hair in a ruffled style and looked like a typical American teen.
However, he was anything but typical, as Jason Blackstorm was actually the half-human son of a very powerful Demon Lord, second only to Lord Belial! After having an argument with his father, he had been venting his frustrations on the foolish ogres who had made the potentially lethal mistake of trying to rob him. When they found out he was the child of the Number-Two demon ruler of the Makai, the disgusting creatures immediately groveled for his forgiveness. However, Jason was NOT in the forgiving mood.
“ANYONE ELSE WANT SOME MORE!?”
The horde of ogres shook their heads vigorously to his challenge as they all lay in a bruised and scorched heap. Who would have thought that human-looking kid had so much strength and destructive energy?
Jason let off a snort of disgust as the fires in his hands died away. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get anymore amusement from his would-be tormentors, he simply walked from the scene of carnage and began to think of his next move.
<DAMN! I was hoping to work off some steam, but those ogres didn’t even last a minute! Guess if I want to keep my mind off Dad, I’m going to need something more substantial…>
At that moment, he noted a flyer posted on a nearby tree trunk, which announced the upcoming Apprenticeship Games in Ala Maron. He quickly tore the flyer off the trunk and gazed upon the advertisement.
<Ala Maron? It’s been a while since the last time I was there. Hmmm, Apprenticeship Games eh? Why not? Might find somebody who could give me a decent workout.>
The flyer was instantly incinerated as Jason focused his fire-based magic upon it and began making his way in the direction of the City of Magicians.
In a small village of Lizardmen…
“So you’re ready to head off to the Apprenticeship Games?” A very muscular and tall Lizardman remarked as he addressed a smaller, female adolescent.
Clea Bodaryl nodded as she slung a pack over her right shoulder. Like others of her kind, she was basically human-looking, except for the fact that she had clawed feet and hands, finlike ears and a tail. She had red hair cropped in a short, boyish style. She was currently wearing a very light, jade-colored, armored breastplate, skirt and had a double-edged short-sword hanging from a scabbard on her belt.
“I’m all set, Uncle Fenyle.” Clea said. “I should be able to reach Ala Maron in about three days or so.”
Her uncle shook his head. “I don’t know why you insist on walking to Ala Maron. You could have just bought a ticket on the next airship. Your family and friends are all going to the City of Magicians tomorrow. Why don’t you just come with us?”
“I want to get in some extra training on the way.”
Her relative shook his head, while smiling. “Well, just be careful out there. And remember that the judges will be rating your magic skills, as well as your fighting ability. You’ll bring great honor to our village, should you get a scholarship. We’ll be in the stands rooting for you. ”
“Just watch me!”
Another castle in rural France…
“Master Conrad, you have received an invitation to this year’s Apprenticeship Games in the Makai.” A butler announced as he carried a tray with an envelope on it.
Conrad Blanchet, heir to the Blanchet fortune sighed as he gazed longingly into a mirror while sitting at his bedroom desk.
The Blanchets were considered as newcomers in terms of magical family history. Their encounters with the Old Races and the world of sorcery didn’t occur until the late 1790s, when the first of their family line had encountered several imps and devils during the French Revolution. Some say that they were involved with Napoleon and his defeat at Waterloo. Other rumors suggest that they were able to amass their fortuned by plaguing their competitors with curses and such. In terms of overall magical ability, the Blanchets were not among the heavy-hitters like the Val Karas or Talbain families. They had yet to have one of their own become a member of the prestigious Council of Elder Wizards. In fact their magics were limited to medium grade teleportation spells and hexes, mostly used for defense or retreat. Despite their pompous air and regal display, Conrad’s family was considered at the low end of the sorcery totem pole. Of course, that didn’t stop them from thinking that they were the crème de la crème of Makai society.
“Ah me.” The young man sighed as he constantly admired his classical good looks in the mirror. He was eighteen-years-old and had a medium frame. He was constantly making adjustments to his hair and skin.
“Master?” The butler asked as he continued to hold the tray out.
A few minutes later, the teen took the letter, perused it for a minute, and then tossed off to the side, while letting off another bored sigh.
“Master Conrad, is something the matter? I would have thought you to be excited to be participating in such a monumental competition?”
Conrad let off another sigh before responding. “Oh it’s not that Michael. It’s just that I’m beginning to feel that I shall never find that special someone who would be worthy for someone as beautiful as myself. I mean, how could any girl compare to this?” He pointed to his own reflection.
The butler had the good sense not to say anything.
Then the spoiled rich-boy took another glance at the invitation and began to think.
<Hmmm, if I cannot find my soul mate here on Earth, then perhaps in the Makai…>
In the Makai…
“There it is Nabs! Ala Maron, the Supreme Magic Capital of the Makai!” Matthew announced as he and his girlfriend stood on the main observation deck of the airship.
Nabiki the Werewolf gazed in utter amazement at the great city of magical lore and sorcery. And she thought Atlantis was awe-inspiring!
Ala Maron covered more than three times the square areas of New York City, Tokyo and Hong Kong combined, with a population of well over 65 million. The entire city was encircled by a huge wall of crystal with gleaming watchtowers positioned every five hundred meters or so. There were buildings of every shape and size, with some reaching as high as the Chrysler Building or the Tokyo Tower. There were various airships, flying beasts and even several witches on brooms soaring in the skies above. Occasionally, a genie on a flying carpet would pass by. Looking down at the main gates to the city, Nabiki could see a huge line of humans and nonhumans as they waited to be admitted into the magical metropolis. There were huge caravans and individual riders, all making their way toward the great Wizard’s Capital.
“See that big dome over there?” Matthew pointed to a structure in the distance. The building was about ten times the size of the Houston Astrodome.
“Is that where the Apprenticeship Games are going to be held?” Nabiki asked.
“That’s right. Dad and I went to the games last year, and they were a blast! What you’re looking at is the Grand Wizards Coliseum. See all those big tents that look like little circuses and carnivals? A lot of merchants who deal in magical supplies and artifacts make a killing at the games, and lots of competitors buy the things they need at those shops and stands. All the other businesses like restaurants, bath houses, and hotels consider this time of the year as their peak season. The Olympics on Earth don’t even compare to the Apprenticeship Games.”
The second daughter of Soun Tendo could only gaze in wonder at the entire spectacle, then began to think of Kasumi as she would soon come to this place, perhaps to compete at these very games.
The third day of training…
“Well Lass, I must say that you’ve come quite a long way.” Henry commented as he and Kasumi were preparing for the day’s exercises. Joining them were Cologne and Happosai. Both martial arts masters still had a truce going, as they offered to help the eldest Tendo daughter with her training.
Kasumi nodded as she addressed Happosai.” Grandmaster, I am very glad that you have offered help in my magic training. And I would like to apologize for my father and Mr. Saotome’s unacceptable behavior last night. Although, I was partly at fault, since I should have hidden my potions more carefully.”
“It wasn’t your fault, my dear. And my disciples did learn the error of thieving from their own children.”
Flashback to last night…
“Hah! We’ve got you now, you little pervert!” Soun declared as he had managed to sneak up on Happosai and splash him with the contents of the test tube he had ‘borrowed’ from his daughter’s room. Since the old master was busy with his silky darlings at the time, he was caught unawares.
“Good work Tendo!” Genma cheered. “Kasumi’s Power Reduction Potion will have him at our mercy!”
However, much to the shock and horror of the two schemers, Happosai suddenly flared with a bright, golden aura of light as his already impressive ki stores were amplified. His body grew in height and became far more muscular. Soon he was radiating enough energy to make Super-Saiyan Goku look like a wimp! As he turned to face his traitorous disciples, his face sported a very evil grin.
Soun then looked down at the label to the test tube and he turned deathly pale. He realized that Genma’s bad luck curse must have caused him to grab the wrong test tube out of the hidden rack in Kasumi’s room. He addressed his friend, while sweating profusely.
“Uh Genma? This doesn’t say Power Reduction. It says Power INDUCTION! Time limit ten minutes!”
Happosai grinned even more and chuckled as he cracked his knuckles. “Well, I might as well enjoy the power boost while it lasts!”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Both men cried out as they tasted the fury of an Uber-Grandmaster of the Anything Goes Martial Arts.
When it was all over, the Tendo Home was lacking a roof, Soun and Genma were toasted like a couple of burnt steaks, and Akane was screaming out a huge wave of profanities as half of her room was missing. In the dojo, Oscar sighed as he took out his cell phone and dialed.
“Hello? Crazy Sid’s Instant House Repairs? I hear that you have a branch in Japan? Yeah, this is Oscar from Castle Talbain. Could you send over a squad of your imps? I have a job for them. I also need a mind-wiping imp too. Yeah, send the bill to the Talbain family. Here’s the address…”
End of Flashback…
“A pity that potion was only temporary. I haven’t felt that much power in over a century.” Happosai remarked. “But those imps did quite a job. Those two fools and Akane don’t remember how the house was fixed so fast and who did it. Of course, your father and his friend are going to be sore for the next week or so, but it’s what they deserved, so it all worked out.”
Cologne made a mental note to ask Kasumi for the recipe for her Power Induction Formula.
Just as they were about to head to the pocket dimension, the front door to the shop opened up. Four individuals passed through the mystic portal, and Cologne gasped in surprise as she recognized them.
“Arana! Cousins! What are you doing here?”
The three witches and the spider-seamstress nodded as they warmly greeted the Amazon Elder, Happosai and the Halfling. Then they turned toward the person they were most interested in meeting with.
“And you must be Kasumi Tendo.” Parelle said as she stepped forward. She and her sisters gave her an appraising look and nodded to each other.
“Uhm… yes, I am.” Nabiki’s sister affirmed. “And may I ask how you know me and who you are?”
“Ah yes! Forgive us for our momentary lack of manners.” She first gestured to the Jurogumo, who was in her normal human form. “This is Arana, the head seamstress of the Talbane family. She was the one that Henry commissioned to make your sorceress outfit.”
The petite woman nodded as she held out the package in her arms. “This will look stunning on you, and it will serve you well in the Apprenticeship Games!”
The eldest witch nodded as she gestured to herself and her siblings. “I am Parelle. These are my sisters, Girella and Tyselli. We are the Grimbards.”
Kasumi was shocked to hear that the old women in front of her were the same people who had written her beginner’s spell book. These were the ones who were considered among the premiere spellcasters of the Makai and Earth?
The novice sorceress was still struck dumb, when the Grimbards noticed her state of awe. Understanding her state of emotions, Parelle waved a hand in front of her, catching her attention, then said the following…
“Ye who read this, be mindful thou hath begun upon a wondrous journey of magic and miracles.”
Girella continued with the phrase. “However, also take care of thy patience and temper…”
Tyselli then finished the warning. “… lest ye become sorcery’s slave than master.”
Hearing the exact phrase from her first spell book immediately caught Kasumi’s attention as she realized she was truly in the presence of the Legendary Gimbard Sisters. During her training sessions, Henry had spoken highly of the trio and told her that the new spell book was also written by them.
The expression on her face made the witches smile playfully, then turned to their distant cousin.
“You were right, Cousin.” Girella remarked. “She’ll make a fine apprentice.”
A little later, in the pocket dimension…
“Are you ready yet, Kasumi?” Arana asked as she stood in her true form. The Tendo girl was busy changing into her new sorceress outfit. The spider-woman had spun a very large and thick layer of webbing around some trees, creating a temporary changing area.
“I’m almost done.” Kasumi said as she put on her new garments for the Apprenticeship Games.
At that point, the Jurogumo looked over to where Happosai and Henry were enjoying a few swigs from a bottle of mead. She immediately noticed the Anything Goes Grandmaster’s clothes and pointed with a bit of disgust.
“Oh this will not do! I cannot abide such filthy and unkempt garments!”
Happosai looked down at his tattered and dirty gi, and then gave the seamstress a kind of sheepish smile.
“Er, sorry about that. I’ve been sealed away for over a decade, and I haven’t gone to a clothing store yet.”
Arana quickly went over to a different grove of trees, spun another temporary changing area and pointed to it.
“Take off those clothes and let me have them! This will only take a moment!”
Happosai turned to his drinking buddy in confusion. Henry could only shrug.
“Best you do what she tells you. If there’s one surefire way of irritating a Jurogumo, it’s having very shoddy clothes. Arana loves her work so much that it’s her hobby.”
Soun and Genma’s master did as he was told and went behind the silken curtain. Quickly disrobing himself, he tossed his gi out for Arana to work her magic on. In less than two seconds, she imbued her mystic silk threads into the material, bringing it back to pristine condition. She then tossed it back to Happosai, who marveled at the fabric’s texture.
“Whoa! Now that’s what I call smooth! I don’t think my silky darlings could compare!”
After putting on his newly refurbished gi, he stepped out with pride. Arana nodded in satisfaction as Happosai looked a lot more presentable in polite company.
At that moment, Kasumi finished putting on the Jurogumo’s masterpiece and came out from behind the webbing.
The Grimbards, Cologne, Arana, Henry and Happosai gazed upon Kasumi’s new clothes with awe and admiration.
In order to keep the outfit lightweight and durable for the Apprenticeship Games, Arana had opted for a simple, yet elegant design. The tunic that Tyselli had donated had been modified into a kind of short dress, which had a skirt with the hem reaching down to about mid-thigh. Its general color was a light, sky blue with golden web designs around the shoulders and short sleeves. She also had a vest of velvet green, with some white highlights. The cloak that Parelle had given was still the same dark blue, but had some intricate crimson thread edging and was draped over Kasumi’s shoulders.
About her waist was a thin, black leather belt with a gold buckle, engraved with a four-leaf clover design on the front plate, courtesy of some gold coins from Shamus O’Shea the Leprechaun. Her dagger hung from a scabbard on her right hip, while her new satchel was over her left shoulder. Her legs were clad in simple, but very elegant leggings of matching sky blue, and her feet were clad in brown leather boots that came up to her mid-calf and joined with the leggings at the cuff. The footwear had slender, metal toe tips, made of orihalcum. The hair tie that she normally wore was replaced with the new Rune-inscribed ribbon from Girella. On her hands, was a pair of sleek, white, forearm-length gloves.
Every weave and fiber of the outfit had something donated from the residents of Castle Talbain. Once she put on the ensemble, the sorceress clothes immediately attuned their magical properties to their new owner. Kasumi began to glow with a pure and powerful aura, much to the approval of those present.
There was a round of applause as Arana approached the novice sorceress. She smiled as the outfit shaped well to Kasumi’s figure.
“Excellent! I knew it would all come together so nicely! Now you LOOK like a true sorceress!”
Kasumi could only blush as she thanked the spider-woman for the gift. She had never worn clothes that were so comfortable. They were so lightweight; it almost felt as if they were like a second skin.
At that moment, the Grimbards stepped forward as Parelle made an announcement.
“Now then, it is time for the REAL training to begin.” She turned to Henry. “Has she undergone the Blood Oath Ceremony yet?”
“Not yet.” Henry admitted. “We were going to do that before she left for the Makai.”
“We shall perform it today.” Tyselli said.
Parelle nodded as she addressed Kasumi again. “And for the remainder of this week, we Grimbards shall oversee your training. From now until the games begin, you will consider us as your teachers.”
To be continued…
Many thanks to Alex Burgos for his drawings of Kasumi’s Apprentice Clothes and to all my readers for their suggestions. In the next chapter, we’ll be seeing more on Kasumi’s training and entry into the Makai as well as the start of the ApprenticeGames. See you there!