Chapter 06 – S
When I came to, I found that everything around me is so dark and quiet.
Where am I?
A while ago, I was sitting in my mom’s car, heading for the Orion Observatory. I was looking out of the car’s window to the highway’s light post, got a little sleepy, and decided to take a nap.
And then…what happened?
Why is it so dark?
“Okay. Turn on full power! Don’t let him get away!”
A familiar voice spoke up in the midst of darkness.
It…It can’t be…
Suddenly, my whole body feels numb. My chest burns so hot like the sun. My mouth opens up wide, screaming in pain. Soon after, the roar of a lion emerges from nearby.
The nightmare was supposed to be over, isn’t it!?
Why is this still happening to me!?
I immediately open my eyes up, startled from the nightmare. Once they begin to focus, I found that I am still sitting in my mom’s car, which is now running along a road in a rural area. The sun has already risen and the sky is blue and clear. Even though the nightmare is already over, for some reason, those painful sensations are still able to haunt me even in my dreams.
“Good morning, sweetie.” Mom spoke up after she found that I am already awake. Her eyes are still focused on the road. She has been driving even before I fell asleep.
Doesn’t she get tired from all that driving?
“Good morning, mom,” I replied.
“How was your sleep?”
I paused for a while, thinking whether or not I should tell her about my nightmare. But then I figured that it’ll just make her more worried about me, so I decide not to tell her the truth.
“Well, it’s not bad. At least it felt a lot better than the cot in that lab,” I said, trying to make it sound like a joke.
“Is that so?” Mom giggled.
“So…how long before we get to Orion Observatory?” I ask her to divert her attention away from my nightmare.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a long ride if we take the main highway. However, I got down and took some detour just in case. Can’t trust what we might encounter while running on the highway,” mom explained while her eyes are still looking forward.
“…You are pretty cautious,” I noted.
“After running from these people for 20 years, you’ll automatically be able to tell where or when they might hit you.” Mom laughed. “Then again, most of the time, I just decide to play it safe in every possible occasions.”
After that, the two of us just chat about various stuffs like how we normally do on the phone. Most of the time, it will be her asking the questions about my daily life and I’ll be telling her random stuffs I encountered in each day. Some times it’s about the classes at university, some times its about the university project called ‘Dummy Company’ that I am participating, and some times it’s about various guys that tried to flirt with me.
However, even though I am talking about random stuffs with mom like I always do, my mind is still worried and anxious about my nightmare. I might be safe right now, but what if I am captured again in the future? After all, there is nothing that guarantees that it won’t happen again, and if it does, I might not be so lucky like last time…
I spoke up after I ran out of random stuffs to talk about.
“…Can you…Can you teach me how to use my powers?”
“Oh my…That’s unexpected…”
Her face is filled with surprise even though she is still looking forward at the road.
“W…Well…To be honest, mom, I am a little worried that something like two days ago might happen again. Last time, I was so freaked out at my own powers, and ended up getting kidnapped. Since I have this power with me, I might as well learn how to use it to defend myself.”
“I don’t mind teaching you, but let me ask you something. You do know that our powers are dangerous and can end up taking other people’s life, right?”
Mom’s question left me dumbfound.
“When used improperly, this power can create several tragedies beyond your imagination. Do you still wish to learn how to use it despite knowing the weight of this burden?” she asked some more, “I’m your mother, Sophia. I’m okay with taking care of you until things become a little less hectic. You can just hide behind me and let me do everything if you don’t want your hands dirty…”
That really doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I wouldn’t have to fight against other people, and I can just always stick with mom.
However, is that really the right thing to do?
Does cowering behind mom really make this whole situation any better?
“I know about the burden, mom…In fact, more or less, I am carrying that burden with me right now.”
My mind immediately recalls the photos Frederick showed me – the photos of three men burnt to mere soot by my very own hands. Three lives were already lost at the mercy of the powers within me.
“But still, I don’t want to be pushed around. Plus, I can’t just hide behind you for the rest of my life, right?”
Hiding behind mom wouldn’t solve anything. I won’t be able to protect myself if I kept doing that…
“…That’s a good answer.” Mom smiles. “Fine. I’ll teach you some tips on how to control your powers.”
“Thanks mom.” I smiled as well. “So, by the way, why was it unexpected?”
“When I asked you to teach me earlier, you said, ‘Oh my. That’s unexpected,’ didn’t you?”
“Oh. Haha…You see, you never let me teach you anything since that last fight we had when you were in 5th grade,” mom said, laughing.
“Ugh, that’s because you were too strict! You made me practice hundreds of math exercises for a single chapter! I’m a 5th grade girl, mom, not a calculator!”
“Well, I’m a teacher, you know? I know exactly how to make my students improve in the areas they are lacking. Besides, wasn’t it because of my practice that you’ve become so fluent with fractions now?” mom teased.
“But that’s besides the point!” I cried.
You see, there is a reason I chose not to study in Orion University, where she is teaching, and specifically not in her field of study as well. She is way too strict with her teaching methods and I don’t want to have to endure that for the next four years. Back when I just finished high school, the two of us even had a fight about which university I should attend as well. But in the end, she gave up and allowed me pursue the path of business studies at Galaxia University that I am genuinely interested.
However, right now, the circumstances have changed. Thinking back, maybe the reason she wanted me to attend the Orion University was so she could easily watch over me…
“Anyway, I understand. I’ll teach you some stuffs,” mom said, “But be warned though. I’ll be just as strict as I normally am,” she added with a slightly sadistic laugh.
“Well, I guess I finally might be able to find something good out of your strict habit,” I teased.
“Aww. You’re so mean.” Mom giggled.
“So how are we going to do this?” I asked curiously.
“Don’t worry. I know just what we should do to train you up,” mom said, giggling again.
That’s what I’m afraid of…
“Hm…This place should work.”
After a while, mom parks the car on the road right next to a wide opened field. The cities on Athenia might be an extremely advanced concrete jungle. But outside of the cities, especially in the rural areas, there are several undeveloped grasslands and plains, spreading out until it touches the horizon. This road we are running on is literally in the middle of nowhere.
Stepping down from the car, I follow mom as she walks into the grassy plains with her dummy wooden sword.
“…Say mom, how exactly are you going to teach me?” I asked curiously after we got a little deeper into the open plain, “And do I need to take down any notes?”
“Zodiac Powers are not really all that hard to use. But at the same time, it is hard to orally describe the procedures in words. Most of our powers can be utilized simply by thinking or performing a specific action.”
She stops walking and turns around, showing me her palm to tell me to stop moving as well.
“…Performing specific actions?” I muttered after I stopped walking, standing about three meters away from her.
“Basically, what you want to do is follow ‘the flow’ and let the angel’s fighting instinct within you do most of the work. Well, at least that’s how I learn about my powers. The rest is up to practicing, getting used to how to manipulate the powers, and swiftly adapting those powers to various situations in battle.”
…Was that supposed to be her course syllabus? If so, then by her standard, this course’s description and direction are extremely lax and vague.
Normally, when she wants to teach something, she is often very direct and specific. For instance, if I am not good in math fractions, she’ll make me do hundreds of exercises about fractions until the methodology is completely engraved upon my soul.
“First, I want you to practice getting used to ‘the flow’,” mom continued.
“That’s right. ‘The flow’ is basically the battle instinct within all Zodiac Angels’ hosts. It’s a little hard to explain, but let’s just say that your body, even though it never had any battle experience, has some form of knowledge about fighting embedded inside your muscle tissues. It might be something as simple as extremely agile reflex or fast reaction abilities.”
I am immediately reminded of how I was able to get onto the train in mornings when I am late for classes. At first, I always thought that it was because I practiced running late everyday, that’s why I have those reflex and agility. But apparently, that is not the case.
“Now, in order to get used to the flow, I want you to attack me with your staff,” mom said.
“What!? You mean smack you with this!?” I cried.
“That’s right,” she said, smiling.
“It’s gonna hurt if it hits you!”
“Don’t worry. I got my wooden sword with me,” she said, dangling her dummy wooden sword in front.
“Are you kidding!? I’ve homerun a man like a baseball once! Your wooden sword is going to be smashed to pieces!”
“Are you saying you can defeat me?”
There she goes with her mockingly daring looks again…
“…Fine. I’m not liable if you get hurt from this!”
I immediately run in and swing my staff at her. However, in a blink of an eye, she smacks her wooden sword onto my right wrist, instantly stopping my swing. After that, she thrusts her elbow into my stomach, and swipes her leg at mine, tipping them off balance. My body instantly falls down to the ground, where mom points her wooden sword at my face.
“A weapon is only a tool in battle. Rely on it too much, and you will get hurt.” Mom smiles then gives me her hand. Taking her hand, I quickly get back up standing.
“Aow…That really hurts.” I put my left hand onto my stomach.
“I told you I am going to be strict. So you better be serious. In real life, it won’t just stop with an elbow thrust.”
I sigh and get back to assume my stance.
“Okay. Try it again. Follow the flow. Let the instinct inside your body take over,” mom said, holding her wooden sword laxly as usual.
“That’s a little too vague. How do I know if I am doing it correctly?”
“Just come straight at me and let your body do the rest. Try to remain casual. Do not resist any reactions your body makes,” she explained.
“…Okay…,” I mumbled and rushed at mom again.
Once again, I swing the staff at her. But before it could reach her, my eyes quickly observe and analyze her next move. That moment, I could briefly see mom lifting her wooden sword, presumably aiming for a strike at my wrist again. Knowing that before hand, my mind quickly tries to come up with a way to handle her strike. However, out of reflex, my wrist automatically twists itself and puts the staff down, crossing against mom’s upper strike.
I blocked it!
I actually successfully blocked her attack!
While I am still surprised at what I see, mom immediately makes a counter by brushing my staff off to the side and quickly sets her wooden sword up in the air for a vertical downward slash. Once again, my hand immediately flips the staff back up and crosses the wooden sword on reaction, protecting me from the potentially skull-splitting slash.
“Good. You are learning,” mom complimented me and put down her sword.
“Wow, you’re right. It really felt like my body moved on its own,” I said.
“That’s right. This is basically what ‘the flow’ is about. Don’t worry if you are not used to it yet. You will pick up more of this from real battles in the future, which we definitely won’t be able to avoid.”
“Okay. I guess…” I shrugged.
“Well then. Time for lesson two.”
“Oh. We’re done with the first? That’s fast,” I muttered.
“Yes. I have four lessons for you today. After I’m done with the lectures, we will practice until the sun sets.”
“So. Let’s start with lesson two – About your special powers.”
“Special powers, huh? Like how I shoot fireballs from the tip of this staff?”
“So you had triggered some stances before? That’s good. Makes this a little easier to explain. Basically, some special attacks or skills can be activated by performing specific action with your weapon. Naturally, you won’t know what those stances are until you actually triggered it. Some times you could accidentally trigger it by yourself, and some times ‘the flow’ does it for you – which, by the way, is why I opt to show you how the flow works first.”
“Uh…I don’t really get it.” I scratched my head out of confusion.
“Sophia. When you shoot those fire balls, how did you move your staff and what were you thinking back then?”
“How did I move and think?” I pause shortly, trying to recall. “Well, I guess I was swinging it from downward up, maybe. And I was thinking that I want those men to get away from me.”
“Okay. That’s good enough. Now, imagine that those men are coming for you, then try swinging your staff with the intention of making them get away from you.”
“Uh huh. Sounds simple enough.”
“Clear your mind and recall your emotions from back then,” mom said.
I close my eyes, trying to focus and recall the pressure I felt that evening. My mind pictures those men moving towards me from all direction, making me feel nervous. The muscles on my body tensed up as I swing my staff upwards with all my might while mentally shouting ‘Get away from me!’.
I open my eyes and found that all I did was simply swing my staff up into the air, leaving me in an awkward pose.
“Eh…?” was all that slipped out of my mouth.
“Hm…Maybe you were not swinging the staff correctly?” mom muttered, carefully observing my silly pose.
“That’s weird. I really remember swinging the—. Oh wait?”
“I’m not sure about the first two times, but on the third one, I was pointing my staff at a man.”
“Pointing, huh? Well then, try it again. Point your staff forward and focus. Imagine that man standing in front of you again.”
I point my staff forward and replicate that situation in my mind again. Furthermore, I remind myself that this man was also the one who injected the tranquilizer into my left wrist.
I was very angry and scared.
I pointed my staff at him and frustratingly yelled, ‘What did you give me!?’
All of the sudden, my staff recoils and jerks up into the air as a bolt of flame is shot forward at high speed. It travels forward in a straight linear path until it slowly pales and fades away.
“Well done.” Mom applauds for me.
“Hah. That wasn’t too hard.” I laugh.
“Yes. Just remember the tension you had when you shoot that fireball. After some practices, you’ll be able to do it naturally by just thinking about it,” mom explained.
“Uh huh…So does this means that there are other ‘stances’ and special skills aside from this one?”
“Yes. You’ll probably find out after fighting real battles for a while.”
“Hah. I can’t wait to see what else this baby can do.” I giggled, looking at the staff in excitement.
“In that case, let’s get to lesson three. This will be slightly harder and more complicated now. You ready?”
“Yeah.” I nodded
“Now, I believe that you’ve already met your Zodiac Beast, Regulus, before?”
“Oh. You mean that lion?”
“That’s right. Remember how you summoned him that night?”
“…When you came to rescue me?”
“Yes. Just think of him in your head and yell his name out loud.”
“Yell? Do I really have to yell? That felt kind of embarrassing…”
“Theoretically, you don’t have to yell. Calling your beast’s name while thinking about him or her should be enough. It’s just that sometimes it naturally turns into a yell if you call the beast out in the middle of the battle, so I want you to get used to doing it.”
“Well then, let me show you my beast then,” mom said and cleared her throat, “Slash! I summon you! Spica!!!”
Suddenly, a bright light emanates from behind mom’s back and a pair of glowing feathery wings magically spreads out from behind her, making her look literally like an angel. The wings flutter and lift a transparent silhouette up from mom’s body into the air. The shadow slowly becomes opaque, forming a familiar-looking white haired lady in armor, as it lands on the ground.
“I’m sure you’ve already met her before. Her name is Spica, my Zodiac Beast,” mom introduces the lady in armor to me.
“A Beast? But she looks so much like a human!”
“Of course, she does not look like a four-legged animal,” mom laughed, “[Zodiac Beasts] are only a general term; they come in all forms and shapes. Some looks robotic. Some looks like human. And some literally are beasts, like your Regulus.”
“…She’s not offended that you called her a beast, right?” I muttered.
“Of course not, silly girl. I told you it’s just a general term!” Mom laughed some more. “Enough with the trivial stuffs. Now it’s your turn. Try summoning Regulus.”
“…Uh. Okay then.”
I take a deep breath, thinking about that lion from the lab.
My chest suddenly burns once again, and a bright crest emanates from that spot. The silhouette of the lion forms right next to my body and it slowly turns opaque until it becomes solid. He opens his mouth up wide and roars ferociously. Thinking back, this lion was also roaring the same way at that laboratory when he was forced to appear. But for some reason, I am not afraid of him at all. Most people probably would have run away if a lion suddenly appears in front of them like this. Somehow, instead of being scared, I actually feel safe and secured when he appears before me.
The lion slowly moves towards me and presses his mane against my arms. Although he appears to be a ferocious hunter, this king of the jungle acts no differently from an oversized kitten. I softly brush his mane and caress his chin, making him close his eyes in pleasure. Size and appearance aside, he really reminds me of Roro.
“…Were you the one who told me to run back then?” I asked the huge fur ball standing next to me. While he did not reply to me verbally, he seems to understand what I asked, so he simply gives me a subtle nod.
“…I see. Thank you for trying to save me.”
I scratch his chin as a thank you. Surprisingly, the king of the jungle sticks out his tongue and licks me on my cheek.
“Awww. You’re so cute.”
“Okay now. I think you are ready,” mom interrupted my personal time with the oversized kitten, “In this lesson, I want you to try commanding Regulus to move exactly like how you would move your own body.”
“Zodiac Angels and their beasts have interconnected minds. This means that you can directly tell your beast to move however you want just by thinking. Try it.”
“Make him do anything.”
Make him do anything?
What should I make him do?
Any random movement is fine, right?
Thinking so, the first thing that came to my mind is how Roro loves to do what I like to call the ‘Roro Maneuver’. The kitty will tiptoe using his tiny digits to avoid making any sound, while wagging his tail around playfully. Roro loves to do this when he tries to play with any bugs that accidentally got into our house.
Before I could even verbally order him, Regulus, the king of the jungle, is now performing the Roro Maneuver exactly like how Roro always do, tiptoeing in circle while wagging his tail playfully. Because of that, I can’t help but burst out laughing until tears fall down my cheek.
“Oh my. Is that the Roro Maneuver?” Mom giggled, trying her best not to burst into laughter like I did.
“Oh…my…I…really didn’t expect this,” I uttered, trying to stop the laugh.
“Now now. Let’s try something serious,” mom said, trying her best not to laugh as well.
Immediately after I stop thinking about the maneuver, the king of the jungle stops tiptoeing and stands firm on his ground.
“In battle, you can let Regulus run wild and attack anything he deems as a threat to you. Or, you can directly tell Regulus exactly where or when you want him to attack. Try telling him to charge in and tackle Spica.”
“Uh…So what do I have to do? Do I verbally command him or—–?”
As many people say, our brains normally work faster than our bodies. Before I could even finish asking mom, the king of the jungle is already charging towards the armored lady at high speed, exactly just like how I thought he would do in my mind. The lion tilts his head down slightly and crashes against the armored lady with his forehead, knocking her airborne.
“Ooof!” I heard mom crying out loud as Spica was blown into the air, but my eyes was too focused on seeing the armored lady. While spinning in the air, she quickly recovers her balance and lands back on the ground gracefully.
“Not bad. Controlling Zodiac Beasts is exactly like how you would control characters in video games, but instead of doing it through controllers, you do it with your thoughts,” mom added, “Remember about this because it is a valuable asset when fighting along side your partner.”
“Huh. Okay. That’s kind of easier to understand.” I nodded and looked at Regulus, telling him to walk back towards me.
“Oh yes, one more thing. Since Zodiac Beasts’ minds are directly linked to the Zodiac Angels…”
Before mom could finish talking, Spica suddenly lunges from where she was standing and smacks the bottom of her sword’s grip straight into Regulus face, knocking him down to the ground in a single strike. At the same time, my right cheek suddenly feels so numb as if I was hit as well.
“…If either of you take damage, the other party will feel the same pain. This means that, should Regulus gets burned by flames, you will also feel the heat of that flame, even though your body is not burned. So don’t expect your Zodiac Beast to be your meat shield, okay?”
“Aowww. Mom, that really hurts!” I cried, caressing my cheek.
“I know. I just need to demonstrate that to you,” mom giggled.
Now that I think about it, I heard she cried ‘Ooof!!!’ when Spica was hit. She probably felt the impact Spica got from Regulus’s tackle.
…Was that last hit supposed to be some kind of a payback?
“Now, one final lesson. Let’s try using the ‘Zodiac Link’.”
“That’s right. It’s a very useful technique that enhances cooperative attacks among allies. To perform the link, you will need the Connection Pendant,” mom explained, pointing to my pendant.
“Oh? The pendant you gave me?”
“That’s right. Hold the pendant with your left hand, Sophia, and channel your thoughts towards me.”
“Just think about me and concentrate. Keep your mind clear of any irrelevant thoughts.”
I shrugged and did exactly as told; I hold the pendant with my left hand and close my eyes. After that, I take a deep breath and try to concentrate. At first, there is nothing out of ordinary. But after a while, my heart pounds slightly faster and a weird pulse traces its way all over the muscles in my body.
I quickly open my eyes, startled upon hearing mom’s voice whispering in my ears.
“Don’t panic. You’ve successfully initiated the Zodiac Link.”
I heard her voice speaking as if she is whispering into my ears again. However, she is standing so far away from me and her lips are completely sealed tight.
“Wha…What’s going on, mom?”
“Basically, it’s the same idea as controlling your Zodiac Beast. However this time, you connect your minds with other Zodiac Angels, allowing you to exactly tell them what to do.”
“Woah!! So like, I can make you hop around like a bunny?!”
The moment I think about it, mom really starts hopping around like a little bunny.
“Oh my god! You’re serious!”
I could not help but burst out laughing.
“However, my dear, unlike Zodiac Beasts…”
Suddenly, my right arm lifts itself up and bonks my head with the staff in my hand.
Because my thoughts were disrupted, mom stops jumping like I ordered her to.
“This is a two-way communication. The other angels can also tell you exactly what they want you to do.”
“Ah. That kind of ruins the fun.” I sigh in disappointment.
“Because of that, we risk the chance of getting in each other’s way. I suggest that you use this link and act as a coordinator.”
“That’s right. Basically, you become the center eyes and ears of everyone you connect with. Let’s try. I will turn my back at you, and you shoot a fireball at me. After that, I will do the rest.”
After that, mom immediately turns her back at me.
“What!? You want me to shoot a fireball at you!?”
You have to be kidding me…
“Two days ago, I burned three men to a crisp. I’m not sure I really want to try this with you.”
“Don’t worry, honey. Everything will be fine. One thing to keep in mind about this technique is that you have to trust the person you connected with. It might seem a little scary, but you have to trust them.”
Can I really do this? What if mom couldn’t dodge and got burn?
“Remember, honey. Trust your partner.”
“…Oh great. You heard my thoughts too?”
“Our minds are connected together right now, remember?”
I could even hear her laughing right now.
Oh well. I guess I won’t know until I actually try.
Pointing the staff at mom’s back, my mind focuses my tension towards her. The staff then recoils and a bolt of flame shoots straight for her. But right before it could reach her, mom hops to the side and dodges the bolt just in time without looking at all.
My jaws drop to the ground in disbelief.
“See? I told you.” Mom turns around and smiles at me, “Our minds are connected, so essentially, I can see the fireballs coming through your eyes. Keep this in mind.”
“Oh. So that’s what you mean when you said ‘Coordinator’.”
“That’s right. Now, disconnecting the link is easy. Just stop concentrating, or shout ‘Disconnect!’ in your mind.”
Doing as told, my heart stops pounding so hard and the weird pulse that envelops my body simply vanish.
“And that’s all for today’s class,” mom said.
“…Wow…That was pretty overwhelming.” I laughed, looking at the pendant in my left hand.
“I know, right?” Mom smiles again. “Now, before we get to rest, let’s do some drills of lesson one and two.”
“You heard it right. I want you to try fighting me, using all the techniques I taught you in lesson one and two earlier. If you can, go ahead and try to defeat me. Do you think you can do that?” mom asked, swinging her wooden sword around.
Before I start learning all of this, the idea never crosses my mind, even at the slightest. But after her lecture, this power does not seem too complex to use.
“…Yeah. I think I can,” I said, assuming my battle stance.
“That’s the spirit! Well then, come on, Sophia. Give me all you got!”
Now this was a pretty long chapter, lol.
It really felt like I was writing a tutorial session for a video game in this chapter. XD