I was wrong. I was so horribly wrong.
Jumping off the ground, I launch my body onto the wall in front of me, absorbing the impact with my legs. Once crouched on the wall, I extend my legs and leap off to the right slightly, performing a hastily crafted u-turn while conserving as much speed as I could.
I am running for my life. Presumably. She wouldn't kill me, right? Two steps out of the leaping turn and I have my answer to that question as a ball of fire slams into the wall I'd jumped onto.
Nodding, I renew my determination and continue my sprint towards Garrett's office.
"Get over here you little prick!" A demon shouts from behind me.
I chance a glance back and see death incarnate. Six year-old girl, white hair, red eyes, fire in her hands... and her eyes. That is new. Looking back forward, I cry in relief that the door is slightly ajar from my practice this morning.
I barrel into the corner of the door, crashing it open and continue my mad dash for the other side of the room. Using my left foot, I launch my body into the air to land on the step ladder with my right foot where I once again launch my body upward to land on the desk. I take one more step and with all the momentum I'd built from the hallway till now, I position my arms in front of my head and send my body flying towards the wall behind the desk, shattering the shutters and leaving me fifteen feet in the air without a plan.
How did it come to this? I'm glad you asked, let's go back a bit to this morning.
Stretching his arms above his head, Vistiel had begun his morning like every other. However, unlike usual, he'd been granted the beauty of sleeping in. Vanessa would be coming by later that day with her niece so his caretakers didn't want him looking tired. Presumably, she'd chided them for overworking him last time she'd visited, so now whenever she came over they'd made sure he was well rested.
He didn't particularly mind either way. He enjoyed the practice with mana. Since he'd learned to manipulate it 2 months ago he'd taken leaps and bounds forward, surprising both Garrett and Emily. It had taken him nearly a month before he had enough finesse with his mana to be comfortable enough to begin the process of rumination and for this last month, he'd been steadily improving his bodies constitution and control of the mana inside himself.
In the beginning, he could feel the difference in leaps and bounds. His strength, speed, and senses were improving by almost a quarter what they'd been at the start in just a few days. After the first week, the differences became less pronounced, and now he could barely tell he'd even spent a day meditating. The first few days had made this last week lackluster in comparison, but he could tell he was getting stronger and it was foolish to think it would always be so pronounced. If it were he could become nothing less than a superhuman within a month, let alone a year.
Now, he was sitting around a little more than one and three-quarter times what he'd been at the start. He knew this because he'd been testing himself daily with weights and other various means of measurement. How far can a rock be thrown, how fast can he go from one side of his yard to the other, how long did it take before he tired out, at what point could he hear Emily coming up the stairs to drag him to dinner... etc.
'You get out what you put into it' she'd said, and he could already tell she'd been right. If you took someone who cared little for getting stronger and someone whose life depended on it and had them compete to see who would come out stronger after a year of rumination, who do you think would come out on top?
He didn't know it yet, but most who chose the path of a Combatant didn't meditate nearly as fiercely as he did. Manipulating mana in either form increased your lifespan with diminishing returns similar to increases in strength, to an upper limit of on average 400 years for a human with the oldest recorded death being 512. Celestial's hadn't been around for long enough for one of them to die of old age yet, but by the looks of their oldest members that wouldn't be happening anytime soon. Due to this most didn't see the benefit of committing so intensely throughout the years of their practice. If by the age of 300 most everyone would being around the same strength anyway and in a war-torn land where living that long was a feat in and of itself, why bother?
Due to this, the averages he'd gotten from Emily were definitely not catered toward someone who threw everything they had into it. And throw he did, as he spent almost every waking moment meditating.
His guardians worried at first but quickly fell into line with his approach, even increasing the amount of time they spent practicing for themselves.
Done stretching, Vistiel pushed Jasper off his stomach and fell into the forms without manipulating mana externally. He did this in place of his old routine as the forms were meant to stress all muscles evenly throughout his body which he'd learned was very important if he wasn't specializing as a Combatant. Exercising or straining your muscles in a certain way repeatedly drew the mana in your body to those parts, slightly enlarging them and increasing their output at the cost of decreasing the effectiveness of other areas. He'd found this out when he noticed his body losing its uniform coating of mana upon checking himself with his external manipulation.
Once finished with the forms, he closed his eyes and pulled some mana together, drawing it into his body before sending it out as a pulse of throughout the room. Similar to sonar but closer to standard vision, the mana gave him a simple understanding of the room by allowing him to feel the location of everything it touched. Covering half the room in mana was as far as he could control with the limited practice he'd had in outer manipulation before he'd changed to meditation, but he'd heard some Mages could span entire villages. The mana could be felt by everyone who could manipulate mana though, so it wasn't a very stealthy way of checking a room.
Locating Jasper, his clothes Emily had picked out for the day, and the few other things spaced throughout the room in this method always made the boy giddy. Magic truly would never cease to amaze him no matter how mundane his parents made the basic scan out to be. So simple a magic that almost all Humans could do it without a spell matrix.
Finally, the boy trotted over to the door and pulled it open. Emily had taken to leaving the door ajar for him lately so he could come and go as he pleased. Garrett still closed his office up but had stopped locking it since that was where Vistiel enjoyed practicing. He took four steps forward and turned to the right before proceeding to jog down the stairs into the kitchen for breakfast which Emily had left out for him.
Drooling in anticipation, he hopped up onto a chair and stood on it while pulling his plate closer to him so he could eat.
Once breakfast was done, he walked into the shop to watch Garrett manipulate the elements into the armor he'd been tasked to work on. The man nodded to his son then focused back on his task. An hour later and still no closer to understanding what Garrett was doing, Vistiel bored and ran back upstairs to put his clothing on and start meditating. Emily had told him not to since he tended to lose track of time but he was sure it would be fine. If anything someone would come get him. At least he was dressed.
What felt like 10 minutes later his suspicions were confirmed as Vanessa walked into the office and tapped him on the shoulder.
"It seems every time I come here I have to break you out of a trance little one. When are you going to greet me downstairs properly?"
The jump scare from having her touch him and speak made him lose concentration on the ball of mana he'd been condensing but it didn't matter. Once he realized who it was that interrupted him, he shot to his feet and leapt into her arms.
"Haha, looks like you still love me for some reason. Come on now, I have someone I want you to meet. If you treat her at all like you treat me I'm sure she'll just adore you." Laughing out loud at his enthusiasm, the woman gave him a big hug before letting go and turning around to walk downstairs.
Vistiel tilted his head at her sarcasm then shrugged before crawling around her body and jumping to her left wing, climbing up that while she said some things he wasn't listening to. When he was just about to reach her shoulders her wing shot out to the side and she plucked him off her, holding him out in front of her by his armpits.
"Stop climbing on me and say hi already," Vanessa said to him.
Glancing around the room, the shop's reception room had been turned into a regular living room, with two couches sitting across from each other with a table in the middle. Sitting to one side was Garrett and Emily, fidgeting and looking uncomfortable. On the other side of the couch was a girl staring at him open-mouthed, standing up.
And really she was. About three feet tall, long white hair, piercing red eyes, and a rather fair complexion all came together to create a doll of a child. Or it would have except dolls usually didn't look so surprised. He waved, which placated Vanessa. She placed him back on her outstretched wing where he latched on and turned back to her niece.
"You let him climb on you?!" Incredulously, the girl called out to Vanessa.
"Yes, so? Should I not? He enjoys it and I love him. He can do whatever he wants to me, Alexa." Starting with a cold tone and ending with a mischevious one, she ignores the light smack of a reprimand Vistiel gave her while addressing her niece.
"But he's a Human! "She shouted with clear animosity in her voice. "You'd kill me if I jumped on you, let alone a- a Human!"
"What is wrong with him being a Human, Alexa? Does that make him any less of a person than a Celestial? You think yourself better than him by accident of birth? Better than these two, who kindly let you into their residence and fed you? Your views are not shared off that island my dear. Fix your attitude before I am forced to fix it for you." Vanessa responded.
Opening her mouth to retort but then closing it after glancing at her Aunt, Alexa sat back down on the couch and was followed by Vanessa. "I am sorry if that came out rude, " she said to the two sitting across from her, "it's just that I was... unprepared to see my Aunt so familiar with anyone."
Nodding to the girl, Garrett immediately spoke up, "No no, it's quite alright. I completely understand. If I didn't see it myself I wouldn't believe that she could ever claim to love something. She's even been kinder to me recently and lets Emily hug her without pushing her aw-"
*SMACK* Just as it looked like Vanessa was going to throw a plate of food at him, Emily intervened.
"Dear, that's rude. Vanessa has always been this kind. Why, back when we used to travel the lands and adventure, she and I even used to share a bed. One time when we were lonely she e-"
*SMACK* The plate of food finally flies and hits Emily in the face.
"What are you talking about might I ask?" Vanessa asks with a strained look on her face. "I certainly don't remember any of this so if you'll stop making lies now I'd-"
"It's not a lie, though?" Emily interrupts tilting her head, wiping some kind of pastry off her clothing. "Remember when you were hurt from that tier 3 dungeon we did? Well, you were passed out for a few days. In the interest of saving money I graciously-"
"She begged us."
"-Ehem, graciously gave up my room to sleep in yours! I kept you warm for a few days, healing you with my body." Emily explained, glaring at Garrett partway through for interrupting then finishing off by wiggling her eyebrows at the Celestial.
The room seemed to drop a degree or two as all eyes turned to Vanessa. Even Vistiel stopped clambering around her, terrified of what she might do next. Contrary to what he expected though, her face went from its usual stern complexion to beat red in an instant and her niece immediately began laughing up a storm while the two on the other couch began chuckling.
"I don't, ahahaha, I don't think I've ever seen, hahahaha, my Aunt show this much emotion, let alone actually get embarrassed, in my, ehehe, in my entire life!" Alexa exclaimed while laughing, clearly enjoying every moment her Aunt spent uncomfortable, made even more pronounced by the fact the girl had just been scolded by her.
Shifting to her niece, Vanessa's face bore a chilling expression. Eased by the fact that her ire was clearly directed to someone else, Vistiel tried to burrow into her feathers as far as possible near the top bend of her wing. The feathers were so soft and warm, he could only imagine how heavenly it would be to actually fall asleep in them. He made a mental note to beg for it one of these days.
A poke to his side interrupted his thoughts and attempt at napping. Turning, he saw Vanessa staring at him with an evil grin on her face.
"Damien, did you know? Feathers of Celestial's wings are softest in the younger members of our species. In fact, they should be nearly twice as sof- and he's gone."
After taking a moment to process what she'd said, Vistiel immediately jumped from her left wing onto the top/back of the couch with the agility of a cat, landing on all fours before leaping off the couch and landing behind Alexa, reaching out and hugging her right wing to his body, pressing the wing to his face using his right hand that he'd reached around to the inside of said wing with. Rubbing the inside of the wing and scratching the outside near the top with his left hand, Vist had a contemplative look on his face as he ascertained the truth of Vanessa's words.
Alexa was frozen in place for about five seconds, a confused look adorning her face. Once he'd started rubbing the inside of her wing she let out a purr of contentment before all hell broke loose, the sound she made seemingly shocking her out of her confusion.
Vanessa lied to me!
That's all I can think as time seems to slow and I hurtle out the window of my home, shards of wood embedded in my arms. It wasn't even worth it. It wouldn't have been worth it if she hadn't been lying! Extremely painful electrical shock followed by fire, fire, and more fire. The little she-devil is insane! Not to mention I had to create my own negative charge to counteract hers enough to throw myself away before my body began convulsing, she could have left me comatose!
Looking down I see I'm aiming right for one of Emily's thorn plants, of course. She planted them here because the flowers and fruits they grow are beautiful so she'd wanted Garrett to enjoy looking out his window, but now her son is going to be impaled on them.
Only one thing to do then.
With only about a second to work with, I throw my arms out to the side and create claws with my hands then push them forward, gathering as much air as I can with my mana and pushing it down into a pocket in front of the bush I'm set to collide with. Gathering and funneling the air is easy, condensing it correctly was always the tricky part. I'd been practicing my manipulation of the elements before I started meditating and this was one thing I could never quite control the effect of. Usually, it ended with a rush of air when something went wrong. Usually, I didn't use as much mana as I could though, so this was going to be interesting. The condensing came much easier this time at least since I wasn't going to be trying to keep the air compressed for long at all.
Out of time and this being my last hope before colliding with the physical manifestation of the word pain, I move a tendril of mana to poke the air I'd compressed.
Sounds of an explosion going off and a wall crumpling inward erupted throughout the house. Garrett, who'd been walking towards the door when he'd heard the girl shout, burst through the doorway in a panic. Looking left towards the source of light, a circular hole about two feet across decorated the wall of his home, while looking right saw the result of whatever projectile had launched through the wall.
"A little... help."
A soft voice reached his ears and he rushed over to the source; the mess on the ground. He began yanking debris out of the way and finally unearthed that which lay beneath. Lying in a crumpled heap on the floor by the front door of the shop was his son.
"Vanessa!" Garrett shouted over his shoulder, picking the boy up and laying him on a countertop nearby as Vanessa arrived and began healing him.
"Not bad at all considering. Some bruising and impaled wood on his back where he impacted the walls. Broken leg. What I don't understand is the cracked ribs and the scrapes on his arms," the Celestial mumbled under her breath as her mana took stock of the boy's injuries.
"Any chance it was your niece?" Garrett asked.
Shaking her head in the negative, she responded. "No, she uses fire mainly. Whereas she could do this kind of damage, it would leave scorch marks at the very least. The damage to his ribs looks more like a concussive injury, like sound or... didn't you say the boy was working on his air manipulation?"
"Ye-yeah but not anything that could do this. He was just trying to make a breeze, I thought. Every now and then he'd make a gust, but nothing near this destructive!" Emily responded, his wife coming through the hole in the wall from outside.
He gave her a thankful nod for scouting first to make sure it wasn't a monster that had done this before she came rushing in. Footsteps coming down the stairs sounded out as the girl joined them to look at the destruction.
"That was with small amounts of mana though wasn't it? Weren't you concerned he could create gusts with such small amounts? He hasn't communed with Air, how did he -back up Alexa- how did he create a gust in the first place? That should take all the control he has, not just small amounts. This doesn't mak- Alexa Sial! I care not if you're concerned, go wait in the room and stop getting in my way! Now!"
Garrett watched as the girl flinched, feeling sorry for her, before turning back to Vanessa who had continued talking.
"A gust with minimal control, what could he do if he put everything he had into his cast?"
The question needed no answer as the result was scattered all around the room.
I didn't mean for this to happen
Alexa sat on the couch, trembling. She truly hadn't, either. Sure she'd wanted to scare the boy. She'd wanted to punch him maybe, burn him a little, but this?
The girl sobbed into her hands and wished she knew healing magic. This wasn't supposed to be how she saw her Aunt. The one she looked up to the most in the family. Sure she'd protested leaving but if she was being honest, she didn't truly mind going to see her Aunt. The one who'd always told her such beautiful stories of her time away from Hylyu.
But the second she saw the boy acting like she was a, a rock to climb on and seeing her Aunt smile when he did hit a nerve she never knew she'd had. She'd gotten mad. She'd gotten scolded. Her emotions were already in turmoil so once the Humans made her Aunt blush like that, she laughed hard to cover up the jealousy in her heart.
And the boy... Her Aunt sicked him on her like a dog. Yet, when he began massaging her wing, it felt like she could melt into that feeling forever. Comforting, soothing, peaceful. She'd always been told having her wings touched would feel repulsive, but it had calmed her more than she'd ever been in her life. No one was supposed to touch your wings and everyone knew that, but the boy did it so casually it had taken her off guard and she hadn't resisted.
Then she'd moaned in content and it broke the spell. Jealousy, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, and fatigue all came crashing back at once and her mind lashed out at the one thing that had made her feel something close to happy for the first time in months. She wasn't too strong of a mage yet but she was definitely leaps and bounds above her peers. It was all she did, practice her form. She didn't play with others her age, her parents were always busy, so she practiced and it paid off. But she'd used that practice to shock the boy, as hard as she could.
Thank Elaria he'd gotten away somehow, but that seemed to only embarrass her more seeing the way all the adults reacted to her shocking him. Fueling the fire further, she'd chased him through the house throwing mana and curses after him.
And he was quick. He was supposed to be a 2 year-old Human, yet he moved faster than a Celestial of her age.
Once he went upstairs she thought she had him cornered, only to see the boy jump from a two-story building through wooden shutters, shocking her. When she reached the window to look down a half second later she saw him finish clapping his hands in front of him and then, as if a bomb had gone off, all things from a point in front of the boy were blown away backward. It wasn't particularly destructive 2 feet away from the blast, but everything in the area of it had been blasted into its surroundings, including the boy. All her emotions instantly gave way to fear in that moment. No child could survive that.
And yet he had. She saw him from behind the adults and he looked like he'd fallen down a flight of stairs riddled with rough sharp edges, but that was it. She'd walked forward to apologize to him, but her Aunt wouldn't let her. She'd tried again, all she wanted was to say sorry to the boy, tell him it was her fault and beg her Aunt to fix him, but her Aunt turned and yelled at her again using her middle name, a name Vanessa knew she hated.
The other woman took her to the room with the couches they'd been in just minutes before, sat her down, and returned to her son.
Head in her hands, the girl trembled and sobbed to herself. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I didn't mean to I'm so sorry..."
Hell, that was the dumbest thing I've done.
"A little... help."
Lungs screaming in protest, I weakly call out for assistance.
Dumbass now they know you can talk. Whatever, not like they didn't know already.
Finally, Garrett reaches me and pulls the heavy things off my chest. Air! Sweet Sweet air fills my lungs that aren't restricted anymore. I really need to get better at not suffocating.
With that last depressing thought, I'm whisked up onto a countertop and soon I feel foreign mana wash over my body and begin to patch things up. I watch how it works and try to help where I can with my own, but it's so complicated I'm only making things worse in my delirious state so I stop. I hear them talking about what happened, Garrett asking if it was the girl's fault. Before I can tell him off Vanessa comes up with a much more reasonable response than 'piss off' and Garrett seems satisfied.
I must have piled enough air in that pocket for a mini compressor. It launched me through a wall. I need to be more careful with my experiments, if my body wasn't hardened I'd probably be paste by now.
Lifting my head slightly gets it pushed down and held down by Emily, hands muffling some of the sound coming to my ears. Cooing at me about how I'll be ok, her baby Damien will be ok. That sets me off and my own tears start to flow.
I know it will be ok I can feel it getting better, that's not the problem. It's that I'm not Damien. I've been trying my damn best to ignore it, but every time they call me by that name it hurts. It doesn't belong to me. This affection isn't mine. This family, this house, it's not supposed to have me in it. And now they know for a fact I can talk. I won't be able to say what they want to hear.
My tears seem to allay her worries somehow as she lets go of my head. Once she does, I hear clearly again. Sounds of people shouting outside, Garrett walking to the door, wood dislodging and falling to the ground, and sobbing. Someone crying, yet it's not me or the two girls around me.
My leg finishes healing and I move to get up. Emily tries to hold me down again, but a quick zap from my mana causes her to let go immediately. She looks shocked, heh. Probably never thought her baby would ever zap her.
Sliding down off the countertop, I groan in pain as I feel my ribs shift uncomfortably and my tailbone tingle. I slowly make my way across the rubble into the reception room. Once inside, I move over to the door and close it on the two adults who are standing bewildered outside. Finishing that, I once again make my way toward the girl who caused all this, yet wasn't the cause of any of it.
I pull my body up onto the couch and drag my battered self over to where her legs are sitting. Finally, I crawl into her lap and curl up, putting my arms around the girl as my tears fall soundlessly. The girl begins crying even harder and hugs me back, apologizing over and over. She doesn't get it, but that's fine. It's not her fault. She's supposed to be here. She belongs with these people.
Finally, in a place away from those three who cherish me, in a place where the only other person here just chased me down, in a place where I don't have to feel guilty, I cry.
Support "A Gentleman's Curse "
Bio: Wildland Helicopter Firefighter from northern California. I'm writing during the winter but plan on returning to my job in the summer. I'm enjoying writing more than I thought I would. Will be posting frequently, but once I start work in the summer posts will slow down. Hopefully I'll have a cache of chapters built up by then and I won't have to scale them back too much though. Consider supporting me on Patreon and I won't have to leave you all during the summer! If not I can only hope to keep up with all your expectations. Thank you! https://www.patreon.com/Vistiel