You dream of a peaceful walk, a walk through a red-lacquer and checker tile hallway illuminated only by transient spotlights. Each step causes a flicker which distorts the decor ever so slightly — strange paintings, mirrors, statues, wands, swords, dancing motes of light. The rhythm in the chaos draws you ever closer within, step by ethereal step. A particular brass-framed mirror catches your attention. Within, your reflection smiles back at you. You smile in return. Your reflection moves its hand, so you move yours. It takes you a very long time to realize that this is not the right order. As soon as you figure it out, your reflection moves its mouth. You can’t stop it. You speak.
“Don’t you have obligations today? Wake up, idiot.”
A single lurid thought tears through the all-encompassing blanket of slumber. Your eyes snap open, yet you don’t quite comprehend what you see. That high-arching stone ceiling shouldn’t be there, nor should there be an iridescent light shining brightly in your face. You groan and cover your eyes, only to find some manner of smooth, cylindrical objects gripped attached to both by stick grey gossamer coatings. Your tongue is painfully dry, half of it resting along your body, the other half on a cold, stony surface. The air has a sickly sweet stench to it. This sucks.
It takes some time to process everything else.
You’re able to think half-lucidly after forcing yourself to sit up, the whole world overcompensating just a bit too much. You’re still a bit drunk. You reflexively retract the rest of your tongue back into your mouth, a fresh burst of soothing saliva bringing much-needed moisture to your dried mouth. There are massive bottles of cider affixed to your hands. Your head pounds with one of the worst hangovers you’ve ever experienced. This is much worse than your freshman year’s final exam party. You can barely remember what happened last night. You’re in your dorm’s bathroom, taking a nap in the oversized bathtub. The stone walls have vicious gashes torn in them, the mirror is broken, there are elaborate scorch marks along the ceiling, and there’s a pile of haphazardly discarded clothes in the middle of the bathroom.
Everything hurts. The light hurts. Existing hurts. Slightly soggy garments — an oversized white t-shirt, undergarments, and torn black leggings — stick uncomfortably to your skin. Your long black hair is matted and gross. It feels like you might spontaneously explode. You try to shake off the bottles, but they’re not going anywhere. The lip of the tub isn’t sharp enough to cut through the webbings on your hand. You pry at them with your tongue. No dice. Hell, the webs taste like booze. You’re not sure which Arachne could’ve even done this in the first place.
You should really get better at this whole “let’s not make stupid decisions” thing. Your entire body is currently revolting against your fragile brain in a manner that would make the fabled Earthling Robespierre jealous. Your stomach feels like it’s about to push back up the last three days. It feels like you just got out of a sparring contest with an upper ranked magus. Ass-kicking included.
Wait. The pile of clothes just moved. You may be currently basking in the glorious aftermath of getting absolutely pissed, but your senses are the one bodily function that has never joined the “fuck you brain” local labour union. There’s no time for self-pity. With a push of your legs, you slide towards the back of the tub and observe carefully. You swear there was some fuzzy object ontop that isn’t there anymore.
You can’t see over the brim of the tub, but there’s definitely scratching noises on the tiled floor. It’s moving. Towards you.
“S-Stay back! I have… a weapon that I’m not afraid to use!”
You hold your cudgel-like hands towards the noises. The feeling that you look very silly lingers in the back of your mind as you wave your hands threateningly. It doesn’t seem to intimidate the incoming noises. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect.
A fuzzy blur leaps into the tub before you can react. It lands with a war cry, its triumphant little face turning towards you.
You’re not quite sure what to make of the thing in front of you. The bowls-ball sized dark-purple and black fluff has an alarmingly humanoid head poking out its front. Curious red eyes and catlike ears twitch enthusiastically as it stares at you. A segmented tail tipped with small spine waves behind it. It tilts its head with an inquisitive smile.
You’ve had enough. Your body has come to a temporary ceasefire with your mind. Kipping up to your feet, you manage to hop the tub’s edge and rush out of the bathroom, past the scratches, burns, and mirror shards on the ground. Your shoulder slams the door shut and keeps it barricaded behind you.
The rest of your dorm looks about as terrible as you feel right now. There are bottles everywhere in the living room and kitchen. Magical reagents and cooking ingredients are strewn along the ground and walls, with some scrawls looking almost like magic circles and runes. The afternoon sun streams in through ripped curtains and red-stained windows. Hildegard’s Zweihander is embedded halfway to the hilt in the ceiling. A rough spiderweb hammock hangs between the sword’s grip and the kitchen countertops. Your sofa is flipped on its side. There’s a still burning bowl filled with blue Dragonfire sitting on the dining table. Your dormmate and friends are nowhere to be seen.
Behind, the creature scratches and bumps lightly against the doorway. It soft mewls and meeps are audible through the heavy wooden door. You’re unable to process the scene at hand. It’s fucked. It’s completely fucked. Chaos itself has manifested before your very eyes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some unknown creature is trapped in the bathroom. The dorm is ruined. The details of the previous night have been lost forever to the sands of time. You still feel like throwing up absolutely everywhere. You desperately need an adult.
You spot your DataTab lying in what appears to be a puddle of brackish amber fluid near the front door. There’s only one adult that comes to mind. You need them.
You decide to chance it and snap your tongue towards it, desperately hoping that’s the amber fluid isn’t what you think it is. You manage to pull the small device back to your hands, only getting a brief taste of the liquids. A mixture of honey, whiskey, tobacco, shaved licorice, and a hint of dirt. Great things separately, not so great all together in a cocktail. The stone, glass and metal device lights with a gentle azure glow as it reaches your hands. There are over three dozen missed messages, but you can’t bother reading those right now. There’s only one person on your speed dial list. You hold it up to your ear and pray to the Nine that she picks up.
“Mizuki…? Why are you calling me…? I told you to only call me in the case of an emergency this weekend… I’m busy.” Her usual husky and confident tone is smothered by exhaustion, every few words punctuated by a small yawn. Yet, to you, it’s the voice of a saviour, an angel, a true hero. It pushes over the emotions edging in your chest.
“Terra oh gods please help I don’t understand anything please help me I’m stupid and weak and idiotic and alcoholic and I’m going to cry oh god I’m cryi—”
“Okay, slow down. Speak clearly. You can do it.” She interrupts your sobs with a firm demand. The tears have broken free of their dam, openly flowing down your face. Dealing with stress has never been your strong suit. You barely pull yourself back together, wiping away your tears with the back of your hand.
“Um… Our dorm is… Uh…”
“Let me guess. Ruined. Again.”
“By Caethyr’s Mercy…,” Terra sighs, “How badly this time?”
“Um, there’s Arachne webs everywhere…”
“Did you invite Eve or Lucia? Or both? I told you to never give them coffee, or booze the last time this happened, didn’t I?”
“I’m sorry, sorry, sorry…” You’re slowly starting to realize that you’re a walking disaster made form. You’re incredibly talented in water aspect and illusion magic, have an incredible understanding of thaumaturgy for your age and own an abnormally large mana reserve, but that’s about where your good points end. You attempt to continue the conversation with a stutter. “U-Um, there’s a sword in the roof, the table’s on fire, t-there’s a monster in the bathroom…”
“You’re not joking, right?”
You shake your head, even though she can’t see you. “Please come back. I need you. Please. Please?”
Her exasperation is evident through the DataTab. “Alright. Fine. I’ve made good progress on this conjuration research project. Can you hold on for twenty minutes, Mizu?”
“I’m already on my way. Be right there, Mizu.”
She hangs up. You hug your knees as you attempt to pull yourself together, the somewhat sticky DataTab resting in your lap. The sounds at the door have stopped, but the creature is definitely still in there. Where did it come from? You’ve never seen anything like it in all your twenty years in this waking world. It looked faintly familiar, but you’re not sure why. Don’t think about it. Think about how much of a disaster you are instead.
You’re stupid. You swore off drinking forever the last time you went overboard, way back during summer vacation. You spent three hours throwing up everywhere. Terra was there to pat your back, give you hugs, and make you soup, but she’s not here. The semester just started, yet you’re already feeling awful. You’re an adult in age, and you’re a barely functioning person. Look at you. You’re pretty sure a cardboard cutout would be better at life than you. Realy, a cardboard cutout is better at life. A cardboard cutout doesn’t destroy itself with its immaturity at every chance it gets. You bang your head against your knees, over and over, attempting to not throw up everywhere. In the time you wait, you decide to swear off drinking forever. For the twelfth, maybe thirteenth time. For real this time.
Your mind refocuses as the front door slowly creaks open.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”
Terra’s tired, unamused red gaze regards the dorm with a thousand-yard stare as she steps in and closes the door behind her. Her segmented tail drags noisily along the ground behind her, the spines retracted and her bag strapped to the end. Her white apprentice robes are stained with deep blue and red ink, contrasting greatly with her dark purple and black hair. She doesn’t look angry, only disappointed.
She raises a paw and begins chanting an invocation, trying her best to ignore your sad eyes and outstretched bottle hands.
“Pray, Offer, Demand, Create.
Bones of Ether, Hands of Puppets, Empty Vessels;
By my decree, I summon thee.
Thou are my fingertips, dancing upon the great barrier, Master, Servant.
Dance. Come forth.
[Etheral Servant, Greater, Mass.]”
The red sheen in her eye intensifies to a flickering red flame. A dark purple glyph forms in the air in front of her palm, sub-glyphs encircling her wrist, each ring growing brighter with each consecutive phrase. Similarly coloured circuit-like manifestations run along with the exposed pads of her paw. As soon as the incantation finishes, five shimmering masses of barely tangible force appear around Terra. The glyphs quickly fade as the apparitions race throughout the room and begin repairing the mess. One takes her bag as she walks towards you.
Terra effortlessly picks you up in a tight hug, her soft paws pressing gently against your back, her warmth spreading through her rough robes. She whispers into your ear as she pats your head, her breath tingling against your hair.
“If you don’t promise that you’ll stop drinking right now, I’m going to throw you out the window.”
Even as a friend, Terra’s words send a chill straight to your heart. You panicky rush out the words before you can even think, your relatively feeble arms tensing up against hers. “I promise, I promise…!”
Sickle-like barbs extend from the tip of her tail as she flicks it against the bindings of your hands, freeing them from their prison of web. An ethereal servant catches both bottles before they hit the ground.
She places you on the now-uprighted sofa and takes a seat at the opposite end, a sidelong glance staring back in your direction.
“Do you remember how this happened?”
You poke your now free index fingers against each other nervously, the alcohol still coursing through your system. You attempt to formulate a response in your mind, but nothing comes.
“I’ll take that as a firm ‘no.'” Terra places her face in her paws in exasperation. “If you were lying about the monster to get me to fix your crap again, I’m going to be pretty upset.”
“I wasn’t lying, I swear! It’s still in there, Terra, believe me! It’s an actual monster!”
“I see. A monster. What kind?”
You recall the details. You didn’t pay too much attention to it, though.
“Uh, it was… fuzzy, had black and purple fur, segmented tail, red eyes, made some weird sounds…”
She stares at you with a blank gaze that can only state, “This is not funny” and, or, “I’m going to kill you for that joke.”
The realization comes a bit too late. “No, no, I’m serious! Come look!”
“I can’t believe I’ve worked for 36 hours straight to deal with something like this.”
You vault over the back of the sofa and gesture towards the bathroom door. Terra takes position on the handle-side of the bathroom door, opposite of you. She tries her best to not acknowledge you as cautiously pushes it open.
It’s still there. Resting atop the pile of assorted clothes, among all the other unexplainable phenomenon. Just as fuzzy as you remember it. It quickly spins around in its nest of fabrics and lets out an excited squeak.
“Gao Gao, Gaaaaaoooo!”
Terra closes the door immediately. Her deadpan expression twitches. She rubs her eyes in disbelief.
“See? I told you! An actual monster!” Your voice trembles with trepidation as you jab at the wood. “It was… there when I woke up.”
She opens the door only a crack once more, only to shut it a few seconds later. Her expression is locked in a look of disbelief.
“It has stubby little paws, but it’s rolling towards the door. It looks like me, for fuck’s sake.”
“…What should we do with it?”
An ethereal servant deposits Terra’s bag at her feet. She drops to one knee and begins fervently digging through it. After a few seconds, she retrieves three unlabeled vials filled with a vibrant red fluid within. The same vials used in your kitchen. She tosses it one at you in a clumsy arc.
“Open this, Mizu. My paws can’t.”
You manage to snag it out of the air with a lash of your tongue, moving the vial to your hands for further inspection. “B3” is written on the cork in black marker. You can faintly detect an alchemical scent from the exterior, and it tastes a lot like Terra’s paws. You twist out the cork and take a tentative sniff.
The scent is unmistakable. Acidic, a little bit sweet, spicy, a complete lack of expected coppery stench. Seasoned tomato juice.
“This is tomato juice.” You state, the pieces slowly starting to connect in your mind. These are the same vials used in the kitchen. Those magical circles and runes weren’t scrawled in everyday household items and tidbits from a reagent pouch.
Terra facepaws and lets out an agonized wail. “I can’t believe you’ve done this. I can’t believe I’ve done this. Of all the days to mess up badly…”
Well, at least this isn’t technically entirely your fault anymore. Technically. You reach out and pat the Manticore on the shoulder sympathetically, hoping she overlooks your contribution to this mess. She’s stuck with you over the years through thick and thin, so this shouldn’t be anything close to friendship breaking.
“Alright. Let’s deal with this, Mizu.” Terra renews her confidence and pushes open the door. There’s a series of excited-sounding chitterings, meows, and other strange noises coming from the bathroom as your best friend confronts the beast. You wait with bated breath. You were ever never good with physical confrontation. That’s what she’s for.
She emerges several seconds later with the ball of fluff cupped in her paws, holding it out at arm’s length. It continues to coo and meow giddily, it’s segmented tail waving merrily in the air. The creature is the spitting image — albeit small — of Terra, yet completely opposite at the same time. Terra looks a little bit dead inside, more so than usual. Her tail only rises to shut the door behind her.
“Terra, do you know what… this is?” The creature stares with twitching ears and a happy-sounding. It almost looks genuinely excited to see you.
Terra sadly shakes her head as she marches back to the sofa. You join beside her, your arms wrapping against hers as you stare at the creature in her lap. It takes her a few moments for her to say anything, her free paw gently patting the ball of fluff.
“I’ve been trying to summon a Shikigami for the past three weeks, yet you can do it in a single drunken rampage. You really are incredible, Mizu.” Her tone sounds entirely defeated. A pang of guilt echos from your heart.
A Shikigami. A particular type of familiar summoned by the blood of a living being. They’re typically highly valued for their ability to facilitate spellcasting due to their innate connection with their master. You never considered such a thing, mainly since you never really needed one in the first place.
“Why haven’t you asked for help then? I’d be happy to help!” Your voice rings with enthusiasm as you stare up at Terra. You gently press your palm against her warm, squishy paw pad.
She doesn’t look at you, only staring at the creature with a bitter smile. “I can’t rely on you forever, Mizu. I’ve always been telling you this for years now.”
The ball of fluff seems to interject with a determined series of noises as it’s being petted as if it’s trying to tell Terra that she’s wrong.
Terra has always been a prideful woman, especially for a Manticore. She’s talented at about everything you’re not, but she still had her sights set on the realm of the arcane. This must be a massive blow to her. At the same time, she’s wrong. You know what to say. Probably.
“I’m hopeless too, Terra. What’s stopping us from being together? I’d still be a complete loser if you never pushed me along all those years. Do you remember what we promised when we got to Aleblydos?”
Her paw closes gently around your hands, enveloping your cold fingers in fuzzy warmth. She smiles tiredly, leaning over to pat your head. “Until the cosmos fracture, blood brothers, forevermore.”
“I suppose I’m a bit tired, Mizu. All this work is starting to get to me, after all. Wake me up in a few hours, right?” Terra sleepily lolls her head on the back of the sofa, her eyes fluttering shut with one last remark. “You should probably name your Shikigami too. That’s how you draw upon their power. In theory, at least.”
You lock eyes with the great ball of fluff, who lets out another quieter series of meeps and meows. Considerate, seeing how Terra’s quickly dozing off. It seems a lot like a Manticore, but not quite. You ponder on a name. Shikigami generally all belong to the same species of Phantasmal, so there’s no point in coming up with a species name. It contains Terra’s blood (most likely), looks like a Manticore, and is made from your Mana. You can’t quite think of anything especially unique. Upcoming up with names is another thing that you’re horrible at.
You faintly recall your second language. The creature is fluffy. Gentle. Good enough. You declare your chosen name with a pat on the Shikigami’s head.
“Fuwari. That’ll be your name.”
The newly minted Fuwari celebrates its given name by tapping each of your fingers with its tail as it rests in Terra’s lap. The Manticore herself doesn’t respond, but the corners of her mouth quirk up in a grin. Both of them seem content to take a load off for a while.
It’s certainly been an eventful morning… afternoon? Everything has been cleaned up by Terra’s spell, yet Hildegard’s Zweihander is still stuck firmly in the ceiling. You might need to call the Green Dragon over to pull it herself, wherever she may be at the moment. You’ll probably have to figure out what happened from them too. For now, you find yourself in a rare moment of calm. You close your eyes, preparing to doze off with your friend and new familiar. It’s best to enjoy moments like these between the hectic days and busy nights.
A horrible thought occurs to you, and you voice it against your better judgement.
“If this Shikigami is born from parts of both of us… wouldn’t that make Fuwari our child…?”
Terra begins violently choking on her own spit.