“MOVE!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!? STRIKE, YOU DUMB LIFELESS𑁋 RRRGH!!!”
Rean stumbled, tripping over its feet and falling flat on its face. Kakane groaned, removing its blindfold and the rope tied to its wrist. To teach Rean about balance, timing, and distance, Kakane had set them up in a bound battle, in which two people were tied together by a length of elastic rope. The fighters could use the rope to pull their opponent towards them or trip them; there were numerous strategies. By doing it blindfolded, Rean could get a sense of how battles typically flowed and react accordingly. For the most part, it was to develop the puppet’s reaction speeds, reflexes, make sure it had no lack of hesitation, and give it more confidence. Fighting in the dark was also a great skill to have regardless. But now, after that spectacularly horrible show, Rean seemed sheepish, rubbing its arms as it refused to meet Kakane’s eyes.
“If you wanna get anywhere, you can’t be afraid to explore what you can do,” the black-haired boy barked at Rean. “Test your limits! Go beyond! I am not scared of getting hurt, and you should not be scared of pulverizing your enemies! Crush all those who stand in your way; for that is the way of a king!”
Rean blinked. It cocked its head, pondering Kakane’s words. What was a king? It hadn’t come across that word in its studies yet. As for the rest of his sentence… It was confusing, but Kakane had definitely said it was okay to hurt people. But… No, Rean couldn’t hurt Kakane! Rean blinked, feeling confused. What was it supposed to do?
The puppet curled into a ball and closed its eyes. Going completely still, Rean was surprised to find that it could see perfectly. Everything was blurry and somewhat faded, colored in shades of blue, white, and black. They were basic figures, with the training grounds a flat pale blue while the stone walls were stark white. In the distance, flowers were varying shades of blue. They still looked pretty, but it made Rean wonder what their actual colors looked like.
Turning to Kakane and some of the sparring soldiers, Rean calmly observed the black-haired boy ask for training tips. They were all deep blue figures, detailed enough so that Rean could tell them apart, but too blurry to make out any specific features. It could tell that Kakane was rubbing his scar, perhaps in frustration? Rean watched as Kakane clicked his tongue and stomped away from the soldiers. Small explosions flew from the scarred boy’s hands, registering as a glowing shower of embers in Rean’s strange new vision. Rean shuddered, feeling small vibrations course through its entire body in tune with Kakane’s magic.
What was this weird blue world? Rean’s head was becoming a muddled mess and it opened its eyes, welcoming back the world of color. It blinked rapidly, feeling strange from the sudden color shift. Looking up, it was pleasantly surprised to see that Serena had come to the training grounds. She was talking to Kakane.
Serena lingered near the wall as Kakane drew near. He picked up the blindfold and, scowling, said, “We’re doing this one last time, stupid puppet. Do something other than freeze up and leave yourself wide open! Either dodge, hit back, or immobilize me! Gods!”
Rean felt nervous, but it accepted the blindfold from Kakane. It wrapped the cloth around its head as Kakane tied them together for their bound battle. This time, instead of accepting the darkness, Rean focused and conjured up the blue world. It reeled again from the difference in color, but at least it could see, sort of? The rope between them was a bright white and Kakane in front of it was the same deep blue as before. Both took up a fighting stance, with Rean taking a deep breath.
Kakane launched a punch, direct and true, launched straight at Rean’s face. Rean felt a surge of vibrations course through the air that rattled its brain. There was a mighty amount of frustration, anger, and pent-up emotion laced through that fist. Rean immediately felt itself freeze up. But… It could act now, right? Kakane wouldn’t mind if it hit back, right? That’s what he said. But what if it hurt him? What was it going to do then?
But I can still dodge it.
The vibrations grew stronger as Kakane’s fist drew nearer. Rean felt its knees knock together and its heart palpitate, but it was now or never. It chose to act now. Rean could see the exact trajectory and feel the way the air was moving as the punch came closer and closer to hitting it. Rean ducked, sending the punch soaring over its head and shifting Kakane’s center of balance. Kakane stumbled, allowing Rean to tackle him. The puppet forced the scarred boy to the ground, clamping his arms behind him.
Feeling jittery, Rean cocked its head at Kakane. It did… What Kakane asked, right? Did it do well? Kakane was grinding his teeth together, chuckling softly to himself in soft, short breaths. Rean immediately got off of him, scooting far away from Kakane, only to be stopped by the rope that still bound them.
“Heh… Heh, heh… So, the dumb puppet actually has some spunk in it, huh? Good! That’s what I want to see!” Rean felt relief wash over it. So it actually did do well.
“Mm, wait, there’s something I want to check,” Serena said, walking over to them. She tapped Rean’s core, and the puppet felt something weird click and clang within it with the magic input. When Serena looked at the magic that came back out, she gasped. “Remember how I said Rean’s puppet core was based on the concept of a Pure Soul?”
“Yeah… You did mention that. What about it?” Kakane asked, untying himself from Rean.
“Think of it this way: Rean’s core takes in magic from its surroundings, processes it, and disperses it all across its body in a kind of wave. It’s so powerful that it’s nearly impossible to block and gives it some resistance to magical attacks. You know how its frame is built to be able to handle the energy?” Kakane rolled his eyes.
“But of course; I’m the one who built it, dammit.”
“Yes, but the magic Rean doesn’t use escapes its body. If this data I just got is correct, it ends up creating a mental replica of its environment as it’s recycled through its system, which is automatically recorded in his knowledge processor. In other words, its brain. That is, again, also the Pure Soul Puppet Core.” Kakane pondered this for a moment before he realized what it meant.
His eyes widened as he said incredulously, “You mean to say it can create maps within its system!? Meaning, it can see without needing light or the use of its eyes!?” Serena nodded.
“Yes. And, if I’m not wrong, it also makes it extremely sensitive to atmospheric pressure changes and sudden drops or rises in magic levels, no matter how small,” Serena added. “Rean can sense a small fluctuation in magic from really far away, or disturbances in the air. This sensitivity is what allowed it to dodge your punch almost perfectly. If we refine its combat sense, it will undoubtedly become a force to be reckoned with.”
“You hear that, Rean!?” Kakane laughed. “You could become a prodigy just like your creator! But not a prodigy of magic; a prodigy of battle! Ha, this is amazing! And I should mention that there are not many things that amaze a king like this!”
Rean looked down and felt its chest, prodding it. It closed its eyes, letting the blue world come forth. The brightest light was pulsing from its heart, the thing that Serena called the Pure Soul Puppet Core. And if Rean really concentrated, it could hear all the clicks and whirrs of its life force bringing power to its body. Every rotation, every tick of its core was equivalent to one human heartbeat.
What did this mean? Rean wasn’t sure, but Serena and Kakane seemed really happy. Something stirred within the puppet, something instinctual, knowing, and deep. It wanted to make Serena and Kakane happy. If it had a single purpose in life, Rean wanted to make the humans around it smile. Rean picked up the blindfold and rope, eagerly giving them to Kakane, who smirked.
“Finally showing some backbone, eh?”
He covered Rean’s eyes and immediately attacked it, which Rean narrowly dodged. Panic flared within it, but it quickly recovered, though it stumbled a bit. Quickly, Rean conjured up the blue world when he heard Kakane scoff. In the blue world, it seemed as though the scarred boy had just rolled his eyes.
“We need to get that flightiness of yours under control,” Kakane said. “No one is going to wait for you to be ready for the fight before initiating it. You have to be ready and on guard at all moments.” Rean nodded.
Reassured that Kakane wasn’t going to get mad at it and that it could actively fight back, Rean stood up and took a shaky fighting stance. In the blue world, Kakane put his face in his hands, groaning. The black-haired boy adjusted the position of Rean’s arms, legs, and torso, making sure that the puppet’s abdomen and chest were well-guarded.
“Standing like that leaves way too many openings. What, do you want to get yourself killed?”
Killed? That didn’t sound pleasant, whatever it was. In the distance, Rean heard Serena sigh as Kakane got into position in front of it. In the blue world, Rean observed Kakane’s stance, flinching when the boy lunged at it. The puppet barely managed to block when its opponent took the opportunity to launch another attack.
Rean felt itself fall onto the floor, again, and heard Kakane let out a roar of frustration.
It had a long, long way to go, it seemed.