The Pure Soul Puppet Core. Although cores, devices that gave life to puppets by providing them with a power source and their logic circuits, were necessary for all puppets to function properly, this one was particularly special, and not just because it was Serena’s unique design. It was based on the concept of a Pure Soul, which was a human with a unique soul that constantly took in magic from their environment, thus giving them an endless supply of mana.
Much like an actual Pure Soul, Serena’s puppet core worked the same way, although it had yet to function properly. The puppet received power just fine but for some reason its logic circuits, in other words, its brain, were always on the fritz. Serena was on the tenth model of her design now and she had no idea what she was doing wrong. It was correct according to the old puppet blueprints from her village’s archives, but even so, the only thing she could rely on now was trial and error.
Despite this setback, over the course of just a single week, Serena and Kakane had practically completed all of REAN010’s body. The pinewood for its limbs had been cut and sanded down to size, while the aluminum-copper alloys for its outer casing were refined and finished. While Kakane handled much of the dangerous hands-on work, Serena worked on the Pure Soul Puppet Core and many of the technicalities this project presented.
“For someone who seems awfully knowledgeable about magic, you’re struggling a lot with this,” Kakane noted, adjusting a pinewood plank on REAN010, the successor to the destroyed 009.
“I can’t deny that,” Serena sighed. “True, while I do know a lot about nature, magic, and magical fundamentals, I concede that machinery and engineering are not my fortes. I have some experience tinkering on my own, but it seems my knowledge was not sufficient enough for REAN. This was a special challenge I decided to take upon myself after seeing some ancient records in the archives.”
“Hadn’t been going so hot before I got here, huh?” Kakane said smugly, running a cunning finger along his scar.
“Your input and battle knowledge has been greatly appreciated and helpful. Duly noted.” Kakane clicked his tongue.
“If you were that stuck then why didn’t you just move on to other projects?”
“Hm? Well, I hadn’t really thought of anything. Normally I just work on things when the elder asks me to. As I said before, REAN is special.”
“What? Do you even enjoy doing stuff like this, then?” Kakane stopped working for a moment.
“I like magical research,” Serena said absentmindedly, “and I like building things, though I’m not that good at it.”
“If you like magic so much then why the hell didn’t you just boot it out of the village to go to an actual damn library? Or start an apprenticeship under a craftsman in Echo? I’ve seen how pitifully small your town is. There’s a limit to how much you can learn there, Serena.”
“But it’s my home,” Serena insisted. “Even if I wanted to, I could never leave it. No one wants me to leave.”
“Do you want to leave?” Serena paused for a minute, pondering over the question.
“I guess I’ve never really thought about it.”
“The hell do you mean ‘never thought about it’!? It must have crossed your mind at one point or another! Where’s your sense of adventure? Heck, even curiosity would do! Are you stupid!? I bet you don’t actually know anything about magic.” Kakane sneered.
“W-Why are you yelling?” Serena asked, startled. “Keep your voice down! I told you, REAN is a secret! What if there are villagers gathering herbs outside?”
“Don’t change the damn subject! No genius in their right mind would be content with staying in a small-ass village full of idiot townsfolk! Not that I know anything, but you must have a thirst for knowledge beyond what you already know somewhere in that thick skull of yours!”
“I am perfectly fine with knowing that there are people smarter than me in the outside world,” Serena said coolly.
“Wouldn’t you want to meet one?”
“It would be nice, but it’s probably never going to happen. No one really comes near Zetreum Village, anyway.”
“Then go find one yourself! Leave and explore the world! You’re bound to find another smartass if you step outside the damn forest!” Kakane reasoned angrily. “Stop being so defeatist!”
“I’m not being defeatist. I’m just seeing reality for what it is.”
“No, you’re not. Gods, it’s like you’re wearing blinders. There’s an entire unexplored continent out there, Serena. Eyuth is vaster than you realize. Go out there and pick up another bundle of knowledge or two. It’ll only help you in the end.”
“I’m not so sure,” Serena said uncomfortably.
An unsettling silence descended between the two. Kakane was glaring furiously and incredulously at Serena, who refused to meet his eyes. Serena sighed and looked up, blinking at the clouds. Kakane had no idea what could be so interesting about a bunch of fluff, but he was starting to get pissed off at the way Serena was ignoring him.
He reached for some glue but realized the jar was empty. He tossed it aside, grumbling to himself. Serena picked up the container and told him she would get more from the village. Kakane ignored her, not even saying goodbye as Serena left.
The village was lively enough, with many people greeting Serena as she made her way to the magician’s guild. The glue she was using for REAN was made from a special plant and could only be synthesized using magic. Serena sincerely hoped that one of the other magicians was in the hall, rather than… him.
“Hmph. What do you want, witch?”
Kaito Candra. The one person in the village Serena got along with the least. He was leaning against a table covered in papers, leering at her. His pale eyes were narrowed and his mouth was contorted into a scowl.
“Greetings, Kaito,” Serena sighed. “Do we have any resillac glue in storage?”
“How should I know?” he scoffed. “Go make some of your own if you need it that badly. Has the old man commissioned you again? Must be lucky, feeling so appreciated all the time.”
“I wouldn’t say that. The elder values your talents as much as he does mine. Besides, while I may know a lot about magic, you undoubtedly cover its more practical usages. I can barely hold a sword properly.” Serena gestured to the blade at Kaito’s waist and he clicked his tongue.
He stomped over to her and towered over her, glowering. He was much taller than Serena was and leaned down to hiss in her face, “Don’t get so ahead of yourself, Bly. One day I will surpass you and make a name for myself. The elder will acknowledge me more than he ever did you.”
“I’m sure he will,” Serena said monotonously.
Kaito stepped back, allowing her to check their magical plant storages. There were no resillac leaves in any of the various baskets, and the ones Serena did find were dry, brittle and unusable. She would have to find more, but resillac didn’t grow in very many places during the rainy season.
Oh, but her younger sister, Haruka, was sure to have some on hand. Apart from its magical uses, resillac leaves could be used to craft paper. Drawing was a side hobby of Haruka’s and she often made her own paper. The sheets Serena had seen in her room were smooth, thin, and starkly white, something only an expert could make. Haruka was sure to have some high-quality resillac somewhere.
Serena hurried home, only to hear from her parents that Haruka was at Zetreum Mountain collecting saskatoon berries. Not wanting to just take something of her sister’s without her permission, Serena went to the mountain. Zetreum Village was right in the middle of the three mountains of the forest and because of that, it didn’t take long to travel to the base of any of the peaks.
Serena began circling the perimeter of Zetreum Mountain in search of her sister. There were many saskatoon berry bushes around, but no sign of Haruka. As she neared the east side of the mountain, Serena began to hear rhythmic yelling, as if someone was training. Curious, she pushed past some bushes to investigate.
What she found surprised her, to say the least.
It was Haruka, holding a sword made of crystals mined from Zee’s Hill. The hilt of the blade was wrapped in resillac leaves. Haruka moved with her weapon, expertly swinging it around and striking a straw dummy at all its weak points: neck, heart, stomach. She advanced with no hesitation and no excessive movements, only concentrated on her attack.
Girls were not allowed to take up arms in Zetreum Village. How Haruka even managed to obtain that sword was beyond Serena. No blacksmith in town would break that taboo. Could Haruka have made it herself? No, the work was too fine. She had to have bribed someone with a fine price, maybe even sourced the crystals herself.
She and Haruka were never that close, and Haruka always acted like Serena was nothing more than a nuisance. It was no wonder that Serena never noticed this forbidden hobby of Haruka’s. Every time Serena tried to assist her with something, Haruka would snap at her. She always acted as though she had something to prove, which Serena supposed made sense. She imagined that it couldn’t be easy having the village prodigy for an older sister.
Serena stepped forward, which was when Haruka noticed her presence. The two siblings looked remarkably similar, but Serena had long, stark white hair while Haruka’s locks were short and pale pink. Their eyes were the same shade of faint magenta, but now the younger sister’s orbs were emblazoned with fury.
“What are you doing here!?” Haruka roared. Serena jumped, startled by this sudden outburst.
“I-I was looking for you. Do you have any resillac leaves?” Haruka narrowed her eyes.
“What for? To conjure up a magic potion for the village elder?” she spat. “Or is it for some lame magic trick to show off how awfully amazing you are, rubbing your talents into everyone’s faces!?”
“N-No! Nothing like that! I just wanted to make some glue.” This answer did not satisfy Haruka, who sheathed her sword and folded her arms, glaring at her sister.
“Some glue. Glue. Dear me, did the elder ask you to create another silly device to make the people more slothful? Look at this, this little doohickey allows me to plant fewer seeds so I can lounge around more!” If there was one thing Haruka absolutely despised, it was work done with only half-effort.
“No, it’s for something personal. Please, Haruka, I won’t tell anyone about your practice, I swear by the gods,” Serena pleaded. “I just want some resillac leaves to make glue.” Haruka scowled and threw a small bag at Serena. The bag landed at her feet, spilling out a few resillac leaves.
“There are your stupid leaves. Take them and go. But I’m telling you, if you go back on your word and rat me out,” Haruka was in front of Serena in an instant, sword pressed against her sister’s throat. Serena swallowed, feeling beads of blood form at the blade’s edge, “I will kill you, consequences be damned.”
There was a deep hatred and utter rage lurking under the surface of Haruka’s seemingly innocent pink eyes. She was absolutely serious. Yet Serena wasn’t scared. Haruka had every right to feel this way about her. If Serena really did tell the village about her sister’s swordsmanship hobby, she could expect to find herself dead the following morning.
Haruka stepped away from her sister and, mutely, Serena picked up the bag at her feet and checked its contents. Fresh, bright green resillac leaves, not used for making paper but for wrapping the hilt of a crystal sword to make it easier to grip. Resillac had a soft but sturdy surface, so it was no wonder Haruka used them. But as the leaves died, she was forced to buy new ones to replace them. Having a lot on hand would undoubtedly be useful to her.
Serena turned around, walking back into the forest and out of the clearing. But just as she was about to part the bushes, she paused.
“What is it? Are you going to cast a spell to make the forest move so you don’t have to get your precious little magician feet dirty?” Haruka mocked, sneering.
“No… I just wanted to say this: Haruka, I think your swordsmanship is beautiful. You would make a fine swordswoman one day.”
Haruka said nothing as Serena left. It didn’t matter whether or not her sister believed her, but Serena had told her the honest truth. There was something enchanting about the way Haruka danced with her blade. If it weren’t for the village rules, Serena was sure that Haruka could best someone like Kaito Candra in a duel, even if he used his magic.
The sun was setting as Serena returned to Zezill Mountain. Over the towering trees, the fading lights of red, orange, and yellow gave way to deep blues, purples, and greens. The forest was quiet tonight, and in the distance, Serena could hear the hustle and bustle of Zetreum Village. Not wanting to deal with the townsfolk, she decided not to go home that night, vouching to work on REAN and stay with Kakane in her workshop instead. The dusk was calm as Serena began to softly sing to herself.
Sleep now, rest in the bosom of the night; the azure moon. Sleep now, walking in the great forest; great and mighty. Sleep now, carried away by angels high; the setting sun…