Mahou mo Ken

Japan

Mahou mo Ken

All rights to Harry Potter and its world, characters, and settings belong to JK Rowling. I don't own any of its characters, and I am not making any money off this.

Chapter three – Japan

The night was dark and oppressive, illuminated solely by the light of the waning moon. Faint shadows were cast, their blurry edges pointing, seemingly indicating the correct path for the man to go. Slowly, he walked, eyes pointed forward, intent and determined, walking towards his goal. He knew where he had to go, and knew where he would end up. This was it, the night his power would rise, and the power of the Imperial Line of Japan would be broken. It was his legacy, his birthright, and he would not allow it to be denied to him.

Finally, he stopped, glancing at a small mound of dirt, upon which a single board of wood was planted upright, in a standard Japanese grave site. Muttering words under his breath, the man pulled a snake from somewhere, the animal limp and unmoving, yet fully alive and aware as the man lifted it, his right arm pointing in the direction of the burial mound.

He drew a breath then, and it was as if nature drew a breath along with him, somehow recognizing what was about to happen. No bird fluttered through the oppressive silence of the night now; no cricket chirped; no wind blew. The scene was surreal; and the man might have enjoyed it more had he not been so focused upon his task.

Holding the snake up, he shifted it to his left hand, his right hand splaying open, summoning his staff to him. With his left hand holding the snake around the head, the man started whispering. "Soul that drifts in the darkness…" He threw the snake at the mound, and felt the spell starting to take hold. The moment the snake touched the mound, light shone from the top of it, splitting the snake open along its length, spilling its blood upon the earth. "Awaken and cross time," he whispered, power building in his body, making the top of his staff glow.

As the ground shook, the mound started to split open. Power was flung from the man to the mound, channeled through his staff as he continued his spell. Golden energy spilled from the split-open grave as the snake's body fell, the spell continuing in all its glory as the man whispered, "By the song that penetrates the Earth," the golden energy glowed white, like a large cloud rising from the grave, waving up before taking shape, waving down like a cloud of substance, too thick to float in the air, a hollow groan coming from a voice beyond the grave.

"Be captured by the dark chains!" The man intoned, power making his shoulder-length black hair wave, the magical energy tugging at his clothes, making his deep-brown eyes shine with energy. More energy spilled from the grave, the earth trembling and shaking as it did so, creating an updraft that took more and more of the thick and viscous clouds out of the grave site. Slowly, the viscous cloud took shape, the spell running its course and materializing the deceased's spirit in front of the man, who could only be a Necromancer.

"Do you not hate?" the man asked the spirit he had summoned.

The spirit practically growled its answer. "I hate. I Hate! I HATE!" Wind blew across the site, tugging at the Necromancer's clothing, and messing up his hair.

"Yes, hate," the Necromancer whispered. He did not need to raise his voice to sound above the cacophony of unnatural sounds. He never needed to raise his voice. The innate ability of his body made so that nobody willingly ignored him. "You were the only one to die in this deserted place… yet the man who did this to you lives in opulence!"

The spirit's eyes burned with blue hate, as it snarled, "I hate that man!" More energy exploded from the spirit, and the wind vanished as the spirit vanished with it. The Necromancer grinning grimly. "Let's see that arrogant bodyguard try and save her Emperor now," the Necromancer said, chuckling softly to himself as he turned around, vanished his staff, and walked slowly back, the exact way he had come.

Half an hour later, he entered the house his ancestors had called home for the last two hundred years, immediately feeling the power of the protections envelop him, filling his reserves to capacity almost instantly, the power he had lost during the ritual already forgotten. He smiled at the feeling, knowing that, as long as he was upon his own ancestral lands, and as long as the reserves of magical energy in his house held out, he need never worry about running out of energy.

He sunk down on the tatami mat of his living room, crossing his legs and closing his eyes, letting his body rest. Generation upon generation of his family line had boosted the shields and protections of this home, and the amount of energy it held, ready for his use, was incredible. He smiled slightly as his mind drifted, comfortable in the knowledge that he was safe, that nobody would dare attack him on his home ground. Nobody would be powerful and stupid enough to try.

Suddenly, a ripple alerted him, and he shot out of his mediation trance in an instance, his body already halfway to its feet before his consciousness had fully returned to it, making for a very dizzying and disorienting experience, but he shook it off. Nobody would dare…!

The ripple came again, and this time his hearing was present to hear the accompanying thump on the door, as if some heavy magic was knocking against his shielding in a mocking imitation of knocking on the door.

"Open this door this instant," a female voice growled, the Necromancer momentarily blanching in recognition, before an evil smile settled on his features.

Of course. She was the only one stupid enough to come here, and with enough power to back it up, too. The Necromancer balled his fist, and struck his right arm out, as if hitting at thin air.

The defenses of his house reacted immediately, lashing out at his late-night visitor. The next moment, the ground shook, and light shone through the windows, the Necromancer staring in shock at his front wall, as it literally disintegrated.

"Mahou mo Ken," the Necromancer growled, knowing he did not have the time to call upon his greatest assets, his spirits, ghouls and summons.

"Haruko," Ken replied, coldly, not even honoring his family name. She knew just how important his family was to him, and the insult did not miss its effect. Snarling, his staff reached up, slamming a bolt of energy at her.

"Break," she incanted calmly, her own staff glowing slightly, breaking apart the bolt of energy, dissipating it around her. "Give it up, Haruko," she stated coldly. "You know I am your superior. After sending an Onryou after his Majesty, be glad I did not decide to come here and kill you. Come with me, and I can guarantee a fair trial."

"And then what?" the Necromancer snarled. "I will forfeit my magic? And my children's magic?" His mouth twisted angrily. "I do not think so, Mahou mo Ken. You are on my home ground now!" his staff flung in her direction, and he snarled, "Haryuuheki!"

A wall of flowing, waving energy was flung toward her, and once again, Ken incanted. "Break." The energy was flung apart once more, and Ken grunted in surprise at the amount of magic it took to break the wave apart.

"Yes," Haruko grunted coldly. "This is the power of my ancestral lands!" he shouted in glee, casting another wave at her.

Instead of breaking it, knowing that it would deplete her reserves needlessly, the woman used the Shinpou, the Flash Step, and vanished, first taking a step backward and then to the side, letting the wave leave the house through the damaged front, while she remained out of its way.

Her hand closed tightly around her staff. The criminal she was here to hunt had tried to incapacitate the Emperor. That he had failed was of no importance… that she had been the one to stop the vengeful spirit was of no importance either. And now she was here to apprehend the criminal. Of course he had not accepted her offer of leniency. The punishment for crimes like these was straightforward… lose all magic, all magic in the family and your descendants.

Or death. Honorable death saved the magic in the family. But he was the last of his line… if he lost his magic, his children would not have magic anyway. Of course death was not an option. His family died with him.

And now… now he was using powers he was not meant to use, using energy that was not his own, in order to beat her. Her face flushed in anger, and Ken did not easily anger. He was using magical deposits, stores built up over the last two hundred and fifty years of ancestry, in a meager bid to save his life. Ken Flash Stepped back inside, barely two seconds after leaving, just behind the wave, letting it rampage behind her, knowing there was not another soul around for many kilometers.

Her staff shifted instantly to her left hand, her right drawing her sword. Flinging her staff with her left hand, she grunted, "Kuzuryusen!" The nine flashes streaked towards the man, an energy left his finger behind as he jerked it up. "Forbid!"

A five-pointed star appeared it front of him, catching the nine streaks of magic, stopping them completely before vanishing. Her face twisted as she went on, "Kuzuryusen! Kuzuryusen!"

Again and again, he stopped the nine simultaneous attacks as she inched closer and closer, right before she launched as high into the air as she could inside the house, and attacked him with her sword. The metal was glowing a fierce white, channeling her magic stores, as it slammed against a hurriedly composed physical shield by the Necromancer.

"Forget it, Ken," he smiled evilly at seeing her face contort at his use of her name. "I have enough energy to wait until you run dry!"

Ken grunted darkly. She knew that his power was nowhere near this level, but the vast reserves of energy he had here were a serious advantage, and for a moment Ken had wished that she had taken him on somewhere else. Her hand clenched on her weapons immediately. No. There was no choice. He needed to be stopped, and he needed to be stopped now. And she knew it was her duty to her Emperor to be the one to stop him.

She was too close to him to use the Seals, but she had other weapons at her disposal. Flinging her sword upward after her landing, she didn't mind it bouncing off his physical shield again. She was channeling her magic into the blade, and knew that she was draining his power, bit by bit. Every bit she took off now, was a bit he wasn't going to be using in attacking her later on.

He grinned darkly, and finally flung his staff in her direction. "Repuu!" Ken immediately crossed her arms in front of her, staff and sword pointing up, feeling the wind tug around her, dragging her backward. Finally, it stopped, and she noticed that he had used this diversion to have the time and materialize a sword.

"Fool. You actually think you can take me with a sword?" she asked.

He grinned darkly. "I have had blade training, Ken," he stated coldly, lifting the sword and feeling magic detonate around him, making his clothes and his hair move on the wind of magic that waved off him.

Ken grunted darkly, feeling the artificial power in the man, entirely relying on the power of his house now, his own strength depleted and running on pure magic reserve. She lifted her own sword, still in her right hand, and let her own power escalate, answering the challenge issued by her opponent.

Flashing toward each other, the two warriors met mid-way, blades striking against each other, magical energy shooting away from them upon impact, blasting the Necromancer's possessions against the far walls of his house, smiting them to shrapnel as the outer walls somehow held against the onslaught of energy being released within them. The second strike was just as devastating as the first, and Ken took one step back, feeling the superior power in her opponent.

He was stronger. But she was faster, and better trained. Taking a second step back, she rotated her body to one side, letting his blade slide right past her, so close that it was almost taking off her nose before he halted the downward strike. Her own sword came up with a horizontal slash to his throat, and somehow he managed to dodge backward and raise his sword to block the strike. More energy waved off them, and the outer walls started to crack.

He jumped up, striking down at her, leaving no opportunity to dodge out of the way, and Ken lifted her blade, meeting the strike dead-on, his power exploding against hers, driving her to one knee as his bore down upon her, his energy pushing her further down, rotating around her personal space, held away from her by her own power, before the two battling storms of magic reached the ground and struck the tatami matting and the underlying wood into splinters, finally dissipating when it reached the ground.

Haruko growled angrily, bringing his sword back, preparing for a second strike, and Ken rolled out of the way, striking at his back. His free hand came up, "Forbid!"

Her strike bounced off the mythical shield, and her left hand, the one holding the staff, came up. "Kuzuryusen!" she snarled, breaking his shield, following up her magical attack with a conventional one as her sword aimed for his unprotected side.

His sword caught her totally off-guard, and the two blades met again, magical energy shooting off in every direction as the two attacks canceled each other. For a few seconds, the two warriors stared at each other.

"You're running out of energy," Haruko said, grinning.

Ken smirked right back. "Not even close. But I think you might be out of energy soon."

"Not bloody likely," Haruko returning, actually laughing, taking a step back and swinging his sword up, into an attack position. Knowing that she could not win a magical battle on this battlefield, Ken folded her staff away, then item-vanishing it from her grip as her now-free hand reached up and grabbed hold of her sword's handle. The air seemed to thicken, and Ken's eyes seemingly glowed with otherworldly energy. Haruko grunted in surprise when the felt the oppressive power reach out from the woman.

"I will annihilate you," Ken stated, coldly, taking a single step forward, and slashing her blade straight down. The energy exploded around the combatants as Haruko blocked the strike, retaliating immediately, his own strike blocked against Ken's sword, the walls of his home cracking further as the pressure inside rose higher and higher. And even though there was major damage to one wall, the pressure was still more than what could escape through one hole.

Said hole continued to grow as the increases in magical pressure ripped into the shredded walls.

Neither Warrior nor Necromancer paid it any attention, their focus locked solely on the other as they circled each other warily, looking for advantage.

Inwardly, Ken was snarling angrily. The house was constricting her, it was preventing her from taking distance and using her stronger, long-range spells, it was preventing her from using the Flash Step, it was preventing her from using her full power. The advantage was further on Haruko's side than the man even realized.

Snarling, she stepped in, and slashed at him, having her strike blocked, she used the force of the block to bounce off, flipping around her axis, crouching low to the ground and going for his legs. He stepped back, out of her reach, bringing his sword up for the decapitating strike. She rolled away, lifting one hand off her sword, and casting a fireball using her arm and hand as a focus of her magic. Haruko let out a grunt of surprise as he was suddenly forced to once again use a magical shield.

Trying to keep him off-balance, she went after him with her sword again, aware that, somewhere, his reserves were getting lower and lower, the house's reserves could not be endless after all. Her next strike came as a full surprise to him, as it actually forced him back a step, the force laced through the strike somehow changed fundamentally. Instead of throwing force like a mindless brute, Ken had shaped her magical force like a fine blade, mirrored into her sword, and struck at him.

She panted deeply at the strain of shaping formless magical energy, but kept up the attack, driving him back with each step as he used tremendous energy to overcome her sharpened magical force. Finally… her break happened.

His sword shattered on impact, and somewhere, deep inside the house, something flickered out.

The walls exploded outward, and the roof was catapulted up and away. Surprised at the sudden turn of events, both warriors broke off and stared at the destruction wreaking havoc around them, stone and dirt thrown up by the sudden rush of Ken's magic, now that it was free of the oppressive weight of the protective wards of the Necromancer's ancestral home.

Haruko snarled something dark, and attacked her with the empty scabbard of his sword. Stepped away and blocking the clumsy strike with her sword, Ken fully expected her enemy to surrender any moment.

What she did not expect was his scabbard to be a hidden form of magical teleport, and she bit off a curse when the air and world warped around her, depositing her and Haruko in some remote wilderness, who knows how far away.

"If you think you can take me in the jungle, you are mistaken," Ken snarled angrily. Haruko grinned ruefully. "The downside of that was that I had to go with you… but the upside is that nobody will ever find you!" he screamed, closed his eyes, and muttered three words.

Release the Dragon.

Ken stepped back, her eyes wide when Haruko's power exploded around him, as if taking actual physical form, and Ken could almost see a pitch-black scaled dragon flash at her. Now that she was out in the open, no longer confined by walls that would hinder her, she used the Flash Step to get out of the way.

To her surprise, the Haruko-Dragon was as fast, if not faster than her, chasing her down as she Flash Stepped through the jungle. Finally, Ken bounced off a tree with her feet, and planted herself firmly in a clearing in the dark forest. Closing her eyes, she let her mage-sight take over, her sixth sense that provided her with perfect vision and the ability to see the magical currents in the air around her.

She calmed her beating heart and panting breath for just a few moments. It was all she would need… even if the Mage Sight robbed her of her strength and endurance. See-feeling the dragon flash towards her, she struck with her sword and all the power she had left, knowing she did not have the time to keep getting away from him, and letting his energy run out.

She felt her sword strike flesh, and opened her eyes, the Mage Sight falling away. Haruko, no longer contained in the power of the magic dragon, was flying backwards, his body flung away like a rag doll, striking a tree, before tumbling to the ground, his body smoking.

She grunted in surprise, feeling a slash at her right arm."You… win," Haruko whispered, his whisper carrying like a gunshot in the cold silence of the night. "But… you lose."

Ken felt sweat break out as a fever struck her body. Grunting, she fell to one knee, one hand clenching the cut in her arm, her sword falling to the ground as her fingers no longer had the strength to grip the handle. "Damn it," she whispered darkly, feeling the magic of the curse strike out from the cut.

Her own magic was seriously depleted, and she knew she could never teleport back to where she was, let alone teleport all the way back to headquarters. Not that she knew where she was, or how far she had to teleport… just as she fell sideways, her body shivering uncontrollably as her innate magic fought the curse to its fullest extent, Ken thought it didn't matter anymore.

She closed her eyes, and let herself fall into the embrace of the magical slumber, hoping her inner magic would be able to fight off the curse and heal her. And if that didn't work… well, going out while fighting your opponent was a good death. Before the darkness claimed her completely, she spared a single thought for her two students, and hoped they would find their way in the world, now that she was no longer there to guide them.

00000

Harry felt strangely detached as he raced towards his destination, unaware that there were any forms of magical travel this fluent and comfortable. He was so used to the pulling, tugging sensation of portkeys, and the disorienting rumble of Floo Travel that he had forgotten that travel was supposed to be smooth and comfortable.

As he raced on, aware of the fact that he was crossing hundreds of kilometers every second, he risked looking closer at this strange mode of travel he was now experiencing. No physical discomfort was a definite plus, and the strange, gentle, blue-white tunnel he was flashing through seemed peaceful enough for him to risk looking at it. Aware of the fact that his magic was being drained as he traveled further, he swallowed deeply as he saw the tunnel shrinking.

Yep. It was most definitely shrinking.

Balling his fists, he focused on the task at hand, well aware of the fact that the spell was sapping his strength. As the tunnel kept shrinking, only one thought filled his head.

Don't let me fail. Please… don't let me fail. I need to get to Japan. Please don't fail me…

His fist balled, and Harry let out a choked scream as the tunnel kept collapsing, and pain started manifesting itself in his body. For just a fraction of a second, he allowed himself to think about the fact that every form of magical travel seemed to be inherently painful and uncomfortable, even one that started out peaceful and gentle enough.

It was close to five minutes before the travel ended, an endlessly painful experience as his magic sapped and his tunnel tried to end him. Somehow, through sheer focus and determination did Harry manage to arrive at his destination, a dull clap of thunder heralding his arrival, and a black containment circle burning itself into the wooden floor in an exact mirror of the one burned into the floor at home.

"Ha… Harry?" Maya asked, suddenly appearing in his field of vision.

Blinking dully, he tried to focus on her face, aware of the fact that he was swaying on his legs. Slowly, he opened his mouth. "Hi Maya," he whispered weakly, feeling pain split his consciousness apart. Screaming, he fell to the ground, his legs unable to support him further.

It was only then that he realized that he was bleeding horribly, deep lacerations visible through his clothing on his arms, legs, chest and back. "How did you get here so fast?" Maya asked, concerned, drawing a Seal from somewhere and sticking it deftly onto his forehead. Harry did not really hear nor understand what it was saying. He was not listening with his full attention anyway… something else was occupying his mind.

It was obvious that Maya had done this before, as the Seal closed most of his wounds, and took most of the pain away. "I… I used a teleportation Seal," Harry whispered, suddenly remembering that the girl had asked a question.

She frowned, and stared at him. "You couldn't have left your house more than half an hour ago, we were talking in your mind. How many Seals did you use?"

Harry shook his head. "Just one. Britain to Japan."

Her eyes went big. "You used a teleportation Seal, a spell with a limited range of seven hundred to one thousand kilometers, and used it to teleport halfway around the world!? No wonder you're hurt! The spell would have started to unravel after twelve hundred or so kilometers, tops!"

He grinned darkly. "It did. I kept it together," he said, sitting up, feeling better now that her healing Seal had closed his wounds. He looked down. It had closed the wounds, and took the pain away… but he could still see the dark-brown crusts spiral across his body, the wounds still present.

She shook her head. "The amount of power required would be…"

"Substantial," he answered her, and looked into her eyes. "But we need to find Ken-Sensei."

Maya nodded, and sat down next to him. "I can't find her," she whispered sadly. "She's too far. She vanished, right from under the noses of her support team." She looked at him. "I managed to contact them. Being the Apprentice to Ken-Sensei has some advantages." She sighed deeply once more. "One moment, she was fighting Haruko. The next moment, they vanished."

Harry swallowed a lump in his throat. This sounded suspiciously like a portkey of some sort, and he hated to think about what this Haruko person would do to his teacher. If he was bad enough for her to go after him personally, he could not be a pushover. His fist balled. "You said you can't find her. Does that mean you can track her? Or scan for her?"

Maya nodded. "It's short-range, though. No more than fifteen or twenty kilometers. Sensei may be on the other side of the country."

"Or the world," Harry muttered darkly, under his breath. Slowly, he let out his breath, and stood up, somehow finding balance in his mutilated body. He reached one hand down, as an invitation to Maya. She took it, and he balanced her as she lifted to her feet, looking strangely at him as he looked back at her.

"We need to find Sensei," he re-iterated. Their hands were still together, and she looked deep into his eyes, burning fiercely with determination. The air around him still reeked of magic, strong and raging, even after traveling halfway around the world on a short-range traveling Seal.

If he could do this, then, by the gods, so could she! Slowly, her own eyes reflected his determination back at him. "We need to find Sensei," she grunted in answer, dipping her head.

The most curious thing happened then, as both their determinations lashed together, and for a moment it was as if they were both falling into the other's eyes. Magic swept around them, locking together, melding, uniting.

They blinked, and looked at each other. Neither spoke as Harry turned and walked outside. Maya went to one of the cabinets, retrieved something, and followed Harry. She found him outside, in the garden, staring up at the moon. At her approach, he just looked at her, and nodded. She nodded back, and handed him something.

Without looking at the object, he closed his eyes and clasped it firmly in his hands. Standing behind him, Maya put her hands on his shoulders, and started whispering. Harry just kept his eyes closed, and breathed normally.

Magic came into visible existence around them. It reached for Harry, Maya, the object, the ground around them, the air surrounding them, the moon, the stars, the water of the little pond in the back of the garden.

As Maya finished her spell, Harry's eyes snapped open, and inside his mind's eye, a map of Japan flashed into existence, a bright red dot marking the spot. Harry snapped back to reality, and glanced over his shoulder at Maya, who nodded grimly.

Neither said a word as Harry put Ken's hairbrush down on the wooden floor inside the house, and turned to Maya, who was holding out a Seal.

Neither spoke, letting the Seals speak for them.

I am movement, and I am displacement. I am teleportation!

The two teens vanished, magic carrying them above Japan, then seven hundred kilometers straight down, to a small island off the coast of Okinawa.

They reappeared in a dense jungle, sharing a single glance and then looking around, back to each other, each taking in the new surroundings with a full sweep, the other at their back. Together, they spun, together, they looked, and together, they stopped.

Harry didn't even blink as he turned and just started walking next to Maya, stepping up to the semi-concealed unconscious form of Ken. They shared a single glance at the sight of the still-smoking man's body which lay dead against one of the trees a little distance away, before looking down at Ken.

They still did not speak as they looked at their unconscious teacher's body, neither really knowing what to do, until Harry reached down and started examining her. She looked too pale and clammy to be just injured, and somehow, they knew that a curse must be involved. At the time that Harry was slowly trying to figure out what happened, Maya closed her eyes, and started whispering again. A small jet of water appeared out of the ground next to her, and using a part of her clothes, she put a cold compress to Ken's fevered forehead.

At the same time, their eyes went big, as Harry seemed to have found something… the cut on her right arm, which had now turned a vicious black underneath her robes.

The two teens blinked, and Maya face distorted into one of utter worry. "Harry, no!"

Harry was silent, and drew a Seal, letting the writing appear, even as his free hand peeled the scab off one of his wounds, and gathered up the blood. A single flash later, and his fingers had spread blood over the Seal. He slapped it down on Ken's forehead.

"Harry!" Maya shouted again. "You can't!"

"Ken is the first person who cared about me for me, not because of some idiot prophecy or because of something that happened when I was a baby. I am not letting her die," he said, coldly, glancing once from his teacher's body to Maya, before looking down once again.

"Even as blood is of the element Water," Harry whispered, bringing his hands together, closing his eyes, and letting his magic shape before his mind's eye. "I must now summon the blood as a bond, beyond the meaning of liquid, but as the meaning of Life."

When Harry's eyes opened, they were white as light. "Harry Potter, Plasmatizer, asks the Blood Seal! What are you!?"

Magic flashed up. I am reanimation and rejuvenation! I bring life to what once was dead…!

A thunderclap punctured the night's silence, and Maya jumped with the ferocious intensity of it. The next moment, the otherworldly glow in Harry's eyes had vanished, the magic finished swirling around them, and the night slowly regained its usual sounds.

Maya stared, like Harry, at Ken's right arm, now fully healed. Slowly, her eyes fluttered. "What… happened?" she whispered, her dry throat raspy and harsh.

Harry just smiled, closed his eyes, and fell sideways. He didn't even hear the startled cry from Maya as he fell to the soft ground of the jungle.

00000

Pain shot through his body, as Harry returned to the land of the living with a sharp jolt. As awareness flooded back, he took stock of his situation, not able, nor willing, to open his eyes just yet. He felt his nerves singing in pain, and a dull groan escaped his lips as life returned to his battered body. His recollections were hazy… Ken, telling him that there was an important situation that required her personal attention. Maya, telling him that something happened to Ken during her mission. Him, turning a short-range teleportation Seal into an intercontinental displacement spell, using raw magic to fuel the spell beyond its original capacity.

That was the last thing he remembered with some clarity, the haze claiming more of the details of his memories after that. Harry was aware that a frown etched itself onto his forehead as he focused deeper, trying to figure out more of what happened. And, he was sure, something happened. It was as if a pure infusion of power had happened to him after coming to Japan, more than half dead from exhaustion and transportation Seal degradation.

As if two sets of memories were in his mind, one on top of the other, blanketing, buffering each other, forcing him to remember each moment separately, and trying to figure out the full picture. Harry walked through the events.

Maya, handing him Ken's hairbrush. He remembered himself, focusing the remainder of his magical energy into Maya's casting. His throat swallowed involuntarily, pain shooting through his body as his dry throat contracted reflexively. He remembered a forest of some kind, and Ken… Ken's injuries. That curse… that awful curse that triggered some of the knowledge Ken had instilled into his subconscious.

She had been right… when needed, he just knew what to do. The knowledge was just there.

The Blood Seal, he remembered, and the memory cleared, as if he separated from the second set of memories then. The Blood Seal, the resurrection spells. He had used the Dark Arts, the black underbelly of the Seal Magic, and used it to save Ken's life.

He opened his eyes when he felt a cool washcloth pressed against his forehead.

"How are you feeling?" Maya's voice asked, gently, as his eyelids fluttered.

"Dreadful," he croaked in response.

"You should," the girl replied levelly, bringing a cup with liquid into his sight. Harry, still squinting against the light in the room, gratefully took the offering. A straw was tucked in between his lips, and Harry sucked for all he was worth. Which, at this point, was not very much, but it succeeded in getting some fluids into his body at least. Maya sat next to him, and watched him drink. As Harry finished the cup, and he managed to open his eyes a little wider, he took stock of the place he was in.

He was in an almost bare room, with just a couple of cabinets against one wall, and wall-to-wall tatami mats on the ground. Harry didn't stop to question on how he knew what tatami mats were, and he moved on. He was on the floor, on a futon, a Japanese bedroll, and Maya was sitting on the mat next to him.

"You used dark arts, Harry," Maya whispered. "You used a Blood Seal." She sighed, and shook her head. "You could have died."

"But I didn't," Harry replied in a whisper, his voice still hurting from the dryness of his throat, even after drinking a cup of water. The liquid still hadn't quenched his thirst, and only his pride kept him from asking for more.

Off to his right, a sliding door opened, and Ken walked in. Her characteristic limp was even more pronounced, and she was moving with a forced expression on her face, as if she were biting back pain.

She knelt down, slowly, on the other side of Harry's futon. "I'm glad to see you are back with us, my foolish young apprentice," she said, although there was a small smile tugging at her lips as she settled down.

"Ken-Senei," Harry whispered, unable to find his voice to utter more than just her name and title. Finally, he managed to collect himself, time the others graciously granted him. "I couldn't… couldn't give up." He closed his eyes, and sighed. "I have lost so many people… and so few people I know still treat me…" He swallowed. "Treat me like you have been treating me. I just couldn't… couldn't let you go."

He opened his eyes, and looked at her. "I'm glad you're alright, Ken-Sensei."

She dipped her head. "I am pleased to see that you are alright as well, my young apprentice. Although I would like to know where you learned to supercharge a Teleportation Seal, and how you learned about the Blood Seals."

Harry was silent for a few moments, trying to figure out how to explain the sudden insight… the influx of knowledge that happened when critical decisions forced themselves upon him. "I… just knew, Ken-Sensei. When Maya-Senpai told me you were hurt, I just knew how to get here. Long-range Seals are limited to a few thousand kilometers, and will end when they are done. The short-range teleportation Seal won't. It'll keep going, as long as you pump energy into it. I just knew all that." He swallowed again. "And when we found you, I just knew which spell you were hit with, and how to counter it. I thought that it was the knowledge you put in my mind."

Ken sighed. "Harry, Harry, Harry," she whispered over and over, shaking her head. "You are the most foolish, and bravest person I have ever met. Yes, you were correct in thinking that what I taught your subconscious was what handed you the knowledge needed to achieve your goals. The thing is… most people would think of ways to get here, and automatically exclude the very foolish and very suicidal ideas that would pop up. You, on the other hand, decided that you would get here, and that you would heal me, regardless of what happened to you. And that is what your subconscious handed you."

Harry nodded, accepting that explanation.

"Harry, your magical reserves must be enormous to be able to survive all of this," his teacher said, levelly, looking up, and looking at Maya. "There is but one thing I am still not clear about, and it is a question my other apprentice has refused to answer, for some reason." Maya flushed, and looked at the ground, and Harry found himself weary. He did not want to betray anything that Maya felt confidential. "Please, ask," he said, gently. "But, please do not force me to answer if I don't want to."

Ken sighed, and nodded, while Maya smiled at Harry. He smiled back at her, and nodded his head.

"You claimed you found me. However, I am well aware that I was hundreds of kilometers away, and that there was no way a detecting spell would have revealed my location. Exactly how did you manage to find me?"

Harry glanced from Ken to Maya, and frowned at her, a question in his eyes. Why did Maya not want to answer this question?

As if reading his mind, the girl answered his silent question. "I didn't want to answer the question without you there, Harry. What we did… we need to tell together."

He smiled at her, suddenly feeling incredibly grateful towards her. He turned to Ken, and tried to explain, in his own words, what had happened. Suddenly, Maya interjected into his discourse, but to Harry's immense surprise, it did not break his train of thought. Rather, it felt as if the second set of memories in his mind was suddenly given voice, and with a face filled with wonder, he finished his tale, looking at Maya, who's face held the same sense of wonder his held.

Ken stared at the two of them, glancing from one to the other, and back to the first, obviously shocked, but unable to voice her thoughts for a good while. After nearly thirty seconds of silence, the Japanese woman finally told them what was on her mind.

"When two people are similarly focused on a single goal, their magic may link together. It's extremely rare, but as you noticed, the results are spectacular. You were able to combine your innate abilities, your magical reserves, and in some cases, even your knowledge. What happened transcended what you both put in, and for the time you were linked, you were one of mind and magic. During that time, you possessed power transcending that of most wizards in existence."

Harry and Maya swallowed, looking at their teacher with big eyes. "Usually, such a connection forms only after a long and intensive training, and even then it is unstable, as both wizards have to focus on that single goal. Literally, you have to be of one mind, able to synchronize your magic and your mind at the same time, in order to maintain the connection. What you two did was even more difficult… without a moment's training in the area; you were so focused upon your goal that your souls resonated."

The woman swallowed, and looked away, at one of the blank walls. "I don't want to contemplate the stress you were both under in order to be of such similar mind that this happened naturally."

Maya and Harry shared a look. Finally, Harry sighed, and looked back to his teacher. "It was not pretty, Ken-Sensei. When I got here, the spell had ripped into my body. I was too new, too inexperienced to keep the spell's integrity together. Maya had to heal me."

"And I was furious at him," Maya interjected, taking over, telling the details they left out during their first explanation. "And then he said that he wanted to get you, saying the same thing he said to you. He wasn't going to lose you, and he would get you back." The girl swallowed, and looked at the ground. "I realized that Harry was right. After my parents died, you took me in, you were my mother and my father, my entire family. You mean the world to me, and I was not about to let you go without trying. What Harry said made total sense."

"And that is when it happened," Harry said, taking over once more. "We both realized we needed to get you back, and that nothing was going to stop us. We broke apart only after we found you."

"I refused to be part of blood magic," Maya said, still looking at the ground. "I wanted to save you at all costs, but I refused to turn to the black arts. I thought there had to be another way."

"And we broke apart, as I didn't think we had time," Harry said. "We broke, and I cast the Blood Seal."

Ken shook her head. "I thank you both for saving my life," she said, simply. "And I am grateful to be here and be able to berate your stupidity, Harry. Do not think for one moment that I am not grateful for you saving my life, but the next time this situation happens, you will not turn to the Blood Seal, remember? I refuse to be helped by the forceful injecting of your life force into mine. You could have killed yourself had I been hurt worse than I was. You were lucky my own magic was battling the curse to an almost-standstill, and was able to assist you. The next time, I may be more seriously hurt, and you may kill yourself doing the spell."

Harry looked at her. "But… it was supposed to be a Necromantic Seal. Bring life to the dead. I thought that, since you were still alive, it would just bring you back!"

Ken looked seriously at him. "In theory, that is correct; however, reanimating dead tissue temporarily is a whole different matter than permanently healing living flesh!" She shouted the last part, and Harry flinched back, not believing that Ken was shouting at him. It was the first time she'd done so, and he felt worse than he had ever felt when a teacher berated him.

She drew a deep breath. "Regardless, it worked, and we are both alive for your efforts. Next time, keep in mind that magic doesn't always work the way you think it will. Now, you will be weak for the next couple of days, so I suggest that you stay here and recuperate." She leaned over, and grabbed his shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. "We'll take care of you, the way you took care of me, Harry. And even though you made a couple of very foolish errors in your haste, you have made me proud."

His eyes were misting over, but before he could say or do anything, the woman had forced herself to her legs, and was shuffling gingerly out of the room, still in obvious pain but too stubborn to let it show. As Harry tried to sit, his entire body resisted the effort, pulling in that tight, ripping stiffness that he knew so well. He winced, and lowered himself back to the bedroll.

"How long was I out?"

"Three days," Maya said, in a low voice. She smiled at him. "You did well, Harry. Now, get some more rest. You need it." She stood up, and was about to walk out, when she looked back at him. "Before I go, is there something I can get you?"

He smiled slightly. "Some more water would be nice," he whispered.

She nodded, and stepped out of his room. Five minutes later, she returned with a cup and a pitcher, only to find him asleep. She smiled, put them down next to his bedroll, and cast a mild chilling charm on the pitcher, ensuring that Harry would have fresh water when he awoke next.

00000

When Harry opened his eyes, he noticed that the previously harsh daylight was toned down to gentle ambers and reds. Thinking that the sun must be setting, he tried to sit up, managing to do so with his body protesting the movement all the way. He felt stiff as a board after his three-days worth of sleep, and looked around the barren room, not able to bring the energy forth yet to stand up. He smiled slightly when he noticed the pitcher of water.

Pouring himself a glass, he gulped the cool liquid down, feeling it slip through his esophagus all the way to his stomach, quenching his thirst and easing his parched throat. After a second glass, he signed, and looked at the sliding door through which he had seen Ken enter and exit. He knew it went straight outside, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to be outside and see the sun set.

Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to his legs, and swaying, he scampered over to the door. Holding on to it for dear life, he slid it open, and drew a deep, lungful of sharp, clean, outside air. Vitality returned to him as the purity of the air slipped through his body, and he let go of the door and stood under his own, unassisted, power. Gazing around, he smiled when he stopped to watch Maya, standing next to a small lake in Ken's back yard, going through some sort of martial arts exercise.

Every movement was perfection, flowing smoothly from one form to the other like water. He gazed at her, recognizing some of the things she was doing, recognizing finally that this was an exercise far more advanced than the ones Ken had been teaching him. He sighed slightly, recognizing the difference in level finally, and accepting that no matter how good he may be, he still had years to catch up on if he wanted to match Maya.

"She is doing well," Ken suddenly said from next to him.

Harry would have jumped, had he had the energy to do so. Since he hadn't, he just settled for a startled squeak that sounded way too girlish for his tastes. "Ken-Sensei!" he blustered, trying to cover up his unmanly yell.

Ken smiled enigmatically at him. "You should learn that your surroundings aren't static, Harry. When you watch one thing, you should watch the other things as well. An enemy will not necessarily be as kind as I was, and come stand next to you and announce their presence."

Harry nodded, accepting that lesson. Ken smiled, and nodded as he looked back at her. "Maya is an excellent student," their teacher then said, bringing the conversation back to the original topic. "She is doing an Elemental Kata."

He recognized the word, kata. A series of forms, an exercise, meant to train body and mind. As he focused back on Maya, he noticed that her movements were flowing faster now, and a faint glow was visible around her hands as she flowed beautifully from one form to the next, the glow slowly picking up intensity. Finally, she planted her feet, and jerked her hands forward, releasing her body's built-up energy in the form of a small amber orb that flew straight forward, before striking a rock.

Harry noticed a faint tremor through the ground, and looked at his teacher. "The kata of the Element of Earth," Ken explained, and walked towards Maya, who stood, panting, still in the last position she had been in.

Harry just stood there, transfixed, not believing the energy released through this one exercise. Ken said something to Maya, indicating certain things. Maya nodded, dropping from her form finally, and looking at him. Showing him a smile, and waked slowly up to where he stood, watching her. Ken followed, right behind her student.

"So, what'd you think?" Maya asked, still smiling.

"Incredible," he replied, honestly, saying the first and only word he could say to indicate his thoughts.

"Thanks!" she answered, honestly. She let out another breath. "But it wore me out. I'm going to get a shower." She looked him up and down. "It's good to see you're up and about." She glanced at Ken. "I know Ken-Sensei has been itching to get back to teaching you."

Ken shot her apprentice a dark look, before turning to Harry, her face back its impassive self. "Only if you want to, Harry."

"Of course I want to!" he said, immediately glad that she was still going to teach him, and thinking about how different things would be, actually learning in the same environment that Maya trained in.

"Join us after your shower, Maya," Ken said to her female apprentice before showing Harry back into the room he had just exited. "Sit down, fold your legs," Ken said, indicating a position on the floor.

Harry shared a look with Maya, before the girl shot him a smile, winked at him, and turned to leave. Harry nodded to himself. It was true… it was hard not to heed to Ken's orders. As he sat down, she sat down opposite him, and closed her eyes. He closed his own eyes, and let himself fall to the mindscape, knowing instinctively that was what she wanted.

He awoke to a scene out of his worst nightmares, and it scared him half to death. The grass was burned a black the likes of which he had not yet seen, the beautiful gray walls of Hogwarts Castle were smoking husks of burnt cinders, and in the distance, the Whomping Willow was nothing but a pile of ash, waiting for the merest wind to scatter it to the four directions. He felt Ken's signal, requesting entrance.

Without a second thought, he let her in, while he lowered himself to a fallen piece of Hogwarts stone, a piece of marble that once had been the head of a gargoyle, just the right size to use as an impromptu seat as he surveyed the damage.

"I take it from the look on your face that you haven't been here since you… helped me?" Ken asked, appearing next to him, diplomatically changing the wording of her sentence halfway through.

Harry mutely shook his head. Slowly, he looked up at her. "What happened, Ken-Sensei?"

"Hey everybody!" Maya shouted, using that moment to enter, Harry allowing her through the shields the exact moment that she announced her presence. "I hurried my… shower…" She stopped, and looked around. "What happened here?" she asked, sounding as shocked as Harry looked, and slowly sat down next to him on the gargoyle head.

"I was just about to answer that question," Ken replied. "Harry devastated his body with his spell. And even though magical healing closed his wounds, replenished his energy, and brought him back to the land of the living, the disaster wrought upon his mind can not be undone so easily." Ken looked directly at Harry, drawing his attention, so he would look at her instead of the wasteland around him. "When you built up your mind, it also built up your body. You started the path that Maya and I have been walking for years, the path that united mind and body in a single goal. When you built up your mind, your body followed… and now, your body was devastated, and your mind followed. You will need to rebuild."

She drew a breath as his face fell. "But, as always, you will grow stronger from the experience. This is not the last time this will happen, that I can assure you… but every time, you will be strengthened from the cleansing fires."

Maya looked at her teacher. "You never told me this, Ken-Sensei..."

"Usually, it is a lesson one learns later in life, my apprentice. After your first battle to the death, you too, will need to rebuild your mind."

Maya swallowed, and nodded. Harry sighed, and stood up. "Then I'd better get to it," he whispered sadly, feeling the loss of his beautiful mindscape.

Ken put her hand on his shoulder. "It will be better than ever," she promised. "And the time after that, it will be stronger still. Every time you do this, you will gain strength and endurance, and your body and mind will gain from it. And, in turn, your magic will benefit from the power of your mind and body. It is not easy, and it is not quick, but the power is unmistakable."

As Harry stilled, Ken and Maya watched, feeling something go through the mindscape around them. A wind swept up, yanking dust and ash in its wake. The ground shook, and rain poured down, cooling down the scorched earth around them.

"He really is something," Ken whispered to her apprentice, making sure she was speaking at a volume low enough so it didn't disturb Harry. Maya just nodded mutely in agreement.

It was pitch black out by the time the three meditating wizards awoke back to the real world.

"Do not worry too much, Harry," Ken said sagely. "Your mindscape will return, better than ever. You laid excellent ground work today. Tomorrow, we will get back to it…meditation is an excellent way to relax after a long day of training."

Harry just nodded, happy that she was still going to teach him. He had learned so much from her in such a short time, and even now he could feel how the skills he had used recently were helping him, aiding in his understanding of the magic and the ways it worked for and through him. For the first time, he allowed himself to hope… hope that he might have a chance against Voldemort.

As Ken left, and Harry turned to the bedroll that was still on the floor, he became acutely aware of Maya, still in the room with him.

"Maya-Senpai?" he asked.

"This is my room," the girl said, smiling slightly, as she opened a sliding door in the wall, and took out a bedroll. As she spread it out, Harry noticed the cool efficiency with which she performed the simple act. A single jerked motion of her arms, and the roll unrolled on the floor, perfectly made. Smiling at her handiwork, the girl then took out a set of pajamas, and opened the sliding door to the outside. "I'll be right back."

Harry stared mutely from the closed sliding door to the bedroll on the ground, then back to the sliding door.

He still sat there, dazed, as she returned ten minutes later, fully clothed in a set of fluffy dark-blue pajamas that fit perfectly with the dark brown of her eyes and the blackness of her hair. She just smiled as he stared at her, and settled into her bedroll.

"Is something wrong, Harry?" she asked, a smile still on her lips, perfectly aware why he was staring, but getting a kick out of making him say it.

"I… eh… we…" he stammered. "This… this is your room?"

"Sure is," Maya said, stretching her arms behind her luxuriously, then tugging them under her pillow, propping up her head so she could look at Harry better.

He swallowed again, a bundle of nerves suddenly, unable to voice what he wanted to say. She finally giggled, and decided to take pity on him. "You didn't complain when you were unconscious, Harry," Maya said. "Come on, all we do here is sleep. So you see me in my night clothes. It's not as if you wouldn't see me like this if you were sleeping in some other room. Besides, Ken-Sensei didn't have any spare rooms, and this was the easiest solution, seeing as I'm the only one who got out of this without any major injuries."

Harry sighed, seeming to just accept the situation. Relaxing finally, he settled into his own bedroll, suddenly aware of the fact that he was dressed less than he had been when he made his way over here. His sweater had been removed, leaving him only in a t-shirt. And someone had removed his jeans, and replaced them with, what looked to Harry, a set of silk pajama pants.

He decided then that he didn't want to think of who undressed and re-dressed him, and settled into his bedroll. "You're right, Maya-Senpai," he whispered, pulling the covers over him. "This is the first time I've slept in a girl's room, though."

She laughed heartily. "Well then, I hope you enjoy the experience," she said, still laughing. Soon, he chuckled, before joining into the laughter.

It was late before they finally went to sleep, spending their time talking to each other, getting to know each other, sharing their life's stories. It felt somewhat strange to Harry, who had never been the most open of people, that he trusted Maya so easily. Something in the girl just made him trust her, just the way he had trusted Ken that fateful night. Maybe it was because of that decision, one that had brought him nothing but good things, that he opened up to Maya so easily now. After all, she was a student of Ken as well, and she was where he hoped to be one day.

The next morning, Harry opened his eyes after an intense, yet short, night's sleep. Maybe it was because he had spent the last couple of days in bed, but Harry didn't feel the least bit tired after only four or five hours of sleep. Silently getting up, he sneaked out the door without waking Maya, who was still sound asleep, her breathing even and almost inaudible. He smiled slightly at the girl, who was feeling more like family every time he saw her, and closed the door. He looked around the yard he had been in yesterday, and had watched Maya perform the elemental kata.

He looked at the surface of the small lake, then glanced at the surrounding nature. The house was small, but sturdily built, and planted right in the middle of, what looked like, a stretch of undisturbed nature. It was built in a classic Japanese fashion, and Harry didn't stop to question how he knew this. Even though it had only been a few weeks, he was already accepting that pieces of knowledge would pop up from time to time, without any trace as to where they came from, or how he learned them.

The rooms were built around the perimeter of the house, exiting through a sliding door to the outside, a wooden walkway going all the way around the house, covered by a wooden roof, allowing the occupants to move from room to room without getting wet.

He stood on the edge of the walkway, drawing in a deep breath of fresh outside air, before turning and walking around the house. He found Ken's room quite easily, as it was the only one even his untrained magical senses could sense a ward on. Grinning, he left the door alone, and resumed his walk. The next door he opened ended up to be a very comfortable-looking kitchen, with ample space for two people to have their meals. It looked nice enough for three, as well, Harry thought, and smiled slightly at his own thoughts as he closed the door once more.

Further excursions showed him where the bathroom was, as well as a room that looked like it was some kind of formal reception room. Finally, he completed his circle of the house, having seen all the rooms… except for Ken's bedroom, that is.

As he walked to the lake, when his eyes fell upon something else. A small building lay hidden by the trees, and if light hadn't fallen upon the wooden roof just so, Harry would have missed it entirely. Curious, he walked towards it, noticing that it too, had sliding doors that were unlocked, and unwarded.

Feeling bold, he slid open the door, and walked inside. Realizing that he was in the dojo, or training room, he looked around, smiling softly at the Japanese sayings that were attached to the walls, before his eyes came to rest on the far wall.

Where most of the room had tatami mats to absorb some shocks from falling, the far end of the dojo had a wooden floor, and what looked like a small altar in front of it. Walking towards it, he stopped right in front of it to take in all the details.

The wooden wall was decorated with swords, beautiful swords, their scabbards decorated sometimes with outlandish colors, and sometimes with gentle and classic colors. As his gaze traveled across the various katana on their hooks on the wall, his eyes were drawn to one katana in particular.

The handle was silver and black, the cross-guard a golden oval, and its scabbard was the most beautiful red he had ever seen. Sparkling in the early morning sunlight, the blade seemed to call out to him even as his eyes were still roving over the golden decorations of the deep-red scabbard.

He could not contain himself, and slowly, he reached out, one hand reaching for the sword, ready to lift it off the hooks that supported it.

"DON'T!" a voice boomed from behind him, freezing Harry in his tracks.

Hurried footsteps closed on him, and for just a few seconds, Harry didn't dare move. Finally, he dropped his hand, and looked over his shoulder to where Maya was approaching him rapidly.

"Harry, you never ever touch a sword," she said, coming to a stop right next to him, looking at the swords attached to the wall. "Not just because these swords are warded," she said, finally turning to look at him. "A sword is an extension of someone's soul, Harry. Touching it is like… the greatest insult. Swordsmasters of old, when confronted with a situation where they had to surrender their swords, chose death rather than the dishonor of having someone else touch it. In the best cases, the swordsmaster broke the sword before surrendering it, making sure that the extension of their soul would be released." She drew a breath. "Somehow, I thought Sensei would have taught you that."

Harry shook his head mutely, unable to utter a word. Maya nodded, then shrugged. "I guess it can't be helped, then." She smiled slightly at him. "Be glad I caught you, and not Ken-Sensei. Anyway, seeing as you keep referring to me as Senpai, allow me to teach you a lesson on sword ethics."

Harry nodded again, slowly forming a smile as he realized she wasn't angry with him anymore. "For a non-magical person and their sword, that belief was all it was… basically, the belief that an extension of a person's soul was housed in the sword, and that someone else touching it was a grave dishonor. It made the swordsmasters incredible fighters, as they knew their sword inside and out. For a magical person, the sword really does become an extension of the soul." She looked back to the swords on the wall. "A magical swordsman and their sword are linked. Tell me, Harry, have you ever heard of the Soulbond?"

Harry shook his head. "I haven't, Senpai."

"A soulbond sword is linked, bonded, to its master. The process is called the Soulbond. The sword becomes an extension of the master's body and soul, and anybody but the master's touch results in a very painful discharge of energy. That is why, under no circumstance, do you touch a sword. For one, it might be a grave dishonor, for second, it may result in grave injuries, sometimes even death."

Harry nodded again. "Then I'm really grateful you stopped me." He looked back at the wall, finally finished with his staring at the girl next to him. "So these swords, if I touched them…"

Maya shook her head. "They are warded, true, but the swords themselves are harmless. They are the swords belonging to the sworsmasters of Ken-Sensei's non-magical family. I believe the one you tried to touch belonged to Sensei's Great-Grandfather. When a magical swordsmaster dies, his soul departs this world, and the sword shatters. It is buried with the swordmaster, that is why there are no magical swords attached to this wall."

Harry nodded, accepting that piece of wisdom, his head spinning as Ken's teaching filled in some gaps. He was curious to find out that he knew how to conduct a basic soulbond ceremony. Not that he would do one, but it was something he knew he would be capable of doing.

"Come on, let's get outside," she said, turning and motioning for the door. "Sensei will have us in here soon enough. We should enjoy our morning, and get some breakfast."

Harry nodded, and turned to leave after her. As they reached the door, he said, "Maya-Senpai?"

She looked over her shoulder as she walked. "Harry?"

"Thank you," he said, motioning to the room they were leaving behind. "For in there. I didn't want to…"

"I know," she said as his voice trailed off. "You didn't know."

"But I know now," he said, resolved in that he would not make the same mistake again. Maya nodded, and looked back to where she was going, Harry following right behind her, rather subdued.

Standing behind a corner, Ken watched them leave, smiling slightly to herself. "You did well in there, Maya. I'm glad to see you'll be teaching him the finer points, beyond mere fighting." She sighed. "Teach him how to live, and how to live well. He needs it… he has had so many hardships in his life." Still smiling sadly to herself, she turned around and vanished behind her dojo, planning on surprising her two students at the breakfast table, and acting as if she didn't know what had happened.

An hour later, after they had breakfast, Ken took them out to the lake. "Your time here is very limited, Harry," Ken said as they had halted at the edge of the small lake. "You should go back soon… the blood wards on your relatives house will have started to crumble, and it is only your presence that can renew them."

Harry just nodded sadly, wishing that he could stay here, in Japan, where people actually talked to him, and explained to him why they wanted him to do certain things in a certain way. Not for the first time, he debated totally abandoning Great Britain and its bigoted wizarding world, and settling here, in Japan, permanently.

Just as fast as those thoughts came up, they were shot down. Harry thoughts of his friends, the people he cared for, and Hogwarts. And then there were new things, things he had learned from Ken and Maya. Honesty. Loyalty. Honor. They were new concepts, grand and totally different from the way he had learned before, but they were starting to gain foothold in his mind and his heart. Deep inside, he was beginning to learn… Voldemort had chosen him, Harry Potter, to be his mortal enemy. And even though others had tried, it looked as if the prophecy made in his honor actually seemed to be true. It was his problem, the eradication of Voldemort, and there was nothing he could do about it… except train, learn, and do his very best. And should he die in the course of this road… well then, he would reunited with his family, and he would have given his life with honor.

As his mind started to wrap itself around this, Ken studied him with strange interest as the emotions played across his face. Harry seemed to gain new insight into himself with each passing day, the teachings she had drilled into his mind slowly assimilating themselves into his conscious thinking. And the things he had done… things he had done together with Maya… further accelerated the process. Harry was learning, and he was maturing at the same time.

She sighed, knowing that time was running out for them, and snapped the fingers of her left hand, her right hand still leaning onto her staff. Her legs still felt weak, and no matter how much healing Harry could do on her, the injury in her knee would never be right. And after being wounded like this, she would always feel the full extent of its weakness. A wooden sword materialized in her left hand, and she held it out, handle-first, to Harry.

"Today we will jump-start your sword lessons," she instructed as he took the wooden sword from her. "I am fairly confident that you will make a half-decent swordsman in a couple of months, after all your new knowledge has come to the surface. Today, we will jump-start your memories, allowing you to get some of the basics, and your mind can built itself up from there."

Harry nodded, and took the sword in the grip she demonstrated.

When he finally fell into the chair in the kitchen for dinner that night, Harry had no idea his body could hurt in the ways that it did. Muscles he never knew he had were telling him quite vocally that he had pushed them beyond their endurance, and that he'd better make it up to them.

He consumed his meal in silence, digested the day's teachings, the ways of handling a sword, the ways of dueling, the way of the warrior, the Way of the Sword. He swallowed slowly in a dry mouth. The Way of the Sword… the Way that told how to use a weapon, when to use the weapon, and when not to use the weapon. He shook his head, turning back to his meal. He was becoming very introspective during his stay in Japan, growing quieter than he had ever been, and he had never been the most vocal to begin with.

"You're awfully quiet," Maya said, teasingly.

"I have a lot to think about," he replied honestly, glancing at Ken. "Ken-Sensei has taught me a lot in a short period of time, and I guess it takes time for me to digest it all."

Maya just nodded, grinning. "Sensei is good at that. I remember when I first started learning under her."

Harry grinned back at the girl. "But she is the best teacher I ever had. At least she explains why there are rules, and she explains what happens when you don't follow them, instead of expecting blind obedience, the way my teachers in Britain do." He sighed. "I wish I could stay, but I know that I can't. Apparently, fate has decided that I have to deal with Voldemort."

Maya just nodded. "We all must go there, wherever fate desires us to go. We just sometimes get to make a detour along the way," she said, so obviously quoting someone that Harry couldn't help but smile. Maya started laughing, and soon, he joined her, not noticing Ken's pleased expression as her two students joked and laughed together. For a moment, she was about to interject that she was right there, and that it was impolite to speak about someone in the third person while in their presence, but Harry's comments had come straight from the heart, and she didn't want to give him the impression that speaking the truth was prohibited here.

"If you two are quite finished," Ken said dryly after both her students stopped their final snicker, and wiped the final tear from their eyes, "there is one more lesson I must teach Harry before bed tonight."

Harry just nodded, not feeling half as bad about Ken's late-night lessons than he had ever felt at Hogwarts about late-night Astronomy classes. Half an hour later, the dishes had been washed. Much to Harry's surprise, they were washed non-magically, without any use of magic whatsoever.

"Magic is a great tool, but one must take precautions not to become dependent upon it," Ken had said, smiling slightly. "Doing so makes one complacent, and I believe that too, may be one of the causes of the current crisis in your home country."

"How so, Ken-Sensei?" Harry had asked.

"Complacent people let others guide their actions, they want one leader to take care of everything. More often than not, they elect someone, then think it's enough. Usually, it isn't… remember this lesson well, Harry. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. No matter how powerful your Dark Lord is, if the people rose up against him, not even he would survive."

He had frowned, not really understanding. Ken, seeing this, explained further. "I understand he is incredibly powerful, Harry. But think of this… even he needs to sleep, to eat and drink, to go to the bathroom. If hundreds of wizards came after him, constantly chasing him, attacking him, fighting him… sure, the death toll would be atrocious, but, he would die as well."

Harry had nodded slowly, seeing where she came from, and filing it away as 'yet one more thing to think about later'.

And right now, they were back in the room he shared with Maya, cross-legged on the floor. Another meditation lesson, Harry decided, actually looking forward to it. He knew he would need to do a lot more healing on his mind before it was back to where it was before he rushed over here, but he also knew, just from the foundations he had lain, that this, mindscape version 2, would be better than what it had been before.

They arrived in his devastated mindscape, now just looking empty rather than the devastated battlefield it had looked like the day before.

"Where shall I start, Ken-Sensei?" Harry asked.

She shook her head. "You must heal your mind yourself, Harry. Today, we will be holding a mental swords lesson, to stay with what we did today." She sat down, cross-legged, Maya following immediately. Both women took the swords that hung from their hips, unhooked it from their belts as they slipped down to the ground, and ended up in a perfect position, with the swords across their knees.

Harry just went down to the same position a few seconds later, amazed at the fluidity they displayed in this mental area. "Did you feel the sword earlier?" Ken asked.

He looked at her, thinking hard about her question. "I… am not sure, Sensei."

"Did you feel that the weapon was part of you, an extension of your arm as you moved it around?" she asked the question in a different manner.

Harry was quiet once more. "I… felt some of it, Sensei… or, at least, I think I did."

Ken nodded. "Good. The first step is always to acknowledge that you do not know everything. Now, I want you to close your eyes, and focus on the wooden weapon you used this afternoon. Do not just create a wooden sword in here. I want you to pull the wooden weapon in here. I want you to pull that particular wooden sword in here." Her hand gripped her sword. "Just like these are the weapons Maya and I use in the real world, I want you to hold in your hands the wooden sword you used this afternoon."

Harry recognized what she asked of him, and he stared slightly at her. "Sensei?"

"I know you know what this is, Harry. But this is merely the first step, and the most difficult one. I never asked Maya to practice this… but we had months to work on this. You and I, we don't have the luxury of time, so I ask of you, to practice this."

Harry sighed, and nodded. He closed his eyes, and focused his mind, trying to visualize the weapon he had used that afternoon, in all its detail and in full clarity. This was totally different from anything he had ever done before… this was not a simple summoning charm, this was the literal crossing of the boundaries that separated the physical from the mental world. He frowned, dropping deeper into concentration, vaguely aware that his breath was coming in short gasps, and that sweat was running down his face, both in the physical and in the mental world.

The work was hard, a lot harder than anything he had done in his mindscape before, with the possible exception of the construction of his shields. Thankfully, those had held, he thought, but the thought itself vanished as soon as it had popped up, every bit of his concentration needed for the task he had been set. Slowly, he became aware of the sword, and for just a fleeting moment, it was as if the sword was becoming aware of him as well.

A shape started to coagulate in his hands, but Harry couldn't allow his elation to overcome his concentration. In fact, he forced himself even deeper, summoning a physical shape to him, here in his mindscape, binding it to him in ways that Harry was struggling to understand consciously… even as his subconscious spurred him on, apparently in full understanding.

Mental energy flew up from the ground where the boy sat, both Ken and Maya smiling widely at the sight of the cross-legged boy's hair waving in a wind he alone could feel, an ethereal white mist slowly taking shape in his open hands, slowly, inexorably taking the shape of the wooden sword he had practiced with that day, aware of what Harry was doing, of what was being asked of him.

Finally, the shape was there, and slowly, the colors started to fill in, the texture was set, and the sword appeared fully. With a final gasp, Harry tore his eyes open, grabbing the handle with one hand, and preparing to jump to his feet.

"That's enough, Harry. You pulled it to you," Ken said, appearing before him with a speed and swiftness that was far above anything he believed to be humanly possible. He startled, realizing the Flash Step techniques, and that he couldn't believe he forgot about them.

He nodded. "Yes, Sensei," he said, panting. "I did it…" He shook his head. "I can't believe I was going to go forward."

Ken smiled slightly. "It is the subconscious urge to move forward, Harry. You know what to do, and completing this, the first step, urged you further." She put a hand on his shoulder. "But that doesn't matter now, Harry. I was here to stop you. Congratulations."

He nodded, and allowed himself to fall to the ground. "Thanks, Sensei. But man! That was hard work!"

Maya sat down next to him, and held out a cup of water. Even though Harry was aware they were still in his mindscape, and that no food or drink consumed here would actually help him, he took the cup and drained it, smiling gratefully at her.

"I would think so, Harry," Ken said ruefully. "This first step is one of the most difficult things a swordsman can take." She held out one hand, offering to help him up. He took the invitation, and found himself pulled to his feet.

"Now, you're pretty much exhausted, so we'll end your training here tonight. But, seeing how you did such a marvelous job, allow me to demonstrate some more techniques to you."

Harry smiled widely, nodding eagerly. Every time Ken demonstrated something, he couldn't wait to start working on the same techniques himself! Ken's right hand slipped down, and curled around the handle of her sword. She pulled it slowly, almost ritually.

Magic tugged at her clothing and made her hair float and wave as the sword slowly cleared the scabbard. Ken's stance altered, her feet spread further apart. The blade of her sword started glowing white and blue, matching the suddenly glow Harry saw reflected in his teacher's eyes. She spun around, flashing the blade up and down.

A burst of magic leapt from her weapon, digging into the ground as it sped forward, finally dying down when it was almost out of Harry's sight. Without a Whomping Willow or a forbidden Forest, Ken's attacks had nothing to stop them, and Harry silently vowed to get his mindscape back up and running as soon as he had some more power to spare… right now, it took all he had just to remain standing.

"Wow," he muttered. "What incredible power, Ken-Sensei."

Ken sheathed her sword in the same slow, deliberate movements she had used when drawing it. "The Sword Arts are a manner of focusing magic along the blade, making it unbreakable, as long as your magic can hold out, as well as turning it into a ranged weapon." She looked at him. "Are you ready for a lesson in combat techniques?"

Harry chuckled slightly. "Always… although I don't know how much training I can take. I'm pretty wiped."

"I was thinking, theory, not practice. I wanted to show you what happened, how I became injured," Ken said.

Harry's mouth opened slightly, and an eager gleam showed in his eyes. "You… you'll show me your fight?" he asked, hoping that he didn't come across s disrespectful. "That's the first time one of my teachers have offered to show me anything like that!" he exclaimed before she could give him an answer.

Ken shook her head. "Sit down, then, Harry. I'll show you what happened. And it's a teacher's purpose to pass on knowledge… it saddens me that your teachers seem more interested in keeping things from you instead of actually teaching you."

Harry sat down, not really knowing what to say. He had a lot of respect for some of his teachers, and it felt wrong to him to say bad things about them, and so he chose to remain quiet. Maya sat down next to him, an eager gleam in her eyes as well, although she was better at hiding it. She leaned closer to Harry.

"You will love this, Harry. Ken-Sensei is an incredible fighter."

Harry just nodded, chosing to remain quiet, eager to see what would happen next. Ken looked at her two students, and nodded. "Very well. First, Maya already knows this, but the reason I was out of contact with you, Harry, was because of a threat to our government. A threat to our Emperor, to be precise. It required my full attention, as well as the attention of my Guardian Corps, to be sure we caught every attack. A man, a Necromancer, was summoning evil spirits to do evil to our Emperor, and we needed to catch them all. Finally, the day that Maya contacted you, I found out his location, took half of the Guardian Corps, and went to challenge him."

Harry's Mindscape blackened, only to be slowly replaced by the first scene of the mental movie.

00000

When it was over, Harry sat there, stunned. Next to him, Maya sat, deep in thought.

"Ken-Sensei?"

"Yes, Harry?" she asked, accepting the fact that he had questions, yet was asking her permission before posing them. She appreciated the thought that he would try and spare her feelings… and she surely would have taken him up on the offer, had she felt badly about the attack in the first place.

"I have seen you do so many incredible things… yet, it seemed, somehow, as if you were holding back," he said, obviously struggling with the words, unable to get across what he wanted to say.

"He means you were slow, didn't use any of your big attack spells, and were barely holding your own against an enemy who was clearly inferior to you," Maya said, under no such qualms, and coming straight to the point.

Ken lifted an eyebrow, and then smiled slightly. "The house we were fighting in was a magical storage repository. Like a magical battery. It was refueling my opponent as we fought. At the same time, it was bringing incredible pressure down upon me, as I was an intruder. It took incredible force to fight off the effects, and had I not been who I was, I would have been destroyed. That is also the reason why my team was waiting outside. I am the first to admit that I did not think of the fact that he might have used western teleportation methods. A portkey… how… dishonorable."

The woman drew a breath, and shook her head. "Next time, I will be on the look-out for such things. That is also why I am sharing this with you. Learn from my mistakes. Do not repeat them."

"Why didn't you use the Flash Step more often, Sensei? You could have dodged all of his attacks! You could have appeared behind him, and stab him!" Maya said, very obviously not shy of poking holes in her teacher's performance. Harry found it strange… had he talked in this way to… let's say Professor McGonagall, his Transfiguration teacher… he would have been in for a week's worth of detentions.

On the other hand, Ken seemed fine, not bothered at all, and for all intents and purposes… glad to be discussing what happened. "A house is a confined place, my young apprentice. Moving around, using the Flash Step, in a house, is incredibly difficult. And especially in a house that fights you for every step you take."

"But… you're Sensei! Surely you can…"

Ken interrupted Maya. "I'm flattered that you think so highly of my skills, Maya, but even I have my limits. I made the tactical error of going to his house and challenging him on his own ground. But… in retrospect… it was still the honorable thing to do. And that man had to be stopped, as soon as was possible. Even if it had cost me my life, I still would have done the same thing. I could not run the risk of him trying again, and hurting the Emperor. It is my duty to protect, and protect him I shall."

Harry nodded, understanding where she came from. "I… understand, Sensei," he said, rather subdued. "I understand why you did it, why you went to his house, even though it put you at a severe disadvantage. And I understand why you would try and end it as soon as possible. If… if I had the strength… I would, too… go after Voldemort, I mean."

Maya stared at him with open mouth. Ken just nodded gravely. "I see you are beginning to understand the basics of courage, as well as of honor," she said, putting one hand on his shoulder. "It may not be the tactically wisest thing to do, but it eliminates the threat as soon as possible. And it protects those you love."

Harry nodded. "Nobody… nobody should be hurt for something that is my job… my duty…"

Ken smiled slightly, and nodded once more. "Exactly. Now, let us retire for the night. Tomorrow, I have to teach you long-distance teleportation spells, so you can make your way to your home in a more comfortable manner."

"I… I can't go back the way I came?" Harry asked.

Ken actually chuckled. Slightly, but still. "Unless you want to arrive home in the same state you arrived here, but this time without someone who can help you help, I think you might want to take a look at the long-range spells. They're not as fast as your method, so it might take a couple of hours to get home, hopping a couple thousand kilometers at a time, but they are a lot more comfortable."

Harry nodded, accepting her teachings and her explanations. Once again, he was glad that things were explained to him. It helped so much to understand the why and not just the what of a situation.

00000

Harry awoke, feeling the familiar sickness of a hard night's work in his mental landscape. After making his way to the bathroom, doing his usual business as well as holding his head in the stream of ice-cold water coming from the tap, he went downstairs to get some food. As this was a weekday, only Aunt Petunia was home, and she sat and watched as he consumed a vast quantity of food before slowly dragging himself back upstairs.

He reflected on the three days he had been back as he did so, the letters he wrote to his friends, their insistence upon visiting, his forced explanations. He was glad to see that Hermione had indeed found some decent literature on Occlumency, and that she and Ron were doing their best to learn it. It was nowhere near enough just yet, but the fact that they were making the effort pleased Harry to no end.

He had been forced to explain to them that he had joined his teacher, to help her out after she had been injured. He was glad he managed to convince his friends without giving away too many details, and he was pleasantly surprised when they told him that they had been running interference for him with the Headmaster, making sure that nobody knew that he had been gone. He was incredibly grateful to them for that fact, and promised to share the full story with them as soon as their Occlumency shields were up. Both Hermione and Ron were sure to hold him to that promise, and for once, Harry didn't hesitate the least in keeping it.

As he trudged back into his room, he stood at its exact center and closed his eyes, letting his senses reach out to the Seals embedded deep within the walls of his expanded room. Feeling them out, he let his senses spread, trailing the walls, feeling both the physical limitations and the magical expansion done upon them. It was a strange feeling… it was as if he were standing in the middle of where a wall should go, almost feeling it run through him, while at the same time comfortably aware that the wall was still far away.

After centering himself, his body slipped into a martial arts stance, and he slipped from form to form, gently doing the kata that he had been revising with Ken through the night. Well… the kata and other things. He never knew how much he still had to learn, and now that he was learning an entirely new area of magic, the Japanese style, he was convinced once and for all that he knew even less than he had thought.

Power isn't about strength, he thought as he slipped through the kata with minimal effort, letting his body do the moving. Power isn't about reserves, either. Power is about knowledge, about training. True, those with strength can get by on brute force. But those who are trained, they know how to turn a person's strength against them. They can turn pluses into minuses; they know how to take a person's biggest strength, and make it their biggest weakness.

Harry opened his eyes mid-kata. Something tapped his window. Loudly. He glanced at Hedwig first, the snowy owl still in her cage. The angry look in her eyes had dulled some these last couple of days, and Harry was still in deep groveling mode with her, trying to get her to forgive him after days of abandonment. No amount of explanations had placated her, and it looked as if time was the only thing that would heal the rift.

Harry gave his owl another apologetic look, and Hedwig pointedly looked away. He sighed, and looked at the window, trying to see who was tapping.

To his surprise, it wasn't a person. The tapping had been loud enough for it, and as his mind registered the creature on his sill, he knew that it, too, was big enough to make that kind of noise.

He opened the window, curious as to see whether his visitor would be able to wring itself through the hole.

It managed.

Harry took the two packages clamped into the Japanese eagle's talons, and offered it a steak he swiped from the refrigerator. The magnificent animal, unaccustomed to seeing its meat in this form, didn't know what it was at first, until the smell hit it.

As the animal ate, Harry looked at the two packages, addressed to him. He smiled slightly as he realized the addressing was in Japanese Kanji writing, and that he had read it without realizing it at first. Taking the letter that was attached to the longest of the two packages, he slipped it from the envelope and opened it.

Folded in Japanese fashion, vertically, the letter was written in Kanji as well. Harry's smile grew as he noticed the artistic perfection of Ken's calligraphy. Still without problems, he read his letter.

Harry,

I never had the chance to properly thank you.

While you were here, we focused almost exclusively upon your training, the little time we had used to its maximum potential.

Even so, before you even woke up, I had a gift commissioned, and it took until I wrote this letter for it to be finished.

As you left, back to your ancestral lands, I couldn't help but feel proud. Even though you clearly did not wish to return, you did so. Even though you wanted to stay, you chose to follow the path your life had taken upon until this point. You are growing, Harry. You are beginning to understand. Now all we need to do is build up your knowledge and your technique… and that is something we can work on. The most difficult step you have already taken. I am proud to be your teacher.

And yet again, I find myself discussing your training, rather than discussing the purpose of this letter.

When I awoke, and I found that you had come, even in such a spectacular fashion, I felt gratitude towards you. And after being told the entire story, understanding the dangers you went through, I feel not just the gratitude, but the

Harry frowned; something had obviously happened here. It was as if the ink on the next part of the letter was different somehow… he didn't even decipher the next character for a few moments, not before he realized that Ken had obviously been thinking hard at this point, and had stopped writing. She had turned back to it at a later time, maybe an hour, maybe two, but the special ink had changed during this time, and it showed in the letter. He blinked, and went back a column, reading the last sentence once again.

not just the gratitude, but the kind of love a teacher has for a student. You chose to ignore the danger to yourself, and chose to come to my rescue.

Even though you had not yet seen me, or Maya, in the flesh, you cared enough to make a hazardous journey, and put yourself in deliberate risk to come and help me.

Words fail me. Harry, all I can say is thank you, even though these words are insufficient.

Unfortunately, I was unable to say this to you in person. It took your absence and a stubborn apprentice to make this foolish woman realize the truths in her own heart.

I wish you to know, Harry, that no matter where, if you ever need my help, I will provide it.

Please, for now, accept these two gifts, one of which I commissioned before you ever woke up, the second a gift that Maya said would please you just as much. And please, forgive a foolish woman's lack of words and inability to offer these words to you in person.

Harry wiped at his eyes. The letter had obviously come from the heart, and there never was any doubt in his mind. He hadn't been thanked before… he had never been thanked for saving someone. He sniffed, wiped at his eyes again. He finally took his handkerchief, dabbed at his eyes to clear out the tears, and blew his nose.

He looked at the two slender packages on his bed. The large eagle had finished eating by now, and was watching Harry like… well, like an eagle. He turned to look at it.

"Do you want to stay for a while, or do you want to go back now?" he asked the eagle, not coming too close to it, not knowing whether it was as domesticated as the owls he was used to receiving.

The eagle puffed up its chest, as if asking why it would want to stay, it wasn't as if it were tired. Harry smiled, and understood. He opened the window, and stepped back, allowing the eagle to leave the room, spread its wings, and fly off.

"An eagle," he whispered, before looking at his gifts. "All the way from Japan," he said, shaking his head. "Ken-Sensei, sometimes, you amaze me." He stepped back to his bed, sat down, and stared at the packages again.

Wrapped in beautiful paper, somehow surviving the trip unblemished, the packages lay there, totally innocent, shining in the sunlight. Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to open them just yet. Even though curiosity burned through him, he just sat there and stared at them for ten long minutes, trying to wrap his mind around the events that had brought him here.

Finally, he reached out, and took the longest package. Both were strange packages, one long and slender, the other shorter, but wider. Taking the long and slender one first, He carefully opened the wrapping paper, slowly revealing a long cardboard box.

He eased the lid off the box, and his breath hitched in his throat.

Taking an envelope out of the box, he looked at the item that remained behind. Slowly, he tore his gaze away, and opened the envelope. Again, there was a Japanese letter inside, written on the same rice-paper as his first, with the text a beautiful deep-black calligraphy.

Harry,

This is a Japanese Wizard's staff. It is made from the wood of the Japanese Oak.

It has not yet been bonded, and as such, it does not have that which makes it a magical staff. For now, it remains a dead piece of wood.

I trust that you know what to do with it, and how to make it magical.

I know you will treat it well… and I know that it will treat you well.

Ken

Harry folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. Slowly, he took the staff out of the box, realizing that the inside of the box was pure foam, with the contours of the staff removed, creating a perfect inlay to keep the powerful and costly item safe and protected. The moment he stood up, the staff next to him, he realized that this staff, for now not yet bounded, had the potential to become an incredibly powerful magical item.

Exercising his magical senses, he closed his eyes and let his senses cover the staff. The wood was indeed Japanese oak. Not that he knew what Japanese oak felt like, but he knew now, trusting Ken on this one. It was long and slender, the bottom filed down to a tip while the top held a dragon's head carved out of the natural widening of the wood. His senses traced the grains of the wood… and he came to the stark realization that not a single grain was cut. Not a single knot existed within the wood, not a single imperfection marred the wood.

This was not just a staff, he realized. This was a staff made from perfect wood, a perfect conduit for channeling magical power.

He drew a breath, and looked up and down the staff with just his eyes, the brown tint of the wood glistening in the sunlight. Contrary to the wands he was accustomed to, Japanese staves did not require a magical core… that was the reason why they were staves and not wands… but they required a bonding ritual. And there were not many who could perform such a ceremony… it took considerable power.

He put the staff back in the box, put the letter on top, and closed it. This was a project for later.

He took the second gift, unable to hide his curiosity. After that magnificent staff, what more could Ken have in mind? Slowly, the wrapping became undone, revealing another cardboard box. This one was shorter, but a lot wider, than the box that housed the staff.

A gift that Maya thought I would like, he thought as he wiggled the lid open.

His mouth fell open as far as it would go. This… this can't be…

Harry,

I know how much you liked this one. Maya told me she caught you reaching for it… now, don't be angry at her, I already knew before she told you.

And I will not take no for an answer. Yes, it belonged to a member of my family, but I am sure he would be honored if you would carry this.

Ken

PS: I have added an inscription.

"Ken-Sensei," he whispered out loud, not realizing that she could not hear him. "This… I can't accept this," he whispered, staring at the box, with a foam cutout that supported the glorious and magnificent weapon perfectly.

Inside the box lay that beautiful red-and-gold katana that he had stared at each opportunity he had. He read the letter again. He looked at the sword. And then he read the letter, just one more time, to be completely sure.

Maya had told him not to touch a sword… but Ken had given it to him, hadn't she? What did the rules say in these cases? I am sure he would be honored if you would carry this, he repeated a phrase from the letter.

He drew a deep breath, and lifted the sword from the box. Nothing happened, and Harry let out his breath. There is an inscription, he thought, not seeing one. Where?

He drew the blade from the scabbard, finally seeing the inscription, curving around the blade, just above the handle, and he had to chuckle. There was no way he could return the weapon now… not after that inscription had been put on it.

His finger traced it, and he whispered in English, "My name is Devastation, I belong to the One who Lives."

End of Chapter

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