Leaning back into my chair, I cast my mana senses around the room and in my mind's eye, the world became a riot of colours. Everything gained a halo – either of a single hue or a mix of many – and I knew it to be mana.
If we were to go by the findings published by the Imperial Academy, then, the entire world was actually made up of mana and these 'auras' that I could sense were nothing but the various entities slowly sublimating back into their mana states. Based on how slow or fast the sublimation was, the object could last a long time – from millions of years to only a few decades.
Further, mana came in six forms, corresponding to the six elements and based on the proportion of the elements, they formed different materials. The ability of Tier 5 mages to solidify their mana into physical objects was irrefutable proof for the theory. After seeing how lifelike father's mana arm could be, I didn't doubt it one bit.
Earth mana was particularly stable, causing soil and rocks that were composed primarily of it to last aeons while fire, as the most volatile form of mana, was extremely transient. Another widely accepted notion was the interconversion of forms of mana. The most vivid example of this was the consumption of wood to fuel the flames of a campfire.
Looking down upon the table, I found dim streaks of white and blue running along the grains. Traces of light and water mana if I was identifying them correctly. But this was but a dead tree. When I had laid my eyes upon the living specimens in the courtyard, I had seen them awash with water and light mana – the former travelling up in channels through the root, the latter coming down from the leaves. Other than that, I couldn't get a picture of a large portion of the wood, therefore concluding that it was earth mana I was missing out on.
Given my lack of a contract with a female earth mage, I had absolutely no induction to that strain of mana. Even when I turned my senses on the ground beneath my feet – which should be positively brimming with earth mana, all I got was a blank, except for the dark blob which was my shadow. But given my affinity to all five other mana strains, I could, by elimination, identify the location and concentration of earth mana. It just got a little cumbersome, is all.
Thus, when timber was burnt, this combined construct of water, light and earth was consumed and quite a bit of it was transformed into fire mana and the light mana contained within was released into the world – resulting in the blazing bonfires we were all familiar with.
Even our bodies were composed of mana. Again, father's mana arm was all the proof I needed to trust the veracity of this statement. When he wasn't channelling his mana through it, it was practically indistinguishable from a regular arm.
According to mother's notes on magic, any and all illnesses were a result of imbalances in the mana composition of the body. If one or the other strain exceeded certain bounds, then one would fall ill. A fever was nothing but an excess of fire mana while a runny nose resulted from an imbalance of water and fire. An accumulation of earth mana in joints resulted in rheumatism for the elderly and problems with wind mana were the cause of nervous disorders.
The science of mana was vast and profound and depending on our understanding of it, we could alter the very world. But unfortunately, an individual was limited in his capabilities. By birth, one was limited to a certain element. By choice, they were limited to an Aspect or two and finally, by time, they were limited in how deep they could peer into the mysteries of the world's workings in a single lifetime.
Thus, it was only when we stood upon the shoulders of our predecessors, like this knowledge repository here or the vaunted Imperial library, or the clan vaults of the Daimyo's, that we could hope to go one step further.
Master? Grandmaster? I shook my head. They were nothing but terms to denote fellow travellers on the path of enlightenment and discovery. One was a few miles ahead of the other is all.
It was a pity that all these mages hoarded their knowledge and discoveries like gold. If only they could share their understandings with each other, we would have advanced so much. The world would be our playground. Instead, all we use it for is war. I sighed. Well, until I had the ability to do something about it, there was no use bemoaning the state of the universe.
Absentmindedly, as I pondered over the implications of my new knowledge about the interconnections between the elements – especially fire and wind based on great grandpa's treatise, I noticed an elderly maid enter the library to light the smokeless torches.
Without noticing it, the day had already passed by. The last rays of the sun were streaming through the panes of the window, illuminating the library with their russet brilliance. How the time flies.
As the maid dropped some fire stones into the torch and sprinkled a white, inflammable powder over them to light them, I suddenly caught a jolt of emotion from her. This had been happening to me ever since my return from the Forbidden Zone. I had gained an ability to sense emotions in the presence of fire mana. The impressions I got weren't very accurate and extremely fleeting but depending on the intensity of the flame, I could get a clearer picture.
The emotions were like an obsidian crystal placed in utter darkness. Usually, I wouldn't be able to see it but if I lit a fire, then by the firelight reflected off the facets, I could estimate its shape.
The emotion I got from the maid was trepidation. She was worried by the constant stream of news flowing in from the west about war. She wasn't the only one. Everyone I met nowadays had tension written on their faces. It was a harrowing time, this wait.
When war began, on the contrary, you could set a firm resolve to fight or flee, but being suspended in this uncertain state on the brink of the precipice… It was harrowing.
"Master! Phi-Phi!" A loud voice startled me out of my reverie and I turned around to see Deimos rapidly approaching us.
"Shh!" hissed the librarian, a lanky man with a scraggly goatee and unkempt hair. His eyes were bloodshot, indicative of late nights and overzealous reading habits.
Covering her mouth with her hand, Deimos bowed to him in apology. With a disdainful 'hmph' that only librarians and teachers can perfect, he turned away, pardoning her infarction.
Biting her tongue in contrition, Deimos walked up to us in a more sedate, if still hurried pace. Reaching us, she leant down and whispered conspiratorially, "Guess who showed up at the gates."
"Who?" I asked curiously.
For a moment, I struggled to join the name to the faces before it hit me, "Aah! It was that team of otters that we contested against in the Tournament… the main rivals for the Duchess' seat."
Deimos nodded. "You even notarized a marriage for two of them, ya."
My first official notarization. How could I forget?
I frowned. "But, what are they doing here? Weren't they all in the Southern District? They should have been caught up in the mess… If they are here…"
"Ya. They managed to give the Shogunate the slip. Right now, they are talking to Father and Mother… they must have a lot of intel about the Shogunate forces and the situation there." She pouted, "I wanted to listen in, but they wouldn't let me."
Grabbing my arm, she tugged, "But if you come, they'll allow you in as the heir and I can follow, ya. Come on, hurry up." Turning to Phobos who had looked up from her books she said, "And Phi-Phi, don't stay holed up here all the time, it'll do your mind some good to relax. Come with us, ya?"
Phobos considered for a moment and then shook her head. "Tell me what happened when you come back… also see if Ceres is awake or not. If she is, tell her that I'm waiting for her here, okay?"
Deimos deflated and grumbled, "Ya, she just woke up. I told her about the Lutrinae but she said she'd rather not go. She's coming here."
After telling Phobos about the possible solution to her problem, Ceres had gone to sleep so that she could extract more information about smoke clones from the will of the Witch in her dream. As for why she wouldn't go to meet the Lutrinae… the poor folks had just had a traumatic experience with one kitsune – they wouldn't be eager to see another so soon.
Putting my book back, I stood up and stretched. "Fine. I'll come with." I said. Turning to Phobos, I exhorted, "Don't overwork yourself. You and Ceres both." Seeing her nod, I smiled and offered my arm to Deimos. "Shall we?"
I waited for her to hook her arm through mine before we set out towards the reception hall. Let's see what news they had for us.
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