Under Philia’s tutelage, the ‘city’ that was the Lorek grove showed rapid signs of development. Philia introduced Narissa to new ways of utilizing the trees, creating portals that would allow one to quickly cross to any other point of the forest. Homes were set up in districts following the sylvan goddess’s instructions, with the inner district being named the District of Wood.
While all of this sounded like it took quite a while, it was truthfully over in merely a few days. To speed up the process, Philia used her own divine power to adjust the layout of the city such that everything had been neatly organized. She even instructed Narissa on how to train her people for different production-related tasks that would better enhance the forest.
It was only after all of this was done that Narissa and Philia finalized the temple to Aurivy within the heart of the forest. During this time, Narissa enjoyed being able to truly speak with another of her kind for hours on end, neither party running out of things to discuss. And like so, the forest changed without anyone else realizing what impact this would have.
Dana crouched down within the storeroom of the Sky Citadel, inspecting a wooden box containing a number of parts ranging from simple screws to more advanced energy converters. She lifted a particular piece up, squinting her eyes at it before smiling softly. After setting it back in the box, she pulled out her clipboard and wrote a note on it. “Alright, this shipment seems fine.”
In recent days, there had been a malfunction at one of the mana factories, causing an entire facility to be shut down. If it had not been for the world spirit that Dana created to help with that world, she was sure that the damage would have been much more extreme.
At the moment, Dana suspected that there was a mana siphon that had been created on the other side of the waste disposal portal, one that leaked back through and caused the malfunction to take place. In order to prevent this from happening in the future, Dana was taking steps to secure the process more thoroughly.
As she reached for the lid to the box, planning to seal it for transport, Dana noticed something unusual. Her right hand became faint and ethereal, turning briefly into smoke as it refused to pass through the box. Gulping, Dana glanced around the room to make sure nobody was watching.
“Open.” She muttered, and a circular void appeared in the air next to her. Dana reached her hand out, plunging it into the void as she devoured the silver mist within it. When she pulled her hand back, she let out a faint sigh of relief, noticing that it had returned to normal. “It’s getting faster…”
“What is?” Tsubaki’s voice spoke up from directly behind Dana, causing her to jump and turn around, eyes wide from surprise. “And what was that?” The kitsune goddess looked towards the silver mist leaking out of the hole, a flash of recognition crossing her features, but also one of confusion.
“It’s… it’s nothing, Tsuba.” Dana smiled, closing the hole and trying her best to ease the worry she felt coming from Tsubaki.
“Dana…” Tsubaki crouched down, looking genuinely concerned towards the smaller elven spirit. “I know when you’re lying to me. What’s going on?”
Hearing Tsubaki’s tone, and seeing the worry on her usually stoic face, Dana felt a slight shudder run through her body, a pang of sadness. At that moment, her control slipped, and her left hand similarly became faint and ethereal, just like the right had been moments ago.
When Dana saw that there was no more chance to hide what was happening, she looked down at the floor. “I… I don’t know exactly what’s happening. You know how long I’ve been around… way more than any other spirit.”
“I thought your form had stabilized ages ago?” Tsubaki commented with furrowed brows, earning a faint nod from Dana.
“So did I. I haven’t felt any problems since you took me as your familiar. But… a few months ago, this started. I thought I just had to start eating again, and it wouldn’t be a problem, so I didn’t want to worry you. But… it’s been happening more frequently. I think.. I think…”
Though the words were left unsaid, the meaning was clear. Tsubaki’s brow furrowed as she leaned in, wrapping Dana in a gentle embrace. “That’s not going to happen, Dana. I won’t let it.”
Dana had become a more important existence to Tsubaki’s life than either of them had ever truly admitted. She was the closest thing Tsubaki had to family, less a student and more an adopted daughter. Over the many years that the two of them had been together, Dana had become something that Tsubaki felt she could no longer live without. As if life would become too quiet and lonely without the elven spirit.
“I don’t know how to fix it, though… and I don’t want to bother the boss. It’s not easy to get him to act, especially just for one person.”
“You’re not just one person.” Tsubaki whispered to her. “You’re Dana Jafer. Servant of the Keeper, and part of our family… I know he’ll act if it’s for you. But first, give me a couple of days to research the problem. When we meet him, I want to be fully informed.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Another voice spoke up in the room, startling both girls. They hadn’t sensed his arrival, but the Keeper had appeared silently at the doorway, watching the scene with a gentle expression. Tsubaki could tell that this was the true Keeper, not the ‘puppet’ that was left to occupy the throne.
“H-hey boss.” Dana spoke with a weak smile, hiding her hand behind her back. “You saw that, huh..?”
The Keeper gave a small nod, walking over and sitting down next to them, to put himself more on the level of the small elf. “Tsubaki’s right, you should have told me about this. I could have asked James and Irena to look into it for you sooner.”
“Do you know what’s happening to her?” Tsubaki asked, a touch of urgency in her voice as she looked at the Keeper.
“Only a little bit. I did some checking with Irena, but haven’t spoken to James. According to what she said… Dana is reaching the end of her natural lifespan.” When the Keeper said that, both of the girls tensed up, the realization hitting them harder.
“As you know, spirits are not eternal. Even an aeon will fade with the passing of time. Dana… she had longer than most, because of her unique titles, and then becoming your familiar. If you supply her regularly with divine energy, she could probably last for another fifty years by Irena’s estimate. But… in that time, she’ll probably start to lose pieces of her memories as her spirit fades.”
Dana let out a gasp of horror when she heard that, actually breaking free from Tsubaki’s grip to step over to the Keeper. “Boss… no, Dale, what can I do? I don’t want to lose my time with Tsuba. Please…” Her eyes began to water as the Keeper reached out to pat a hand on her shoulder.
“I haven’t spoken with James yet, but I think he’ll agree with me. You need to evolve again. It’s Tsubaki’s divinity that has kept you in one piece for so long, but you have yet to achieve your own form of eternity. You don’t have the Perfect Self, or the Perfect Soul, and you aren’t innately divine yourself. Scarlet at least had her status as a demigod to hold her together.”
“How can I evolve, though?” Dana asked, looking towards the Keeper. “I thought that there wouldn’t be anything left after becoming the familiar of a god.”
“Normally… there probably wouldn’t be. But you aren’t a true familiar.” When the Keeper pointed that out, Dana blinked. “Remember, you were an unbound familiar that was taken in. You aren’t a familiar created from a part of Tsubaki’s power. Her soul is imprinted on you, but it’s not a part of you, if that makes sense…”
“It doesn’t, but I’m listening. How can we fix things?” Dana asked, reaching her hands out to put them on the Keeper’s shoulders. “Please, is there a way?”
“I don’t know exactly. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two, but I don’t know the exact ways to go about them.” The Keeper shook his head in response. “First, deepen the relationship with yourself and Tsubaki. Truly become her familiar, and her power should be able to fuel you. But… if you do this, the nature of your soul will change, and you will probably lose parts of your personality. I can’t guarantee that you would be the same person when the process is over.”
“What’s the second option?” Tsubaki questioned immediately, seeming to deem the first as unacceptable without some form of guarantee.
“The second option… is for Dana to evolve into a higher energy form. One that has immortality as an innate quality. She could become a god, or a perfect soul, or some other type of being. There might even be ways that I could use my power to bestow such a trait on her once I go back.”
“You mean spending points to buy something.” Dana said faintly, having a basic understanding of what it was like for the Keeper. In the end, there were laws that governed even the actions of the Keeper… the great, pandimensional capitalism.
“How much would it cost?” Tsubaki asked, seeming to think of something. Noticing her thoughts, the Keeper smiled towards her.
“I’m having Ryone look into it now. Any energy types that can be used to gain agelessness, techniques that can be trained, or systems that can halt the aging process of specific individuals. Right now… she’s found one, aside from the methods we have. It’s an extremely high level energy, known as a saint energy.”
“How much?” Tsubaki asked again, though the Keeper raised his hand to stop her.
“Just wait, and let me explain. We might not need to buy anything in the first place.” A memory seemed to pass over the Keeper’s expression. “There’s an energy that we have in this world, one that I’ve already purchased. It is able to continuously restore vitality, and has been shown to visibly halt the user’s aging…”
Dana looked hopefully towards the Keeper when she heard that, as if a beacon had lit up in her eyes. “Is this something that I can practice?”
“Maybe… I need to purchase the next level of the energy in order to say for certain. The information I have right now doesn’t include how to evolve your own body with it, only how to create and control it. But, even that should be enough to stabilize you, I think. I just don’t know if it would be a permanent solution or not.”
“How much is the next level?” Tsubaki asked once more, her face looking more and more determined as the possibility of hope increased.
“Forty-five thousand points.” When Tsubaki heard that number, her face practically crumbled, the number far beyond even her wildest prediction. “Saint-level energies are frighteningly powerful. This one in particular is able to create an entire world, and potentially limitless lifeforms within it.”
“Does it… involve shadows?” Dana asked, thinking back to the time when she was in Fyor. When she met a girl who appeared to have a massive army lurking within her shadow, willing to serve her.
The Keeper nodded his head. “The name of the energy is the World’s Shadow. In a sense, it feels like someone was trying to make a lesser version of the system we Keepers use, that they could grant to their people. If you’re willing to accept it, I’ll have Udona add the manual to create it in the library.”
“I’m willing!” Dana called out without any hesitation, earning a somewhat awkward look from the Keeper.
“Uhm… you didn’t let me finish. I was about to say that training an energy like this to the state of evolution would probably sever your ‘familiar’ relationship with Tsubaki. That’s the trade-off here.”
“Do it.” Tsubaki nodded her head as well, reaching over to pull Dana into another embrace. “If the options are to lose her as a familiar, or to lose her as a person… I can do without a familiar. But I don’t want to lose Dana.”
Dana looked over towards Tsubaki at that, who reached down to place a hand over the smoke that was emerging from the spirit’s arm. With a gentle flow of divine light, the limb was restored to its pristine condition. “The Goddess of Light, and the World’s Shadow. Don’t you think that these would make a great pair to serve the Keeper?” Tsubaki asked with a small smile, earning a choked nod from Dana.
“I’ll get Udona started on it, then.” The Keeper said as he stood, reaching down to help the two of them up. “It should be ready within a few minutes. But remember to take your time when practicing. It won’t do any good for you to rush through the process if the result is failure. Saint energies get… dangerous when they fail.”