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Jered didn’t know what he was expecting, but becoming a human lightbulb was not it. Thankfully, it was an easy skill to learn and develop. He reasoned that it would take anywhere between a couple of days to a week to use it as a blunt weapon. The tome did say that Mana Orb was an indispensable skill to learn since it branched off into many powerful variants. However, there was good news. After a whole, sleepless day of trial and error, he had finally succeeded in curbing down his annoying Magical Radar. That’s how he called it. ‘Magical Radar’. It was sweet, short, to the point. And most importantly, it didn’t harm his pride.
His smartphone’s screen lit up and vibrated.
Wednesday, 15 October
Rainey has sent you a message.
—”Hey, doggie, I’ve got a job for you.”
He unlocked the screen and opened up the chat.
—”What is it? Also, don’t call me doggie.”
He patiently waited… and waited. But the ‘Rainey is typing…‘ went on for a full minute before…
She must have been trolling him. Such a waste of time.
He typed back, —”What is the job?”
A reply popped up faster than Jasmine’s.
—”Hey, doggie. You free now? Let’s meet up. I’ll explain everything to you in detail :P”
—”Technically it’s a school day, but whatever… yes, I’m free…”
—”Perfect! Cuz I’m already waiting for you outside.”
He blinked; once, twice. She was? Jered tossed the bedsheets aside and made a beeline for the window. An inconspicuous Mini Coupe was parked by the sidewalk. A well-aged lady dressed in business attire was sitting rather inappropriately on the car’s trunk, bobbing her head around as she listened to some heart-pumping music. She noticed him, waved a hand, and typed a quick message.
The smartphone in his hand vibrated.
—”You have a yummy physique ;)”
Jered was a bit floored, then he stared down at his exposed torso. He liked to sleep with only his briefs on as it helped boost his already overly-inflated ego. It must have been a family’s thing for he knew both his sister and mother did the same, albeit less exaggerated than him.
He promptly ignored her. —”I’m going to wash up, wait a min…”
There was no reply, but he saw her nod at him. Jered turned around, and, after a few seconds of not-so-deep contemplation, he took all the tomes Rainey gave him out of the bag. He wanted to use Paranoia!’s library feature and absorb them only when he was done reading them, but if the job proved to be dangerous, then there was no reason to hold back. After a split second of hesitation, he lay a hand on the tome’s cover, “Absorb?” he muttered questioningly.
The bible-like black tome disintegrated into beautiful, wispy butterflies of light. 200 pages of magic knowledge flowed into his brain.[You have absorbed the tome ‘Dahmaska’s Mana Theory’]
So that was its name, huh?[Knowledge transfer: 10%][Knowledge transfer: 32%][Knowledge transfer: 78%][Knowledge transfer: 100%] [You have already learned the spell, ‘Mana Orb’.][Mana Orb has become Lv.22][The Orb’s density can now cause mild blunt trauma. Depending on your Mana Pool, you can also regulate the Orb’s size.] [You have learned the spell ‘Mana Beam’, Lv.1][A variant of Mana Orb. It fires a highly-concentrated beam of mana. It’s heavily taxing if fired continuously.] [The spell ‘Mana Beam’ resonates with the spell ‘Mana Orb’.][Mana Beam has become Lv.5][You now need slightly less mana to conjure a Mana Beam.]
The lone Mana Vein in his heart throbbed. And not only—his neurons were gliding around in a weird dance to fit in the knowledge, which caused his head to be hammered by a dull, stinging pain. It was as if he had just crammed half a month’s worth of studying into his brain in a scanty couple of seconds. Definitely not healthy. A few ragged breaths later, and Jered found himself grimacing as he stared at the remaining two tomes. The first one had at least around 700 pages, while the second one was well over 1000.
And that was considering how 200 pages almost knocked him out.
Well, at least he knew it was legit and not a scam. A swirling mass of white mist magically-ionized above his palm. It was as big as a human’s head, and bright like an incandescent bulb. Then it started to tremble dangerously before the Mana Orb converted into pressurized kinetic-like energy, ready to be fired off at the snap of his fingers—literally, and figuratively. He balled his hand into a fist, quickly stopping the flow of mana, and hence snuffing out the spell.
The light dispersed into a misty smoke.
Jered felt a bit winded after that stunt. Mana Beam was indeed quite taxing. His heart rate accelerated to compensate for the drained energy. Even so, a smile tugged at his lips. Did a God out there decide that he was apt to become the chosen one? Or maybe it was all an intergalactic conspiration that spanned for centuries across the universe, and Jered someway, somehow found himself in the middle of it all? Because it was simply impossible for someone’s life to turn upside down like that in less than 24 hours.
What was even Paranoia? Where did it come from?[This is classified information. You don’t have the rank to access Paranoia!’s database.]
Came the system’s reply. Which meant that at some point, when his rank was high enough, he could get inside its database?
A sigh left him. It was neither the time nor the place to unveil the mystery behind the screens. He was just feeling a bit emotional.
After cleaning himself up, Jered slung his school bag—which contained only his tomes—over his shoulder and made his way downstairs. His mother was there, over the sink of the kitchen with her back turned to him, looking as lively and beautiful as a freshly out-of-cocoon butterfly. However, unlike a real butterfly, the woman’s lifespan seemed to stretch over the three digits as she stopped aging after hitting her 30s.
“Jered, you’re not going to have breakfast?”
Jane tilted her head around. Her voice was one of confusion, with a teaspoon of concern.
“A friend is driving me to school, we’re going to grab a bite on the way,” he said, his fingers flitting slowly across his phone’s keyboard.
“Ah… I see… I thought we could have breakfast together…” his mother’s voice lowered considerably towards the end. Jasmine, who had been munching on a muffin so far, was staring at him as well. She didn’t say anything, not that she needed to. He could see it in her eyes, same as their mother’s. It was one of those rare times where he couldn’t really decipher her. She usually wore her heart on her sleeve, yet there was something else in there as well.
Jered’s stride halted. “I’m really sorry, mom. I’ve already promised.” he smiled apologetically, “Also, this concerns a part-time job I’m interviewing for with said friend. So for the bigger picture, I’ll have to go.”
The smile on Jane’s face thinned down to a bitter, understanding line. She nodded, “Fine sweetie, just be careful. And when you come back I want to know everything about your part-time job, okay?”
He grinned, sidled up to her, and planted a chaste kiss on her cheek, much to her surprise. “Sure thing, mom. Thank you.”
The ugly line curved back up into that loving, blinding smile.
She wiped her hands with a cloth and proceeded to smooth Jered’s hair, jacket, and give him a quick once-over. And when she was satisfied—totally ignoring his growing chagrin at being treated like a child—she smacked a resounding kiss on his forehead. “There you go. All dolled up.”
“Haha, no problem. Off you go then.”
Meanwhile, Jasmine tried to squelch back her grin behind a fist. It didn’t work. Jered noticed her smirking away at him. Therefore, when he passed her by, he didn’t forget to give her a brotherly flick on her ear. The crisp squeal of pain he was awarded, and her indignant ‘hey!‘, accompanied him until he was out of the door.
“I swear, Jered, once you’re back ho—”
With a click, he closed the door.
The soft, weak golden strands of the morning sun struggled to stay alight amidst the swirling mass of darkness billowing in from the south. The whole neighborhood was tinted in a faltering bronze light as the black clouds encroached with their raging silver streaks. Jered heard the low hum of a car’s engine. He hastened towards it, opened the copilot door, and slid inside. There was no blaring music, contrary to his expectations. Instead, a mantle of silence walled between him and Rainey.
She was not even looking at him.
“You don’t seem to be in a good mood,” he stated quietly.
Rainey’s eyes were fixed somewhere in the sky, where the storm was coming from.
“I’m sorry…” her voice sounded so defeated for some reason, “My mood soured…”
“I hope it has nothing to do with me…”
A smile—however weak it was—lifted her lips. “No, it has nothing to do with you. Don’t worry…” she wheeled the car around, and sped away from his house, to the opposite direction of the storm. The town’s morning fanfare rolled past his windowpane in a blur. And after a few minutes, his fingers were tapping impatiently on his knee. He was fine with the silence, but the gloominess oozing out of Rainey was grinding his gears. It made him feel unsettled.
“So, are you going to tell me what is the job I have to do or not?” he inquired with a barely concealed edge in his voice.
“Hmm… it’s a probationary job, actually.” she started, “You see, we of Gravewall are part of a magical organization called Akashka Society. It’s recently founded, so it’s not some huge corporation with its fingers stretched all over the globe. We used to operate mostly on the Other Side.”
“Used?” he noted.
Rainey tucked a fringe of her hair behind her ear, “Yes, used. I thought it would be for the best if we waited for our society to grow more before we started anything outrageous there.” she ventured a quick look at his face, the wrinkles on her face retreating behind her smile. “The only true members of Akashka are me and Jerry… and potentially anyone else in Gravewall who awakens mana. The ones that work there are only outer members since their fighting capabilities are almost non-existent.”
“I see.” Jered nodded thoughtfully, “And this ‘probationary job’ is a test to see if I’m qualified to become a true member, right?”
“Yes. We’ve already established that you have a lot of talent,” a hint of eagerness sneaked into her tone, “But can you live up to it? The Other Side is full of dangerous, god-like monsters. Many other societies like ours are deep-rooted there, holding incredible influence and sway. I gave you the tomes to get yourself acquainted with magic, yes, but also to see how much you’d learn in such a short time-span. In layman’s terms, I want to see if the trend is worth investing in.”
“And if the trend goes down you pull back to minimize the loss. So, what if I fail this job? Are you going to kill me?”
An amused chuckle preluded her next words, “No no… I told you, didn’t I? We need manpower.” she said matter-of-factly, “You might not become a true member, but you’ll spend your days working for those who become, though. A little errand boy for the ones that have power. Better than death, huh?”
“Yes… better than death…” he drawled out, staring at his bag. Should he? Whatever it was that he had to do, he couldn’t afford to fail.
She turned the radio on, switching through the channels to find a song she could bob her head to. “The job is simple, really. Simple but dangerous. Do you remember what I said about demonic contracts?” at his nod, she went on, “Well, I found out a perfect demonic entity somewhere in the outskirts of our town. Usually, you’d need special equipment to register its low-frequency voice. But hey, mana is really a beautiful thing. It makes life easier and lazier.”
It was then that Rainey took the first lane to the right, whereupon the cluster of buildings started thinning out, until they were on a single road surrounded by vegetation. Jered blinked. “So you’re going to… what… implant a demon inside Arya?” it was more of a statement than a question.
“You can interpret it that way if you want.”
Was she trying to be mysterious?
“And where exactly is this demonic entity?”
Rainey shrugged, “Where is the most likely place you can find spirits, ghosts, and demonic entities on Earth?”
“A haunted… house?”
She coughed a few times to mask her mirth, “Nope,” she shook her head, popping the ‘p’, “A haunted asylum, dear.”
Synopsis: The online game <