Sunday, May 2nd, Reiwa 42.
It’s the early evening of your long weekend before Golden Week, and to the tune of ~FLY HIGH~, you have finished the single most epic grinding session you’re certain anyone has ever done, ever, ever, ever! A full training course for body and mind!
Jogging to train Vitality! Lifting weights to train Strength! Having Korri toss stuff at you for you to avoid to train Dexterity! Brain training games for Intelligence! Um, Twenty Questions with Korri for Adaptability! And, er, putting on makeup for Charisma! The better part of two days spent entirely on training yourself!
And what do you have to show for it?
Yes, despite running yourself utterly ragged, and exhausting yourself completely, your weekend has produced exactly no results whatsoever! Clearly this Gamer System isn’t as generous as the ones you’ve read about, huh?
(At least Korri and Marq have been good sports about it, though you think they were rather worried about you.)
…maybe it’s time for a different approach.
Well, rather than ignoring future-past-you’s advice completely, you could probably stand to at least kind of listen to her when she’s not telling you ‘brainwash girls’, right? In that case…
she said ‘extra-curricular activities’.
Golden Week is usually a bit busy around your house, of course. Family visits, sibling school projects, cleaning, housekeeping, all of that. And of course, you need to keep up with fencing, and make sure you’re there for Korri when she needs you, and then there’s the project with Stella…
but you should have some time to fit in other things.
So, how can you be the best heroine?
Is it just the ability to fight injustice on a physical level, or is it something deeper? Is it, perhaps, the ability to fight the injustice that lies in the minds of others, as much as any physical foe?
To be sure, the physical aspect is important. And it fits in well with your schedule, more importantly – Calvina’s already offered you the chance to help her out. Maybe extra fencing classes will help your Dexterity?
But, it’s the mental aspects you’re really focused on. Even if you don’t want to control anyone’s mind, (or so you tell yourself), the ability to convince others of your point of view, to spread hope and love through the world, is important. Your mental ability scores have a more direct benefit, too, because each point in them gives you a skill point for the relevant tree – Enchantment for Intelligence, Telepathy for Adaptability, and Hypnosis for Charisma.
Even with your abilities, though, if you want to be taken seriously? You’re going to need Charisma.
Fortunately, there are a couple of clubs at sixth form that are somehow still meeting tomorrow, despite Golden Week; you’ll need to decide between the Debate Club and the Literature Club, sure, but that’s a problem for future Cibby, probably.
Present Cibby, on the other hand, is more worried about being kinda dumb.
There’s a lot you don’t know about, um…a lot. Your grades aren’t great, Psychology aside. So you did a bit of poking around, and hey, wouldn’t you know it – there’s a beginner programming class starting up this week! You tried programming a bit in your high school years, but you were never very good at it; from the sound of it, it might work for training Intelligence. Being smarter will help you plan further after all of this…
assuming this works, at least.
…and assuming future-past-you doesn’t get all weird again. Seriously, you know you’re kinda weird about love, but are you really that thirsty?!
Of course, all of this is planned out by now, and the class is signed up for, and you should hopefully be able to keep up with it all. No idea if it’ll be any more successful than this weekend grinding session, but for now, you’re more worried about something else, and in your frustration you let out a soft cry of:
Part Ⅱ: Run For The Shadows
“I think it’s time to take a break, Cibby,” you hear from Korri as she wanders back into your room, holding a tumbler full of cold brew. “You’ve been going at it two days straight! That can’t be healthy…”
“It’s also not healthy to get hit by a truck!” you mutter weakly, having tossed yourself into the bed. Korri smiles and kneels down, presenting the tumbler to you, as you grasp its cold surface and sip gently on it. “I thought, maybe if I had a training montage, I’d come back at things with a new outlook, you know?”
“Montages are spread out over weeks, even months, Cibby! It’s only natural you’d feel wiped out after all this. You need to spread things out!”
…yeah, when even Korri is chastising you, you know you’ve fudged up a bit, huh?
“Thanks for being a good sport about it, at least,” you say.
“You’d do the same for me, Cibby!” Korri gives you a playful salute. “Anytime you need me, I’ll be here.”
And you smile, because Korri’s just way too cute! Being able to make this girl smile is one of the reasons you’re happy to be alive.
“I haven’t missed anything important, right?” Usually, Golden Week doesn’t start in earnest until Monday, but sometimes things happen a bit differently. (Korri, as per usual, is spending any time she can humanly justify away from her parents.) “The space monsters didn’t destroy the Earth while I was doing special training, did they?”
“Nah, just Third Impact,” Korri says, cheery as ever.
“I suppose it couldn’t make the climate much worse, huh.” You reach over for your phone, staring at the messages you’ve sent Stella. She hasn’t replied yet, but she hasn’t been on social media either; you’re pretty sure she’s just busy with something or other. And, well, she probably wants to spend as little time around you as humanly possible?
“Are you worried about things with Stella?” Korri asks. As your mind brushes against hers, you can feel the warmth and concern for you, but also a strange emotion you’re fairly certain is curiosity. How odd!
“A little.” You try and play it off. You can’t tell Korri the real reason, after all! “Ms. Yi seems pretty confident it’ll work out, though?”
Ms. Yi has been…well, she’s really supportive of you, just in general. You’ve only known her a short time, but it almost feels like you’ve known her all your life. It’s a really weird feeling; not an unwelcome one, but generally you’ve never gotten along that well with your teachers. Honestly, you know why she’s so popular; she’s probably one of the best teachers a girl could ask for, and you know younger students are always looking forward to her classes.
So why is she so confident things will work out with Stella Maris?
Not that you’re unhappy for the support or anything, but –
Those two words are pretty hard to ignore, when they come backed with future-past-you’s insistence that there’s no distinction between being a heroine and violating people’s free will.
“I don’t know about Ms. Yi,” says Korri, hopping on the bed alongside you. “I haven’t met her, you know? I don’t know her reasons. She must be pretty nice if you have feelings for her, though!”
“Ehe.” It’s…surprisingly validating for you to hear that from Korri. If a teacher was abusing her position of power against a student, you’d see that vengeful side of Korri. The one you try and fight for, so she’ll never have to feel such pain again.
(…from this angle, you can see the scars on Korri’s wrist.)
“But, it’s like that, you know?” Korri flips around on the bed, hands against her cheeks as she grins. “If you still have a crush on Stella even after all she’s said about you, I think she must be really admirable. Any lesbian should be happy that you have a crush on her!”
“Eheh, yeah, any lesbian…”
It’d be nice, if Korri could respond, but – well, bad thoughts! You’re still trying to work all this out, but, you’ve at least told her the truth about one thing: “Are you really sure about ‘hypnotherapy’, though? Are you not worried people will get the wrong idea?”
“I am, but. It was Ms. Yi’s own suggestion! I don’t think she’s showing it in public or anything, we’ll be doing some follow-on reports and essays afterward.” Bit of an odd way to run an assignment, but Ms. Yi’s the expert, and you should do your best to trust her! “I don’t really know much about it, though. I guess I remember bits and pieces from Ms. Yi’s lectures, but I don’t really know what it is, you know?”
“It’s really not that scary, Cibby! I’ve done similar stuff before, you know? Not a lot, but I think you’d do well at it if you tried. If Stella’s been studying it all this whole time, you can probably let her take the lead.”
“We have to take turns, though! I don’t really know how you hypnotise someone.” The most you really know about it is, well, what Ms. Yi’s told you, or what’s filtered in through cultural osmosis. That it’s all coming to light at the very same time as future-past-you is scary, because it’s almost like the world itself is conspiring to push you in this direction!
It’s nothing weird, though. Ms. Yi didn’t mean a thing by any of it, and if she’s giving you advice about more…recreational hypnosis, that’s just her being a responsible teacher who wishes to channel your passions in the right direction.
Your mind drifts, once more wondering what it’ll be like. You hear things like ‘trance’, you know things like ‘pocketwatches’, but the way future-past-you talks about it sounds so fundamentally different from the vague image of hypnosis you know. Let alone all the other abilites you have, that could take someone and turn them into something unrecognizable from what they once were.
It’s not like you’ve only been exercising or anything. As you’ve gone around the neighborhood, you’ve read people’s minds, here and there, when you got the chance. Idle thoughts, the kind of thoughts you expect of service workers, neighbors, acquaintances. But it’s still doubtlessly an intimate act, and with someone who knew you well, what would you see in their thoughts? What could you understand?
(Could you come to understand Stella, at long last?)
Mou, maybe it’s best to just take it easy until tomorrow –
“Oh, by the way! Rheia told me she’s having someone over tonight. I heard the door, so I’m guessing they’re here now!”
“Already? This late? And on Sunday? Mom doesn’t do that unless –”
“…right, lemme go say hello to Aunt Vesta and get it overwith,” you sigh. Korri waves happily at you, rolling around in your bed as you quickly down the rest of your tumbler before she has more ammunition to use against you.
“Say hello from me, too!”
“If she doesn’t bite my head off, first…mou.”
♪ don’t let me hear you say life’s / taking you nowhere
Mom’s got the hi-fi on and the romantic candle LEDs out, which can only mean one thing.
Your family – well, families, really – is, or are, big. Really big. There’s dozens, maybe over a hundred Epelis and Imanises from all over the world right here in Southern Sun, let alone the others in the other new cities or elsewhere in the world. Major holidays like Golden Week see no small amount of travel; heck, one year, you all went camping up on Mt. Kaguya! All of you!
(N-not that you like to talk about that trip. Not your finest moment, but on the plus side, it turns out fingernails grow back!)
But the woman sitting down upon the divan? She plays by her own rules.
Aunt Vesta – that is, Vesta Ilustrada Imanis. (Technically she’s not your aunt – she’s like, your second cousin or something – but you’ve been calling her ‘Aunt Vesta’ for as long as you’ve been alive, you’re not about to stop now!) Always clad in what looks like the most resplendent of silks, fashionable silks that, appropriately enough for a librarian and archivist, make her look like some kind of ancient and beautiful scholar and sage. She’s ever so slightly more pale than you are, but you’d say she bears a much stronger resemblance to you than Mama, especially with her violet-dyed hair.
And yet, the gaze that lands upon you behind those thick glasses of hers –
you always feel like she’s looking down at you, you know?
“Um, hello, Aunt Vesta! And hello from Korri, too!” You say nervously, swallowing down your hesitation. It’s fine, she’s not going to bite your head off this time, probably, right?!
“Cibele! Come, sit.” She lazily waves her arm aside, as she sips sharbat, that smile of hers that feels so full of…superiority, you know? At the very least, she’s trying to present herself as welcoming. “Your mother’s been catching me up. You were in an accident?”
“Y-yeah. It wasn’t serious, though.” You’re still in your exercise clothes, and you feel a bit vulnerable, exposing yourself like this. Mama probably should’ve mentioned it, but, maybe it was short notice. Your hands fidget, despite your efforts, as you find all your normal cheerfulness hard to muster.
“Things are getting too dangerous these days,” Vesta says, sipping her glass. “Rheia’s been fussing over you this whole time, you know that, right? And I bet Korrigan’s worried, too.”
“I-it’s not like I mean to worry her!” Startled, your hands wave nervously, like you’re trying to defend yourself! “I mean, I just, I guess I do want a new outlook, but.”
It’s like this, right? Aunt Vesta is pretty much everything you’d ever want to be! She’s doing what she loves, outside of Sunset’s shadow, and helping make the world a better place by preserving its knowledge! And she’s content with herself, too – physical attractiveness is one thing, but she’s confident, in a way you can’t help but be jealous of.
Aunt Vesta has been in a happy relationship with multiple partners for…what, twenty years now? She was younger than you are now when that all started! What made it so easy for her to find love? What is it people are drawn to, and how can you capture some of that passion?
(Or would she, perhaps, simply say you need to find your own way to express your passions, like she always has?)
“Your mother tells me you’ve got a big assignment this week. Are you worried about it?” It’s just small talk, but you’re at least happy you and Vesta haven’t argued. You think she finds you too flighty, too carefree, or something like that? It’s hard to tell at the best of times, really, what people think of you. (At least, without reading their mind.)
“I guess I’m pretty worried, but I’ll get through it.” You smile. “That said, I could maybe use your help!”
“My help?” Aunt Vesta takes another swig of sharbat. “You can ask me questions, if you need. I think your father’s still busy with dessert, we have time.”
Aunt Vesta…she knows a lot about odd, esoteric things. It’s not that she knows a little about a lot of things, it’s that she knows a lot about everything. If Aunt Vesta had a Gamer power – and she would despise having one, but just for the sake of argument! – surely she’d not start with lowly 1s in every stat.
“Um, I guess this is going to sound kind of weird, but, uh…” You half wonder if Aunt Vesta’s going to berate you for the very question, because it sounds ridiculous to you. “Do you know anything about hypnosis? Or hypnotherapy?”
…and just from that single question, you can feel something.
Your consciousness reaches for Aunt Vesta as she puts her glass down. Vesta’s mind…her mind is like a flame. Burning those who come too close, who raise her ire, who deserve her wrath – but so captivating, too. It feels all too familiar – the person you’ve looked up to, admired, feared, and fought with, all in equal measure.
You’ve always been afraid of that. Of her fire. Aunt Vesta’s taken the rest of the family to task time and again, and you admire her ability to act with conviction. It hasn’t made her many friends, but –
Hypnotherapy? Of all the people to get an interest…
Even as she seems to have issues with you, even as you feel that antipathy toward you, you can somehow understand how Vesta’s drawn so many women toward that flame, and how they’ve remained captivated with her for twenty years.
This isn’t something done on a whim, girl, you hear in her mind, even as her lips say: “That’s…mm. Yes, I do know a little something about that. It’s a bit of an odd question to ask me out of the blue, though.”
“Well, you kinda know everything, I guess? Ehe.” You blush, despite yourself. Aaaa, it’s so nervous, talking like this. “My psychology teacher suggested it! Y’know, Yi Seul-ki?”
“Ah, of course. I remember her from my last lecture series – I think she was teaching literature back then.” Vesta’s made a few lectures about cultural preservation to the highschoolers at the Verwest Academy, and she had a few clashes with the teachers back then too. “One of the few teachers who didn’t give me a hard time. Is this for an essay, then? I can provide some reading material, if you wish, and answer any questions you have.”
“I mean, that’d be great, yeah!” Looks like this might work out after all! “But the assignment is more of a mock therapy session, is the thing!”
…Aunt Vesta’s face shifts. She puts her glass down, and through her glasses, she looks you straight in the eye.
“And your teacher suggested this, right?” You’re trying not to poke too much at Vesta’s thoughts, but you get the distinct sense you’ve struck a nerve. “I can’t believe she’d be so casual about it…”
“Um. It’s more that my partner is an aspiring therapist herself, apparently, and hypnotherapy is something she’s interested in? I-I wouldn’t ask about such a thing just because, you know!”
You can feel that desire to prove yourself coming back. Even future-past-you’s words don’t seem to matter as much, when it comes to wanting to be taken seriously by Aunt Vesta. (By all your family, really.)
“Hypnotherapy is an intense matter. It’s not something I’d suggest performing for a school assignment with an acquaintance. If you are interested, I’d be happy to tell you more another time, but…”
You frown, because of course it has to be her. It’s like – Aunt Vesta has lived her whole life doing things her way, and as much as it might make you upset sometimes, you admire it, too…heck of a heroine you are, still chasing her approval.
“You still have time to choose something else, don’t you, Cibele?” she asks. The flickering flame of her mind seems as though it’s holding back, trying not to burn you with its intensity. Trying not to burn you, Rheia’s precious daughter, once again.
And, she’s not wrong, is she? It would be easiest, really, to ignore future-past-you entirely than to lure yourself into her domain. It’d certainly be much simpler to get Stella onto a couch and ask her about her mother. But…
But if Ms. Yi is right, then this is something Stella is deeply passionate about. Something important to her. This might be your best chance – hell, your only chance – to get closer to her, to understand her.
It might be too much to ask that she return your feelings, sure, but even if that’s true? You want to know what it is that makes Stella Maris shine so brightly, like the Star of the Sea that gives her her name.
“…it’s important to her, though,” you manage to get out – your overflowing feelings trapped in your throat, every bit of your Charisma of 1 bearing down upon you as you struggle to express your feelings.
Alone, in that room, the two of you stare at one another, as you refuse to back down. Aunt Vesta knows about love, doesn’t she? Her beloved partners, her girlfriends, Mom always liked to tell you that Vesta fought hard to win and protect their hearts. You want to be that kind of person, too!
You can feel the intensity of her flame, as if she’s trying to impress upon your own mind, to scare you away. She still looks at you like a child – and you’re getting quite used to the taste of that emotion, within the eyes of those around you.
But you won’t back down.
And Aunt Vesta knows it, too.
“…if that’s the case, then, Cibele – then I’ll tell you what I know about hypnosis.”
Her glass comes down, and as she stands, you can feel her presence far beyond her size. Y-you almost wonder, if she has a power all her own – you could almost see her using the abilities you’ve gained much better than you are right now!
How nostalgic…yet, I wonder, does Rheia’s daughter truly have what it takes?
(Flashes of her partners, of her whispers, of those girls sinking fo her words fill your mind. This strength she holds, this eroticism – it’s captivating, and fills you with envy. Could future-past-you have known…?)
“Hypnosis, Cibele, is not something to treat lightly.” The conviction comes, with the flame of her passion roaring to life. “Hypnosis is no game. What you speak of is an immense act of intimacy and trust, of taking something vulnerable and protecting it, and showing your own vulnerability in turn. In that moment, you are every bit showing a part of yourself as you are seeing her – doubly so, if you intend to let her do the same.
“You cannot falter. No matter how nervous you might be, how vulnerable or scared, you must show your partner absolute confidence and conviction. To, in that moment, be everything they need, and more. No matter how nervous you get, how worried you might be, your subject should see you as nothing less than a goddess.”
You grit your teeth, trying to push back. You’re tired of not being taken seriously. Hell, it’s bad enough Vesta’s baby sister ignored your feelings as a kid, now Vesta is trying to act like you can’t do anything right?!
“Then are you still saying I can’t do this?!” You stand up in turn, hands balled into fists. You’re lucky everyone else is in the basement or otherwise occupied; you’re not sure how you’d explain this to anyone. “I can’t be perfect, Aunt Vesta! I –”
You’re interrupted with a puff from Vesta’s nostrils, a quiet smirk. “Hmph. Who said anything about being perfect?”
“…huh?” You could’ve sworn…how is it, even when you can read her mind, you still can’t understand Aunt Vesta?
“Listen. When I say believe, I mean it. Perfection is impossible.” The flame behind her words still burns, but at the very least, she’s not upset. (You’d like to hope her opinion of you is getting better, you know?)
“But you said –”
“Do you think I wasn’t scared, my first time?” A flash within flame, of another purple-haired woman, no doubt Vesta’s partner Percy, and a whisper in her ear…”All that matters is, that in the moment you hold that girl’s head in your hands, she believes she can entrust herself to you. Trust, itself, is a form of love; if she trusts you, love may well follow.
“Love…” You’re not sure you can get Stella to trust you at all, so love feels all the more distant. Maybe, that’s what tempted future-past-you in the end.
“Mm. Don’t worry too much! Aha. You seem quite…assured, Cibele.” Aunt Vesta’s flame seems a bit…smug? At the least, being praised by her makes you happy. “Keep that confidence close to your heart. If this girl comes to return your feelings, it’ll serve you well.”
“…I didn’t say I had a crush on her, Aunt Vesta!”
Vesta stands up, as if on cue from the sound of footsteps, walking toward them, head tipping back as she smiles at you…
“You didn’t need to.”
(…okay, yeah, she’s kinda hot. The way she can read you like an open book…you wanna do that, darnit!)
As you reflect upon your envy, and the blush on your cheeks, your mother’s head pops in from the other room, waving over at the two of you! “You seem to be getting along today! Ah, Vesta, could you help me out for a second? You know how Satre is with meringue.”
“Every time I come over, huh?” Vesta laughs to herself. “Alright, fair enough. I’ll send you a reading list for your assignment, Cibele.”
“A-ah, thank you!” You find yourself blushing and nodding as Vesta follows Mama – and, wondering if that’s how her partners are, too, always in her shadow. Mou, future-past-you could probably compete with Aunt Vesta, but as you are right now…
You need confidence. You need Charisma. Regardless of how future-past-you might want you to act, if you want to face this Queen or whatever-the-fudge, you can’t just be nervous around people all the time, y’know?
It’s a bit scary, but…maybe it’s a good thing to do things that scare you sometimes.
(…a goddess, huh?)
Vesta Ilustrada Imanis
Attributes: Ordinary humans have a 1 in each attribute. Humans at the peak of their physical or mental potential may have a 2 in one ability score. Scores of 3 or greater are superhuman.