Kotori massaged her temples after her sister had left, trying to regather her thoughts. There was no point in getting hung on small things. Did her sister not know what suffering their father might be enduring at the hands of that hag coven at this very moment? Tsubame just lapped up the empty platitudes their mother and everyone else in town tried to spoon feed them.
It was plain as day that nobody else had a plan but her.
If only her mother's notes had been more clear. But being a caster was about improvisation in the face of an uncertain reality. Everything couldn’t be prepared for, so one would have to think of something in the moment.
As her mind shifted to that train of thought, she considered the clouds above her head. Saying she was going to harness the lightning was one thing, but going about it was an entirely different matter. She’d have to touch the lightning, to begin with. The thought of that bolt set the hairs on the back of her neck on end, but she recomposed her resolve with a scowl.
This was no time for weakness, when her father’s wellbeing had been pressed upon her shoulders. As the eldest child, the responsibility fell to her. Not her sister who struggled with arithmetic. Not her mother who would patrol endlessly in the forest despite finding neither hair nor footprint.
She emptied the burlap sack Tsubame had brought on the floor towards the back-left of the henhouse. A glance at the notes revealed no particular way to arrange these, but she arranged them with watermelons against the wall, and then had the fruit get gradually smaller until she placed a row of apples a few feet from the diagram.
This diagram would be the death of her. Hundreds of lines of complicated script that would have to work together seamlessly. Were they not to, then…
She added more lines and made a few more edits.
Considering failure would bring it into existence. Success was all that lay in her future.
Retrieving a rake from the house, she climbed onto the roof of the chicken coop and tried balancing it such that the metal teeth faced the clouds. Wind whipped her platinum blonde hair about, but she paid scant attention to the strewn-about mess it was becoming.
When the rake threatened to fall, she retrieved twine from the house and affixed the makeshift lightning rod to the chicken coop roof. But there was no opening for her to feed the end of the rake into the coop.
But that was easily mended when Tsubame returned once more. Kotori coaxed her into punching a hole through the roof of the coop with her prodigious strength, and then fed the end of the rake through it.
How her sister had acquired such strength at such a tender age and without looking like those lumberjacks that felled trees in the forest for a living, Kotori didn’t know. But she wasn’t about to question convenience.
She paid the weird looks neighbors would give her on her occasional trips to and from the henhouse little more than a stray thought. A few came over and asked about the rowdy chickens, but it wasn’t as if she could control their volume. And she was suffering the worst of it, being so close to them while working. But she wasn’t complaining, so they had no place to.
A few asked if she needed help, but she sent them away. It wasn’t as if they had knowledge of casting or magical theory. And even if they did, the fewer people knew about this, the better. Ideally, her mother would find out about her experiment after she’d saved her father from the hags.
The notes had been locked up in her mother’s trunk for a reason, no doubt, but surely any misconduct would be forgiven when father had returned safe and sound. And if her mother really hadn’t wanted her rifling through such a thing, she’d have burned these pages and not brought them to Melioda to begin with.
Tsubame brought fresh fish and word from the fishermen that they hadn’t seen anything through the treeline. Of course they hadn’t. A hag could disguise herself and her dwelling, and their power only grew when they were an organized coven. It would take someone of considerable magic power to bring an entire coven down.
Someone like that wouldn’t simply appear from thin air.
Not without the right preparation, at least.
The sky grew darker, the wind howling, as Tsubame came and went with item after item. The first crash of thunder ripped through the air when Tsubame came once again, panting, with a sack of ash in her arms. The thunder whipped the hens into a frenzy, but Kotori paid them no mind.
“That’s all of them,” Tsubame spluttered out between breaths. “What now?”
“And you didn’t see Mother at all today?”
“Not yet,” Tsubame said. “Thinking she might be leading another rescue into the forest. Found some packaged dinner for us.” She peeked at Kotori for a moment. “Err, did you eat today, Tori?”
Kotori didn’t say anything.
“Wait, you’ve been here all day, and haven’t eaten anything?”
Thunder again whipped the air, and Kotori rolled her eyes.
“I’ll be starting,” she said, ignoring the groan of her stomach for food after a day’s work. “You can leave if you’d like.”
“A-As if I’d just leave you.” Tsubame’s eyes trained on the end of the rake that Kotori kept a firm grip on, and her voice quivered. “T-Tori, can you please tell me what you’re gonna do?”
Kotori rolled her eyes, and gripped the rake even tighter in the hopes of reassuring Tsubame.
“If you absolutely must know,” she said. “I intend to break the boundaries between worlds and pull someone through the fleeting gap.”
Tsubame stared at her.
“You can do that?” Her sister said in hushed tones.
“Normally no,” she said, and then gestured to the papers she’d tucked to the side. “But I’ve learned enough to where I can make an attempt.”
“Err, what if you mess up?”
“I told you not to doubt me. I can’t afford to. Not now.”
“But you don’t have to…”
“Enough,” she grumbled. “If you’re not going to leave, you can stand behind me and watch. Don’t distract me.”
“A-Are you sure?”
“I’m always sure,” she said. “Now get behind me.” Lightning flashed by the window, and Kotori stiffened. Her grip nearly jumped from the rake, but she again gathered her resolve.
She couldn’t be scared.
She took a deep breath.
She wouldn’t be scared.
Father’s fate rested in her hands.
“I-I stand before you now,” she chanted. “That wall that bars the way. The boundless expanse that stretches into infinity. I wish to sunder that space, and leave a path in its place. So that a hero might...” Lightning flashed again, and it traveled through the rake just as she’d planned.
Her muscles spasmed and she saw blackness for a moment, but the thought of her father suffering at the hands of those hags, being used as they saw fit, pushed her on. Perhaps he was even brainwashed to enjoy their company and made to forget his family.
She clenched her teeth.
“I want a hero!” she cried, dropping all attempts at a chant.
Converting lightning into magic could be done, texts had mentioned that. And they’d mentioned pain, but not a burning excruciation that seized every inch of her flesh.
A scorching heat spilled from her fingers that gripped the rake down to her toes that writhed against her shoes. It felt as though her stomach was liquifying inside her. As though her bones were cracking and blackening beneath her skin.
“I want a hero, I want a hero!” She cried into the unknown incessantly, eyes welling with tears from the pain.
The lightning eventually emerged from her toes and illuminated the diagram, and the pain lessened somewhat. Enough for her to get just enough composure to continue the spell.
“So that a hero might bring the justice that I cannot. Now, stranger from a world beyond mine, heed my call!”
Tsubame was shouting, but she couldn’t make out the words.
The fruit and fish burst open, and their juices and pulped insides squleched and undulated across the floor to the diagram as though they were living creatures. The hens similarly popped in a cacophony of choked off squawks, and their blood and viscera followed suit.
Tsubame screamed. She ran to one of the cages and tore the metal apart with her bare hands. The hen exploded in her face. She blubbered and wailed even as the spell drew the remains off of her cheeks and lips and toward the diagram. She squeaked names Kotori had never really given much thought to before, nor did she now.
The countless other things Tsubame had brought all broke open and entered the diagram’s vicinity. They squished and melded together until they’d formed a bulbous, fleshy cocoon of sorts, glistening and wet.
Tsubame’s hands gripped her back. They were trembling. Incoherent noises spilled out of her sister’s mouth between breathless pants. But Kotori shrugged them off, and put those noises out of her mind.
A pain built up beneath her forehead, her vision swam, and she felt blood drip from her ears, nose. Her vision blossomed red as a blood vessel burst in her eye.
But she smiled through the pain.
A figure’s silhouette peeked out from the translucent womb of pseudo flesh the spell had created.
Her legs threatened to buckle, and her view of the silhouette grew hazy.
She’d gotten sick with the flu once, soon after coming to Melioda. Her headache then had been a thousand times milder.
And the pressure in her head continued to build.
But she was not yet done.
She opened her mouth to utter the last and most crucial part of the spell.
But her stomach wrenched in her abdomen, and she doubled over.
Rather than verbage or bile, she vomited a putrid blackness that splattered the floor. She stared down at this sheened fluid that the notes had never mentioned.
“B-But I did everything right,” she spluttered between coughs of residue.
“Kotori!” shrieked Tsubame.
Her legs crumpled beneath her, and her body would’ve followed suit if Tsubame hadn’t run over and caught her.
She struggled to speak, forcing her lungs to gather the air to utter the words, but it was all they could do to keep her breathing.
The cocoon ripped open with a squelching sound. Out of the corner of her fading vision, a red-drenched sleeve tore itself free and flailed wildly. A gout of red fluid came with it, drenching the floor and twins.
“No!” Tsubame hugged Kotori close, shielding her sister from the groping arm with her soaking back.