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First part of the backstory subarc, Pairwise. How Oishi Syuuichirou became a healer and a Mage. Rated G for this part. Subtitled “Family Ways.” 2,557 words. Eiji’s part is coming up next, because Golden Pair should be together. =)



Et Cetera: Pairwise by Shiraume


01. Oishi


"One of the longest-lived Sprites are the Elementals, of which there are five: Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Light, with Light being the rarest. Elementals are of the highest order of Sprites, and can be handled only by the most powerful and experienced Mages. Often, the bond between a Mage and an Elemental is life-long and exclusive. Though an Elemental is not subject to the Mage's will, once bonded, an Elemental will remain loyal to the chosen Mage for life.

"Elementals reach maturity thirty years after their birth and have a lifespan of five centuries. Elementals do not reproduce biologically, but close to the time of their demise, they will produce heirs (usually one or two) to take over their position. Elementals can only produce like Elementals (i.e. Fire begets Fire, Air begets Air). Like any of the Sprites, Elementals can be extinguished from existence by an excessive Magical drain or irreparable physical damage. The War of Adamant is especially blamed for the rapid decline of the Elementals, especially Light."

----- Advanced Theories of Magic, vol.1

The earliest memory Oishi had of himself was probably from when he was two or three, playing in his uncle's herb storeroom. His mother scolded him for troubling his uncle, but his uncle told her it was all right: Syuuichirou could play there as long as he left the herbs alone. After that, Oishi was very careful not to mess up anything in the room when he played. His uncle gave him an indulgent smile, and taught him the names of the herbs, one by one. Oishi amused himself by putting those names into the nursery rhymes his mother sang to him, and by the time he was seven years old, he could name nearly all the herbs in his uncle’s storeroom.

The first time Oishi learned what a healer did, he was four years old. He had tripped on a rock and scabbed his knee. It hurt and the blood scared him, so Oishi cried until his uncle came to him and took him inside. Cleaning the wound hurt, but his uncle kept talking to him, telling him how brave he was, and Oishi could pretend it didn't hurt too badly, dangling his other leg over the examination table. Good ten minutes had passed before Oishi noticed that the pain was gone. He looked up at his uncle's smiling face, wide-eyed, and thought healing must be the Magic he had only heard about.

The first time Oishi realized he could do the same, he was eight. His little sister had fallen off a tree while they were playing together. Oishi rushed to her side, but could not stop her tears, or her elbow from bleeding. Close to tears himself, Oishi hugged her, wishing with all his might his sister would stop hurting. He did not realize his sister had stopped crying until she called his name. Oishi opened his eyes, and realized his hands were glowing, and so was his sister's elbow. There was no blood.

When his uncle heard about this, he was both happy and proud. "You have the gift of healing, Syuuichirou. I was beginning to think I was the only one in the family."

Oishi did not really know what this gift of healing was supposed to be, but his uncle looked pleased, so he smiled back. What he understood was that somehow he had made his sister feel better. It felt nice to help someone like that. When his uncle started giving him lessons about how he can help other people feel better, he paid attention and tucked every word in his memory.

The first time Oishi lost a patient, he was nine. The goldfish he kept in a small bowl in his room had gotten sick, and despite his best efforts, he found it floating belly up in the bowl one morning. He rushed to his uncle's house, carrying the bowl carefully with both hands, and implored his uncle to help the goldfish, but his uncle gave him a sad look and shook his head.

"I can't do anything for him. I'm sorry, Syuuichirou."

"But you can help anyone," Oishi insisted, "Like the lady yesterday. She was really hurt, but you made her all better."

His uncle looked even sadder, and struck by the seriousness of his uncle's expression, Oishi fell silent.

"Syuuichirou, no matter how talented one is at healing, there are some people one cannot save." His uncle took both his hands, gazing at him kindly. "Your gift is far greater than mine. When you grow up, you will help many people, and save many lives," his uncle paused, "But there will be some you cannot help. You can't stop death. No one can." His uncle laid a warm hand on his head. "And there are some sicknesses you can't heal with any herbs, or the gift."

"What kind of sickness is that?" Oishi asked curiously.

"The sickness of the heart," his uncle answered with a sad smile. "You will understand when you grow older."

Oishi did not understand; not then. Nonetheless, he remembered his uncle's words, like he did everything else.

The first time Oishi's other gift manifested, he was twelve years old. His uncle was with him when the herb storeroom caught fire. The dry herbs burned up quickly -- the rare ones, even those indispensable for making salves and potions. There was a well just outside the storage room, and if only they could bring water from the well quickly, they could still stop the fire from spreading. Oishi looked outside the window, his entire thoughts focused on it, and suddenly a column of water swelled and flew out of the well and into the room, drenching the fire in an instant. His uncle and he looked at each other, shocked.

"You are full of surprises, aren't you, Syuuichirou?" his uncle smiled when he said this. They spent the rest of the morning laying out the salvaged herbs to dry. That afternoon, his uncle took him to the Mage living in the neighborhood, whom the village children called "the old witch." She was an eccentric and formidable woman, with a sly, knowing smile and a sarcastic upturn of eyebrows. Despite her age she was quite agile, and the children who played little tricks on her soon learned to be prepared for retaliation in kind. Not that it stopped them from trying again, and the old Mage seemed entertained enough to let them continue.

When she saw him, she gave him a shrewd once-over, asked his uncle a few questions, then nodded.

"I'll take him," said the Mage with an evil look that made Oishi gulp and take a hasty step backward. She just laughed, and Oishi wondered exactly what he had gotten himself into.

By the time Oishi turned nineteen, he had learned much about healing and Magic, and had come to regard his uncle and his mentor with great respect. Beyond the technical knowledge of healing and Magic, they instilled in him the true meaning of being a healer and a Mage. But soon, Oishi grew dissatisfied with the simple spells and basic theories of Magic he had mastered. When he carefully brought up the subject of Elementals, his mentor gave him a fond look.

"Of the handful of children I taught in my time, none could hold a candle to your talent. I think you might be able to master Elemental Magic, given the right direction. But you'll need to ask for help from the Cetera." Mage Ryuzaki’s expression was rueful. "No matter what our history may be with the Cetera, there is no question their Magic is powerful. And they understand more about Magic than any other race. And you know the usage of Magic is strictly regulated for Human Mages. To learn Elemental Magic, you'll need Cetera certification, anyway."

With these words, his mentor sent him off to the City of Moltania, where there was a major temple dedicated to the Exalted Nine, run by the Cetera priests. However, Oishi never had a chance to meet them.

Almost as soon as he reached Moltania, he was lost in the large city. After a few hours of new sights and sounds, he found himself in a small tavern on the remote edge of the city, hoping someone there could direct him to the temple. And there, Oishi met Fuji Syuusuke for the first time.

Oishi initially approached Fuji because the other seemed the closest to his age, and hopefully more sympathetic to his cause than other city-hardened folk who barely spared him a glance. When Fuji heard his story, he was silent for a long time, studying Oishi closely.

"So you want to see the Cetera Mages to learn how to work with the Elementals," Fuji said finally. Oishi nodded.

"I want to become a good Mage. Good enough to use the Elemental Magic."

Fuji gave him another long look, then nodded. "You seem like a nice young man. But you're looking in the wrong place."

"What do you mean?" Oishi asked, surprised.

"Oh, the Cetera know very much about the Elementals. But they won't teach you," Fuji murmured, idly playing with his mug. "How good are you?"

"I don't really know. My mentor told me I might be able to master Elemental Magic," Oishi answered modestly.

"And do you know that even among the Cetera, only the most powerful even have a prayer of mastering Elemental Magic?" Fuji asked, not unkindly, but truthfully.

"I want to find out if I have a chance," Oishi answered.

Fuji exhaled slowly. "This is important to you."

"Yes," Oishi answered truthfully.

"May I ask why?" Fuji asked softly.

"My village is in West Hyrrha. We've been having poor harvests for many years, because of the irregular rainfall. I don't know what else could help."

"So you want to bond with an Elemental Water, I suppose?" Oishi nodded. "That would probably work, but there's a better way."

Oishi blinked, and Fuji chuckled softly. Looking at Fuji earnestly, Oishi entreated. "Could you tell me, please?"

Fuji finished his drink, and rose. "Come, then."

Something about Fuji's smile, as charming as it was, felt strange, frozen. Oishi trusted his own instincts about people, and Fuji did not feel like an evil person, but there were depths to the smiling face he couldn't even begin to fathom, and it made him uneasy. Fuji looked back at him, as if sensing his hesitation, and the smile melted away to reveal vivid, frosty blue eyes. The eyes asked a simple question: how much are you willing to risk for what you want?

Oishi Syuuichirou never did things halfway.

So Oishi rose and followed Fuji, under the haze of summer sun, all the way to a barren field far away from Human presence. The sun-bleached earth beneath his feet was hot and rich red-gold.

"The problem with West Hyrrha isn't just the rainfall, but that the soil is left completely unprotected," Fuji suddenly began, and Oishi started, his attention snapping back to Fuji. "The top soil is thin, and the ground, flat. There is nothing to stop the erosion of the top soil." Fuji paused and looked at him with a serious expression. "What could solve that problem?"

"Umm..." Oishi hesitated, then remembered the forest near his home village, the green, moss-covered earth. "Trees?"

"Correct. However, West Hyrrha cultivates every plot of available land for farming, so that is not a practical solution."

"But that cannot be helped, right?" Oishi inquired.

"It could be," Fuji said with a knowing smile. "If the soil protects itself."

"What?"

"Nature has its own system of maintaining itself. Look at a forest, a lake, or a mountain. They are able to sustain a certain environment suited for the living without outside help," Fuji explained.

"But how can farmlands do the same?" Oishi was really not following Fuji's line of reasoning.

"Simple. We have to...wake them up," Fuji replied with a wink, and sank to his knees, placing a hand on the warm, golden earth. Fuji closed his eyes and was silent for a moment, and an astonished Oishi watched the water seep under Fuji's palm, wetting the soil.

"You can use Elemental Magic," Oishi said. In hindsight, he probably should have guessed. Fuji looked up at him and smiled.

"I can communicate with both Water and Fire. Water responds to me, which is why you see this," Fuji gestured to the wet spot on earth, which was already beginning to dry in the fierce sunlight. "But I couldn't do this if the soil, which holds the water, did not help me." Fuji rose to his feet, looking into Oishi's face intently. "You can try to bond with the Elemental Water, if you'd like, but in truth, what would help you the most is the Elemental Earth."

"But isn't Earth the hardest Elemental to master?"

"Yes," Fuji confirmed. "Earth is proud, seldom moved, difficult to communicate with, and requires great patience and kindness. But once Earth bonds to you, it will be loyal to the end of its days, even after your death. Earth is the most giving of the Elementals."

"But..." Oishi hesitated. "What if I can't control it?"

"You don't control the Elementals," Fuji pointed out with a short laugh. "You bond to them, and master their Magic with them. But you don't control them." Fuji held out a hand, and instantly, moisture gathered in the air, solidifying to small chunks of crystalline ice. Fuji watched fondly as the ice melted into water, swirling around his hand. Turning his gaze to Oishi, Fuji asked seriously. "Are you ready for your first lesson?"

"You will teach me?" Oishi asked, just to be sure. This was almost too good to be true.

"Yes, but..." Fuji trailed off. "Can you keep it a secret?" he asked with a conspiratorial smile.

"Why?"

"Because the Cetera don't like it when a Mage teaches someone who isn’t his official pupil," Fuji answered neutrally, but Oishi thought he saw a glint of something in Fuji's eyes.

"You're a Cetera?"

"Something like that," Fuji answered carelessly. "Ready?"

Six years later, after an intensive training in the uninhabited wilderness of Hessedi, Oishi bonded with an Elemental: Earth.

(It would be decades later that Oishi, while studying further Magical theories, realized that the methods Fuji used to tame to communicate with the Elementals were nowhere to be found in any books written by Cetera. Fuji wasn't using any Magic he shouldn't, but how he was using it was beyond Oishi's understanding. Fuji had taught him to do the same, and he had to admit Fuji's way was much more efficient, but his Magic operated on a different level from any of the known theories.)

A little after Oishi successfully bonded with his Elemental, Fuji stopped giving him lessons, telling him he knew all he needed to know to continue on his own. Oishi found that Fuji was right. Then, less than a decade later, Fuji pronounced Oishi ready for the Cetera certification test. Just before he left to take the examination, Fuji gave him a mischievous smile, and said simply, "Go easy on them."

So he did.

At age thirty-four, Oishi Syuuichirou became a Cetera-certified Mage, Class One -- the first Human to achieve the feat in three hundred years.
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