There were times Luna could swear that she heard a humming coming from the automaton’s head in her mechanical hand. Yet every time she examined it, it was as still and silent as a stone, with no fanciful light to speak of its intelligent design.
Some dirt was still caked onto its side and stuck in some of the deeper grooves, and the neckline was cleanly cut by whatever had decapitated the automaton, but the head itself was relatively undamaged save for a cracked lens. She was lucky she had found it when she did, as Luna knew he would have been worried about leaving it unattended. Looking up just in time to see the door in front of her open, Luna strode forward with a sense of familiarity.
Though she did not live in the Kashikoi Manor, Luna Alcmene had grown so accustomed to it that it felt like a second home. The technological wiring clashed against the classical decor in a jarring fashion, but it was not deemed necessary to redecorate, as the Master of the Manor cared little for such things. The further down the hall that Luna progressed, the more dense the rivers of wire became, all leading to a door at the end.
On her way, she passed by a window, which she glanced out of. She was among the top floors, and could see a great deal of the Manor grounds from this vantage point. Pieces of technology were affixed to nearly all the rooftops and walls for purposes Luna was clueless to, and she could see a few guards roaming the premises. The edges of their weapons were so keen that she could admire them even from a great distance. The only areas that seemed untouched by the technological advancement were the outdoor gardens that dotted the area. Some had pathways flanked by flowers on either side, some were entire rock gardens, but each were so separated from the surrounding technology that they felt like individual worlds cut off from all else.
Luna turned her attention back to the door at the end of the hallway just as she reached it, smiling as she looked at the camera at the top of the doorframe.
“Brought you something!” She explained, indicating the head.
The door opened with a short delay, the light of the hall flooding into the comparatively dim room beyond. Even at the threshold, one could see that the room was obviously massive. The ceiling was perhaps at a second-story level, owing to the fact that there was a second level to the room starting at about the halfway point. It was long enough that Luna could walk for a solid minute and not reach the end, and there were shelves upon shelves of technological equipment of all shapes and sizes.
Yet despite those marvels ahead, Luna was focused on the creature welcoming her at the door, which only came up to her thigh. He was fox-like in appearance, but even at a glance he was obviously otherworldly. His body was teal in color, giving off a soft glow in some places while being translucent in others. He appeared to have anywhere between three and six tails behind him, but some were almost ephemeral, as if it was a trick of the light, making them hard to count. But despite his oddness, the Spirit’s most attention-commanding feature was his third eye affixed to his forehead, taking the form of a light at the center of a lotus blossom.
The Spirit smiled back at the visitor and bowed his head, “Welcome, Lady Luna,” he greeted politely, however his mouth did not move as he spoke.
“Toshihiro, it’s good to see you!” Luna answered warmly.
“Quite,” a third voice spoke. On Luna’s left shoulder, a dark purple light shone briefly, and then was replaced by another Spirit. He took the form of a rabbit, albeit noticeably larger than a usual rabbit, and his body was a deep violet with a silvery underbody. A dust-like light drifted from his fur, making all of his movements leave a trail of light that faded quickly, and his own third eye bore the resemblance of a small comet.
The rabbit Spirit was sitting upright on Luna’s shoulder, much like how a person would, and stared at Toshihiro with a knowing smirk. “You look radiant as always.”
“It is a perk of our agelessness,” Toshihiro responded, a glint in his eye as he met the rabbit’s smirk with his own, “I would caution you from focusing on appearances too much, but I suppose the youthful can’t help themselves.”
The rabbit wore a displeased frown, jumping off of Luna’s shoulders and landing on all fours, “How many millennia must I be before you all quit with that? Humans have long considered me ancient!”
“It’s a matter of perspective, really,” Toshihiro snickered.
Luna hid her laughter, bending down to pick up the rabbit with her free hand and holding him close. “Young or old, I still think you’re cute, Leporin!”
Leporin squirmed helplessly for a few moments before finally freeing himself and returning to the ground, “Lady Luna, some propriety please!” But she only hid another laugh.
Turning her attention back to Toshihiro, she indicated the head of the automaton, “So can I return this?”
“Certainly, come in,” the fox said before leading them through the door.
The humming sound from the surrounding machinery grew louder the deeper in the room they went, and the dim light might have been foreboding to the uninitiated. Yet to Luna it was a familiar environment simply because of who resided within. She could hear him working, as the sound of a keyboard resounded above all other mechanisms.
To her left, she saw several different versions of Ryder automatons standing upright and arranged in a line, showcasing the progress each one had over the previous in timeline-like fashion. The first one was remarkably basic, but the last was by far the most ornate, complete with a half-cape that Luna herself had suggested.
“Just set it down there,” Toshihiro said, indicating a table Luna was about to walk past. Just as she did so, Toshihiro came to a stop as he looked ahead. “Hiro, Luna is here!” he called.
Hiro was positioned behind a set of monitors, obscuring much of him from sight, but Luna could see the top of his head from her angle. His black hair reflected the light of the monitors, and she could tell he was sitting up straight in his chair. He didn’t say anything, but his hand popped above the monitors and waved at his guests.
“Working hard?” Luna called with a smile, to which Hiro responded with a thumbs up.
Toshihiro turned back to Luna, “You know he’s excited you’re here,” he clarified, “Even if he has trouble showing it.” Hiro’s typing stopped, and he could be heard tapping his fingers on his desk impatiently. “He’s just trying to solve a problem that’s been vexing him as of late.”
“Is it catching that ‘Wraith’ fellow?” Leporin pondered.
“No, that continues to be a source of entertainment. Rather, he’s trying to figure out how best to recover Ryder’s parts should it be bested in battle. It would be terrible if Wraith or anyone else were to make off with it and then reverse-engineer it.”
Luna put her mechanical hand to her chin in thought. “Hmmmmmm,” she thought a bit too loudly. Suddenly she snapped her fingers, but on that hand the sound was more like a ‘clink’ than a snap. “I got it! If you can’t recover it, why not have it self-destruct if it’s beaten? Then no one can steal it!”
A moment passed in silence, both Toshihiro and Leporin looking at Luna in surprise. The silence was finally broken when Hiro hastily started typing something.
“Quite intuitive,” Toshihiro chuckled, “And simple too, just what we needed.”
“That better not be an insult!”
“Perish the thought.” Toshihiro looked back at Hiro, who remained at his desk, then turned back to Luna and Leporin. “He needs just another minute, could you entertain yourselves until he’s done? You are free to look around the workshop...so long as you don’t break anything.”
“The air in here disagrees with me, I’ll wait on the roof,” Leporin told them.
“Excellent idea,” Toshihiro smirked, “I’ll join as your chaperone.”
Leporin’s ears flattened against his head as he narrowed his eyes, disappearing in the same purple light. Toshihiro swiftly did the same in a teal glow, leaving no trace of either spirit.
Luna glanced one last time towards Hiro before she turned in a different direction and explored the room. She found a shelf full of nearly identical swords, pristine and yet to see battle, and carefully inspected a few to test their weight. After that, she walked closer to the gallery of Ryder models, getting close to admire their detail. Following this, she found numerous small boxes containing various machinery parts that she could not decipher the meaning of, that is until she found a small box filled with replacement fingers for her mechanical hand.
The sight unnerved her a bit, causing her to drop one of the replacement fingers, which rolled under the table. Luna leaned down in a hurry to catch it, but what she found underneath caused her to stop.
She struggled to reach it, stretching her hand as far as it could go, but finally pulled it out. Standing back up, Luna examined it further.
It was a small red ball about half the size of her head. There were no markings, no secret technological aspects to be found, it was just a simple ball. Luna beheld it in both her hands as she sat down on the table, as there were no chairs in the room. Laughing softly, she felt a warm nostalgia in her chest.
“Alright Luna, you can play here. Your brother and I will be back in a bit,” her father told her, before he, Leporin, and her older brother disappeared around the corner.
It was more than a decade ago, but felt like a lifetime, as the young girl was left in one of the Kashikoi Manor’s gardens. At this point in her life, Luna did not understand the intricacies of politics or the longstanding friendship between her clan and the Kashikoi, but the child cared very little for it. All she knew was that she was left in this unfamiliar garden with an attendant that only knew how to smile and compliment the adorable girl, not how to play with her or learn her games.
At this point in time, there was no technology affixed to the manor, and was far more rustic in appearance. This particular garden was far more open in comparison to the gardens she spotted on the way into the manor, with only a few finely trimmed bushes and the occasional patch of flowers.
After spending a few minutes to admire the greenery, Luna quickly exhausted that diversion. So with nothing else coming to mind, she fell back on her usual distraction, and drew the wooden practice sword at her waist. It was tiny to compensate for her small stature, and light as a feather, but Luna held it in a practiced pose. Her movements might have been more sophisticated for someone her age due to her lessons, but they were still far simpler than the swordswoman she would become later in life.
Luna had not been keeping track of time, but saw that the sun had passed the midday mark some time ago. She turned to her attendant, “Can I have something to eat?” she asked politely.
The attendant lit up, “Of course, Lady Luna! Just stay here, and I shall be right back!”
When the attendant was out of sight, Luna simply went back to practicing. Suddenly, she felt something hit her on top of her head. Whatever it was, it was soft, but the suddenness of it caused her to drop her sword in surprise.
“Ouch!” she yelped, rubbing the spot that was struck. Turning to her left, Luna saw a small red ball slowly rolling away. She looked up where she believed it had come from, and spotted a window two stories above. Inside this window, someone was looking back at her beneath a mess of black hair. Their eyes widened in surprise and they withdrew from the window before Luna could get a good look at them.
Still rubbing her head, she picked up and sheathed the wooden sword, and then picked up the ball. Luna examined it for a moment, looking between it and the window a few times. Without a second thought, the small girl exited the garden and made for a staircase.
The layout of the Manor was confusing to her, but Luna had a pretty good idea where the window was in relation to the garden. The whole time she held the ball tightly to her, ensuring she didn’t drop it.
Luna finally came to a door with an intricate carving on it. It appeared to be three foxes dancing in a circle, or perhaps it was meant to be the same fox going through the movements of a dance. Whatever it was meant to convey, Luna stopped and admired it as she traced the carvings with her small fingers, lost in thought.
Coming back to reality, Luna slid the door to the right and walked in without announcing herself.
One could tell at a glance that the room Luna now stood in was a child’s room. The bed against the wall was tiny, and the floor had a few simple toys scattered around it. The colorful paintings on the walls were all of foxes, matching the carving on the door, and the atmosphere it created was almost playful. The only other object of note was a small table with two chairs by the window, one of which was occupied.
It was a small boy with black hair and brown eyes. Looking at him, he might have been a year younger than Luna, maybe more, with pale skin and soft features. He sat motionless, staring at Luna with wide surprised eyes, but looked away the moment she made eye contact with him. He said nothing, and it was almost like he was trying to pretend she wasn’t there.
Luna gave him a puzzled look, but approached anyway. “I think you dropped this...on my head,” she said, offering the boy the ball.
He didn’t move for several moments, but then chanced a look at her. For an instant, his surprise seemed to have vanished, but once the two children made eye contact the boy swiftly looked away again.
Raising an eyebrow and thoroughly confused, Luna tried to position herself to force the boy to look at her. However he kept looking away, much to her frustration.
“Do you want your ball back?” she asked, trying to be friendly as possible.
Again the boy did nothing at first, but then quickly snatched the ball away, as if to do it as fast as possible. Luna wasn’t sure whether to be confused or offended, so instead she tried to smile. “I’m Luna,” she introduced, “What’s your name?”
Silence. The boy now used the ball to hide his face behind it and offered no answer. Luna waited a moment more before sighing.
“Okay...good-bye then,” she whispered as she turned around.
She suddenly felt something grasp her hand and keep her from leaving. When she turned around and saw it was the boy’s hand, he let go just as quickly. He now looked from behind the ball with one eye, still hiding much of his appearance.
Luna had no idea what to do or say, so she only met the boy’s gaze evenly now that he was letting her. She didn’t notice before, but the boy had enormous bags under his eyes. Finally, the boy started pointing to something on the wall behind her. Looking at it, it was a name written rather sloppily, probably the boy himself.
“Hiro,” she read aloud, looking back at the boy with a smile, “That’s a nice name!”
Hiro’s eyes widened in surprise again, and he very slowly lowered the ball to reveal his whole face. It brought a strange sense of relief for Luna to finally see him in full, and her smile brightened.
“What do you like to do for fun, Hiro?” she asked playfully.
Hiro looked down, but it seemed to be more in thought rather than to avoid eye contact. The boy thought hard about it for a noticeable amount of time, honestly struggling to come up with an answer. Finally, he straightened up and pointed to the chair at the opposite end of the table.
Luna followed his instruction and sat down. Hiro set the ball on the table, looking between it and Luna, and then gently rolled it to her. She caught it, smiled again, and returned it back to him.
The two repeated this several times, and on the seventh volley, Hiro finally smiled. The two played in silence, but they nevertheless played.
Amidst the humming of the workshop, Luna found herself tuning it out as she reminisced. When she finally returned to reality, the young woman looked towards Hiro’s direction.
She didn’t see him at first, which caused her some worry, but once she went to investigate she saw he was still there. However, Hiro seemed to be slouched over on his desk, not moving a muscle as his untidy hair hid his face.
Luna leaned down to investigate, but heard him quietly breathing, which caused her to chuckled softly.
Finally asleep, huh? She thought to herself.
Something vibrated in her pocket, and Luna stood up as she withdrew it. She flipped the small device open and put it to her ear. “This is Luna,” she answered in a whisper.
“Lady Luna, can we expect you by the end of the day?” the other voice in the device asked, “It’s quite important.”
“I can be there before nightfall.”
“Excellent, see you then.”
Luna sighed as she closed the device and put it back in her pocket. She only now noticed that she was still carrying the ball. She gently set the ball down on Hiro’s desk, and softly patted him twice on the head, taking care to not disturb him.
“See you soon, Hiro,” she whispered.
With delicate steps, Luna tiptoed out of the workshop, closing the door behind her.