A pulse of malice poisoned her empty sanctuary. It dug fire into to her bones, crawling over her skin, heart, brain, until the dark void became red. Time took hold with the return of sensation. Bathed in cold, she was dragged through smoke and red fire. When she tried to scream, she realized she had to breathe first. She inhaled, rediscovering her lungs, and her second attempt succeeded.

Someone's cry next to her ear silenced her. She hadn't known there was anyone else in the world.

The red gave way to shifting grey. Murmurs emerged over more indistinct sobbing. She was grabbed. Something touched her face. Her body hurt, her mind hurt. She fell into darkness again.

Her new caretakers were strange, if benevolent, intrusions on her solitude. Over time, they resolved into people, like her. The sounds that came from their mouths made words, even though she couldn't understand them. Knowing about language without understanding the one her caretakers spoke seemed strange until her head started to ache. At times like those, sensory input forced her thoughts to run faster than she could process. It usually happened when her emotions or hazy categorizations gained a voice.

Wailing gave her an outlet. If she had an ache somewhere in her center, or her skin crawled, or a loud noise or bright light startled her into believing the red had returned, she surrendered to instinct. The method always worked, eventually. The people would move her body around with warm hands until the discomfort went away. Mostly, that meant feeding her. Life consisted of a series of meals broken up by darkness and the odd moments of clarity spent watching ever-more-defined blobs above her.

From observation, she developed her thoughts. Those were her hands, those were her feet. Though distant and unfamiliar, they moved under her commands. Over there was her primary guardian, who carried, fed, and cleaned her. Over there was the quiet one, a constant presence who made faces and gave her throwable things. She was Shion. The darkness may have left her, but her caretakers protected her from the red.

Headaches came whenever her moments of clarity went too far. Should she be so hungry? So weak? Was that her mother? Her father? Where did these comparisons and definitions of family come from? Shion didn't need to know. Parents or not, the primary caretaker was called Yukari and the quiet one was called Ken.

Shion would have continued to sprawl mindlessly, getting carried around and spoken to like a doll, if Yukari hadn't lifted her under her armpits one day. She balanced her on her legs as Shion grunted over the effort of supporting her own head. She moved her legs, with each placement of her roundish legs simulating a step. The deliberate stretch and contraction of muscle forced her to recognize the mechanics of the motion. After her first steps, Yukari started bringing her to meet new people, some who tried to get her to speak and some who tried to make her do simple tasks. Even so, Shion never left the expansive compound of connected buildings. She toddled through endless halls, hand-in-hand with Ken because Yukari told him not to carry her. In an empty room on the first floor, he sat Shion on a large couch adjacent to a neat desk. He stood nearby, tugging the strings of a cat's cradle with her until a woman came in.

"Good afternoon, Shion," the woman said. She didn't have much to identify her status besides a forehead protector tied around her head and a clipboard. "How are you feeling today?"

She and Ken waited a moment, looking at Shion, before Ken answered, "She hasn't been acting any differently."

The doctor hummed, reading her clipboard. "No odd behaviors you felt didn't warrant a report? Sensitivity to the sun or loud noises, periods of unresponsiveness, even a dramatic preference or aversion to certain foods?"

"Just the same. Lethargy and… learning difficulties. She's getting better about moving around, but she still doesn't do it much."

Shion returned to her game as Ken answered more questions that most of the people Shion had met asked.

When the woman finished, she paused to crouch down next to Shion. "I can feel some slight chakra dispersal. Give me a moment to acclimate her to medical chakra." The woman leaned down to match Shion's eye level, holding up her hand with a smile. Some kind of green glowing substance surrounded it in a transparent bubble. "Look, sweetie. Isn't this pretty?"

Shion stared, then looked at Ken and back at the glow. That wasn't right. What was it?

The woman wiggled her fingers so the glow deformed with them. Where was it coming from? "This is my chakra. It feels tickly but it won't hurt you."

"Go on," Ken said. "You can touch."

Shion didn't move or look away from the hand.

"It's safe." As Ken's hand moved towards the glow, she whined. Ken didn't stop. "See, Shion?"

The woman moved the glow towards her hand, slowly, until it went through. It didn't hurt, but she could feel it under her skin. It didn't make sense. While Shion watched placidly, her mind raced. It couldn't be a trick. She could feel it crawling through her body. Sight faded away behind a veil of black spots. Her skin couldn't protect her, couldn't hide her. She couldn't run. Chakra was everywhere. It was red.

The woman pulled the not-solid-liquid-gas-plasma away. But something remained under her skin. Something she had never noticed. It didn't belong. Was it magic? Magic wasn't real. She knew, but how did she know? It didn't make sense.

"It's alright. It's over," Ken said. He scooped her up, hugging her with one arm. His other hand was busy wiping her face.

"I didn't feel any problem with her coils. The scan did seem to agitate her though. Can you calm her? I think she's expressing her feelings by pushing out more chakra."

Ken bounced her, rubbing her back. He didn't have to. She wasn't a baby. Was she a baby? She was three. She was not. In science class, she'd learned about the body. Blood, muscles, organs, bones. Chakra didn't belong. Her thoughts didn't belong. She didn't belong.

"What did you do? It's not stopping."

"She's losing too much. Put her down. I have to sedate her!"

Her name wasn't Shion. Not in her memories.

Ken's warmth left. Something pricked her. In the next moment, she was warm again. Thoughts of the foreign substance slowed until she stopped thinking altogether.

Fingers brushed across her forehead to rustle through the front of her hair. She turned her head into the feeling.

"Are you awake, Shion?"

Yes. Maybe. It's dark.

"I'm seeing some chakra dispersal. She's coming out of it."

The hand paused. "Shion, I need you to open your eyes."

Were they closed? She tried to figure out which muscles controlled her eyelids, feeling them scrunch. Yes, apparently they were.

"Look at me, child. It's time to wake up."

Tracking Yukari's voice, her eyes moved side-to-side under the weight of their lids. A little more motion forced them open. Blurry patches of light or dark clarified into three people, arranged around her. The one closest to where she lay had her head in her hand. Further away, one woman stood behind Yukari and another stood on the opposite side of the bed.

Yukari looked over at the second woman.

"Good," she said. "Dispersal rate is consistent."

The first woman stepped forward. "Can we start?"

"Shion," Yukari said. "You're going to get better soon."

"Doesn't make sense," Shion said. Everyone was much bigger than her. Had her vision distorted? The hand tensed, cradling half of her head. Oh. She'd just forgotten her proportions.


The second woman closed in on her right side. "Do what I do." She took her hand, and a tingle spread where their skin connected. The same strange energy pushed in, lingering for a moment before pulling back.

Chakra. Shion didn't recognize the word. As she felt another push, she yanked her hand away.

"You're okay. It won't hurt you." Yukari moved her hand from Shion's head to hold it in front of her. A light blue glow grew outwards. They didn't understand. She wasn't afraid of being hurt by it.

Magic's just science that we don't understand yet. Without looking away, Shion returned her hand to the woman's. Push, pull – the energy flowed through. She felt out the tide of chakra, wrapping her mind around it. She pushed back.

"Good girl!" the woman said. Lower, to her colleague behind her, she said, "Aiko, the sedative."

Her colleague swept around to reach Shion. Another sting hit her in the arm. Yukari dropped her hand, resting its distant weight on her leg. She fell unconscious again.